Fox Hunt #1 was released in April to great fanfare, and fans noticed that the comic, which carries on in a separate storyline from The Fox from Dark Circle/Archie Comics by Mark Waid and Dean Haspiel, had become a bit more densely crafted, intricate, maybe even a little “darker” in keeping with the new Dark Circle imprint. Now that the second issue has arrived, as of last Wednesday, the positive reviews keep coming in as readers scent something a little different about this Fox story.
The first Fox series by Waid and Haspiel (based on a character created in 1940 by the celebrated and recently deceased Irwin Hasen) was electric in its psychedelic elements, a wild high-speed ramble through the imagination and the depths of the “hero” identity. It read like a dream analysis of hero complexes and human needs while remaining remarkably funny and upbeat. This more “serious” in some ways, series, Fox Hunt, nevertheless has something more to say about the role of humor in comics, especially with Issue #2.
I don’t think I’m giving too much away about this issue when I say that central would-rather-not-be-hero Paul Patton Jr. has a sudden upset stomach during a high-pressure moment, winds up vomiting profusely and begging for some antacids so he can get the situation under control. It sounds pretty slapstick but in action, the scenes play out in a far subtler way.
Many “retro” superhero comics (since there actually is enough popularity right now for there to be more than one) seem to have a mawkish sense of embarrassment about superhero comics tradition. There’s something a little awkward about the way they couch their humor, poking fun at the tights, the tropes, the quips, the claims, the villains, you name it. We all know these things can be funny and some comics seem like they are there simply to exploit the humor that can be gleaned from the pageantry. My personal feeling about creating comics in that vein is that is that if one is embarrassed by superhero comic tradition, don’t use it in your comic. If you’re doing so just to seek some kind of absolution for the attraction you felt to hero comics in your youth, and it makes you feel better to render superheroes ridiculous and pitiable as imaginative figures, unless you’re bringing a heavy dose of humanity to your approach, you’re not creating a good comic or a smart one.
These are my own views, and not necessarily those of the creators of Fox Hunt, Waid and Haspiel. But I’m saying these things, because there is never a moment in any of their Fox stories so far, when they are “laughing at” superhero tradition. They aren’t going for a cheap laugh, but a belly laugh, maybe one disrupted by the bruises or cracked ribs of what being a superhero would be like within a fictional reality. I feel like Waid and Haspiel almost argue for the fictional rights to dignity for their characters, and the deeper they go into hero humiliation and psychological realism, the more they make sure hero comics keep their footing as a respectable thing in a changing world.
Now, there’s something inherently humorous about a superhero who doesn’t want to be a superhero, but the world seems to chase them into being one. It can be tragic, too. Most certainly it can be. And our Fox Paul Patton has made it abundantly clear that he wants to give up the game, somehow turn off his “Freak Magnet” as he calls it, and avoid the scuffles that keep him from being a family man. The question posed by Fox Hunt is: “Will the world really let him do that?” but even more interestingly this time around, “Will his own family let him do that?”
When you’re dealing with a reluctant hero, who himself displays a strong sense of humor in self-deprecation, let the jokes fly. They help us tap into Patton’s personality. We become an insider. We hear him when he’s alone, joking to himself in the dark. We can even see him in embarrassing gastro-intestinal situations and still find it funny in a god-awful sympathetic, yes that’s what life would actually be like kind of way. And then when the comic brings on a host of villains larger and weirder than life we can appreciate them with a degree of engagement based on the fact that our hero is just a guy in a laughably bad situation.
I won’t give away spoilers, but this aspect of Fox Hunt reminds me very much of what I consider to be one of the most significant moments of Avengers: Age of Ultron, where Hawkeye, speaking with the Scarlet Witch, describes the absurdity of their situation and his life. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, I’ll leave you with this question: do you want a hero who realizes life is often absurd and says so or one who lacks self-awareness?
If it’s the former, you should be reading Fox Hunt. It’s a beautiful, lively, humor-packed book that doesn’t try to make itself look clever and powerful as a be all and end all. There are plenty of things to laugh at in hero comics, and Fox Hunt is one of the best methods around to do so while celebrating the medium.
Fox Hunt #3 will be out June 10th, and is currently listed in Previews World with item code: MAR150901