The reluctant hero is such a familiar trope at this point that it has become cultural background noise. We’ve all read and watched countless stories about the hero that doesn’t want to be heroic but simply has to be. Such cliches often become commonplace, along with the push and pull greatheartedness that they attempt to make more than the sum of their painfully dull parts.
But what if a comic could deconstruct this stagnant storytelling device and rebuild it into something vital, alive and very, very funny? The result would be The Fox,and it is magnificent. The second title released by Archie’s new Dark Circle Comics imprint, the book skips the grim and grittiness familiar to readers of The Black Hood to focus on the colorful adventures of photojournalist Paul Patton Jr. More Arthur Dent than Superman, he just wants to be left alone by the world.
The trouble is, the world has other plans for him.
Following the events of last year’s “Freak Magnet” mini-series, this new ongoing title kicks off with Patton visiting his hometown with his son in tow. The pair are there to beta test a new cameraphone created by his employer’s biggest advertiser — a shadowy, smiley company who is poised to the big bad of the series — before a planned flooding buries the area under a watery grave. Once there, Paul encounters a supervillain who just so happens to be his first love before setting in motion a chain of events that will have widesspread ramifications throughout the book’s run.
Written by Dean Haspiel and Mark Waid, with art by Haspiel, The Fox is a joyous romp that is immediately compelling. With the Fox and the rogue’s gallery of supporting characters who appear within the pages, Waid and Haspiel have brought a familiar yet slightly off group of characters to the forefront. We’ve seen figures like these in comics many times before, though rarely with such self-aware glee. (While complaining about his acceptance of wearing the Fox’s uniform under his street clothes, Patton contemplates a career move as a competitive dog groomer). The comedic touches keep the story flowing forwards, but behind the laughs is a subtle statement about the dangers of becoming overly nostalgic — one that perfectly befits a reboot of a comic character who has been kicking around since 1940.
As great as the Waid/Haspiel writing team is, it’s Haspiel’s delighftul cartoonish art that shines here. Think the comic offspring of Ben Edlund and Mike Mignola and you’ve got a pretty good idea of Haspiel’s visual style here, one that is heightened by gorgeous splash pages.
It may be a bit early to say so, but screw it, The Fox is a perfect comic that will prove to be amongst the year’s best. Juggling humor, excitement and heart, it is an absolute pleasure to read. Paul Patton Jr. may be unhappy with his lot in life, but you’ll love everything about it.