The Forgotten Dead: Mark Waid talks "John Doe"

Fri, April 28th, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Andrew Wickliffe, Guest Contributor

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Mark Waid's written superheroes' beginnings ("Superman: Birthright"), their endings ("Kingdom Come") and their far-flung futures ("Supergirl & The Legion Of Super-Heroes"). But Waid writes more than superheroes as his creator-owned "John Doe" limited series, starting later this year, will show. Set in and around New York City, John Doe names the unnamed dead of Potter's Field. Doe uses a network of operatives to save the unsaved and solve the unjustly slain's mysteries.

Instead of making everyone wait, Boom! Studios will be giving readers a sneak preview this July with "Mark Waid's John Doe Preview Book." The book includes a five page, self-contained story introducing readers to John Doe's world, as well as a preview for the three issue limited series, character sketches, and Mark Waid's script notes and commentary. With Waid exclusive to DC Comics, "John Doe" represents the only outside-DC work he'll be doing for some time. CBR News caught up with Waid to discuss the John Doe Preview Book," now in previews.

CBR: When someone says Mark Waid -- right or wrong -- I think superheroes. "John Doe" does not sound like superheroes. What's the history behind the project? How long have you been working on it?

Waid: Since 1999, at least. I remember the afternoon the entire concept fell pretty much full-blown into my head; I was talking over a plot for (the late, lamented) "Gatecrasher" with Jimmy Palmiotti, and we were looking for a cool location for an action sequence when Jimmy made reference to Potter's Field, which I'd somehow never heard of before. Jimmy explained that it was the real-life New York graveyard where unidentified crime victims were buried, and while we didn't end up using that locale for the "Gatecrasher" scene, the cool weirdness of the venue stuck in my head.

Those who remember the brief heyday of Gorilla Comics ("Empire," "Shockrockets," "Crimson Plague," "Section Zero," etc.) will recall that each title ran five-page backup previews for upcoming Gorilla series. I'd written a five-page "pilot" for "John Doe" to be my second Gorilla title, but then we started slipping on one banana after another and before we knew it, the entire Gorilla enterprise came tumbling down around us, leaving John Doe homeless. Been looking for a home ever since.

CBR: The part of the description about the network of operatives reminded me a little of "The Shadow." Is "John Doe" a more pulpy comic? If so, is it set in the modern day?

Waid: It is, but the beauty of New York is that there are neighborhoods that run the gamut from looking futuristic to seeming preserved from the 17th century, so that gives us a lot of "stage setting" variety.

CBR: The real Potter's Field is particularly interesting. I've heard of it a lot (probably from episodes of "Law and Order"), but I had no idea the long history of it or the particulars. How did you decide to use it?

Waid: It just seems truly tragic to me that so many of those victims die forgotten without even a name to mark their graves. John Doe was created to right that wrong. It's his self-appointed task to identify each of those corpses and follow up on their unfinished business -- avenging their deaths in some manner or another.

CBR: The name "Potter's Field" is generally thought to come from the Bible. I came across that detail after I'd read the solicitation, but reading it again, the word "unsaved" became bold to me. Is there any connection or am I just reading too much into it?

Waid: Keep reading.

CBR: The "John Doe Preview Book" is a self-contained story. How is the mini-series going to be paced? Are the issues going to be self-contained "cases," kind of like your "Legion of Super-Heroes" slowly building, or will it be a more traditional mini-series? Also, how many issues is the mini-series?

Waid: The initial mini is set to be three issues, I believe. It's structured as three separate cases that end up tying together, and there's a lot of issue-to-issue play between John Doe's various operatives as their own curiosity is raised as to his identity.

CBR: What's your favorite thing about "John Doe?"

Waid: That it allows me to tell an insanely wide variety of stories. Some are crime dramas, some are hard-boiled detective cases, some are full of magic realism, and some are blackly humorous. But they all move me, and I hope they move you, too.

 
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