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Johanna Bunts Potter’s Field

Brian Hibbs

People send me PDFs for review. Here’s my thoughts on one. Bear in mind that I use a laptop, so my screen space is minimal, and by the time I blow up the pages to be able to read the dialogue, I’m looking at individual panels, not full pages. It’s not the most ideal format, but it’s effectively free for both of us.

First up, Potter’s Field #1, Mark Waid’s first book from Boom! Studios now that he’s their Editor-in-Chief. It fits right in with their publications, reading more like a media project storyboard than a comic. The first five pages set up the premise, another twist on the “oddball solves murders” plot that’s so common in hour-long TV procedurals.

A mysterious John Doe is working his way through New York City’s Potter’s Field, where the anonymous dead are buried. His goal is to put names to the dead bodies. (Continuing premise: each episode can be a different grave tackled. Kind of like Cold Case.) I can think of better ways to spend one’s efforts, but if that’s what he wants to do… we don’t get any sense yet of his motivation, but all that time spent hanging out in cemeteries is vaguely reminiscent of the Spirit.

Our Doe is described as follows: “He goes places the police can’t. And he never rests until he can give the dead the only thing he can: A name to be remembered by.” I can hear David Caruso saying that now. And in fact, whenever we see Doe, his eyes are replaced by blank aviator shades. The art is by Paul Azaceta, and the word that first comes to mind is “serviceable”, which also categorizes other Boom books I recall. The colors by Nick Filardi are pretty and atmospheric, at least on screen.

Doe’s got a network of operatives who owe him favors and do the groundwork, kind of like Global Frequency, only lower-tech. Waid’s also picked up Ellis’ tendency to lightly rewrite gruesome real-life stories. In this case, I was reminded of the story of a young girl who’s been kidnapped and kept captive for years, only for her to later escape.

There’s a vaguely misogynistic twist in which the terrified, despairing mother is blamed for her daughter’s death through a convoluted chain of blame. And some of Doe’s helper’s abilities are too facile; why can his guy decode an old audio tape when the police couldn’t? Can’t they also call experts?

I don’t blame Waid for creating a story where most of the key points remind me of other TV shows and comics. It’s awfully hard to come up with anything original these days. But I get the feeling that he’s not aiming for original, but for option money. It’s too slick, wrapping up too neatly while allowing Doe to ride a hobbyhorse against a Nancy Grace-like TV host. It left me thinking it was Okay — I’d likely watch this television show.

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