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Graphic Novel Review: Potter’s Field by Mark Waid and Paul Azaceta

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Mark Waid has evidently decided to throw his hat into the crime comics ring. As editor of Boom! Comics, he’s evidently hired himself to write a couple of crime comics series, Potter’s Field and The Unknown. He was also the writer behind Ruse, CrossGen Comics’ homage to Sherlock Holmes. Waid definitely knows his way around a crime story and how to string the read along on an investigation.

I liked the premise behind Potter’s Field: an unknown hero simply called John Doe (which is what unidentified murder victims are called by the police) who dedicates himself to finding out who those unknown fallen are and bringing their killers to justice. Not only that, John Doe doesn’t operate alone, he has a host of agents that he asks into his circle of associates, or gets indebted to him, or blackmails into helping him.

I was immediately reminded of the old Shadow pulps, because that’s exactly what that mysterious hero did for many years as well. It’s a formula that works for readers.

I also liked Paul Azaceta’s art on the pages. The panels are dark and moody, never far removed from danger and oblivion, and the violence is sharp and edge, often right in the reader’s face. Azaceta delivers a compact, brutal look that’s definitely attention-getting.

The mysteries in the first three stories are woven together well. There are lots of twists and turns for readers who like to puzzle out who the villains are. However, I did get lost during the final reveal to the overall mystery and had to go back to reread some of the previous pages. It all makes sense, but it comes together so suddenly that I couldn’t quite comprehend everything on the first read-through.

John Doe, as I said, reminds me of the Shadow. But one of the things that made that old pulp character work so well were the agents. Harry Vincent was one of the Shadow’s favorite agents, and readers often got to view large sections of those stories through Harry’s eyes. We got to know more about Harry, and we worried about him because the Shadow also lost agents throughout the series.

These stories center on John Doe, and I just didn’t get enough of the character to truly lock into him. I want to know more about who he is and why he pursues his chosen career so zealously. I want to know why he has no fingerprints and how he stays so much in the dark.

I don’t know if Waid is going to return to the character at some later date or if this is all there will be. If this is it, I have to admit to some dissatisfaction because the greatest reveal in the series is John Doe himself – and we don’t get to watch that mystery get solved.

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