The Fox has been around longer than most of the major heroes being published today – but chances are, many comic fans still haven’t heard of him. That’s due to change with his new series premiering October 30, 2013 from Archie Comics by superstar creators Mark Waid and Dean Haspiel.
The Fox has actually been around since the 1940s, where he was part of the heroes published by MLJ, a company that had considerably more success with its books about a certain red-haired teenager with a perchant for love triangles. He showed up again in the Silver Age of comics when the popularity of the Batman TV series led to those characters being revived as The Mighty Crusaders, then again in a series of acclaimed stories by comics legend Alex Toth when those characters were revived by Red Circle in the 1980s. He sat out the 1990s “Impact” line of books with the characters from DC, but did reappear when DC briefly held the rights again in the pre-New 52 reboot “Red Circle” sub-line.
But now the Fox is back at his original company, with a couple of comic pros guiding his stories. With anticipation high for this relaunch, we asked Waid and Haspiel about this new book, and made a great deal of very, very cheap “Fox” jokes in the process.
Newsarama: So guys – who is the Fox? What does he do? What does the Fox say?
Mark Waid: The Fox says, "foreign music videos are creepy." The Fox is a very crafty crime fighter who longs to just be a normal guy, but trouble keeps finding him.
Dean Haspiel: The Fox is a superhero with no superpowers whose civilian identity as a photojournalist keeps him in the business of getting into and out of trouble. He's just moved back from Japan with his wife and son to rekindle a relationship with his estranged daughter when he discovers that he's a freak magnet.
Nrama: …insert cheap, “and I’m sure working in comics has prepared you to write this” joke. What drew y'all to this project? Were you familiar with the character previously, and did you see that chatty 1980s version by Alex Toth that proved the major inspiration for Mike Allred when he created Madman?
Haspiel: I loved Alex Toth's spirited spin of The Fox but I did not know he was an inspiration for Mike Allred's Madman, which is one of my faves.
I've always liked the way The Fox looked with his minimal costume and floppy ears and wanted to explore what makes a seemingly rational guy wear a crime fighting costume under his normal clothes.
Besides a paid protector, what kind of a person purposely puts his neck on the line to woo the weird? We get to explore that psychology only to discover that our conflicted hero desires a "normal life" but can't obtain it for various reasons.
Waid: I was familiar with the character since I was a kid who researched old superheroes while all the other kids were outside playing ball, but it was Toth who put him on the map for me.
Nrama: What kinds of stories can we anticipate coming up for our foxy hero?
Haspiel: I thought about what might make a classic The Fox story and decided to do the exact opposite of that. So, my first Fox story, "Freak Magnet," is a cross between Apocalypse Now and Island of Lost Souls with a little bit of satanic social networking thrown in for good measure. Why go easy on a guy whose foot is halfway out of the superhero door?
Waid: The depths of Dean's imagination are boundless and, frankly, vaguely disturbing. I can't believe Fox hasn't yet taken his shirt off. But weird is the order of the day.
Nrama: And tell us a bit about your collaborative process on this book.
Haspiel: I commit to a character thesis and steep in the riches of my favorite story tropes, write a plot and discuss it with my editor and Mark Waid for input. Then, I breakdown the story into pages and panels and draw it while performing a modern comix blend of Alex Toth, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, C.C. Beck, and Howard Chaykin (one of my mentors).
Afterwards, Mark and I have a conversation over the phone and discuss the narrative beats and character agendas while perusing the art and then he serves up a master class in dialogue scripting that compresses my absurdity into one precious diamond of unbeatable entertainment.
Waid: Easy and breezy. Dean and I talk a little about where he's going and what he's doing, and I basically just stay out of his way because he's got such a clear, cool vision.
Once the pages are drawn, I go over them panel-by-panel with Dean and get a good sense of where each character's head is at, and then I imagine young James Garner's voice and just write.
Nrama: What's different about working on a superhero book for Archie than, say, Marvel or DC, or, hypothetically, editing a line called "Impact" that might have featured some of the Fox's runnin' crew in the early 1990s?
Haspiel: Since Marvel and DC usually hire me to wax stories that don't significantly impact their mythology [although, I'd argue my update of Woodgod in Marvel Comics' Strange Tales was truly epic], I'll let Mark field this one. Like an iconic tonic, a good story trumps what trends, any day of the week.
Waid: What Dean said. With Archie, the characters have been around forever, but they're broad, not deep. We're given the freedom to really examine them, push them, and give them unique voices without worrying about 80 years of history.
Impact? Never heard of it. (laughs)
Nrama: The Fox and friends have been around for decades in one form or another for decades, bouncing around different revivals, formats, and publishers, though they've never quite achieved A-list status. What do you think it is that keeps bringing these characters back time and time again?
Haspiel: Marvel Comics gave us gods and monsters with romance and domestic problems while DC Comics gave us detectives and aliens with parental issues that readers could relate to. Meanwhile, The Mighty Crusaders roster were mostly lined with pulp heroes and laboratory experiments gone awry.
Where continuity keeps Marvel and DC circling a library of lore, the Red Circle universe allows for character latitude and readjustment. The Fox's history is seemingly looser and dictated by creative spin. So, it's safe to hop into the fray and not feel left out.
Waid: Great names, great costumes, great powers and setups. Really, the old MLJ heroes had some of the best names and looks in the Golden Age of comics.
Nrama: How far in advance do you have your storylines planned for this book?
Waid: What's today?
Haspiel: I've started developing a Fox sequel that invents a composite hero while resurrecting a dead character and puts The Fox into the role of a reluctant mentor. And, I promised Mark that, if we get the chance to continue the series we should spark a pulpy romance crime noir.
Plus, I want to draw a mute tale done in the spirit of Larry Hama's infamous silent G.I. Joe story.
Nrama: Did either of you have the Remco Fox figure in the Mighty Crusaders line from the 1980s with the "Signal Shields?" I had one, but you can't have it because I gave it to Ian Flynn. Snooze an' lose!
Haspiel: The last doll I owned was Action Jackson.
Waid: "Did?” Do. This isn't amateur hour here.
Nrama: Give our readers the hardest of the hard sells on this.
Haspiel: There is absolutely nothing hard about selling a comic book series done by me, Mark Waid, Allen Passalaqua, John Workman, J.M. DeMatteis, Mike Cavallaro, and Terry Austin. The Fox sells itself.
Waid: Fun but consequential and dramatic. A deep bench of characters and yet new-reader friendly. Also, look at that art.
Nrama: What are some other books/creators you're currently enjoying?
Haspiel: I'm currently reading Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari's The Bunker. Gregory Benton's upcoming B+F. Plus, Daredevil, FF, Hulk, Hawkeye, Thor, Captain America, Batman, Saga, Satellite Sam, Jupiter's Legacy, and The Walking Dead.
Waid: I'm digging Superior Foes of Spider-Man by Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber. The book is a spiritual heir to the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire Justice League of the ‘80s, and very clever.
Nrama: What else is coming up for you?
Haspiel: I did an original comic for Akashic Books' The Marijuana Chronicles (available now), and Z2 Comics just announced that they're going to publish Fear, My Dear, a graphic novel of mine culled from some of the Billy Dogma webcomix I did at ACT-I-VATE (in the Spring of 2014).
Waid: A long winter's nap.
The quick brown Fox jumps over the lazy sleeping dogs of crime October 30, 2013 from Archie!