The Pull List: ‘The Fox’ Packs Heart and Wit Aplenty

Welcome to The Pull List, a weekly column where we check out a first issue of a new series and tell you whether or not to follow the comic based only on that. With The Fox, Dark Circle Comics has a fine noir title that tones down the superpowers and cranks up the humanized heroics.

One of the more underappreciated titles of 2014 was Archie Comics’ reboot of a 40s capeless crusader named The Fox, a photojournalist named Paul Patton by day who dons a fox unitard at night, an aesthetic that would do The Tick proud. The Fox: Freak Magnet was an absolute delight thanks to its off-kilter storytelling and the spastic charm of the character himself, and the new Fox series is looking just as enjoyable.

The current arc opens as Paul Patton Jr. (the reboot follows the second generation of the Fox name) is assigned to photograph his hometown of Beaver Kill before the town is flooded for a watershed project, but true to his nature as a ‘Freak Magnet,’ his photography career hits a certain, supervillanous snag.

The Fox is your everyman hero who’s struggling to salvage a humble life of comfort from the tsunamis of strangeness hounding his heels, whether or not he’s in costume. Writers Mark Waid and Jean Haspiel flesh out his frustration nicely, constrasting his nostalgia-prone sensibilities with the real-world snark and cynicism of his son Shinji. Patton’s conundrum is that he’s married to the idea of a golden-age past and the place that superheroics have in that dream, but the life of a Fox-themed vigilante is rarely so simple.

I fell in love instantly with the Fox’s look: a clean outline, eyes that seem always to be saying ‘I-DON’T-KNOW-ABOUT-THIS-BUT-LET’S-RUN-WITH-IT,’ and goofy fox ears that flop with every movement. You get the feeling that Patton has no protection whatsoever, which is true, as he’s got has no superhuman abilities to speak of, but it feels even more true for the Fox; when Batman dons the mask, he’s also putting on a certain aura, but if anything, it seems like wearing the Fox cowl just makes Patton more Patton–that is, luckier than he is skilled, and more neurotic than clever.

Much of that characterization’s carried by the renderings of artist Dean Haspiel, who preferred that Patton be unmasked, and with a big ol’ shiner for the majority of the issue. The Fox’s postures seem more suited to a fledgling glam rock star than a superhero, all exaggerations and ungainliness, which went over very well with me in terms of communicating both vulnerability and dynamism. Shading, design, and composition, everything hearkens back to the love of old school while retaining a modern sleekness.

All of which means that The Fox is the perfect series for someone looking for an offbeat superhero title that’s distant from conflicts of galactic importance and interdimensional direness, and something more of a character study, an atmosphere. Reading The Fox I can’t help but feel flashes of James Robinson’s Starman run, which just oozed with golden-era lore and love for what superheroism used to mean before all the cynicism set in. But it’s a mistake to call this a book completely married to the dusty past–it’s injected with extremely human moments that ground the idealism.

The climax of the issue puts plot and conflict on the backburner in favor of such a moment, which was less ‘OH WHAT’ and more ‘Oh, hey… damn…,’ making this definitely one of the more memorable first issues in recent memory.

 

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