The Fox originally debuted all the way back in 1940, but has recently enjoyed something of a resurgence as part of Archie Comics’ superhero imprint, Red Circle Comics. The character has been tweaked slightly over the years in terms of tone and backstory, but the gist of our hero – and his current alter ego, Paul Patten Jr. – remains the same. The son of the original Fox, Paul is a reporter who finds himself donning the costume of a superhero in the hopes that it will help his career. After all, as a masked hero, he’s bound to find himself in the midst of the most exciting stories, right?
This trade paperback collects the five-part “Freak Magnet” storyline, which essentially sees The Fox getting into a series of increasingly bizarre scrapes as a result of him being – well – a magnet for freaks (as you may have guessed). Evil druids, ludicrous monsters, diamond queens, surreal alternate realities… all of these can be found within these pages, and all are tied together beautifully by Paul’s downright hilarious inner monologue. This is a guy who is fully aware of just how absurd the world around him is, and who, when all’s said and done, only really wants to get home to his wife.
The humour here is absolutely spot-on, with The Fox’s witty one-liners and chuckle-worthy observations providing an undercurrent of charm to the increasingly far-fetched events. It also doesn’t hurt that his costume itself is more than a little goofy, essentially a Batman Beyond-esque bodysuit complete with floppy fox ears. The whole series feels like something of a parody of the superhero genre, but a good-natured one. This is a story that fully embraces its pulp roots, and which seems to revel in taking such a gloriously zany approach to the Golden Age of heroes.
Dean Haspiel and multi Eisner Award –winning Mark Waid share writing duties here, with Haspiel providing the plot direction and ‘vibe’ of the series (not to mention the energetic, vibrant artwork) while Waid works with the script, displaying the same dry sense of humour that he utilises to such scintillating effect in his ongoing Daredevil series. I’ll fully admit that, without any prior knowledge of the character or the world The Fox inhabits, some of the cameos and guest appearances flew wildly over my head. However I still definitely enjoyed the feeling that The Fox himself slotted into a larger world, and got a definite kick out of seeing all the colourful faces from his (and Red Circle Comics’) back catalogue of enemies and allies.
Alongside The Fox’s exploits, each issue also includes a backup story courtesy of writer JM DeMatteis and artist Mike Cavallaro, featuring genetically modified super soldier (and fairly obvious Captain America homage/parody), The Shield. While these stories are far more earnest than the offbeat antics of the main title, they do possess a certain Golden Age charm to them, and Cavallaro’s artwork does a lot to enhance that ‘vibe’. I did feel though that in a collected edition, jumping backwards and forwards between two entirely unconnected (at least initially) stories proved to be more than a little distracting. In single issues, sure, the backup stories would definitely have served as an added bonus, a little something extra for the reader, but in a graphic novel format like this I found them somewhat jarring, interrupting the Fox’s awesome shenanigans without any real payoff – at least not until the very end.
Overall though, in spite of a few minor niggles, Freak Magnet serves as a glorious introduction to a character I (shamefully) had no prior knowledge of. Dean Haspiel deserves a lot of credit for perfectly capturing the Golden Age charm of a character like this without things ever seeming dated, and Mark Waid’s trademark wit has never been sharper. Highly recommended if you like your zany superhero antics with an extra dose of humour – and floppy fox ears.
You can purchase The Fox vol. 1 – Freak Magnet TP from Turnaround Publisher Services (who generously provided the review copy of this title) via their official website.
The writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson (aka Ceej)
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