|The Fox 2 by Dean Haspiel and Mark Waid|
Red Circle/Archie, 2013
Step back in Archie the publisher. Archie has distinguished itself in recent years by upping the company profile with well-produced, entertaining stories with significant crossover media attention, and by taking storytelling and marketing risks that they've never previously taken. It's only natural that they would retake the helm of The Red Circle, beginning with last year's Mighty Crusaders. But despite the line's age, for all intents and purposes these are new superheroes. And at this point in the genre's existence, it goes without saying that new superheroes always have an uphill climb in impacting the neutron-star-dense market of brightly-costumed muckity-mucks. At the very least you can only hope to make good comics and let potential market penetration come later.
Sadly, there's nothing terribly new or fresh or distinct about The Fox, issue two of which came out last Wednesday. The series is written and illustrated by Dean Haspiel with dialogue by Mark Waid, old-school hand-in-hand Marvel-style. Rather than going into origins, the story in issue one dives in with Paul Patton, ace photojournalist, getting into quick trouble thanks to his work as a photog and as his superhero alter-ego, The Fox. Patton is not superpowered but gets dressed up to draw out the story, and much to his chagrin constantly finds himself hip-deep in it. His wife, Mae, and oldest daughter are also superheroes, though Mae seems to be frustrated with Paul's costumed activities. Issue one is a little more straightforward, with Patton put up against a couple of meat-head thugs and a costumed interlude of The Fox against some kind of demon seductress with a new social media website. He easily wins both battles, but finds himself in the cliffhanger kidnapped to some diamond dimension, where we find ourselves in issue two. Issue 2 has a lot of Patton/Fox trying to figure out what exactly is happening, there's a battle with a changeling who he thinks is his wife in her superhero guise as She-Fox, and an exposition-heavy sequence where the power that shanghaied him explaining the whys and hows of the world he now finds himself in.
It's hard to peg down the series' intended audience. One the one hand, The Fox is competently produced, straight-forward superhero fare, with an accessible high-impact art style. The storytelling is simple enough with plenty of allusions and references to Red Circle heroes past and present. But the character, a married reporter in his forties with a superhero wife and an adult superhero daughter, just doesn't seem that compelling to your potential preteen audience. If you are an adult who is a fan of the creators' respective accomplishments, then The Fox (so far) is a competent cape comic of little other distinction, one of a hundred out now. But if you are new to the characters and creators, or a kid looking to dive into a superpowered funny book, there is sadly nothing about the book worth picking up. Haspiel's winning Kirbytastic art is a highlight, but simply insufficient to make the book worth it.
All-ages superhero comics have been a hard-sell in recent years. It's unfair to expect The Fox to compete on the same level as a Spider-Man or Batman with little eyeballs staring at a comic rack, a rack that apparently cannot support even popular superheroes in all-ages books. But it's also competing with dozens of other genres having greater effect in all-ages comics. Something needs to pretty special to stand out in any genre and format, and The Fox is distinguished only by its ordinariness.