With issue #1 of the revival of Archie’s Golden Age hero, The Fox, Mark Waid and Dean Haspiel managed the complex task of impressing both Stephen and myself, reminding me of the good old Silver Age days where a superhero could be about a little bit of wacky fun, without the dark and the gritty and the glayven. Will The Fox’s sophomore outing maintain the same standard of excellence? Your Major Spoilers review awaits!
Some priceless dialogue.
Quirky, energetic art.
Not clear on Bob Phantom’s role.
The Shield backup needs more space.
THE FOX #2
Writer: Dean Haspiel/Mark Waid/JM DeMatteis
Artist: Dean Haspiel/Mike Cavallaro/Terry Austin
Colorist: Allen Passalaqua/Steve Downer
Letterer: John Workman
Publisher: Archie Comics
Cover Price: $2.99
Previously in The Fox: Reporter Paul Patton took on the alternate identity of The Fox in order to track down the stories that he couldn’t find as just a photog. But as quickly as he began, he discovered that his alternate identity was a lodestone for trouble, and each successive outing made it clearer: The Fox was a freak magnet. Now, he has more than enough stories to go around, perhaps even TOO many, but those are the breaks when you’re a super-duper in one of the oldest of comic-book universes…
CRAZY, MIXED-UP ALIEN SPEECH IS A HOOT.
We open the issue with a full-page spread of The Fox floating through an alien landscape, his raft afloat on a pink river, with diamond shores in the background, while the caption boxes quote The Beatles in a manner most appropriate. Even if the rest of the issue were to tank, that opening salvo is successful enough that I’d be back for the next issue, based on the seamless way Fox’s strange situation is presented. (The letters column reveals that this was initially Dean Haspiel’s idea for the introductory page of the first issue, but that it was decided we needed to ground and explain The Fox last ish before sending things “off the rails,” in his words. I actually agree.) The alien landscape is full of monsters and madness, and The Fox finds himself face to face with a dragon-creature that attacks just as things get hyper-illusiony. The cover’s promise of an appearance by the She-Fox (secretly Paul’s wife Mae) is paid off indirectly, and just when things threaten to make no sense at all, The Fox’s mind clears, and he finds himself face-to-winged-face with another of Archie’s Golden Age properties, the man known as… BOB PHANTOM!
BOB PHANTOM? BOB PHANTOM! *BOB PHANTOM!*
The treatment of Bob Phantom here (and in the companion title, Mighty Crusaders) is indicative of what I love most about the current Archie superhero output: Fox sees him as an old-school hero, the real deal, and is even a little bit starstruck by the man, taking a character who was a punchline before being almost entirely forgotten and treating him with respect and care. Fox’s interactions with the strange alien landscape promises more such cameos on the future, as the alien space princess who summoned him to this strange dimension also summoned a couple of other heroes, including Inferno and a masked cloak-and-dagger type whose name escapes me. Her dialogue is the biggest win of the issue, though, as she speaks English like a Monty Python sketch (“Attention me with more carefulness! I only sound this once.”), making the dialogue as playful as the story and the character. Haspiel’s art is also a hoot, as Fox tries desperately to keep his bearings in a mad, swirling world that reminds me of Mike Allred and Michael Oeming, while keeping a distinct style. The backup story, a war-time reminiscence by Crusaders leader, The Shield, is interesting, but doesn’t really get a lot of traction in the few pages allowed. J.M. DeMatteis is in full effect, though, as Shield muses that his Japanese and German enemies and himself were programmed to see one another as cardboard stereotypes, making it easier to commit violence on one another…
THE BOTTOM LINE: THIS IS SOME LOVELY SUPER-DUPER WORK, AND YOU SHOULD READ IT.
The trick of superheroes in these post-ironic times is in getting past the faint ridiculousness of the concept and finding a real human story to tell. The Fox manages to do it perfectly by embracing the goofiest concepts of Golden Age MLJ Comics lovingly, taking what works and tying it into a cool story, while not being ashamed of the source material like so many dark reboots these days are. (Yes, I’m talking about the New 52. But also about Marvel’s output, and even recent TV and movie adaptations, as well.) The Fox #2 is a trippy, clever, thoughtful tale, featuring a likeable hero, and delivering something that can be hard to find in comics these days, a fast and fun story that seems deceptively simple, earning 4 out of 5 stars overall. I’m in for the haul with The Fox, and I hope to see his adventures continuing in this vein for a long time…