REVIEW: Foster #1

You might not have heard of Brian Buccellato, but you probably should have.  The Flash has, over the course of its first 5 issues, grown into one of the top tier books of the New 52, and a lot of people give well-deserved credit for this success to artist extraordinaire (and now writer of the book) Francis Manapul.  But he hasn’t done it alone.  Buccellato is the colorist on the book, his soft tones the perfect compliment to Manapul’s lush brushwork.  And he is also the co-writer of the series, meaning they should share credit for giving us a narrative that’s actually managed to upstage Geoff Johns’ work on the previous volume.  Buccellato has already done enough to be conisdered to be considered a name of note in the comics industry.  But his new creator-owned series, Foster, could be the platform where that talent is given more recognition.

Foster #1 sees Buccellato step up to solo writer duties, with a tale about an alcoholic Vietnam veteran (the Foster of the title, which of course has a double meaning) who finds himself the unlikely and unwilling carer of an abandoned child.  Things get more complicated when it turns out highly dangerous people are after young Ben, and, more shockingly, that Ben himself might be more  dangerous than he appears…

In his intro, Buccellato speaks of Foster as an homage to the gritty cinema of the 1970s, particularly urban crime dramas like Dirty Harry or The French Connection.  You definitely get that grubby, bleak vibe from the story, before it takes a turn into genre territory.  The character of Foster himself is incredibly compelling: deeply flawed, but with a streak of humanity and compassion that he can’t keep buried, much as he might try.  One thing I liked is that he’s not your typical badass.  When accosted by a sinister intruder looking for Ben, he tells the bad guy where to find the boy to avoid a beating, then spends time cowering in his apartment with a gun, worried only for his own safety.  He’s a damaged, complicated individual, and it should be intriguing to see what this state of enforced fatherhood will do to bring out the better man in him.

I had heard good things about Foster through the #comicmarket grapevine, and was already curious to learn more, but what made me bite the bullet and immediately jump right into buying the first issue was seeing Noel Tuazon’s name on the marquee as artist.  Tuazon’s stunning work on Tumor made me a fan, so much so that his involvement with this project made me instantly invested in at least checking it out.  And with Foster #1, he doesn’t disappoint.

What’s impressive about Tuazon’s art style is that, though its sketchy and the characters are quite simple and stylised, he still manages to draw the maximum amount of emotion from these relatively abstract figures.  He does this through a mastery of body language, and a talent for framing a panel in just the way to trigger the intended emotional connection with the character inside.  Foster is the kind of character that comes to life vividly under his pen, feeling much like a spiritual successor to the haunted Frank Armstrong of Joshua Hale Fialkov’s Tumor.

If I had a nitpick, it might be that the story doesn’t really need color.  Tuazon’s work is so stark and dramatic in black and white, that at times it feels like the color only serves to dilute the impact.  I can understand why it’s in color, of course.  Buccalleto is primarily employed as a colorist, and he does it well, so why not apply that gift to his own comic?  And just because it’s not strictly necessary doesn’t mean the color doesn’t have its strengths.  Because the pallette is so washed out, it’s largely through the coloring that this feeling of 1970s cinema homage is most palpable.  And the bright green of Foster’s jacket amidst this sea of grays and brown is a good way of making the character stand out.

Overall, I was really impressed with Foster #1.  It just flew by as I read it, and I found myself quickly engaged in the narrative and where it goes next.  I look forward to Foster #2!

Foster #1 is available to buy digitally from Brian Buccellato’s website, or in select comic stores from February 22nd.

REVIEW: The Flash #1

In this relaunch from DC, The Flash #1 finds itself in a position quite similar to that held by Batwoman #1.  I read both titles in their previous incarnation.  In the case of both titles, the main draw for me in their pre-relaunch run was stunning artwork.  Both titles have their respective great artist returning to the book, but now taking on the role of writer/artist, with the respective big name writers that were previously working on the books departing.  As a result, with both titles there was a question of whether the artist would be able to hold up the writing end of things.  But what sets The Flash apart from Batwoman is that I had dropped The Flash pre-Flashpoint, and so this new volume had the added challenge of trying to draw me, as a lapsed fan, back into buying the title monthly.  I went into this comic quite determined not to like it – with all the great titles I’ll be coming back to next month, I had already convinced myself this would just be a one-issue “sample and pass” situation – but I grudgingly have to admit that this really was good.

The Flash really is a team effort.  It’s co-written by artist Francis Manapul and colorist Brian Buccellato, both working together to both create the story and give it such a distinctive look.  When the art team and the writing team is one in the same, it really enhances the symbiotic nature of story and image in comics in fascinating ways.

I adore Manapul’s pencils.  I’ve long admired his ability to create a sense of place in his work.  While backgrounds seem to be a chore for some artists – even some talented ones – Manapul relishes in them, creating incredibly detailed cityscapes and varied, vibrant locations.  And the people he puts in them are well drawn too, with a stylised flair.  This is the stuff I already liked about Manapul’s work, but going into The Flash #1, he pushes his art to a whole new level.  With intricate layouts and stunningly crafted pages (look how enthralling a page he can shape out of Barry Allen hanging around his apartment), Manapul is able to create a dizzying sense of speed and motion that marks him out as the perfect match for a character like The Flash.

But a big part of what makes Manapul’s art work so well is that it’s colored by Buccellato.  His colors have a brushed, almost water-color quality to them, making his pages look unlike anything else DC has to offer.  The palette he uses has a warm, nostalgic glow to it that’s just pleasing to the eye, and is the ideal compliment to Manapul’s vibrant linework.

So, as expected, The Flash looks great.  But how’s the writing.  Well, I must admit, this comic had a lot going against it going in.  In the wake of the relaunch, Barry has been de-aged, his relationship with Iris annulled, and worst of all, Wally West – my favorite Flash – has been apparently erased from the history books.  Readers looking to see these grievances are going to be sorely disappointed.  But if you are willing to keep an open mind, and approach this title as a blank slate, there’s a lot to like.

Barry Allen and his supporting cast are economically introduced, and though his new antagonist suffers from that old “Hey, it’s your dear old friend from way back that we’ve never heard about until now” chestnut, he displays some powers that should make him an intriguing foil for the world’s fastest man.  Aside from that, the plotting is pretty light, but it zips along at a nice pace (appropriate for a comic starring The Flash) and it never felt like it was dragging.  I’d say I’m interested enough to want to know what happens next, at least.

So, The Flash #1 is an aesthetic triumph, and Manapul and Buccellato do a good enough job with the writing that the absence of Geoff Johns is not felt too sorely.  I was expecting this to be a comic I’d be dropping after issue #1, but it looks like I’ll at the very least be back for issue #2.

The #New52Review Project

We are now less than a week away from DC Comics’ much hyped linewide relaunch.  This radical – and controversial in some circles – plan involves bringing the current ongoing publishing line of the DCU to a close, and launching with 52 new #1s, and in many cases altered or even rebooted continuity, in an effort to make the comics more accessible to newcomers and jaded fans alike.  Whether you’re in favor of this move or not, you can’t deny that it’s got people talking.  In spite of Marvel’s best efforts, DC has dominated the news sites since June, and the retailer order numbers are reportedly very high, with Justice League #1 apparently topping 200,000 buys.  But the big test will be next week and onwards.  You might be able to get people’s attention, but can you keep it?

I have had some reservations, but overall I’m very excited about the DC relaunch.  I’ve been trying to think what I can do to participate, beyond buying the books that take my fancy and recommending books to others.  One thing I can contribute is reviews of the comics I read, which gave me an idea.  Everyone who has a blog, or who writes reviews for a comic site, why not let DC know what you think?

I’m gonna set up a #New52Review hashtag on Twitter, which I’m going to use to link to my reviews of the new titles here.  But I don’t want to be the only one.  Anyone out there who has a blog, or who writes reviews for comic sites, write about the titles you buy.  DC have reached out to us, so we should try reaching out to them in return.  Let them know what books we like and why, or even what books we don’t like so much and how they can improve.  It could be a good way of showing  the creators our appreciation, as well as promoting the comics that are worth reading.

I don’t expect to be picking up this many titles come October, but for this first month  at least, I’ll be trying 18 #1s from the New 52:

  • Justice League #1
  • Action Comics #1
  • Batman #1
  • Batgirl #1
  • Batwoman #1
  • Catwoman #1
  • Wonder Woman #1
  • Green Lantern #1
  • The Flash #1
  • Aquaman #1
  • The Fury of Firestorm #1
  • Stormwatch #1
  • Justice League Dark #1
  • Swamp Thing #1
  • Animal Man #1
  • Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1
  • Demon Knights #1
  • I, Vampire #1

I’ll be posting up reviews of as many of these books as I can each week.  The reviews might not be quite as in-depth as my reviews usually are, since I’ll be trying to write so many reviews, but I’ll be offering up something.  And I’ll be linking to the reviews using #New52Review.  I hope you guys will do the same.  Here’s to exciting times ahead in the comics world!