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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Where the Wonder Women Are: #26 Crimson Fox

October 8th, 2012 at 13:55

In 1989, only a couple of years after the relaunch of Justice League (International) as a fun, action-packed superhero sitcom, it spawned its own spin off, Justice League Europe.

I was a fan.

For the first three years, JLE the team was located in Paris, and didn’t shy away from the pitfalls you might imagine for an American super team setting up shop in France. Indeed, it relished those pitfalls and took great delight in throwing disaster after embarrassing disaster (including bad PR, social awkwardness and exploding embassies) at the team.

Egoes were punctured, names were mocked, mayhem ensued. Their leader, the rather rigid and humourless Captain Atom, spent most of his time sighing wearily as the havoc bounced off the walls around him.

The original line-up included mostly male superheroes, with the Russian Rocket Red and the not-Kryptonian-anymore-but-Atlantean Power Girl representing non Americans. And yes, Power Girl was the only super-powered woman on the team at first, though not the only woman of the regular cast thanks to the inclusion of bureau chief Catherine Colbert, and Sue Dibny who came along first as the wife of Elongated Man, but soon became the resident computer expert and earned the title Information Manager.

It was clear that the JLE was going to have to do more than attend a few shonky night classes in conversational French to make a PR success of their team. Enter Le Renard Rouge (the Crimson Fox), a local Parisian super heroine who crossed paths with them several times in her bizarre brown costume, and resolutely refused to lend credibility to them by endorsing or joining their team.

Until, of course, she did, claiming that she was mostly doing it to mess with Captain Atom’s head. And, of course, to flirt with him. Changeable lady. Anyone would think she didn’t know her own mind!

The twist was that the secret identity of the Crimson Fox was in fact twin sisters Vivian and Constance D’Aramis, who took turns to run their super successful perfume company, Revson, and to run around the rooftops as a superhero with sexy pheromone powers.

As is often the case with identical twins, one of them was more flirty and carefree, while the other was serious and responsible. Yes, they were basically the Sweet Valley High Wakefield sisters with French accents. A cute touch was that Vivian’s English was not as good as Constance’s, so she was written with a heavy phonetic accent (“What eez eet, Rexy?”) while her sister was not.

Well, I thought it was cute. In my defence, I was fifteen.

Once they joined the Justice League, the twins found the endless swapping to be tiresome and inefficient. It didn’t help that Vivian was now carrying on a flirtation (later a full-blown relationship) with Metamorpho (Rex Mason), the gruff elemental shapeshifter and archaeologist. Pretending to have a bad accent was one thing, but Constance wasn’t prepared to smooch her sister’s boyfriend to keep up the pretence! I liked the humour of the interplays between them, their warmth and their wit, and the close but exasperated relationship between both sisters.

Many of the solo stories involving or featuring either Constance or Vivian as the Crimson Fox focused on their pheromone powers, and abilities to affect the minds of men – while Vivian often relished the seductive nature of their abilities, Constance resisted it, uncomfortable withe the ethical line that they trod, and she particularly disliked the way that spending too much time in the costume made her feel bestial. Both of them were highly intelligent, empathic and capable of getting inside the heads of the villains as well as those of their own teammates.

They faked the death of Vivian in order that she could be a full time Crimson Fox, while Constance could continue as the CEO of the company. This worked for some time, though Constance began to resent her sister getting all the fun while she did all the work, and she occasionally slipped the costume on for a lark, or when Vivian needed her to step in.

After one exploding embassy too many, Justice League Europe changed its name to Justice League International (while the old JLI became Justice League America) and moved their base from Paris to London, taking over a heritage castle complete with haunted suits of armour. (No way that could go terribly wrong!) Vivian missed France, and was far less enamoured of the superhero life away from her sister. It didn’t help that the absence of Captain Atom made the team less interesting to her – but things perked up when she developed a more serious relationship with Metamorpho, who reluctantly returned to the League largely because of her. Vivian also had several good friends in the League including Power Girl and (female) Dr Light – while she loved flirting with men, she also enjoyed teasing and having fun with other women, often being the one to sum up the situation with a playful quip or insightful, cutting comment.

When the JLI had new costumes designed by an evil mastermind, it was Vivian who first figured out what was going on, which led to her hitchhiking her way across snowy Russia, naked. To her horror, once she reunited with her own team and the JLA, fashionista Fire recognised and outed her as the CEO of Revson, which led to Flash constantly calling her ‘Connie’ in an attempt to make her admit whom she really was. She also took the lead in solving the problems caused by a deconstructionist artist who got hold of an alien power wand and turned the whole city into abstract art, helped an all-female group of superheroes to battle the deadly shapeshifting Chimaera, and generally pulled her weight in the team.

Then Vivian’s long-lost husband returned from the dead. In a retconned twist, Rene had been very much in the picture back when the twins faked Vivian’s death, and had been aware of what she had done. He was a criminal, she was a superhero, it was all so star-cross’d… but he had faked his own death without telling her she wasn’t a widow. Now Rene wanted Vivian to run away with him all over again.

At the same time, a recurring villain called Puanteur (who frankly looked a hell of a lot like Rene in a costume, just saying) was throwing his weight around, and threatening the D’Aramis sisters.

Understandably, Vivian began acting strangely around her boyfriend Metamorpho, and one night left his bed to meet Rene at a pre-arranged location… only for Rex (who was trailing her) to watch in horror as the building she had just dashed into exploded in flames.

After all the talk about faking deaths, this one was quite blatantly faked. It was written and drawn in such a way that it could easily not have been Vivian (or even Constance) in the Crimson Fox suit that night, and it seemed so obvious that it was staged for Rex’s benefit. Except…

Well, except that she never came back. Rex mourned her, and a few months later was stunned when Crimson Fox returned to the team – but as she confessed to him in private, she wasn’t his Vivian at all, but Constance trying to deal with her own grief by replacing her sister in the Justice League.

I waited. I waited a long time. Vivian didn’t come back.

The teams were shaken up yet again, and Rex and Constance both joined the final iteration of Justice League America before all the 90’s characters were abandoned – this was the version with headquarters on a space ship, including Fire and Ice Maiden. Rex continued (quite understandably) to insist that Vivian was alive somewhere. He and Constance occasionally teamed up to play detective in search of her, but there was no sign.

There were hints that a romance might emerge between them, but apart from one kiss they both felt horribly guilty about, it didn’t go very far before Metamorpho sacrificed himself to save someone or other and ended up a ball of ‘inert’ elements – not precisely dead, but certainly out of the way.

Constance was later killed off too, for the trifecta. This was long after I had abandoned Justice League comics, and apparently it happened in the pages of Starman, so I missed it entirely. Her throat was slit and then for good measure, the building she was in was blown up. Yes, really.

In a pre-New 52 Green Lantern title, the Crimson Fox appeared again, though it was not made clear whom she was under the brown cowl, except that she was “the heir” of the D’Aramis fortune. More recently, it has been revealed that the Crimson Fox will appear in Red Hood and the Outlaws 0. Which, um. Might mean I have to read it.

Noooooo, not that!

Someone tell me how it turns out?

Where the Wonder Women Are:
0: Introduction
1: Black Canary
2: Rogue
3: Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman
4: Black Widow
5: Wonder Girl
6: Captain Marvel
7: Vixen
8: Abigail Brand
9. Jubilee
10. Batwoman
11. Catwoman
12. Huntress
13. Robin
14. Batgirl
15. Jean Grey
16. Ice
17. Emma Frost
18. Fire
19. Lady Sif
20. Supergirl
21. The Wasp
22. Gypsy
23. Misty Knight (and Colleen Wing)
24. Mystek
25. Kitty Pryde.

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