Nero Fox has trouble accepting criticism.

NERO FOX, THE JIVE-JUMPING EMPEROR OF ANCIENT ROME

Medium: Comic Books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1945
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By the mid-1940s, American comic books were in full-scale retreat from the superhero genre. At the recently-renamed Archie Comics, the retreat was already so far advanced that, once a major …

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… long-underwear producer, its properties including everything from Steel Sterling to Red Rube, it had reached a point where even its funny animal superhero, Super Duck, was dropping the heroic part of his persona. And DC Comics, which set the trend toward that genre in the first place, was starting to convert its anthology titles, where costumed evil-bashers had reigned supreme, to other types of story. Leading Comics dropped The Seven Soldiers of Victory in favor of a funny animal lineup with its 15th issue (Summer, 1945).

That's when Nero Fox, the Jive-jumping Emperor of Ancient Rome, is said to have debuted, by the few people who have written about him at all. Actually, he wasn't in that issue, where the cover feature was King Oscar's Court, about a medieval English monarch; and the other features included Spylock Bones (a Sherlock Holmes parody), Jumpin' Juniper (no relation) (set in Australia) and Hugo Hornspread (a moose). In reality, Nero started in the following issue, #16 (Fall, 1945). When he did, he took the cover and lead position, and kept them as long as he ran.

And his starting time wasn't the only thing about Nero Fox that wasn't clear. It also isn't known who created the character. Of course, it's perfectly normal for the writer who created a 1940s character to be unknown. But it's fairly unusual for the artist, as well, not to have been identified — especially at such a well-documented company as DC. It's likely that Nero's artist co-creator was either Ron Santi (Bulldog Drumhead) or Ed Dunn (Presto Pete).

Whoever created him, Nero Fox was a typical potentate, taking full advantage of his position. For example, he once was unconcerned with the impact his purchase of a flying carpet might have on his bulging treasury, because he didn't intend to pay for it anyway. But his music was at least as important to him. The historical Nero was famous for his fiddle, but this Nero played a saxophone — or as he usually called it, using 1930s slang, a "gobble-pipe". Slang terms involving popular modern music abounded in Nero Fox's series.

He had a retainer named Barkus, whose function was to facilitate whatever the emperor wanted to do. Barkus didn't think very highly of Nero, or of his music — but as he repeatedly reminded readers, a job's a job. Barkus was the only continuing supporting character who actually appeared in the stories, but the unseen empress, too, was constantly in evidence. She'd make Nero promise not to play his sax from time to time, but that wasn't the worst she did. She also used it as a receptacle into which to empty the palace ashtrays and in other ways saw to it that his home life fell short of perfection.

Nero Fox did keep the cover and lead position of Leading Comics as long as his series lasted, but that wasn't very long. In #23 (March, 1947), he was replaced with a new character, Peter Porkchops, and that was the end of him as a series star.

It would have been the end of him altogether, but he did make a guest appearance almost four decades later. In Captain Carrot & His Amazing Zoo Crew #9 (November, 1982), the Zoo Crew went time traveling, and met him, The Terrific Whatzit and other DC funny animals set in the past. And that was the end of him.

— DDM

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Text ©2009-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.