Ever since award-winning creators Dean Haspiel launched Archie's new The Fox series with Mark Waid, the comic has introduced the character to a new generation of fans with action-packed adventures and an old-school attitude.
And now Haspiel, who plotted and drew the first four issues of The Fox, has announced that the current five-issue mini-series, that finishes this week, will get a follow-up soon. After the end of the current storyline, "Freak Magnet," the Fox will get a new storyline, "Fox Hunt."
The comic's fast pace and energy pay homage to the character's pulp roots — and Haspiel adds to the feeling by throwing in cameos from other Red Circle classic heroes in each issue. But although The Fox is one of the earliest superheroes — with a debut in 1940 — the mood in the new series is modern and fresh, with zany, unexpected plot turns. Each issue also features a back-up story — and a letter from Haspiel at the end of each issue, detailing his thought process.
Working with Waid and now DeMatteis, Haspiel has turned The Fox into a reluctant superhero, a “freak magnet” who can’t avoid trouble, yet clearly enjoys himself in the midst of a fight. Now that DeMatteis is not only taking over for Waid's former scripting and dialogue duties, but has also plotted this week's #5, Newsarama talked to Haspiel and DeMatteis about what comes next for the hero in this week's finale to "Freak Magnet" — and beyond..
Newsarama: Marc, I know you've been working on The Shield back-up stories for the comic. Having seen the first few issues that Mark did with Dean, and now writing for the book, what about The Fox stands out to you as a writer? What makes him unique?
J.M. DeMatteis: I love the fact that the Fox is just an ordinary guy who finds himself in the wildest, most surreal situations. He’s not classic hero material; in fact I suspect that, given half a chance, he’d toss the costume in the nearest trashcan. At the same time he’s fascinated by the insanity that seems to dog him.
One thing I came to see as I wrote the fifth issue was that, in many ways, he’s more grounded, more clear-headed, than the super-powerful characters he’s always encountering. For all he’s been through, his head is screwed on straight.
Nrama: Dean, the story you've written so far in The Fox feels like a classic superhero story, but with several differences. How would you describe the feel you've been going for?
Dean Haspiel: Since I was so taken by Alex Toth's brilliant yet brief pulp noir version of The Fox in the 1980s, I didn't feel I could match his wit and flair, even though I'm a crime fiction fan of Jim Thompson, Mickey Spillane, and Richard S. Prather. So, I decided to take a zanier, more psychedelic approach while furnishing a classic, Golden Age feel. Visually, The Fox is equal parts analog and static animation.
Boiling it down, "Freak Magnet" was a comics conversion of Daft Punk and Thundarr the Barbarian.
Nrama: You've also incorporated new characters and older, more familiar characters. Was it all part of your plan building The Fox's world?
Haspiel: I wanted to draw a fantastic pulp-inspired story about a reluctant hero, and I knew it had to have supporting characters that would put The Fox into precarious situations.
I wrote agendas for the minor characters before knowing exactly who I would recruit from the Red Circle roster. Part of the fun of developing a story is figuring out who fits in and why.
I was new to a lot of those old Red Circle heroes and was surprised to discover how much they still resonated. I even planted some Easter eggs into the "Freak Magnet" narrative for future stories, in case I get to do more with them.
Nrama: How would you describe The Fox as a character? And what part of him are you hoping to show more about in the coming issues?
Haspiel: The Fox is a photojournalist and a reluctant hero whose main desire is to quit fighting crime on his free time so he can live a normal life with his wife and son, only he's a freak magnet. Basically, he's cursed and I plan to address more of that conundrum in future Fox stories.
Nrama: Marc, now that you're plotting and scripting, what's it been like to put together the voices for these characters?
DeMatteis: Mike Cavallaro and I have been doing The Shield back-up for a few months — and having a great time — so that part of the story was pretty solid. The trick in this issue was melding the tone of the back-ups (which is more Silver Age Lee-Kirby) with the very unique, and playful, tone that Dean and Mark Waid created for The Fox leads. It was quite a challenge, and I hope it worked.
Nrama: Dean, what's the process like for you to both draw and plot these books? Do the two go hand in hand, difficult to separate?
Haspiel: I usually start developing my stories by jotting down notes on random pieces of paper and bar napkins while steeping in the subject with similar comic books, movies, and music — and fleshing out the story on my word processor.
And, because image is text, too, lots of visuals come into my mind before I know what they mean for the over-arching narrative, and I sketch notes and construct brief sequences.
As long as you have a strong thesis to support, you can knock yourself out with a bunch of ideas and eventually knit together the stuff that clings to the skeleton of the story.
Nrama: How do you come up with some of these creative layouts you've been using?
Haspiel: Visual storytelling is the hardest part of making comics. It's all about pacing and reveals. Pacing and reveals. Sometimes I spend more time laying out the page than when I actually draw it for publication. Pages have to be designed a certain way in order to attract the reader while serving the story. A page has to flow while concurrently staggering narrative revelations.
I look at my favorite cartoonists for inspiration, the ones who tackle the blank page in compelling ways. Good comics teach you how to make comics while entertaining you.
Nrama: How would you describe this week's final issue of "Freak Magnet?"
DeMatteis: This week's issue brings the plot-threads of the Fox lead feature and the Shield back-up together in one place. The Fox finds himself hurled into the past, face-to-face with the Shield, Hachiman, and Master Race. The four of them are either going to sink in a sea of mutual hate or find a way to work together to defeat the Druid, who’s gone totally cosmic and totally crazy. The result is a big fun adventure, filled with Haspiel’s patented energy (and beat poetry), that also manages to —lightly, I hope—address some serious issues along the way. Dean’s art alone is worth the price of admission. That kid’s got a future!
Nrama: What about future issues of The Fox? More stories coming?
Haspiel: The next series is called "Fox Hunt" and it's going to kick "Freak Magnet" in the butt. That's all I can say for now.