Potter’s Field #1
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Paul Azaceta
Colors: Nick Filardi
Letters: Ed Dukeshire
Cover artists: J.G. Jones/Paul Azaceta
Editor: Marshall Dillon
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $3.99 US
Boom! Studios has been solid small publisher in the comics industry for a couple of years now, but it really turned some heads at Comic-Con International San Diego this year when it announced that fan-favorite writer and former DC editor (a lifetime ago, it seems) Mark Waid had signed on as the publisher’s new editor-in-chief. It certainly seemed like a solid move, given the attention that Waid’s high profile brought and the expertise he brings to the job as well. Potter’s Field is not only Boom’s first big release in the wake of that announcement, but it’s also penned by the new editor-in-chief as well. Needless to say, Boom! Studios has a lot riding on this comic book, and fortunately, it lives up to expectations. I think what I most appreciated about Potter’s Field, other than the entertaining crime-drama storytelling, is the fact that it doesn’t mark a significant shift in direction for the publisher. It already offered a diverse array of material in its lineup, and Potter’s Field is just the latest addition. If you haven’t bothered to check out a Boom! release before, Potter’s Field is a good place to start.
Not far from Manhattan, in a small cemetery on a small island off Long Island Sound, the city lays the anonymous victims and perpetrators of crime to their eternal rest. These nameless, faceless people aren’t entirely forgotten, though. A resourceful, intelligent and determined man known only as John Doe sets out to name each and every one of the dead in Potter’s Field, and to that end, he’s recruited an army of “agents,” people in positions of quiet power or in possession of key skills who help Doe out of gratitude, debt or coercion. John Doe’s latest mission is to identify an anonymous teenage girl believed to have committed suicide. She seems like a stranger from another time, and therein lies the lead Doe needs to find his answers and to exact some justice.
Boom! Studios has wisely maintained a working relationship with artist Paul Azaceta, and he delivers another stellar performance. He also demonstrates that he continues to grow as an artist. There’s a greater level of detail at play here as compared to his work on Talent. The art is much darker as well, which helps to enhance the inherent tension in the story. His simpler approach to characters’ faces is still apparent in his work, but he’s able to convey a strong sense of realism. Those simpler features make it easier to see oneself in the story or others with which one is familiar. The hero of the story is a striking figure, good-looking and strong, but the artist acknowledges that not everyone in the world is a paragon of physicality. The other characters are skinny or chunky, looming large or short in stature. Azaceta has a great eye for anatomy, for a variety of human shapes, and it reinforces the realism of the story. Of course, those sharp, convincing backgrounds make things seem even more genuine.
A big part of the art, as I noted before, is the dark mood, and colorist Nick Filardi adds a lot to that atmosphere as well. He employs dark, muted tones to great effect. I particularly enjoyed his use of cool, understated blues to bolster the noir appeal of the book.
John Doe is something of a Sherlock Holmes-ian figure, tackling cold cases to mete out justice to killers who have gone unpunished for too long. The difference is that the deduction isn’t all his. Doe is portrayed as a brilliant figure, but he also relies on the expertise of what may be an unending line of “agents.” The premise is something like The Shadow meets CSI, and it works quite well.
Judging from the first episode, this three-issue series will no doubt appeal to fans of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s Criminal, but they should be advised that this crime book is considerably different than Criminal. While Brubaker’s scripts boast a lot of credibility, this book is driven by plot, and to a lesser extent, by action. Criminal‘s greatest strength, in addition to its convincing portrayal of professional criminals, is as a venue for strong character studies. The premise reigns supreme here, though Waid has crafted some convincing characters among the numbers of John Doe’s agents.
I noted earlier that Potter’s Field is in keeping with the quality and even mood of previous Boom! releases, but it also follows another familiar pattern for this publisher. This opening issue reads like a pilot for a TV series. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the book was crafted in part as a pitch for other-media treatment. The publisher has had some success in that department, with Talent and Tag being optioned by Hollywood types. Does that detract from the reading experience? Well, that awareness/suspicion is ever so slightly distracting, but overall, supposition about the book’s purpose doesn’t change the fact that it’s solidly entertaining. 8/10
Note: Potter’s Field #1 is slated for release Sept. 12.