Shelby: You may not know this, but we don’t review everything we read. We’ve stuck primarily with DC up until now because we didn’t want to bite off more than we could chew. DC was starting at one, we were already basically familiar with the characters, it was an easy starting point for us. As we became more familiar with the creative talent DC has harnessed, we realized there was a huge chunk of titles we were missing out on. I’m not talking about Marvel, I’m talking about the endless array of independently published comics. Good independent titles can be hard to find, literally; if the creator doesn’t have the funds for a wide distribution, there aren’t going to be a lot of physical copies to be had. Unless you knew to look for it, you could pass right by it. So, when Patrick and Drew heard that Brian Buccellato (famous ’round these parts for his awesome work on The Flash) had a Kickstarter to fund an anthology for his self-published title Foster, they jumped on it, and pulled me along for the ride. Like all our reviews, this one is going to be spoiler heavy, so if you’re interested in reading the issues before the review, head over to Dog Year Store to get yourself caught-up. It’s cool, we’ll wait.
This is Eddie Foster.
Foster is a washed-up, alcoholic war vet from a Vietnam-esque conflict, living in Vintage City. Think 70s crime drama, but somehow grittier. Foster dealt with some bad shit in the jungle, alienated his family, and is one small step above homelessness; he’s got some monsters to face. No, I mean real monsters: this is a Dweller.
The Dwellers are a race of monsters, lurking in the shadows. Think a cross between a human and an angry silverback gorilla. There’s an uneasy truce between humans and the Dwellers; the Dwellers only come out to hunt at night, and in exchange, the humans leave them alone and pretend like they don’t exist, so it’s a real win/win. That particular Dweller is King, and he wants his throne back. His vision for his people is sovereignty; no more hiding in the dark for him, he wants to rule over his people in broad daylight, and he plans on doing so with his son Ben, seen above sleeping on Foster’s couch. You see, about 7 years ago, Ben’s prostitute/junkie mom hooked up with King, and the rest is history. Trina and Ben lived across the hall from Foster, and when Trina went missing, Foster took Ben in. Now the two of them are on the run from King, who wants his son back, the Dwellers, who want Ben and King dead so they can continue to live in relative peace, the cops, who think Foster killed Trina and kidnapped Ben, and Dr. Marjorie Fisher, a genetic scientist who sees Ben as a guinea pig for her to study.
Really, this title is about dealing with monsters. Foster is loaded down with inner monsters he needs to conquer. Buccellato has done something very interesting by giving us a main character who’s a total mess. Foster is a good man who’s been in a lot of terrible situations, and it’s left him scarred. He had an abusive father, which left him as an abusive father, and ultimately his wife and son left him because of it. It’s the loss of his family which has him seeking redemption through Ben; this is Foster’s big chance to prove he’s not a total fuck-up! It’s not going to be easy, least of all because Ben tends to turn into a Dweller when threatened.
Naturally, this is really hard for Ben; he doesn’t want to turn into a horrible monster and tear people apart. Foster has to deal with the monsters of his past to help Ben understand the monster he literally has inside him. Buccellato has wrapped all this introspection and personal growth into a neat little burrito of crime drama and supernatural monster hunt. The result is a layered work that is both character-driven and action-oriented. Not to give ALL of the praise to Buccellato, Noel Tuazon has crafted something very special with the art in this title. Generally, I’m not a fan of sketchier pencils; I usually prefer a cleaner, more straight-forward style. Tuazon’s work, though, really captures the grittiness of Buccellato’s story. This is not a clean, straight-forward world we’re dealing with. Tuazon’s pencils, paired with Buccellato’s gorgeous, moody washes of color turn this title into a unique experience.
I’m really happy to have found this title. I love supporting artists I respect, and Brian Buccellato is definitely one of those artists. We were lucky enough to work with him on a preview for his anthology, which was one of the most stressful and ultimately rewarding projects I’ve had in a long time. I was a little disappointed to see that after Foster 6, he’s going to take a little break; apparently, publishing a comic book solely by yourself is … a little difficult. What about you, Drew? You are an even bigger Booch fan than I am, what do you think about Foster so far? We haven’t really talked about it since working on the preview, what do you think of the monsters Foster has to face?
Drew: Shelby’s right: we don’t review every title we read, but because of the rigors of our reviewing schedule, we don’t always get to devote the same time to unpacking those other titles. That works just fine for more plot-driven titles like Saga and Daredevil, but for a title as dense and atmospheric as Foster, closer readings are paramount to really appreciate what’s going on here. Buccellato is especially gifted at crafting rich, detailed characters and smashing them into each other in surprising ways.
Take Foster. As Shelby notes, his relationship with his son is almost identical to the one he had with his own father — illustrated with surprising effectiveness in near-identical sequences: one in issue 1, the other in issue 5. But long before we learn about Foster’s relationship with his son — hell, long before we learn that he even has a son — we see how Foster’s guilt over becoming his father changed his behavior.
This, along with his helping feed his homeless vet friends, establishes Eddie as a hero early on, in spite of his insistence that he isn’t. That conflict — trying to do the right thing but fearing that he won’t — directly influences how he treats Ben, and is where this series finds its most impactful moments.
Buccellato has been very open about how personal this story is to him, going so far as to model the character design on his own son. I don’t want to make assumptions about what Foster’s past or Ben’s half-monster genetic makeup might mean in the life of the author, but it’s clear Foster’s anxieties about how past mistakes speak to his abilities to parent are deeply considered.
Foster may not have all the answers, but he knows what he regrets. If he can help Ben avoid those same mistakes, maybe he can help him be a better person. I’m used to seeing parents push their children to the accomplishments and experiences they never had to live vicariously through them, but just pushing their kids to be the good person they never were is much more unique, but also much more relatable. It’s also a devastatingly telling moment for Foster, who’s clearly consumed with regret.
As well-written as the characters are, much of the effectiveness of this series comes from Tuazon’s art. Shelby is right to mention the atmosphere created by his linework, but I’m most impressed by the dynamism of his layouts. It’s hard not to mention the bravura sequences where he alternates shots between two locations, but I’m most taken with how he represents time. Like this scene, where Foster and Ben are killing time, hoping to avoid the Dwellers by staying on the train.
Much of the desperate boredom is written, but Tauzon does well to provide us with big panels that isolate our characters long before they’re alone on the train (Buccellato’s subtle character work gooses the effect even further). It’s one of the most idiosyncratic uses of a double page spread I’ve seen, making a strong case for the kinds of risks you can only hope to see in independent comics.
The elements work together beautifully to create a very fully realized world. They can’t help but weave-in carefully observed details, from the “rules” that keep Dwellers out of our collective consciousness to the design of the Vintage City sports team logo. Those elements help sell the world where things really do go bump in the night, and where a seven-year-old boy can scale a building and fall just like another, much larger monster. From top to bottom, Foster is a title that rewards the hell out of close readings, yet never feels stuffy or academic. It’s post-modernism with a straight face, owing as much to Tarantino as it does to Kubert, creating a story that very much speaks the language of its time. It’s truly unlike anything else we’re reading, which is a damn shame.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?