Brave New Values: “Super Secret Crisis War: Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends”
Cohen elevates the all ages genre by tackling '90s generational creep with latent themes in Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends.
Super Secret Crisis War: Foster's Home for Imaginary FriendsPublisher: IDW
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Ivan Cohen, Paulina Ganucheau
Publication Date: 2014-11
Think of it as the Generation That Made it Through. Sometime in the ‘90s, sometime after Frank Miller’s Sin City, after Mike Mignola’s Hellboy and after Todd McFarlane’s Spawn (but before his HBO animated show of the same), there was a usual kind of narrative that emerged in the aisles between the rows of longboxes at the Local Comic Shops. It was a story you could easily participate in; the story of a generation who survived.
They’d wonder into their LCS (we would, full disclosure here, this is my generation) in a state of awe. Mothers or fathers or stern aunts who raised them had, just a few years ago told them it was time to grow up, to set aside childish things. And their comicbook collection, along with all their toys and even their entire trading card collection just got thrown out. But here, in this sacred chapel of comics, here in the LCS, you could come and see this generation of survivors move penitently through a wonderland of comics, a place where it was OK to want the things you wanted as a child. Things you could now, by the very fact of the pricing schedule of comics at your LCS, justify as part of your mainstream adult life.
This was the emotional quagmire the ‘90s threw us into, making our childhoods our War in Iraq. The equation was simple—we’re all Lost Boys now, Mom’s always going to be away, we’ll always be running the asylum. The Rise of the Fanboy, attendant at the death of fandom. But lurking at the bottom of that idea is a far more monstrous and sinister one—that somehow as fans of the art of comics, we must always be excluded from the cultural mainstream, we must appear as nerds, as something garish and easily understood. Even if it means we must excluded ourselves. It was a broken system, and it took us a decade to fully understand the implications of this.
But the time has come, the Walrus said. With the new distribution model of digital, there’ve also been new cultural opportunities. And the writer at the forefront of exploring these options, at the cutting edge, arguably, of creating these, is Ivan Cohen. It has been a pleasure to read his work on Beware the Batman, and released this week, he turns a studied gaze towards Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.
This IDW published issue of Foster’s is a one-shot that ties in with the ongoing “Super Secret Crisis War” event that crosses over into IDW’s entire all-ages line. This issue opens with Unit 3XL emerging through a dimensional rift, on a mission to find and eliminate the most powerful champion on the planet. A cursory scan leads him to Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, on Adopt-A-Thought Saturday. But no one will fight 3XL, not Wilt, not Eduardo, not even the new Imaginary Friend, Pixel the protean android, who Bloo’s been introducing throughout the morning. Having failed his mission, 3XL must return home to be decommissioned.
Cohen’s treatment of the grand comicbook themes he’s dealing with is absolutely pitch-perfect. Take Foster’s. Foster’s has never been a traditional drama of “what will happen next?,” the kind of drama poststructuralist philosopher Gilles Deleuze might refer to as a tale rather than a novella. At its best, Foster’s has always been about the kind of ending Star Trek the TV show always shied away from—not a grand narrative of perpetual expansionism and outwards movement, but finding those Higher Places and living in those new normals. (As an aside, Arthur C. Clarke tackles exactly those kinds of cultural shifts that we anticipate must come from human interstellar travel in the hauntingly moving “Rescue Party”).
At its heart, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends has always been about the unique (sometimes the aberrant, sometimes the strange) finding Foster’s and fitting in. Whether the unique be a new friend, or a new kid there to adopt a friend. With the introduction of 3XL, not realizing that he actually needs a friend, and Pixel positioned into needing to give up his new home even though he doesn’t really want to, Cohen finds that inner music of Foster’s.
It’s no different for Cohen’s treatment of the grand superhero crossover that is “Super Secret Crisis War.” In Super Secret Crisis War: Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends we find Cohen writing a launchpad issue reintroducing the main characters for those who might just now with this crossover be coming into the story. We also find Cohen creating a conflict that is alien to the current setting (of Foster’s) but native to the crossover itself, and one that’s ultimately resolved in terms and by genre of the current story.
But even that is sideshow. The real heart of Cohen’s insight can be seen in the ways in which he leverages both our traditional expectations of the genres and sub genres involved in Foster’s and those involved in superhero crossovers, to tell the tale of undoing the self-exclusionism we once thought was a necessary part of the direct market. Describing here the mechanism by which Cohen achieves that in this issue will only ruin the experience of reading the book. So I’ll say this. Reading Cohen’s Super Secret Crisis War: Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends feels like holding your very first iPhone in your hand, on the very day that everyone else is upgrading their home systems from dial-up. It is that welcome into tomorrow that can hardly be described, only recognized.