The Fox #1
Story, Line Art: Dean Haspiel
Script: Mark Waid
Color Art: Allen Passalaqua
Letters: John Workman
Cover Art: Dean Haspiel, Chris Samnee, Matt Wilson, David Mack, Ulises Farinas, Ryan Hill, Thomas Pitilli
Publisher: Archie/Dark Circle Comics
By Matthew Jent
“You don’t have to be a hero anymore.”
The Fox, with story & line art by Dean Haspiel, script by Mark Waid, and colors by Allen Passalaqua, opens in media res with our titular hero tied up, lamenting his bad luck, and wishing for an ibuprofin. It’s a Spider-Man-like How did I get into this mess? inner monologue that introduces a delightfully self-deprecating superhero who’s already in over his head. Right away the art by Haspiel and Passalaqua looks expansive, bright, and weird. The Fox has a black eye, he’s already unmasked and beaten on page one, his legs are kicked out away from the beam, like he’s falling even though he’s tied up.
Which, it turns out, he is. This is the story of the Fox falling into a mystery, into an adventure, and into trouble, in spite of his intentions to just do right by his family.
With a story by Dean Haspiel (indie comics mainstay, a collaborator of Harvey Pekar, and an Emmy winner for title design on HBO’s Bored to Death) and a script by Mark Waid (superhero guru, author of the most-fun Daredevil run in years, and co-founder of digital comics site Thrillbent), The Fox is a first issue that presents a lived-in, authentic world. A superhero universe we’re peering into for the first time even though it’s existed for a long time. Which is kind of true — The Fox is part of Archie’s new Dark Circle imprint, a shared-universe reboot of heroes who used to be Impact characters, who also used to be Red Circle characters, some of whom used to be Blue Ribbon, Archie Adventure, and Mighty Comics characters.
These heroes have been around. The Fox dates back to 1940, two years after Superman’s first appearance. But Haspiel & Waid allow the Fox to grow up a little. This Fox — the one tied up on page one — is Paul Patton, Jr., a photojournalist who became a superhero to attract danger and further his career. A brief, two-panel memory implies that the previous Fox may have been Paul’s own father, something he didn’t realize as a kid. Now Paul has his own grown-up son, and he wants to put his superhero days behind him — but he hasn’t quite stopped wearing his costume under his street clothes, yet.
Haspiel’s interpretation of the Fox’s costume is a cross between Batman and Spidey. He’s dressed all in black, but his fox ears can go a little floppy and the mask’s white eyes go wide with surprise. When we get a glimpse of the supervillains the Fox — or a Fox — might run against in later issues, the cast starts to look a little like something from the Venture Bros. But while Venture is a parody of super-science-action-heroics, The Fox manages a nostalgic throwback art style without feeling dated or ironic. The emotional reactions are real (though I hope — and I trust Haspiel & Waid will provide — more from Paul’s wife Mae than the blandly supportive wife/mother role she plays in this issue) even in the face of unreal, high stakes, super-villainy.
John Workman, a solid, solid pro whose work you can read more about in this CBR piece from 2007, glues this issue together with lettering that guides the eye and reinforces the rhythm of Waid’s language. Shrinking dialogue as Paul zones out of his son’s monologue about changing technology, bolded words that emphasize cadence without being distracting, and slightly out-of-sync letters when Paul’s son Shinji is taken by surprise — small but artful touches that showcase the subtle craftsman Workman has been for decades.
The Fox makes you wonder what a Spider-Man book would have looked like if Peter Parker had been allowed to grow up, stay married, and have kids. The Fox is a chance to prove wrong the folks who say the superhero status quo has to stay frozen for decades, that it’s better to poison the well than to move forward. The Fox is aware of the past 75+ years of superhero comics, superhero gimmicks, and superhero clichés. But it’s not trying recreate them or preserve them in amber. The Fox puts the mask on one more time and and strives to make some new memories.