REVIEW: Potter's Field #1


Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Paul Azacetta


It’s official, Mark Waid has gone Boom!

POTTER’S FIELD is Waid‘s first book as editor-in-chief (and he chose to write it himself. Huh.). Waid doesn’t set out to reinvent the company wheel with this series, as the old adage still is in effect: ‘if it ain’t broken…‘.

Instead, Waid adapts every subtly his writing style to what is expected from a Boom book; PF #1 reads like a captivating TV crime show pilot in comics form: the premise is laid out revealing the show structure of a weekly murder mystery, the protagonist is introduced through third parties, keeping a shroud of mystery around him yet providing enough off-key minutia to keep him interesting to the reader and raise questions, while all the information is spaced out through a smaller-scale opening salvo murder investigation.

Let’s backtrack and look at what the story is about though:

‘Potter’s Field’ is a term used for public burial places for unknown or indigent people. Wikipedia has an interesting article explaining the origins of the name (and including a reference to this comic).

The stories in this book are centered around the Potter’s field on Hart Island, New York. The protagonist is ‘John Doe’, a sunglass-wearing tabula rasa of a hero, carrying a morbid obsession/compulsion to investigate the stories of the other Johns and Janes Doe who are buried in that field, and discover their true names so that he can chisel them on to their numbered grave plates and they can then be properly mourned. Each issue looks to be geared to be the quest to uncover the next number in sequence in the burial ground. J.D.’s ‘crew’ consists of people in key positions (coroners, prison guards, reporters) who support his cause and owe him a debt of gratitude for helping them out when tragedy had struck close to their own lives. Very GLOBAL FREQUENCY meets CSI. The first case is an unidentified (duh) girl, who jumped off a building terrace, carrying only a walkman (remember those?) containing only Top 20 summer hits from ten years ago. What a way to go!

The premise is solid and fertile for a variety of crime and murder stories, probably allowing other writers to come in after Waid’s opening arc and tell their own stories. Much like Boom’s other prominent properties, it’s also a by-the-numbers comics-acting-as-a-pitch for Hollywood and TV execs. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, this is a concept that’s indeed perfect for TV; if it wasn’t for Paul Azacetta with his stunning visuals (very John Paul Leon) and the sneakily evil things he does with panel perspective and camera settings (angling many of his ‘shots’ as reflections on J.D.’s sunglasses lens, or shooting from inside a toilet can at a man’s head sunk inside), I could even hazard to say it’s something better suited for the screen than the paper. Paul is saving the day here, Boom.

Any complaints? At first read, I was ecstatic over this title, the premise and everything, really. The second reading, for the purposes of this review, revealed flaws in the pacing and the execution of the clever crime-of-the-month that were quite jarring; although the first issue carries an original crime mystery, Waid is squandering its potential by cutting it short enough to fit as a self-contained issue, and then even shorter to accommodate all the setup that needs to get out of the way in the pilot issue. The victim’s situation is introduced, J.D. pays two visits to his informants and before you know it he’s already solved the mystery and is sneaking around the culprit’s apartment seeking hard evidence and retribution. There are no false leads to make the route more exciting, no potential suspects, no clues left out for the reader to get in on the detective game (isn’t that a huge part of the fun in crime series and whodunits?); John Doe simply serves us the suspect in a platter and then explains how everything happened with enough glee to make Angela Lansbury jealous (at the same time not providing quite enough convincing arguments about how he came to these deduction, apart from divine intuition).

A secondary complaint pertains to the accuracy of the depictions of this specific Potter’s Field, on Hart Island. Since Waid chose this specific burial ground, to take advantage of the New York setting, I expected a higher degree of accuracy compared to the real facts about the place. A cursory Wiki search reveals that the graves in Hart Island are in fact mass graves, with six coffinsfitted in the same hole, without any individual markers. I understand how this different interpretation of the fields caters to the plot machine set up here, so the only real gripe is that the added realism/accuracy would have made it an even better book, though it certainly doesn’t detract all that much (it’s not like a lot people are likely to know about the inaccuracy unless they’re reading us -oops- 😉 ).

I’m hooked enough with the creative team and the premise to tune in next month for the next crime mystery and hope for the best! I wonder how many months before the first press release announcing the property has been optioned by HBO? 😉

Grade: 6.5/10


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