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Hot Ink Reviews– Turf #1, Batman and Robin #11, Marvel Zombies Vol. 5 #1, Thor and the Warriors Four #1

ComicsAlliance reviews the biggest, best, and most interesting comics that hit the shelves this week. SPOILERS FOLLOW.

BOLDLY TAKING AND HOLDING ANY GENRE TERRITORY IT CAN – Turf 1

The mashup is big right now — taking two things that you wouldn’t normally expect to see together, mixing them up, and seeing what happens. Jane Austen and movie monsters. Chocolate and bacon. Cutting edge consumer technology and whatever the term is for the opposite of miniaturization (maximization? largeifying? embiggening? anyway, there’s your topical iPad reference).

Comics have been mixing genres frequently as of late, unless of course you consider “zombies plus something else” its own genre by now. So how does someone stand out from the crowd at this point? Increase the number of ingredients you’re mixing together. See “Turf,” the new series Image is premiering this week.

Co-created by its writer, outspoken British comedian, TV and radio host, and avowed comics and sci-fi fan Jonathan Ross and its artist, “Marvel 1985″‘s Tommy Lee Edwards, “Turf” is a tale set against the high society underground of prohibition-era Manhattan. It tells the story of a young reporter and her photographer as they pursue a story that will make their careers. And how that ties in to a principled mob boss caught in the middle of a gang war. And how both those stories tie in with an internal feud between a clan of vampires from Romania who’ve come to New York, many of whom seek to take control of the city. And how all three of those stories link up with a starship smuggling stolen weapons and drugs that’s caught by a powerful interstellar empire and forced to crash land near Coney Island.

You got all that? It’s quite a bit to get across with the first issue, and for the most part Ross and Edwards do a good job. They’ve carefully constructed all the aspects of the world so they do naturally link together, at least for the most part. Edwards’ art beautifully sets the tone for the series, ably depicting the highs and lows of the swinging speakeasies of gangland Manhattan. He’s called on to show horror, action and sci-fi sequences and pulls it all off in a cohesive style. As for Ross, he’s set a daunting task for himself in his first comic series, having to introduce such a complex world in his first issue in order to bring readers on board.For the most part, he pulls it off. If there’s one problem with the book it’s that there’s so much text in some panels that it crowds out the artwork. But if that’s a sacrifice that was deliberately made in order to get the necessary exposition in, I won’t complain too much. In the span of one issue we’re introduced to reporter Susie Dale, gangster Eddie Falco and sparring vampire crime bosses Stefan and Gregori Dragonmir and given enough background that it’s evident none of them are going to be fit the expected stereotypes they might easily have fallen into in another writer’s hands.

That being said, “Turf” isn’t quite enough to be called an instantly great book on the basis of the first issue alone. It’s an exposition heavy introduction that introduces the characters, and while the world-building, artwork and writing are all engaging it remains to be seen whether, with all the pieces in place, the complicated story will continue to work when everything is set in motion all at once. Still, it’s able to pack more story into twenty six pages than many other comics do with twice as much real estate, and it’s certainly an ambitious work that’s worth checking out and keeping an eye on as it continues its five issue run. At the very least, it at least raises the possibility that some devoted fan might open a sci-fi goth speakeasy. And there are worse things that could happen.

OH COME ON – Batman and Robin 11

Grant Morrison, what exactly are you playing at?

When you construct elaborately complex narratives full of nigh-undecipherable clues that would require doctorates in Ancient Greek, quantum physics and bioengineering, I feel at ease. I sense that the world is as it should be. The fact that I have no idea what you’re talking about in a good forty to sixty percent of your story because I don’t have the hours to invest in decoding it all allows me to comfortably appreciate the rest of what’s there and reassure myself with the false promise that someday, when there’s time, I’ll reread everything and it’ll all be clear.

Then there’s this week’s issue of “Batman and Robin,” the second in a three part arc leading up to the return of Bruce Wayne. Last issue saw the reintroduction of Oberon Sexton who is not, as I initially believed, a Shakespearean porn star but is in fact a costumed detective known as the Gravedigger. When Sexton showed up again last issue, there was some speculation that the return of this figure, concealed from head to toe and wearing a billowing, black, cape-like overcoat, was not coincidental to the beginning of the “Return of Bruce Wayne” arc.

Sexton, many argued, might very well be Wayne. And issue 11 plays directly into that line of thinking, starting with the cover, upon which Sexton and Robin stand side by side sporting heroic poses directly under the series title “Batman and Robin.” And if that wasn’t direct enough for you, there’s the post-fight scene moment where Damian calls out Sexton for faking his British accent and asks him point blank “Are you Bruce Wayne?”, a question Sexton evades with all the deftness of a politician, i.e., none.

Which all makes me almost entirely convinced that Sexton can’t possibly be Bruce Wayne.

I mean, this is Grant Morrison we’re talking about. Would he really do something so obvious? Sexton’s got to be a giant red herring. Like the audience is a baby and Morrison’s waving something big and shiny around in front of it with one hand while the other raises the literary equivalent of a cricket bat behind it, preparing to surprise it with a strike squarely on the back of the head.

Yes, I said it. Babies are easily distracted. What of it?

Of course, there is the one other possibility. Grant Morrison may have decided that he’s done complex puzzles so often that the only surprising thing left for him to do is to present a story in the most obvious way possible. That Sexton is Bruce Wayne. That the reason he wears that top hat with the bandanna is that he hasn’t even bothered to take the cowl off and if you lift the hat you’ll see two little bat ears pointing up from his head. So I guess what I’m saying is that no matter what happens when this arc is resolved next issue, one way or the other Grant Morrison will once again have made me feel stupid for considering one of the above choices. Mr. Morrison, expect delivery of your customary cookie of acknowledged defeat in the mail shortly thereafter.

THESE ARE THE NEW MARVEL TEAMS TO GET EXCITED ABOUT – Marvel Zombies Vol. 5 1/Thor and the Warriors Four 1

I take a certain joy in watching familiar characters placed in circumstances far removed from their usual heroic routines. And this week Marvel’s seen fit to provide two enjoyable exercises in showcasing previously unseen sides of characters I was not expecting to see in the first issues of both “Marvel Zombies” Vol. 5 and “Thor and the Warriors Four.”

Now I know that many of you are tired of zombie books. I would normally count myself not merely amongst that group fighting off the zombie-comic horde, but somewhere up towards the front of it, calmly loading my rifle and aiming up the next head shot on the latest series that decided to cash in on the zombie craze without bothering to actually use the monsters to explore any of the ideas a good zombie story does.

But I urge all of you, even if the thought of yet another book filled with shambling undead makes you roll your eyes and moan like one of the rotting corpses to be found therein, you should go check out the first issue of the fifth series of “Marvel Zombies,” written by Fred Van Lente with pencils by Kano and inks by Tom Palmer.

The story follows two agents of A.R.M.O.R. (Alternate Reality Monitoring & Operational Response agency) as they travel the multiverse to collect samples of zombies in order to create an all-purpose zombie cure. Aaron Stack, a.k.a. Machine Man, is one of the two, and he’s present in all the “stand aside weak fleshy humans and let a robot show you how it’s done” glory of his time in “Nextwave.” I don’t want to spoil Stack’s partner in zombie huntin’, but it is the best choice that Van Lente could possibly have made and the reveal of the character’s identity, which happens late in the book is its finest page. If you must know who it is, click here. Yeah. That guy and Machine Man. Fightin’ zombies. A different world each issue. First one sees them in a wild west universe, issue 2 promises a riff on H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds.” Go read this.

Next up is the first issue of “Thor and the Warriors Four”, written by Alex Zalben with art by Gurihiru. It kicks off a series which sees the Power Pack, a group of children given superpowers by a crashed space alien because, hey, not everyone’s going to crash land near Hal Jordan, team up with Thor. Or at least it promises that this will happen, Thor doesn’t actually show up just yet, although he’s got an able stand in in issue 1. Lest you think that this will be nothing but a silly children’s story, it’s made absolutely clear that this will be far more serious than you’re expecting when, within the first few pages of the plot, the Power Pack visit their grandmother in the hospital. Grandma, you see, is dying and there’s nothing that can be done to help her. Yeah, how’s that for a starter to your book where Thor teams up with a little girl who leaves rainbows behind her when she flies?

This leads to a remarkable scene of the kids trying to figure out if there’s anything they can do with their superpowers to help, before deciding, inspired by a book of Norse Mythology, to go to Asgard and get a Golden Apple that bestows youth and heals illness. So they set off to look for Thor, first encountering the Pet Avengers and raising the adorability level of this book about children trying to save their dying grandmother to a dose nearly high enough to render unprepared readers comatose.

But the real example of heroes out of their element to be found in this book is actually the backup story written and drawn by Colleen Coover. It sees Hercules brought over to babysit for the Power Pack. Coover’s able to keep true to Herc’s essence as a self absorbed braggart who’s still well meaning and a lot of fun even while showing him do things like make sandwiches and play go fish, and it’s a fun short companion piece to the main story.

GOOD WEEK FOR MARVEL –

ComicAlliance’s staff did a roundtable talk on Jonathan Hickman’s “S.H.I.E.LD. #1″ yesterday, but I wanted to reiterate just how good this book is again here. What makes this special, at least for me, is that it’s clear Hickman’s got a story to tell, and that story just happens to feature incorporating Marvel Universe continuity into world history. But you could remove all the Marvel elements and at the core this is still a good story. This is how you do a continuity story right — you don’t make the continuity stuff the central element to your story, you make it the decoration.

If you love continuity stuff, you will have a great time with this book. But you could come into this knowing nothing about any of the references to Marvel continuity and it’s still an amazing story in Hickman’s tradition of examining how humanity overcomes adversity by pushing itself to find its limits and by inventing the means of its own salvation. Also out this week is Jason Aaron’s “Wolverine: Weapon X #12,” which continues a story arc reminiscent of the Terminator series and frankly better than almost all the real films and TV shows of the Terminator series. It’s only the second issue of the arc, so catch up on this one if you haven’t been reading it.

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