Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Fox

The Fox is a crime fighter that appeared in issues #4-22 of the Golden Age title Blue Ribbon Comics. The Fox is part of the MLJ group of characters that includes the Archie franchise and was drawn by Irwin Hasen. Make note of that name because it will show up again associated with another famous comic character.

Debuting June 1940 in Blue Ribbon #4, the Fox appeared about a year or so after Batman and Superman were published. Their popularity spawned countless imitations throughout the industry both good and bad. While Batman was actually partly inspired by other characters the detective soon pulled out ahead of the pack and served as inspiration for others. Indeed, The Fox contains many elements that are similar to his contemporaries. The character and his settings are a blend of Superman and Batman, though it leans more toward the Dark Knight than the Boy Scout. But where millionaire Bruce Wayne became the Batman as the result of an omen, shutterbug Paul Patton became the Fox after listening to a catchy tune on the radio.

Batman Fox origins
In his secret identity of the Fox Paul Patton is a photographer/reporter for a major newspaper and is often accompanied by a dark-haired, aggressive female reporter named Ruth Ransom who is often shown in classic "good girl" art poses. By perching on the editor's desk in this panel she looks less like a professional reporter and more like a different kind of professional all together. Possibly a lap-dancer angling for a tip. Ruth is looking annoyed at being interrupted by Paul and their Editor certainly appears to have been caught in a compromising position.

Ruth Ransom - Blue Ribbon #13
Doesn't anybody ever knock first?

As her name implies Ruth Ransom usually becomes a hostage in need of rescue. Paul Patton soon came to resemble Bruce Wayne and soon his costume, which was loose and goofy in the beginning, also became superficially similar to that of the Batman design sans cape and utility belt. The only tool the Fox employs other than his quick wits and fists is a belt that contains a camera.
The Fox debuts, singing a band tune
Criminals are a tone-deaf and cowardly lot who hate pop music

As the Fox, Paul Patton takes choreographed photos for profit of crime scenes and while fighting, a gimmick that Stan Lee would use decades later for the character of Spider-Man. Oddly, in what is a typical trait for people in a comic book reality, Ruth Ransom and others never notice that all the clicking and pop of flashbulb coming from the Fox' costume is a camera and that Paul Patton later always produces action crime scene photos from unique points of view, even when no one recalls seeing him on scene in the middle of a fist fight taking photos.

If some comic book fans are thinking that the Fox looks very similar to another Golden Age hero other than Batman then they would be correct. Artist Irwin Hasen teamed up with Bill Finger to create the Wildcat, who appeared in Sensation Comics #1 in January 1942. The Fox last appeared in the Golden Age in March of the same year. While the Wildcat is a DC Comics legacy character that is a mainstay of the line even today the Fox made only a few Modern Age appearances and has mostly been consigned to comic book limbo.

Here is a story from his last appearance in Blue Ribbon Comics #22 from March 1942. The obvious comparisons to other heroes aside the Fox would often have stories that were suitably noir if shallowly written to be complete in four pages. This story about theft and serial murders is pretty horrific. Though the story contains an Asian who is depicted as a 1940s stereotype in appearance, what is unusual for the era is that the villain speaks perfect colloquial English without the offensive literary device of transposing the L's and R's. There is no spy-busting involved in the story which was also pretty rare for the time.

Blue Ribbon #22 - The Fox
Click the picture for a pdf download of the story. Watch those fingers!

4 comments:

  1. Back in the eighties when Archie Comics was once again trying to do something with their superhero characters, this time through the Red Circle line, the Fox re-appeared in a backup story drawn by none other than Alex Toth; quite good it looked too!

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  2. Interesting! My Dad knew Irwin Hasen, he was a village regular in Southampton NY. He went on to do the comic strip "Dondi", about an orphaned Italian boy with black dots for eyes. I have a sketch of Dondi by Hasen on my desk, personalized at Dad's req. for me. I wasn't aware he did superhero comics in the 40's. Thanks!

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  3. I'm still trying to figure out what either that original "dance song" or the Fox's battle cry must sound like!

    "Yah! Yah! Yah!"???

    Interestingly, that's also the way a later generation of comics writers (or, more accurately, the *same* generation) would write ersatz copies of those Beatles songs the kids all seemed to like....

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  4. The first picture looks like an identical rip off of Batman Beyond. But given the time this was drawn must be the other way around.

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