Today, Patrick and Mark are discussing The Fox 1, originally released April 15th, 2015.
So the seasons change
and the storefronts change,
everything else stays the same.
The wind don’t blow
and the grass don’t grow:
you’re never leaving Silver Street.
Ben Folds “Silver Street”
Patrick: There’s a sweet mystique to the idea of the Home Town. For me, Kenosha, Wisconsin, will always be trapped in the 1990s — a place frozen in time. I know that’s not actually the case: the years pass in Wisconsin much as they do everywhere else (if a few degrees cooler), and any qualities of being fixed in time are being selfishly imposed by me. It’s easier if I can image a place that will forever house my childhood enthusiasms and explorations. It’s a shock to my system every time I go home and discover that something has changed. Dean Haspiel and Mark Waid explore these concepts of change and timelessness as Paul Patton Jr. — aka, The Fox — takes a trip down memory lane and finds it blocked by both the passing of time and time’s refusal to pass.
The premise here starts out simply: Paul takes his son Shinji on assignment to photograph his abandoned hometown of Beaver Kill before it is demolished for a large-scale municipal project. That simplicity is stripped away with each intriguing detail we get. First, the town is going to be destroyed so Bright Industries can construct a watershed, aiding in drought relief and ultimately scoring political points for Bright Industries CEO Mr. Smile. Already from that first wrinkle, morality is kind of back on its heels: destruction of a town sounds bad; drought relief sounds good; political gains sounds… selfish at the very least. The issue lives in these gray areas between honoring the value of and completely disregarding nostalgia.
Paul fondly remembers his first malt, his first kiss, his high score in Ms. Pac-Man (1,252,600 — which is about 300,000 higher than the world record: he’s a superhero, alright?), and scorns the new phone that he has to use to take his digital photos. We’re definitely supposed to side with Paul on this technophobia — the phone makes a hilariously obnoxious “tee-hee-hee” in lieu of a shutter sound when taking a picture.
And, you know, just look at this pairing. The “KLIK’ is so clean and cool — plus it only happens once in the panel instead of a disorienting four. I also love the reflections or projections or whatever they are on either side of the panel. Shinji’s are all circles, and Paul’s are all rectangles, representing a clear distinction between analog and digital.
That this dichotomy plays out in the pages of the newly relaunched The Fox is particularly interesting, given Waid’s own involvement in the medium’s transition to digital. As both the founder of Thrillbent and a part-owner of a brick-and-mortar comic book store, he’s sort of the poster-boy for embracing the future while still reveling in the past. It’s also a theme that shows up time and again in Waid’s work — particularly his superhero comics at the Big Two. What’s Kingdom Come if not elevating the Golden Age heroes to god-status and then putting them in the future? What’s Daredevil if not purposefully choosing a brighter tone for the character’s future?
When Paul is confronted by the grown-up version of his first kiss, the allure of the past is at its strongest. The Fox is a character notorious for attracting whatever weird shit is around — demons, devils, evil spirits — so running into the Dream Demon is not out of the ordinary for him. In fact, it’s downright characteristic of his adventures. Smartly, Waid and Haspiel tie this encounter to Paul’s sense of aching nostalgia. All the romance of the first kiss is suddenly rapped up in the same romanticism of fighting supernatural crime.
The issue ends with Paul hanging up the costume and declaring his heroing days over, but there are so many reasons not to leave The Fox behind. Chief among those reasons is that there’s a gang of weirdo supervillains Mr. Smile hired to kill The Fox. So the character’s got to be around for defensive purposes if for no other reason. But there’s also the generational question. Throughout this issue, Shinji champions the old ways of doing things, and we even get to spend a little time looking at the town church through his eyes. Haspiel ably lives up to Waid’s copy.
It all seems pretty clear that Shinji will be the next Fox, and that we should all be cool embracing that future of the Fox. Mark, neither of us are all that familiar with this character, but I found this to be a handy introduction to the particular brand of weirdness that follows him around. There’s maybe a bit much in the way of sentimentality, but I think the theme of never really being able to go home again always works on me. Did it work as well on you? MORE IMPORTANT QUESTION: how are the Fox’s ears so expressive? Are they animatronic (like Deadpool’s eyebrows)?
Mark: Nostalgia can be a curse. Last fall I was walking out of a grocery store near my apartment, and for some reason the specific atmosphere of the day — the way the winter sun was beginning to set, the autumn leaves on the ground — sent my thoughts to childhood. I wasn’t even recalling specific memories, just the general feelings of coming home from school, Halloween being around the corner, playing in the yard. It made me a little wistful, a little sad. And it was useless. I ended up feeling bad thinking about happy times. I hated that feeling. So while I want to remember fond memories, I try to avoid being nostalgic in my life and dwelling on how good things used to be.
So I have to admit, Patrick, that this issue didn’t entirely click for me. And I feel shitty saying that since there’s a lot I really like about it structurally. The Fox 1 is honoring the continuity established before the most recent dissolution of Red Circle Comics (to which I have only passing familiarity), but as the first issue since Red Circle became Dark Circle, Haspiel and Waid are obligated to make it an entry point for new readers. It’d be easy to trot out yet another origin story, but I am impressed with how they manage to have their cake and eat it too. By returning Paul to his hometown, the history of the Fox is woven seamlessly into the story. It’s not until you reach the end that you realize you’re witnessing an origin story after all as presumably Shinji will be taking up his father’s mantle. It’s a neat narrative trick, one that has to satisfy both existing fans and new readers.
Speaking of Shinji, how old is this guy supposed to be? In general I thought Haspiel’s art worked great, but, knowing very little about the players going in, I was never able to get a handle exactly on Shinji’s age. Based on the context of the issue I’m going to guess he’s a teenager, but the pencils make it impossible to know for sure.
For everything I admire about The Fox 1, I’m just not 100% digging it. I’m just not sure what exactly it wants to be. It’s zany, but not quite zany enough. The character design makes me feel like I’m in for some Loony Toons-esque shenanigans, but even with a supernatural element and a rogues gallery straight out of Dick Tracy it’s never quite cartoony enough. Compared to other Black Circle comics like Black Hood, it’s kid friendly, but at the same time I’m not sure it’d hold the interest of young readers. It’s charming, it’s created with care, it’s right down the middle of the road, and I find myself wanting it to be more.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?