Since The Fox returned to Archie’s Red Circle Comics imprint after a long hiatus last October, the book has become a surprise success both critically and financially. It’s easy to see why. Artist Dean Haspiel and scripter Mark Waid — who adapts and enhances Haspiel’s original story outlines — are an absolute comics dream team. Together, their work on The Fox is one of those increasingly rare instances where a captivating new mythos is unfolding before our very eyes. This is especially surprising given how The Fox character originally made his debut in 1940. Always a third-tier superhero, the character has been languishing for decades before finally getting his chance to shine with this ongoing Freak Magnet storyline. (In 2010, DC made a stab at incorporating the Fox and the other Mighty Crusaders into their continuity without much success). The downside this go around is that many readers will simply dismiss The Fox and its numerous pleasures due to the Archie connection. Their loss.
The latest issue kicks off with The Fox still trying to rescue the King of Diamonds from the evil influence of The Druid. Along the way, he teams up with The Inferno and The Marvel, other Mighty Crusaders whose brief appearance here helps to further illustrate that there is tons of creative potential to be mined from these supporting characters. A fight between The Fox and the King of Diamonds makes up the majority of this issue, and the battle is one that showcases Haspiel’s considerable artistic talents. The action takes place in richly drawn panels populated with gravity defying movements as well as off-kilter sound effects like “Fashoom!” and “Chutt” that subtly remind readers that The Fox is just as adept with comedy as it is with superheroics. On the surface, Fox alter ego Paul Patton Jr. is your standard reluctant hero. For most of the story so far all he wants to do is get home to his family. But what makes The Fox continue to stand out as something special is a sense of humor that never gets meta or self-referential. (Think a cross between The Tick and Spider-Man at his wise-cracking, neurotic best).
Any review of this issue must include a discussion of its surprising denouement, so spoilerphobes should probably skip to the next paragraph. As the issue ends, the Fox’s storyline has collided with that of the Shield’s The Face of Hate backup tale by J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Cavallaro. How exactly these two generations of Mighty Crusaders will work together to resolve their respective adventures remains to be seen, yet for followers of this comic it is going to be an interminable wait for the fifth issue to be released next month.
With each subsequent installment of The Fox, Waid and Haspiel have been upping the dramatic stakes and still keeping Patton grounded in his own weirdo reality. This particular combination of the supernatural and the silly is unlike anything else currently being done in comics. So appreciate the title while you can, it’s shaping up to be one for the ages.