Dean Haspiel and Mark Waid once again usher in a new chapter of superhero hijinks in this wonderful follow-up to last year’s sleeper hit from Archie Comics. Under the new publishing aegis of Dark Circle Comics, the award-winning duo delve into their hero’s past to chart his freakish future.
After exploding onto the scene this year like a shotgun blast to the guts, with the release of The Black Hood #1 by Duane Swiercyznski and Michael Gaydos, Archie Comics’ mature-readers superhero imprint Dark Circle takes a bold step in this second, much different offering. Despite a wonderful, heartfelt reception from fans and critics alike, last year’s Freak Magnet established a new status quo for the Fox that seemingly sets him apart from his cohorts, the Black Hood and the Shield.
Reuniting the creative dream team of Dean Haspiel and Mark Waid, this new ongoing series delves deeper into the hapless crimefighter’s past, while returning to the storytelling formula that garnered the hero so much success in the Freak Magnet limited series.
Once again, that success is grounded in the creative team’s stunning attention to their craft. At once fun, action-packed, charming, and with surprising emotional depth, a comic like The Fox might have been panned if the book had been entrusted to less-capable hands.
The series picks up shortly after the events of Freak Magnet, as the Fox, in his civilian guise of photojournalist Paul Patton Jr, and his son Shinji return to the hero’s hometown of Beaver Kill to document its final days prior to redevelopment into a much-needed reservoir servicing Impact City. The massive project means the town must be razed to the ground, but the surplus of water will solve the city’s ongoing issues with drought.
But is the price for water too high? Financed by the evil Bright Industries, the same corrupt madmen behind Madame Satan’s rampage in Freak Magnet, the watershed project leaves Patton suspicious of their true intent, just as he’s trying to retire his costumed persona to spend more time with his family. With reservations, Patton proceeds to photograph the town until an unexpected blast from the past scuttles both the hero’s outing with his son and the redevelopment.
Haspiel and Waid share an obvious love of the Fox and infuse this latest fast-paced misadventure with a huge, fun-loving heart and loads of storytelling craft. On the surface, the intent may seem too simple or light on its feet to bear any real weight, but the pair layer the story with an undercurrent of introspection, centered on Paul’s dedication to his family, which lends the series its emotional heft.
Torn between his sense of duty as a protector of the innocent and his responsibilities as a husband and father, Patton’s dilemma helps to round out his personality with an inherent vulnerability and realism. There’s a certain everyman quality to his character that resonates with the reader and overflows to both his family and the villains he faces. In the end, despite their garish costumes and bizarre abilities, the players found in The Fox are just people trying to get through the day.
As Waid uses crisp, fluid dialogue to inject Patton with the requisite emotional complexity to prevent him from degenerating into nothing more than a middle-aged Peter Parker, The Fox’s tone remains light. Haspiel teams up with colorist Allan Passalaqua to create distinctive, eye-popping visuals that infuse the book with a kaleidoscopic, vibrant energy, matching the plot’s rambunctious pace stride for stride. The end result is a product of high craft and passion that appears deceptively elementary to the uninitiated.
It is this sophistication of craft and an undeniable love of comics lore which makes The Fox a fitting counterpoint to the dense, grimy noir found in The Black Hood. Not only do these first two releases highlight the diversity of Archie’s new imprint, showcasing new promise in a genre gutted by repetitive storylines, continuity fatigue, and the almighty bottom line, they complement one another and serve as solid bookends between which other Dark Circle properties can find a home.
Dean Haspiel and Mark Waid (W), Dean Haspiel (A) • Dark Circle Comics, $3.99.