Next month, a 70-year-old superhero returns to the comics page for the first time in over two decades as part of DC Comics’ ongoing “Red Circle” revival of Archie Comics classic hero characters: The Fox. Enjoying a long history at MLJ Comics as a golden age Mask Mystery Man, the Fox had a brief revival in the ’80’s when he was replaced by his son – a high-kicking, high adventure martial artist occasionally drawn by comics legend Alex Toth.
On March 17, writer Brandon Jerwa and artist Michael Avon Oeming will be debuting their version of the Fox as a co-feature in DC Comics’ “The Shield” #7. The pair stopped by CBR to discuss absorbing the history of their character in a brand-new take, working Japanese folklore and organized crime into their four-part story and exactly how the Fox fits into the DCU and the upcoming Mighty Crusaders team.
CBR News: Were you a fan of the Fox prior to getting this assignment?
Michael Avon Oeming: Well, I was a fan of the Toth stories because I’m such a huge Alex Toth fan. I was surprised and pleased to see how old the character actually is, though. I’d love to see those original stories. That was a really cool time in comics, where costumed heroes first exploded onto the scene in the late 30’s and early 40’s.
Brandon Jerwa: My first exposure came via the Mighty Crusaders action figures. I picked them up not knowing anything about the characters, which led me to check out some Blue Ribbon issues that I found in with the other older comics at the local antique shop (true story!) when I was about 11.
I didn’t learn about Toth’s great Fox stories until I was in my late teens; I remember seeing a couple of those, making the connection and thinking how sad it was that those characters probably wouldn’t ever have a big “hit” presence again. Twenty-odd years later, here we are…kinda weird, huh?
Will any of the elements from the Alex Toth series in the ’80s “Black Hood” comic or the martial arts series in “Blue Ribbon” be incorporated into your version of the Fox?
Jerwa: I think our version actually leans quite a bit more toward the second version of the Fox in terms of the character and the overall motif, but it’s seen through that Toth lens, you know? Think of it as a reconciliatory rebirth of the two, if that’s not too much of a tongue-twister.
I dig the martial arts stories, and I’ve been dying to do more since I wrapped up my work on “G.I. Joe.” Since the latter version already had that going on, it seemed like the obvious path to tread.
Oeming: We love the martial arts angle, and there’s lots of that in our story. I designed some really fun nunchuks that are also like grappling hooks for the Fox. Lots of fun.
J. Michael Straczynski produced a “bible” for the Red Circle heroes. Are you using his notes for your take on the Fox?
Jerwa: I’m pretty sure the JMS notes only covered the four characters that were launched in the one-shots. The Fox and the Comet, who currently appears in “Inferno”, are straight out of my own brain. Although in the case of the Fox, Mike and I were psychically linked from the get-go without even knowing it, at least as far as the Kitsune spirit aspect goes.
Initially, JMS and Dan DiDio said they were using the original MLJ heroes and not the sons of the original or someone else donning the costume. However, you are using Paul Patten Jr., son of the original Fox. Why use the son of the original hero?
Jerwa: I never encountered any resistance to the idea, so I think the prevailing concept is that Paul Patten, senior or junior notwithstanding, is going to become the Fox. And he’s the first Fox in the sense that others have carried the Kitsune mantle, but he’s the only one who’s ever found himself making a cottage industry out of it.
So there won’t be any focus on the generational aspect of passing the mantle of the Fox from father to son?
Jerwa: My original plan was to have Paul Sr. as a previous incarnation of the Fox, but space became an issue. We only have four ten-page chapters, and I felt like I’d be shorting the story if I tried to cram it in there.
There is a definite riff of following in your father’s footsteps going on in this story, though. If the Fox manages to take off, and I’ll go so far as to say that I think he could, I’d really like to take Paul Jr.’s “day job” as a documentary filmmaker to serve as a window into his father’s life and how it influences the son in his actions.
Oeming: Oh yeah, it’s all about that. Brandon came up with a great story not just about the Fox, but fathers and sons.
You had mentioned wanting to incorporate the Japanese Kitsune tales. For those not familiar with Japanese folklore, what is Kitsune?
Oeming: I love that Brandon and I separately both wanted to tie the Kitsune into this Fox incarnation. Great minds think alike they say, I guess twisted ones do too. I once randomly bumped into Brandon at a Pet Shop Boys concert. See? We think alike!
Jerwa: The Kitsune is a Japanese spirit of mischief, a sort of magical figure that’s pretty common in the folklore. It really seemed like a natural fit from the outset to me, and to find out that Mike was thinking the same thing just solidified the whole thing. I met Mike and his wife Taki Soma, a brilliant creator in her own right, for drinks one night when we first started this gig, and we had a really productive brainstorming session. It’s so nice to hit the starting line knowing that everybody’s ready to run.
How do you incorporate Kitsune into a super hero story?
Oeming: For me, it was more about the visuals. The Kitsune’s agility and playfulness is something I tired to get across in his physicality and expressions.
Jerwa: I considered giving the whole thing a more overt mystical edge at the beginning, but our editor Rachel Gluckstern thought that it might be a little too similar to the Jaguar, who is definitely on the stranger, magical side of things in our little Red Circle world. Ultimately, I think that was probably a wise move; he’s a little more grounded and relatable with the Kitsune having a more ambiguous aura of influence over Paul.
Why does Paul want to be the Fox?
Oeming: Did you see the costume?
Jerwa: [Laughs] It’s a pretty sweet getup, no doubt there. As for “wanting” to be the Fox, well…let’s just say that he doesn’t exactly go looking for it. He’s completely blindsided by a pretty insane turn of events, and it comes down to the good old fork in the road.
What can he do as the Fox that he couldn’t do as Paul Jr?
Oeming: Wear a tight leather outfit with ninja boots. Dude, ninja boots!
Jerwa: I should’ve known that the Fox was part of Mike’s and my mutual destiny when I saw him at that Pet Shop Boys show. He was wearing ninja boots that night!
Jokes aside, the identity of the Fox is definitely an outlet for Paul’s desire for justice for himself, and on behalf of his father.
How does his story interrelate with the other Red Circle heroes?
Jerwa: The Fox won’t initially have a specific connection to the greater mythology that we’ve been secretly building behind the scenes of the Red Circle books, but I’m definitely putting him in position to break out into the larger universe once his origin story is out of the way.
Taking it a step further, how does he fit into the DCU?
Oeming: I’d love to see this version of the Fox take off and become a strong part of DC.
Jerwa: His ultimate role remains to be seen, but I could happily write this character until I’m old and…well…greyer. He definitely has the potential to be a major player.
Will we see any established DCU martial arts characters like Bronze Tiger, Richard Dragon, Lady Shiva, etc. in this series?
Oeming: Again, a casualty of available space. My word as a gentleman here, I wanted to use exactly those three characters, and more. but they just didn’t serve the story I needed to tell here. If I’m lucky enough to write more of the Fox’s solo escapades, the very next thing I want him to do is go deep into the DCU’s martial arts world. I know exactly how I’d do it, too…
This co-feature replaces “Inferno.” How many parts does the Fox’s story run?
Jerwa: Four issues, starting with issue #7. And by the way, my pal Eric Trautmann is kicking off a brand-new Shield arc in the same issue. This is what we in the industry call a “jumping on point,” kids!
What happens to the Fox when Inferno returns as “The Shield” co-feature?
Jerwa: That all comes down to the readers. Vote with your wallets, early and often! I’m definitely down for more Foxy action at the drop of a hat, so hopefully the fans will check this out and enjoy it.
As a co-feature and not the title character, how would DC determine if the Fox is more or less successful than Inferno?
Jerwa: A shot in the arm, sales-wise, would certainly speak to the appeal, but I’m honestly not sure how they determine those things. I’m just the writer!
How long until we see the Fox in the Mighty Crusaders?
Jerwa: Oh, very sneaky! Thought you could trick me into revealing some secrets, eh? 2010 is definitely a year for Crusading in a Mighty way, and it’s hard to imagine that kind of action without ol’ Foxy being involved isn’t it?
For fans that want to stay up to date with what you guys are doing with the Fox, where can they find you on the web?
Oeming: My website is at www.michaeloeming.com I will do more art updates on the Fox. In fact I have one about the page in progress.
Oeming: I am on Twitter too at @oeming.