Comics Should Be Good Group Review - Potter's Field #1

Today, Boom! Studios is releasing Potter's Field #1, by writer Mark Waid and artist Paul Azaceta.

The gang here at Comics Should Be Good haven't done a group review in awhile, so we thought we'd give this one a crack.


Brad Curran

Potter's Field #1 will be out today, September 12th, and for someone only familiar with Waid's superhero work, it's quite a departure for him.

If one thing's abundantly clear with opening splash page that opens the issue, featuring a drug mule being strangled with a plastic bag, it's that this isn't your typical Mark Waid story. The art, from penciller Paul Azaceta and colorist Nick Filardi, adds to this. It's gritty, with bold black ink liberally splashed on the page, more reminiscent of people like Sean Phillips and Michael Lark than collaborators you would usually associate with Waid.

Waid quickly establishes the premise of the series in the opening pages via narration from one of the lead character's associates, whom he identifies as John Doe. It feels more like a pitch for the series, or the kind of voice over you hear during a trailer for a new TV show than actual narration, but it does allow him to get the set up out of the way without pages of exposition, so I can live with it.

It establishes our enigmatic lead's mission (to identify the people buried in the graves in the eponymous cemetery) and lets him get on with the work at hand. Waid drops some interesting details about the character (he doesn't leave fingerprints!), follows him through a complete case, integrates a thinly veiled Nancy Grace analogue, whose appearance at first seems like a throw away detail, in to the story, and ends things on a cliffhanger. You certainly can't say that the story doesn't move, and it's nice to see a story with a beginning, middle, and end mixed in with what looks like the overarching plot of the whole three issue series.

While the set up vaguely reminds me of the Shadow, the story's not told in a pulp/supehero vein. The closest it gets to that is reminding me of books like Sleeper or Bendis's Daredevil, but that has more to do with the resemblance of Azaceta's art work to the artists who worked on those books than the content of the story itself. While the character's a vigilante/detective, this has more in common with something you'd see on prime time TV than, say, Batman. I don't mean that in a derogatory, "this is where bad TV goes to die", way. It's just that the set up and execution remind of a well done network TV drama than your average genre comic (which, from what I can tell, having read a few of their books recently, is what BOOM! has been specializing in). The closest thing in comics I can compare it to is Desolation Jones, but it lacks that book's world weariness and the espionage back drop. While DJ (at least from the first trade) is like a noir detective story set in a weird, underground version of L.A., this feels a little more like a straight detective story, with the enigmatic nature of the lead character adding the spice to the mix.

Azaceta and Filardi provide some excellent visuals; I imagine they'll look even better on the glossy paper BOOM! publishes their comics on, but it's still pretty damn impressive on my computer monitor. Azateca's pencils do remind me a lot of Lark and Phillips because they have a lot of texture to them, which is what I'm getting at when I call them gritty. I'm too ignorant of the process to know how much Filardi's colors add to the process, but I do know they're striking as well. They're especially effective in the scenes where Doe is lurking around a dark apartment, but Filardi does a good job throughout the whole issue, bringing life to what could have been a very drab comic had he not varied the color palette as much as he did. Even something as miniscule as the sky during one the scenes in the cemetery looks great. This is easily the best looking comic I've seen from this publisher.

So, for your $3.99, you get a pretty nice package. I'd recommend this to people looking for something a little different in their genre comics. The price might sound a little steep, but from my experience with other BOOM! books, you're paying for better production values than even the highest profile Marvel and DC Books and a lack of obtrusive ads. You'll also get a satisfying single issue read with enough of a foundation laid that you might very well want to come back for the next one. It's also worth picking up to reward Waid for trying his hand at a little something different from his retro-tinged superhero work.

Greg Hatcher

Well, no sooner do I do a column with a facetious grump about never getting review copies of things then I am suddenly handed one. I should grump about things in print more often. For example, it really sucks that we don't have a new car...

Seriously, I liked Potter's Field quite a bit. I probably own more work by Mark Waid than the rest of my colleagues here combined... well, except maybe our dread Lord and Master, since Cronin seems to get everything. But I'm reasonably sure that I admire Mark Waid's writing more than anyone else on the blog here. So I was probably a bit more ready to like this book than my fellows.

And I did like it. It's not perfect, but it is very enjoyable and gets the series off to a promising start. Mark Waid gets pigeonholed too often as "the old-school superhero guy," and he is indeed really, really good at that stuff. But he's really good at the non-superhero stuff too... I loved Ruse and True Tales from the Convention Trail and the other non-super things of his that I've seen. Potter's Field is the biggest departure from the superhero genre I've seen from Mr. Waid so far.

Potter's Field is a crime book of sorts, with a pulpy, mean-streets feel to it. This is helped greatly by the art from Paul Azaceta, whose work I hadn't come across prior to seeing this. It struck me as being very much of that Michael Lark/Alex Maleev school of noir storytelling, though, with lots of rough line work and deep shadows. It's well-suited to the story.

The story itself reminded me of the kind of pulp series character you used to see in the heyday of the 30's crime magazines. The mysterious John Doe makes it his business to discover the real names and stories behind the deaths of the anonymous unfortunates buried in Potter's Field and make sure their killers are brought to justice if necessary. He has a team of agents recruited from all walks of life who have their own reasons for helping him, some noble ones, others not so much. None of these recruits know who Doe is or why he is on this mission, though they all respect him and some even fear him. This story is mostly told from these agents' point of view, giving us a sort of mosaic portrait of Doe and his mission as we follow him trying to find the killer of a teenage girl.

What I liked about the book was, first and foremost, it's very inviting to new readers. It takes real skill to do an introductory story that gets all the necessary setup and exposition out of the way, while at the same time is engaging enough that you don't feel like you're stuck watching the sound check before the actual SHOW starts. Here, Waid wisely opts to avoid doing that kind of origin or first-outing tale, giving us instead what I assume is meant to be a sample of the kind of regular episode we can expect. Good call. We don't really need to know who John Doe is or why he does what he does - it's enough that we agree it's worth doing, and that case gets made well enough that the rest doesn't matter. As one of Doe's recruits says, "I'm in favor of the overall what. None of us know the who or the why." Hear, hear. I hope John Doe spends his whole career being mysterious. This book will work best if it stays with the almost-an-anthology format that is so well laid out in this first issue.

As a fan of the old-time pulps, I've always had a soft spot for the institution of the mysterious hero recruiting ordinary folks from all walks of life to help out as needed... I liked it in The Shadow and the Avenger, I liked it more recently in Global Frequency, and I like it here. The premise promises a wide variety of stories that can go in almost any direction. My hope would be that the book stays with this one-episode-per-issue approach, similar to Global Frequency, letting us get familiar with Doe and his world gradually.

My only worry - and it's a mild one - is that the book will seem too familiar to people. There are those that will dismiss it as being too much like Global Frequency, or the TV shows Cold Case or Without a Trace, and so on. We tend to be very impatient with genre conventions in comics that are NOT superhero tales, for some reason. But the mysterious avenger assembling a team of citizen recruits to redeem themselves by doing good is a fine old traditional crime genre and it's nice to see it back. Waid and Azaceta give it an interesting enough new spin that I'll probably hang around a while, especially since I enjoy Mark Waid's sense of humor and snappy dialogue. Plus he gives Nancy Grace-style pundits a well-deserved thrashing here, which in itself is worth the price of admission.

Is it groundbreaking or innovative? Not really. But it's fun, well-done work with wit and flair in a genre I've always liked, and if you like pulpy action/crime stories too, you'll probably enjoy Potter's Field.

Greg Burgas

Potter's Field #1 does a fine job setting up Mark Waid's mini-series. We get a mysterious protagonist, John Doe, who wanders around a cemetery in New York filled with unidentified corpses and, well, identifies them. It's an intriguing set-up, made even more interesting by the fact that he wants to remain anonymous and doesn't seem to have any fingerprints. In the fine tradition of the Shadow, he uses operatives to help him find out who these people were, and this allows Waid to use them as narrators while keeping John Doe at a distance. It's nicely done.

We first hear about him through one of his employees, who simply gives us the set-up. Then, using a television pundit as a link between scenes (she's a victim of a crime who became a raving talking head, and is clearly based on that woman on Fox whose name escapes me), we shift to the morgue, where we meet another employee - the coroner. He's speaking to John Doe about a girl in a grave who fell from a building and the only thing to identify her is a Walkman from a decade ago. This is when we discover that John Doe has no fingerprints - he leaves a water bottle behind and the coroner dusts it, only to find nothing. John Doe calls him immediately and tells him it was a nice try, which makes him even more mysterious - does he have strange powers? He discovers who the girl is, of course, and this leads him to the girl's mother, who becomes his operative through a series of events that wouldn't be nice of me to reveal. The issue ends with a woman pleading for his help. What help can he offer her?

The story is interesting because it's fairly unique - we've gotten stories about solving missing persons cases and cold cases, but the creepiness of the anonymous graves and the anonymous hero give this an added kick. Azaceta's rough art suits the subject matter quite well. John Doe wears reflective lens sunglasses all the time, so although he appears to be a normal person, it gives him an unsettling look. This book calls for a gritty style, and Azaceta has that in spades. He's not called on to do too much, as the only scene in which any action takes place is in a darkened room, but he gives Waid's disturbing script a touch of humanity while still keeping the tone eerie. The nice thing about the book is that it feels like a supernatural thriller even though, in many ways, it's a crime drama. It's a neat combination.

This is three issues long, and I've been waiting for it to arrive for some time. It's nice to see my wait wasn't in vain.

Brian Cronin

Hmmmm...is Hatcher more of a Mark Waid fan than I am? Quite possibly, but I have enjoyed a lot of Mark Waid's work over the years. Some I have not, so maybe Greg is correct.

In any event, Potter's Field #1 was a fun comic book, as Waid does his take on the old-school radio heroes of days long ago, when heroes had "operatives" who would work for him. It works quite well in this first issue, as Waid allows each operative, even if they only have a quick scene, to have a true personality.

Artist Paul Azaceta did some Image work awhile back on a book called Grounded, and I remember noting, besides how good he was, how the book's writer, Mark Sable, even noted that it was unlikely that he would be able to hold on to Azaceta, and soon afterwards, Azaceta began working for Boom!, and now he's paired with one of the biggest comic book writers in the business, and the result is very nice, artistically. Waid gives each character a different personality, but it is Azaceta who punctuates this by his design work, as each character looks distinct, as well - and I love how realistic his female characters are. He has a real grounded sense to him, which is perfect for what Waid is going for here, which is a bunch of absolutely ordinary people who work for an

The extraordinary man in question is the star of the book, John Doe, whose mission is to give a name to the bodies who are buried without names. It is a nice hook by Waid, as it promises to be something that you can easily milk for quite a long time without the concept going dry.

I was also extremely impressed by Waid's expositionary skills. He introduced a lot of the back story without it seeming too corny. That is very hard to do, and Waid did it extremely well.

Look at these sample pages for the exposition (and also for a chance to see Azaceta's art in action)....

Pretty darn nice, no?

All in all, this is a fine first issue for Waid's creator-owned title.


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