Thursday, March 13, 2014

"Your vanilla-breath made me hallucinate!" The Fox#2-5

This month Dean Haspiel's 5-issue series the Fox drew to a close at Archie Comics - although Haspiel has indicated he intends to do more with the character. It's been a fun, creative and diverting super hero comic published in a time when super hero comics are sorely lacking in fun and creativity. Not only did Haspiel plot & draw this mini, he seems to have virtually edited it by himself! He recruited Mark Waid to script issues #1-4 and J.M. DeMatteis to contribute a Shield back-up story in #2-4, then script #5; artists Mike Cavallaro & Terry Austin drew the Shield back-ups and letterer supreme John Workman completed the ensemble.

In my review of issue#1, I covered Haspiel's premise - photojournalist Paul Patton is the semi-retired super hero the Fox, seeking only to lead a normal life yet forever cursed as a "freak magnet" to find outlandish adventure everywhere he turns. It's not necessary to know anything about the Fox's history at Archie - in fact, Haspiel's collaborators have admitted they knew virtually nothing when he recruited them! Many of Archie's super hero characters turned up during the series, some of them absent from comics for decades: the Queen of Diamonds, Bob Phantom, Inferno, the Marvel and the Shield were only the tip of the iceberg, but the story presented each character in a straightforward way so you might assume some of them were appearing for the first time (I myself had no clue the Queen of Diamonds was an existing character until Haspiel mentioned it).

From issues#1-4, the Fox's story sees him being recruited by the Queen of Diamonds to rescue her husband from an evil druid (known as... the Druid). Along the way, the Fox meets and/or fights Bob Phantom, Inferno and the Marvel, surviving perilous situations with nothing more than his athletic prowess and a stubborn refusal to take danger seriously.

Meanwhile, the back-up strip has the present-day Shield narrating a tale to unseen friends about a World War II adventure which pit him against Nazi & Japanese super-soldiers, only for all three men to learn their common enemy was a Lovecraftian monster.

At the end of #4, the two plots merged as the Lovecraftian monster turned into the Druid (maybe not the original intent, but okay) and the Fox was flung back in time to help the Shield and other super-soldiers against him. The plot leads to a finale which Haspiel himself noted is familiar territory for DeMatteis, a "beautiful message for world peace, the very thing I was hoping he could make work without being too preachy." From the top of my head, DeMatteis' conclusion to the tale brings to mind stories he's written for Star Wars and Thor; there have probably been others.

The most compelling idea in DeMatteis' contribution, I found, was a line by the Shield in issue#2 (almost a throw-way until it resurfaces in #5) about how the flag-draped Shield relates to the similarly-garbed Nazi character Master Race and Imperial Japanese champion Hachiman:

"I've read the files on both of you-- Master Race and Hachiman -- Super-powered experiments created by your governments to rain unholy death and destruction in their names!"

"Forgive me for interrupting, Joe-- but... couldn't the two of them have said the same thing about you?"

"They could, Dusty-- and they did. We'd all been expertly programmed to despise the enemy-- reducing him to a subhuman stereotype. After all, when you see your opponent as less than human, it makes it that much easier-- to kill him."

When Captain America is compared against other nationalistic champions, it's only to see how they fall short of Cap (and, by extension, how their nations fall short of the USA); this kind of parity - in World War II, of all times! - is an interesting idea.

It's then I'm reminded DeMatteis wrote some very fine Captain America back in the day (he was the first Cap scribe I ever read - probably made a huge impression on how I view the character) and the Shield is, notably, the (only?) patriotic hero who predates even Cap; judging by the Shield's gray hair in present times, he seems to have lived out the decades since World War II, unlike Cap; DeMatteis seems interested in doing more with the Shield and hopefully he'll get the chance.

In an interview with Waid in the back of issue #4, Waid admits to Haspiel if he had been the plotter, the Fox would have likely been much more grounded and examine ideas about father-son relationships. Which, considering Waid's already telling that story in Green Hornet, I'm glad he left the plotting to Haspiel - they make a great team.

Each issue of the Fox featured 22 pages of story by experienced professionals telling tales with dynamic art, snappy dialogue and neat ideas. All the advertisements were kept to the back pages, special features including scripts, interviews and character biographies expanded on the reading experience, it was bound in a high-quality cover and all cost $3. In an industry where so many books have become joyless, inconsistent, repetitive tales at $4 for 20 pages interrupted by ads and printed on cheap magazine stock... well, if you've had the Fox why would you even bother with the rest? Fortunately, there's more to come from Haspiel and his collaborators!

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