Part of Archie Comics' major plans for creative expansion in 2015 is its Dark Circle Comics imprint, comprised of a trio of superhero titles reviving some of the publisher's classic capes-and-tights crew. But while much of the relaunch features brand-new characters and creators, Dean Haspiel is playing the role of trailblazer or veteran depending on how you look at it.
The cartoonist's previous take on "The Fox" for Archie's Red Circle line proved a critical hit thanks to his more idiosyncratic take on the classic journalist-turned-vigilante. And now with the birth of Dark Circle, the company is looking towards the more creator-driven model Haspiel embodied on that series. So it's no surprise that the second book out the gate for the imprint will be "The Fox: Fox Hunt," which reteams the artist with scripter Mark Waid for a story where their hero is attacked on all sides by vengeful supervillains from his past.
CBR News spoke with Haspiel about his return to the character and his world, with the artist sharing his take on modern superhero universes while hinting at the horrible threats coming down on the Fox in April and explaining how his personality-driven take fits in with the other Dark Circle launch titles, "The Black Hood" and "The Shield."
CBR News: Dean, when we last talked about "The Fox," the first series had received a very strong response from the readership and a second series had been announced. Since then, Archie has built up this whole Dark Circle imprint with "The Fox" as its prime example of the creator-centric approach for all the books. How does it feel to be the spark that lit that fuse, and does it impact your approach to "Fox Hunt"?
Dean Haspiel: If I helped set a Dark Circle precedent of sorts, then I'm honored. It seems that a lot of the franchise companies are editorially dictating what they want these days, but I prefer creator-inspired comix, and I'm glad Dark Circle is basically entrusting their characters with their talent. I don't envy DC having to cook up another game-changing Batman story after 75+ years, or Marvel having to make some kind of galaxy-sized sense out of Avengers continuity. And, frankly, the big crossover events often read like desperate yet unnecessary Hail Maries. I have no gripes against exciting the fans and making a big deal out of your fictional universe on an annual basis, but I enjoy the quieter superhero books like "Daredevil," "Hawkeye," "She-Hulk," "Silver Surfer," "Moon Knight" and "Iron Fist" because they're largely left alone and I don't need to spend a quadrillion dollars to get the full scope of the story.Â And, right now, Dark Circle is mandating that we dig deep, get serious and/or psychedelic and experiment with their toys while keeping us in check of what the market wants. It's been an interesting learning curve for me.Â
We know that the big conceptual hook for this series is a group of villains uniting to attack the Fox just when he's ready to hang up the mask. But before we talk about any of the ins and outs, what made that big idea the right fit to follow up on Paul Patton Jr.'s story in "Freak Magnet"?
To be honest, I had a completely different pitch for post-"Freak Magnet," and it was Dark Circle that suggested the idea for "Fox Hunt." I kept the basic tenets of what makes The Fox tick and pushed him in another direction that tests his very soul. When I realized how the story could work, it made sense that "Fox Hunt" would be the right way to go. I still get to do the off-beat stuff that inspires me creatively, but I'm also challenged to tell a kind of tale that has universal resonance. The best comix are the one's you can insert yourself into.
In the first series, you went to town assembling some faces from the past of Red Circle's history, and I'm betting that the villains hatching the hunt in this new book will come from a similar approach. Did you put together a list of archetypes you wanted to play a part and then go searching for villains who fit the bill? Any tease as to which villains known or obscure will come along?
One of my favorite parts of this job is dusting off old characters. So, I returned to ye olde Red Circle roster and grabbed a gaggle of villains to play with. I wrote around their powers and some of them even last a whole issue. There's a very minor character in the "Freak Magnet" story who you only see for one panel, and that character proves to be a major thorn in The Fox's side for the duration of "Fox Hunt." I tried to write an unexpected ending and I hope it works. Meanwhile, the gaggle of villains with superpowers (remember, The Fox has no superpowers) attack The Fox from all angles, and it impacts the people he loves in a dramatic way.Â
One of the ideas running under the surface of the first miniseries was the Fox's Familial ties, and lately you've teased that this might become an even bigger part of the new book. Who in the hero's family will be having an impact on "Fox Hunt," and how might they tie to the acts of the series villains?
We already established that The Fox's wife is She-Fox, but she only made a cameo in "Freak Magnet." By the time issue #2 ends in "Fox Hunt," our hero barely has time to take a piss as he chases after his son who's made a very bad mistake. I can't say much more than that except that this series somewhat shatters Paul Patton Jr's dreams of becoming normal and having a pleasantly boring life.Â
One thing everyone involved with Dark Circle has said is that these books will be tied to the creators' vision, and I know you've talked about your Billy Dogma comics being a model in some ways for the tone you want to strike here. While "The Fox" won't ever be as autobiographical as Billy's stories, what aspects of yourself or your world view do you see showing up in Paul Patton Jr. as this story has come together?
I suppose the difference between Billy Dogma and The Fox is that Billy can't help himself. The Fox attempts to make sensible and heroic choices, whereas Billy Dogma is a force, albeit a flawed force, of nature. Flaws are where the two characters connect, actually, but Billy embraces conflict whereas The Fox would rather avoid it. Both characters ultimately do what needs to be done but The Fox takes longer to arrive at the solution because he's got too much white noise scrambling his mind, and Billy Dogma is too willing to break things in order to save what he deems worth saving.
Once again, Mark Waid is riding shotgun as he scripts the series with you. How has the collaboration between you two grown as you've moved into this new series? What is it about Mark's voice that compliments your view of who these characters are supposed to be?
Speaking of the white noise that scrambles The Fox's head; there's no better a superhero writer that can capture the emotional sense I was striving for than Mark Waid. My plot breakdowns provide context of what I'm hoping Mark will respond to, but his sensitivity to sow the subconscious in a way that makes The Fox feel ever-present yet equally distracted is almost supernatural. Waid gets to the gut of what's happening in a way that seems effortless, and nobody cracks wise better. If you could take Alex Toth's sublime yet efficient line art and turn them into words, they would read like a Mark Waid script. Mark Waid's talent makes me jealous.
You've also got a reunion with colorist Jose Villarubia here, though he is brand new to "The Fox." What can readers expect from his work here, since he'll be working with you to create a full four-color world as opposed to the more subdued monochromatic look of "Cuba, My Revolution"? Â
Good question! We don't know yet. Jose just recently hopped aboard, and we've had a couple of discussions of how to make The Fox look different. We're looking to make it a neo-noir that has shades of 4-color psychedelia. I'm concerned how we'll highlight the various villains, et al, but I trust we'll come up with something unique. I've been staring at what Mike Huddleston did on "Butcher Baker, The Righteous Maker," and I'm inspired by the possibilities.Â
I know you got to connect briefly with fellow Dark Circle creators Duane Swierczynski, Adam Christopher and Chuck Wendig at New York Comic Con. What's the collective feeling from you guys on what this line will offer overall, and how do you feel "The Fox" fits that bill?â€¨â€¨The sense I got from the Dark Circle gang, thus far, is to make your story the best it can be and secure a solid readership that will want more and then worry about crossing over. I feel this phase of Dark Circle is like early Marvel, when the characters flew solo but eventually made cameos that ultimately made significant impacts in their shared universe which, as we know, led to The Avengers. But, in this case, maybe we're looking at the genesis of a new take on The Crusaders? One of the things we discussed together while signing at the New York Comic Con booth was something of a "Rashomon" take between the trio. Let's see how far we can get.
"The Fox: Fox Hunt" arrives in stores this April from Dark Cricle Comics.