Zeb Larson reviews Burning Fields #1…
Dana Atkinson, a dishonorably discharged army investigator, is pulled back to the Middle East when a group of American oil technicians disappear under bizarre circumstances. With the help of an Iraqi investigator, what Dana discovers is unimaginable: A series of unusual incidents at the drill site lead her and her unlikely ally to discover a mythic evil that has been released, one that threatens both the lives of the entire region and the fragile peace that exists.
After a long week of work, I was happy to be able to sit down and read Burning Fields to ease into my weekend. That might have been a mistake, because this is not a relaxing read for a Friday night. It’s an uncomfortable read, with unsettling violence set in a war-torn country. When a place tears itself to pieces and violence is the norm, you can unleash a little bit of hell on earth. I will be discussing spoilers ahead, so read on at your own discretion.
There’s a particularly brutal series of killings happening in the Iraqi oil town of Kirkuk. Dana Atkinson, a former army investigator who ran into some trouble with an oil company called Verge, is summoned by her former commanding officer to come and figure out the culprit. Dana hesitates, but given the option to bring the commanding officer, Decker, to justice, she eventually decides to follow (the fact that she’s in trouble with Chicago’s Russian mob speeds her up). In Kirkuk, an Iraqi cop named Aban Fasad is trying to keep the fragile peace in Kirkuk between Iraqis and Americans while also trying to solve killings that only appear to be just getting started.
Moreci and Daniel have written a strong story here that’s got a lot of potential. Obviously, the killer going around mangling people and leaving them as gruesome billboards is a strong hook. More than that though, the setting makes this really interesting, with multiple different sources of conflict all at once. Dana doesn’t trust Decker, Verge wants to kill Dana, the Iraqis and the Americans can barely co-exist, and Aban is trying to stop his son from getting involved with radicals. “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold” feels like an appropriate quote for a series where nobody really trusts each other in the midst of a pending massacre.
There’s also just enough ambiguity about what’s going on and the nature of these killings that you’re not quite sure what’s at play here. This is one of the horror genre’s most frustrating tropes: the need to reveal the monster or bad guy right away in the hope of hooking the audience early on. When a series falls into that trap, everything leading up to the climax is cheapened, because we as the audience know what’s really going on. Part of the strength of True Detective was the fact that the show kept you guessing about whether or not the killings were supernatural, and Moreci and Daniel do the same thing here.
There’s an obvious allegory at work here about greed. Moreci and Daniel are using this serial killer or monster as a stand-in for all of the horrors that have been unleashed by the relentless search for oil. That’s almost too easy, though, because from what we saw of Verge and its employees, Moreci and Daniel aren’t shy about just showing how corrupt an oil company can be. Of course, I think we should all be talking loudly and often about corporate greed and how the pursuit for oil can dramatically destabilize a country, but I’m wondering what else Moreci and Daniel might be trying to say with this story. As this is the first issue, it’s a little too early to speculate, but I’m curious to see what the future holds.
The only thing I found to criticize while reading this was Dana’s direct flight from Chicago to Kirkuk, which unfortunately does not appear to exist (it’s a 6,286 mile flight and Kirkuk is a town of only 800,000 people). That tiny detail aside, this is a fantastic opening issue for a series that holds a lot of promise. I’m excited for the next issue, but I might not read it when I’m looking to come down from a stressful week.