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Sunday Slugfest: Turf #1

A comic review article by: Thom Young, Kate Trippe, Karyn Pinter, Jason Sacks
New York, 1929--the height of prohibition--the cops turn a blind eye while the mobs run the city. However, the arrival of the mysterious Dragonmir Family from Eastern Europe coincides with a series of brutal attacks on the mobsters themselves--but an unlikely alliance formed between Eddie Falco and a strange visitor offers the humans a glimmer of hope.As strong-willed reporter Susie Dale from the Gotham Herald tries to survive in the middle of the maelstrom, an ancient prophecy unfolds.

Kate Trippe:
Karyn Pinter:
Jason Sacks:




Kate Trippe:

Turf #1 is an introduction to a 1920s New York City where prohibition is in full swing and the gang leaders tend to be more honest than the cops. The story focuses on Susie Randall, a reporter from the Gotham Herald; Eddie Falco, the guy who runs the east side; and Stefan Dragonmir, a newcomer with high ambitions.

I would not suggest picking up Turf if you are looking for the classic comic book style; this is a robust dialog-driven comic. You won’t find a full-page action scene without text boxes here. I am not complaining about the density of this book; far from it. It reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (especially the first few issues of Gaiman’s series), or V for Vendetta--both of which I read during a big shift in the types of comic books I bought. I used to be all about superheroes, but now I read less superheroes and more . . . well . . . Other types of comic books.

I do have a minor issue with the amount of dialog in Turf in that it may cause Tommy Lee Edwards’s artwork to get overlooked, and that would be a comic book crime of the highest order. I found myself so engrossed in the . . . almost clutter . . . of dialog boxes that I had to read each page and then go back to look at the artwork.

I love Tommy Lee Edwards’ style; if I can share a secret, his art was the main reason I originally picked up Mark Millar’s 1985. His work has such a high level of detail while still keeping that sort of sketchy quality. I wish the page with the backstory of the Dragonmirs had been bigger so I could really see all the detail; there were so many elements there, and they were crunched into half a page.

The highlight of Turf #1 was Eddie Falco’s story. Falco seems very despicable when viewed through the eyes of Susie Randall, yet his narrative was the most interesting and balanced of the three. He is going through the motions of being a gangster because he is a gangster--which is a statement that may not make sense now but, after reading the issue, it will.

The Dragonmir thread was the weakest of the three narratives. Their origin is awesome, but their grand plan isn’t particularly original (but I didn’t mind). The rest of the issue had me hooked, and the fact that the Dragonmirs’ story was a little lackluster didn’t stop me from adoring this issue.

Susie wasn’t a major part of the issue after the first few pages, but I love her cynical naivety. She really seems to think if she can just get that big story published she will open people’s eyes to the problems in the city. She might get her big break in this issue, but her story is left hanging as we find out more about the rest of the city.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to reader of non-traditional comic books, or to anyone just looking for a solid story in their picture books.




Karyn Pinter:

Set in prohibition-era New York City, Turf blends stylish history with the equally stylish and demonic world of the blood sucking undead and a mysterious extraterrestrial. The subtitle of this issue, by the way, is “The Fangs of New York.”

Seriously? We're starting things off with a silly play on words?

Sigh.

I'm not sure where to start in on this one. Turf seems to be suffering a genre identity crisis. There's a lot to it. It's a vampire story, but oh, wait, it's got aliens too. For real.

You see the cover and you think to yourself, "Is that a spaceship?"

Yes, yes it is.

To top it all off, it's also a crime drama!

It's so complex it'll make your head spin.

With all these storylines weaving their intricate web, it very easy for a reader to get tangled up. There are about four different stories all interconnected (that includes the aliens), so there's a lot going on--which requires diligence on the part of the reader.

Sometimes there are more word balloons than art on a page. While that's not necessarily a bad thing, I found myself having to re-read parts, which drives me a little crazy. It will be interesting to see if Turf can stay afloat or if it will be dragged down by its own weight.

So many things could have been right, but they just fell short. Because there isn't one real main storyline, there isn't one real main character. What we have is a small collection of characters--or an ensemble cast as it were; again, not a bad thing, just a little hectic.

No one character seemed to get any development because page space was limited. Any sort of peek into the hearts and minds of the characters is done through captions, and even that was sort of a bullet point approach to character building

The most interesting of the characters is Eddie Falco. He's the Mafioso with a slightly less tarnished heart. I can't say he's a real good guy though.

Honestly, it's a pity that there was too much going on in the comic. If Turf had dealt with just one story and character--Eddie should have been it--the issue might have been much better. Still, what we know about Eddie isn't told through his actions; it's merely stated in a third person caption box, which kills the reader’s connection to the character. Being told Eddie's qualities isn't the same as seeing him exhibit them.

As for the other characters, I was left needing more. They're a bit lifeless. There was a woman--a reporter trying to get her big break. Then there's some more mob bosses and the aliens--well, I can't even begin to explain them because there isn't that much to talk about.

I found the vampires to be generally clichéd and uninteresting. At some points, the vampires are simply laughable. One of the characters speaks with a silly accent saying "vill" instead of "will" but that's the only word he seems to struggle with--at least at first. Halfway through the issue, all of his Ws become Vs, which struck me as either a mistake in typing or just forgetful writing.

At times, Turf comes off as manic due to the overkill dialog and blending of storylines. It is a very grand attempt, but how serious it was meant to be in comparision to how it turned out (and how it will be viewed) is uncertain. It's hard to take anything that crosses over so many genres like this seriously--especially when it has freaking vampires that bootleg blood from Canada and extraterrestrials crashing in the middle of 1920s New York--if that isn't pure B-film gold then I couldn't tell you what is.

Oh please, please comic gods, if there is one thing you do for any of us this year (besides giving Barbara Gordon back her Bat mantel), please let it be an all-out war between the mob, vampires, and some aliens. That is all I'm really hoping to get out of this comic.




Jason Sacks:

The first thing you'll notice on opening Turf is how verbose it is. Flip to any page and you'll see an awful lot of text staring back at you. While that's not necessarily a bad thing--one of my favorite comics writers is the extremely verbose Don McGregor--the heavy dependence on words over pictures is a bit startling these days.

Mark Millar addresses this issue a bit in his commentary at the back of the book--saying that writer Jonathan Ross was strongly influenced by the comics of McGregor and Alan Moore, who is another one of my favorite comic book writers (and probably one of your favorites, too).

The problem with that comparison is that Ross uses his words in different ways than do Moore and McGregor. Both of those writers used long paragraphs as ways to establish the mood of their book--using language to give readers insight into the complex moral worlds that their characters live in. Ross doesn't use his text the same way, and that's very much to the detriment of the story.

Instead, what we get in Turf #1 are long and rather dull word balloons and captions that suck the energy out of many scenes rather than amplify them. For example, take the scene towards the middle of this issue in which gangster O'Leary is found attempting to strangle a prostitute by another gangster, Eddie Falco.

After punching a rent-a-cop who initially refuses them entry, Falco and his assistant emerge to find O'Leary strangling the prostitute. I was momentarily startled by the scene--which I'm sure is what Ross intended. Visually, it's quite effective. However, the subsequent dialogue kills the momentum and energy.

In the midst of his violent action--as he's discovered just as he’s about to commit murder--O'Leary manages to mumble a small speech, "huh…unh…unh… it's rude to interrupt a gentleman when he's going about his business, Eddie. I didn't have you figured for the rude type."

The dialogue doesn't rally add anything to the characters at all. O'Leary's casually dismissive approach to the lives of others could have been conveyed in any number of ways--including the body language of the scene, which artist Tommy Lee Edwards conveys wonderfully.

Heck, the scene itself invokes that theme, as only the most cold-blooded man would commit a murder under those circumstances. We get no insight into why O'Leary is committing the murder, no feeling for his motivations. There's a tiny moment towards the end of the sequence in which it's revealed that O'Leary works for the vampires that are attempting to run New York, but it's impossible to say whether the vampires have motivated O'Leary's bloodlust or if it comes from O'Leary himself.

That scene really shows the larger problems with this comic. I was stuck with the feeling that it contains many clever and interesting ideas that just never really cohere into a more intriguing whole. There are many disparate story elements-- vampire mobsters, New York gang wars, Prohibition, a crusading female reporter, space aliens--but those elements never seem to come together on any level. There's no sense of these different ideas all cohering to create the kind of rich tapestry that Ross obviously wants to create.

All the elements seem to take place in their own separate narratives in this issue. Ross doesn't succeed in creating connections between the different story points that help to create a momentum or energy between them; instead, each concept in the story seems to simply live in its own silo.

Maybe the most egregious example of the flaws in the book is in the space alien subplot. The book's hype seems to promise that the alien storyline will be a big part of this series. However, in this first issue, the alien subplot sits alone on one page--not really spun into the narrative of the rest of the story. That scene seems a real non sequitur compared to the rest of the story--literally happening in its own space and just seeming an odd fit for the rest of the issue. At least Ross uses a cute device stolen from Watchmen to set up the scene.

Ross is a famous British TV talk show host. You may have seen his chat show on BBC America or seen his outstanding documentary on Steve Ditko. Ross is obviously an intelligent man who adores comics. He understands comic book history, and he has probably given a lot of thought to the question of what makes a successful comic. Unfortunately, this book just highlights the extremely difficult transition a creator can have when moving from one medium into comics.

There are some intriguing ideas at the core of Turf, and I'd love to see those ideas explored, but unfortunately Ross doesn't do a great job of exploring them. I would have given this comic a rating of only two bullets if not for the gorgeous artwork of Tommy Lee Edwards, which continually stretches and strains against the difficult material to present a terrific comic book.

Edwards's work here is gorgeous, as it always is. He does a brilliant job of evoking 1920s New York, giving the city a kind of ground-down and dirty feel that's perfect for the story that Ross is trying to tell.

Edwards is also wonderful with his depiction of faces. I especially like the way he draws Susie Randall, crusading reporter. She seems to have issues in her past that have driven her to obsessively pursue this story, and Edwards wonderfully evokes that sense. He also does a great job with the vampire characters, who seem both inscrutable and intriguing at the same time.

I had hoped to like Turf more than I did. The setting and themes really intrigued me. Unfortunately, the execution of those themes and ideas just did not come together effectively.

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