Waid, Mark & Paul Azaceta. Potter’s Field.

Los Angeles: BOOM! Studios, 2009.

This graphic novel is a very telling example of the good idea which is well executed at first, but which ultimately fails for other reasons. “Potter’s Field,” of course, is the traditional name for the burial place to which paupers and unknown persons are consigned by local government.

In New York City, it’s located on Hart’s Island and is haunted by a mysterious man known as John Doe, whose passion is identifying the anonymous deceased and chiseling their names on their case-number-only grave markers. He carries out secret investigations, revisits old crimes, digs into police files and other public records, and — almost miraculously, it seems — uncovers answers at a terrific rate. But we never learn anything about John’s background, or his motivation, or how he set up the (apparently) vast system of agents and informants that enable him to do what he does, and that’s a large part of the problem with the story. Who is he, that he can get such amazing results so quickly? What hold does he have over those who work for him — many of them cops and bureaucrats who are violating the laws governing their real jobs? (We only see him adding one new agent, which he accomplishes by out-and-out blackmail.) There’s no “origin story,” in other words.

The larger problem also is that the book has the feel of a small collection of stories ripped out of a much larger (but actually nonexistent – I think) narrative, so we get no back-story to these events at all and no reason to empathize with the protagonist. There are four story arcs here, three of them quite short. The longest one actually has the feel of a climactic episode to what should have been that longer presumed narrative, which the reader knows nothing about, and apparently never will. This is a shame because the story lines themselves are pretty well developed internally, the dialogue is first-rate, and Azceta’s artwork suits the style of the text perfectly.

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Published in: on 2 March 2012 at 11:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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