The Fox, a revival of a Silver Age hero with plenty of early hero homage, but also a psychedelic and thought-provoking new take on a reluctant hero, is one of Bleeding Cool's Best Comics of 2013. It was also recently featured in a massive spread in Comic Shop News. It's part of the Red Circle universe produced by Archie Comics and, alongside Afterlife with Archie and the upcoming Red Circle series, The Shield, is part of an Archie Comics renaissance at the moment. The first two issues saw our hero resisting his hero role, struggling with his relationships and with being a father, and then embarking on an increasingly mind-bending quest where his environment and his foes continually change under alien and time-jumping magical forces.
Visually, The Fox burns itself into your memory in the hands of Brooklyn-based artist Dean Haspiel, and together with Mark Waid, Haspiel crafts a story that's both streamlined and punchy. Issue #3 is out today in the next installment of the "Freak Magnet" mini-series entitled "Hell's Half Acre". In keeping with The Fox's struggle with wanting to bow out of the hero role, he comments, "This isn't the dull, suffocating existence I'd given my right thumb for?" No, no it's not. He's holding a severed head that appears to be his own and trying to "rescue the mad king of a diamond realm from an evil druid". Stand aside Joseph Campbell–this is clearly a psychological hero quest par excellence. This issue is entirely subterranean and pits The Fox against an increasingly disturbing series of elemental foes.
With things just getting weirder and more compelling by the issue for The Fox, I asked Dean Haspiel some pretty direct questions about this hero and his future. And his answers were both enlightening and even stranger than I expected:
Hannah Means-Shannon: Is The Fox crazy? How much of his wild adventure is actually in his own head?
Dean Haspiel: The Fox is not crazy but, after the psychedelic romp of "Freak Magnet," he should be! Paul Patton Jr. aka The Fox is just like any one of us only, instead of thrill seeking, he'd prefer to try cooking a new recipe, play a game of dominoes, and watch James Caan and Billy Dee Williams in "Brian's Song", on a Saturday night. The Fox is up to his ears in so much bizarre tomfoolery and near-death experiences that he's looking for ease and comfort while striving to serve the tenets of being a good husband and father.
HMS: Are we going to see some resolution for him about his not wanting to be a hero? A change of heart or perspective, or is it a happy retirement?
DH: By the end of the first mini-series, The Fox winds up in a retirement home for heroes who couldn't hack it. He starts to lead a Bingo game with geriatric guardians of the golden age. Heroes so old we forgot they ever existed. It will be a meditation on slowing everything down and dissecting what's important in life. I imagine there being long and lush sequences wherein The Fox watches a blade of grass grow and observes paint actually drying while improving the retirement home fence. I'd like for it to be a bonafide Red Circle/Archie Comics crossover where we find out what happened to Mr. Weatherbee and Miss Grundy in their latter years and how that impacts a middle-aged Fox. Maybe, Jughead discovers and dons The Fox's sexy costume to woo Betty and Veronica away from Archie and that starts a rumble in Riverdale!
HMS: Can you explain how The Fox fits into The Shield and the wider Red Circle universe, in your opinion?
DH: We haven't addressed what The Fox knows or thinks about what happened to the original Mighty Crusaders. The Fox was away in Japan for 15-years and just came back home to Impact City with a wife and son, in part, to eventually make amends with his estranged daughter, Fly Girl of The New Crusaders. The Shield is one of the only remaining members of The Mighty Crusaders who is still alive and we do address where they're at, in terms of friendship, towards the end of the "Freak Magnet" story. I would like to see some kind of Mighty Crusaders reunion but that will be hard to do since more than half the team is "dead." Maybe The Shield can bring The Fox some matzoh ball soup in that retirement home story I suggested? Just kidding! Fingers crossed, J.M DeMatteis and Mike Cavallaro get to do more Shield stories, soon!
HMS: What kind of meaning or impact do all these morphing familiar foes and friends that the Fox fights have on him? Is this about him overcoming his past, his self?
Confronting old pulp heroes who actually HAVE superpowers yet get crippled and compromised by an evil Druid, sends shivers up The Fox's spine, who has no super powers of his own. If anything, The Fox comes to realize, more than ever, if there's a will there's a way, and he needs to think twice before hanging up his Fox trunks.
HMS: What was your favorite page or panel to draw in issue 3?
DH: My favorite page is a double-page spread I drew where The Fox is navigating a slim tunnel inside a scary cave, dodging monsters and traps, while contemplating what he misses and doesn't miss about his domestic life. In a way, it beautifully sums up the conflict The Fox has with being an extraordinary person who risks his neck, putting his life on the line, while wishing for a normal life at home. It's that monologue we all have in the mirror whenever we feel in flux between career and love and responsibility.
There we have it–the hero's quest laid bare in Haspiel's own words, a "flux between career and love and responsibility". That confirms for me what I suspected, that The Fox is a super modern take on some very universal themes. Thanks, Mr. Haspiel, for talking about The Fox with Bleeding Cool.
Dean Haspiel is signing The Fox #3 tonight, Wednesday, January 8th, at Forbidden Planet in NYC at 7pm…
And here we have the trailer for Issue #3:
Hannah Means-Shannon is EIC at Bleeding Cool and @hannahmenzies on Twitter.