Characters Appearing: Foolkiller (Greg Salinger), Foolkiller (Kurt Gerhardt), Spider-Man
Issue(s): Foolkiller #1, Foolkiller #2, Foolkiller #3, Foolkiller #4, Foolkiller #5, Foolkiller #6, Foolkiller #7, Foolkiller #8, Foolkiller #9, Foolkiller #10
Foolkiller is already an established Gerber concept. The original Foolkiller appeared in Gerber's Man-Thing series, and a second one appeared in Gerber's Omega the Unknown. The second Foolkiller, Greg Salinger, continued to appear in other non-Gerber books and was eventually sent to a mental institution. And that's where he is, and remains, in this series.
The first issue of this series follows him in his institution, as he struggles to get his message about the fools out, first by writing to newspapers and then to a right-wing television talk show host named Runyard Moody (who looks a lot like G. Gordon Liddy to me).
At the time, issue #1 shows the decline and fall of Kurt Gerhardt, the man that will become the third Foolkiller. His father is killed by a criminal gang.
He becomes depressed and he's laid off from his job as a banker. His wife leaves him. He eventually winds up working at the Burger Clown.
When the Burger Clown is robbed, he rabidly jumps to attack them, and he's knocked out. At the hospital, he rants to his co-worker, Linda Klein. Linda has a romantic interest in him, and she takes him back to his apartment to nurse him back to health, but he just continues to rant about society.
She leaves, leaving Kurt alone with the television, in a receptive mood as Greg Salinger's appearance on Runyard Moody's show come on.
In the interview, Salinger rejects Moody's attempt to blame society's problems on "the liberals in Congress". Watching at home, Gerhardt calls Moody a moron for not getting what Salinger is saying. He calls into the show to start up a correspondence with Salinger.
After a few rounds on paper, the correspondence goes to the internet, with each man firing up their modems (or the hospital's modem in Salinger's case) and leaving messages for each other on a bulletin board. This is interesting. When Salinger started writing his letters in issue #1, i thought to myself that today he's be leaving comments on blogs and the like, and this is actually the start of that. For Salinger, surreptitiously using the hospital computer allows him to communicate with Gerhardt without his doctors knowing about it. He actually tells his doctor that he's cut off contact with Gerhardt.
Their actual internet correspondence is difficult to read in my comic, and even harder in the scan. My comic has otherwise retained its color just fine, so i don't know if it was ever really readable.
But the gist of it is that Salinger tells Gerhardt the location of his old equipment, in a storage facility. Gerhardt goes there and meets Merle Singer.
We'll later learn that Salinger saved Singer from a boyfriend that threw acid on her face. Since then she's been acting as a kind of support person for Salinger, and she becomes that for Gerhardt as well. But her only appearance is in these issues.
Singer gives Gerhardt a box with the Foolkiller's costume, gun, and business cards.
Almost immediately outside of the storage facility, Gerhardt runs into a pair of Nazi skinheads beating up a woman.
And Gerhardt kills them.
Gerhardt throws up after his first kill. He goes home to find that ConEd is threatening to shut off his power, and the landlord is looking for the rent. So we have a situation where a guy that is down on his luck has suddenly been granted the power to kill, in an environment where violence against criminals is glorified.
Coming home from work later the same day, Gerhardt notices a high level drug dealer ordering a minion to torture a dealer that was getting drugs from a different supplier.
After that encounter, Gerhardt gets into the Foolkiller costume for the first time.
And he goes out to look for victims, starting with a low level dealer.
Gerhardt feels a little disgusted with himself for killing a guy that had no knife or gun, but he rationalizes it as killing him for his "contribution to the new age of barbarism", and he continues to look for trouble, killing a pair of briefcase snatchers on the subway and then a rapist. He goes home and throws up in his toilet, and then watches reports of his exploit on television. At least until ConEd cuts his lights.
The next night, after watching the dealer that he saw getting tortured earlier get pushed off a roof, he goes after the high level drug dealer, whose name is Backhand. However, facing Backhand, he has his first setback.
Gerhardt manages to escape with his life, but not much else. It's at this point that Gerhardt is given his first opportunity to escape the path he's on, but he ignores it. Linda from the Burger Clown shows up and lends him $300, from her student loan, to turn his power back on and buy a suit so that he can start looking for a better job.
They also go out to dinner, and we see that Linda represents an alternative philosophy to the nihilism that Kurt believes in at this point. She's still very much a Gerber character ("These days, a kid is lucky if her innocence lasts all the way home from the delivery room" is a very Gerber line), but she's an optimist.
But Lisa is also a green belt martial artist...
...and that seems to attract Kurt's attention as much as anything, after he got his butt handed to him fighting the drug dealers.
Kurt also gets moral support from Greg Salinger, who seems to be happy to be stuck in the mental hospital now that he's influencing others outside of his "perimeter".
So Kurt does buy a suit and start going on job interviews, but he's also training with Lisa and working out, and doing weirder things like training himself to resist the heat at the Burger Clown's grill...
...and taking extreme hot showers and rolling around in garbage ("I can now punch myself in the face 20 times without flinching"!).
Again, the focus on training causes him to lose sight of the possibility of re-entering the real world. The fact that he was laid off prior to what turned out to be the S&L crisis means that his resume is untainted. But he's focused on becoming a better vigilante instead.
With the exception of Backhand's organization, all the criminals in this series have been white, and we've actually seen 3 groups of Nazi skinheads. That's kind of interesting from the perspective of what Gerber saw as behind the crime wave in New York. But that changes in issue #4, where it turns out that a series of assaults on bikers in Central Park turn out to be the work of a gang of multi-racial moppets.
Kurt traces the kids back to a low rent hotel in a bad part of the city. He then goes home to put on a new costume.
Hey, i know it's hard for regular people to come up with the material for super-costumes. So i guess i can forgive the gimp mask. What's the nautilus shell about?
Issue #5 is just brutal carnage as Foolkiller slaughters his way through the kids.
Amazing the kids just keep coming, like they are enemies in a video game with no regard for their own life. And there's an excessive amount of gore, although J.J. Birch's art is not very realistic looking.
After the massacre, we get some reactions around the city, including from a "Reverend Mal Flapton" that earlier supported the Foolkiller.
We also see Backhand talking to his boss, Emilio Mendosa. Backhand says that "The Homeboys think he's crazier than the Punisher" because he goes after little punks as much as big shots.
Greg Salinger is happy, though.
Kurt winds up getting a data entry job at a financial firm, a step above his Burger Clown position. He has a co-worker that uses the computers to look up the financial information of public figures. They don't really get along. And, off hours, Kurt continues to dress up in his new Foolkiller costume and patrol the streets. He kills an HIV positive prostitute (causing the prostitute's friend to wonder how many lives were saved).
And he chases down a man that tried to abandon his dog in the city. I absolutely this panel with the dog being so outraged about the incident.
Yeah, that's right. Abandon *me*, will you?
The dog-abandoner also turns out to be a domestic abuser, so Foolkiller isn't totally off the rails for killing him. But he's obviously way over the edge, killing people that the Punisher would never go after. On the other hand, he's working his way up Backhand's chain of command, and donating the money he acquires to charity (after helping himself to a little to pay the rent). Greg Salinger says that if he had thought of that, he'd probably be in the Avengers instead of in a mental hospital.
Foolkiller starts fantasizing about killing everyone that annoys him throughout the day. He suppresses that urge, but then he goes and kills everyone in a crackhouse. Leaving behind an abandoned crack baby. It takes him three shots to kill a young boy, and the grotesqueness of that haunts him. But doesn't cause him to change his ways. A homeless lady (Kidney Lady, from Howard the Duck?) serves as his conscience.
He continues to kill. He also breaks up with Lisa and sends a manifesto to the Daily Bugle.
Steve Gerber doesn't put an authoritative voice into this story to tell us that the Foolkiller is crazy and that we should approve of what he's doing. It's seems clear to me that we're supposed to realize that he's a psychopath, but i can't point to anything that shows Gerber confirming it. I thought something like that might be coming with issue #8, which has a guest appearance by Spider-Man. But Spider-Man's appearance is minor, and he doesn't confront the Foolkiller directly.
The almost-meeting happens at a dueling rally and protest for the first Gulf War.
Spider-Man is there as Peter Parker, and he changes to Spider-Man when the conflict between the two groups of protestors heats up. In the meantime, though, the Foolkiller shows up and starts killing people on both sides.
Spider-Man helps people caught in the chaos, but that's it. He leaves thinking he might find something in the pictures that he took, but it's actually the last we'll see of him in this story.
Kind of feels like a rip-off if you bought this issue for the guest appearance, and it certainly isn't used as an opportunity to have a sane, real hero condemn what Foolkiller is doing. Instead we get the Foolkiller's opinion on the liberal/conservative divide, with neither side coming out well in his opinion (an opinion developed after listening to talk radio this morning, not exactly deep thoughts here).
But there is a political divide in the comic, seen here when a real estate tycoon, Darren Waite, starts evicting people for a new building.
Kurt starts looking into that using the technique that his co-worker was using to look people up.
In the meantime, as Foolkiller, he continues to kill. He kills someone that complains about the liberal bias in the media. He kills a guy that protests violent toys (and i can't help remember that Gerber wrote for the GI Joe cartoon).
He kills a guy selling flags that won't give a flag away for free to a kid during a Support Our Troops parade.
But his investigation into Darren Waite feels more methodological, full of Punisher War Journal style investigations into the mogul's various holdings, which includes a beef processing company in Brazil that supplies a restaurant that Waite also owns (the connection between deforestation in Brazil and beef in the US was also a subject for Brute Force, a very different series. Interesting how comics provide a window into the debates of the eras that were made in.). Foolkiller finds that Waite also has connections to Emilio Mendosa and, therefore, Backhand. In fact, running into Backhand again turns out to be another setback. Foolkiller is shot by Backhand's bodyguard. His costume includes body armor, but he's subsequently caught in an explosion and has to flee.
At this point Kurt realizes that his days are probably numbered. He decides to go after Waite again, accepting the fact that he'll probably be killed in the process. And maybe this series should have ended that way, with Foolkiller killing Waite but dying himself. Instead, Waite does get killed, but Foolkiller survives.
So the final issue (and this was always billed as a 10 issue series) starts with Foolkiller killing Runyard Moody. He then kills a Dean at ESU for, apparently, daring to ban politically incorrect jokes directed at gay people ("alternative lifestyles").
He also kills "Mal Flapton" for being a "racist".
And then he kills the racist cops that were on the scene.
But as Kurt predicted, the walls are crashing down on him. Lisa was at the ESU event, and she recognized his voice. And Greg Salinger was eventually caught using the hospital's modem, and the authorities have figured out who he was communicating with. Kurt does manage to kill Backhand and Emilio Mendosa, and then he goes to Merle Singer, who uses acid to burn his face. With some new documents from her, he then goes to a plastic surgeon in New Mexico to start a new life.
For what it's worth, my personal favorite Steve Gerber run is his Defenders run. Not because of the zaniness of the Headmen (not that i mind that) but because Gerber approached each character with intelligence and wrote them as real human beings. And i see that coming through here as well. Yes, Kurt Gerhardt and Greg Salinger are flawed, crazy characters. But Gerber writes them as human. We can see how Kurt winds up going down the path that he follows. We can see where he had opportunities to pick a better path but he couldn't see it. And we can sympathize with his frustrations, if not his actions. To be clear, a lot of the politics in this story are quite odious. But i think we're supposed to understand that, or at least Gerber is presenting us with various opinions and letting us sort out for ourselves what we think is right (beyond us hopefully all agreeing that no one should be killed for being a "fool"). One of the big weaknesses of this series is the art, which was not going to attract attention in 1990 and which is often stiff and almost cartoony in a story that is all about gritty realism. But the art is serviceable enough that Gerber's strong writing can carry the story.
Quality Rating: B+
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
I don't think that Gerber really thought that most gangs in New York were white or anything like that. Generally, this was a problem with depicting crime in New York in most media during the 80s and early 90s- the majority of the gangs at that time were black or Hispanic but the gangs were either depicted as white or multiethnic gangs.
Posted by: Michael | July 27, 2015 8:23 PM
what are you people reading???
Posted by: min | July 27, 2015 9:21 PM
Great limited series. I would have liked to have one title at this level of street crime dirtiness where the Foolkillers, Cloak & Daggers, Punishers, Ghost Riders, and Moon Knights would be appropriate. Despite the popularity of many of these characters in this era, I never really saw it portrayed as such.
Foolkiller was obviously not a hero; he's a murderer. But as a villain, he's not "obviously" a villain. He goes after all the jerks and a-holes most of us dislike, but who are allowed their depridations because the law can't be used or would be too late in coming. There is room for characters like this provided they are not glamorized or justified as heroic.
Posted by: Chris | July 27, 2015 9:59 PM
When the Appendix reviewed this series, it was pointed out in Gerhardt's profile that his false ID has Richard Rory's face (the character from Man-Thing). Also, the false name is a composite from all three Foolkillers: Gregory Curtis Ross
Posted by: Luis Dantas | July 27, 2015 11:08 PM
I don't think Gerber (or Foolkiller) were meaning to suggest that fighting homophobia is foolish. I think it was the concept of "political correctness" that got the Dean killed--after all, there has been a fair bit of backlash against 'politically correct language' at times, since sometimes people feel it is being taken too far, or get overly anal about it.
He also seems to be suggesting that being so sensitive about language and insults is 'foolish'.
But it does come across in a bit of an unfortunate way that Gerber has Foolkiller kill the Dean while he is in the middle of talking about protecting 'alternative lifestyles' from insults.
Posted by: Dermie | July 27, 2015 11:25 PM
Just thinking out loud so bare with me:
This book reminds me of all the subway vigilante / guardian angels activity that was going on in
New York back in the 80s. I figure NY was awash with crime and there were people who really wanted to wipe criminals off the face of the earth by killing them all.
"he's also training with Lisa and working out, and doing weirder things like training himself to resist the heat at the Burger Clown's grill.." a nod to Taxi Driver?
Gerber possibly warning against New Yorker's growing anger towards crime and the rise of vigilantism?
Anyway, the man's a complete psychopath.
Posted by: JSfan | July 28, 2015 8:52 AM
"But he's obviously way over the edge, killing people that the Punisher would never go after."
Interestingly, this is exactly the route the Punisher appeared to be going under Bill Mantlo in the early to mid-80s. Frank is shown shooting at a domestic abuser and a litterer in Spectacular Spider-Man #81, and ends up committed by the end of Spec #83. Of course, these acts of extremism would get swept under the rug as the character gained popularity later in the decade.
Posted by: TCP | July 28, 2015 8:56 AM
This is my favorite work by Gerber.
I wrote a post at my site regarding whether Todd McFarlane, instead being given a new Spider-Man book, to have rather been assigned the art duties on this book.
Joe Brozowski (J.J. Birch was a pseudonym) did a creditable job on the art. Steve hit on many points during the series, touch upon the Bernhard Goetz attack, the Central Park "wilding", etc.
Runyan Moody was a nicely-done parody of Morton Downey, Jr.
I thought the Spider-Man not-quite-crossover made sense - it strained credulity that Gerhardt could do what he had without once nearly encountering a superhero, considering how often lawbreakers are surprised.
I think more should be done with Gerhardt's character; after all, he was the one who broke Spider-Man's arm during the breakout at the Raft.
I wonder how many BBS still exists?
Posted by: Vin the Comics Guy | July 28, 2015 1:00 PM
Worth noting that the second half of this series shipped with no Comics Code approval. Marvel's trade dress at the time made it pretty obvious when it was missing. Look at the cover to #6 in particular. Is this a first since the Amazing Spider-Man drug issues?
Posted by: Vincent Valenti | July 29, 2015 12:39 AM
Vin, it was Jigsaw who broke Peter's arm during the Breakout, not Gerhardt.
Posted by: Michael | July 29, 2015 7:44 AM
Right - Kurt just called him a bad name.
Posted by: Vin the Comics Guy | July 29, 2015 2:14 PM
Does anyone know the significance of the seashell symbol? Both this and previous version of Foolkiller had it on their costumes and it keeps puzzling me...
Posted by: Piotr W | July 29, 2015 2:41 PM
Just some speculation -- the Nautilus has been a symbol of growth and evolution throughout history; as the animal inside grows too large for one chamber of the shell it must move to another. It may be, then, that this shell symbolizes Gerhardt's own growth into this new version of the Foolkiller, or maybe that he seeks to help society evolve to the next stage.
Posted by: TCP | July 29, 2015 2:49 PM
Campus Speech Codes certainly were a big issues in the very early 1990s. Considering that campuses(notably Berkeley) in the mid-1960s were the birthplace of the Free Speech movement, it's ironic that the the pro-code types never wanted to address the incompatibility with the First Amendment. The most notable idiocy involved with the codes was when a Jewish student somewhere called a group of black protesters "water buffaloes" for making a lot of noise. He was immediately pilloried as a racist because of a water buffalo being a "smelly black animal from Africa"...except that the water buffalo is actually native to India...
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 29, 2015 9:09 PM
@Mark Not exactly. The "water buffalo" story is up there with "suing McDonald's because the coffee was hot" for stories which get selectively reduced and repeated in order to promote the "PC gone crazy!/World full of wusses" narrative. Probably not the place to rehash it, but i have to dissent from that encapsulation of what occurred.
Posted by: cullen | July 30, 2015 5:25 AM
Supposedly the "New Avengers Most Wanted" handbook has Spider-Man mentioning in a debriefing that he was puzzled as to why Gerhardt seemed to pick him to attack as opposed to all the other inmates present. Is it really too big a leap to assume he had problems with Spider-Man fighting his predecessor though?
Deadpool encounters Gerhardt at Crossmore after trying to get the Hulk assist him with suicide. If I recall, Gerhardt was wearing bandages on his face for some reason.
Posted by: Max_Spider | July 30, 2015 7:23 AM
Hmm... Actually checking the issue, Gerhardt specifically says "me" when telling Spider-Man he probably didn't expect to see him again. Considering he's out of costume, this does imply a personal encounter.
Bendis did claim that some of the inconsistencies with the Raft inmates were deliberate back in the day, as a hint to a future storyline (Secret Invasion?) I don't know though. You could always argue he was being symbolic with "me" meaning "Foolkiller" or that they had an off-page encounter or even that he remembered escaping Spider-Man by the skin of his teeth, unaware that he wasn't even spotted.
Posted by: Max_Spider | July 30, 2015 7:34 AM
Heck, you could even just chalk it up to the heat of the moment, if you were so inclined.
Posted by: Max_Spider | July 30, 2015 7:36 AM
Cullen, I'm not promoting any narrative; I don't know what current campus speech codes are like compared to what they were in the early 1990s--presumable they've gotten a bit more sophisticated in regards to the First Amendment. Back then though, a lot of them didn't take it into account and often did result in the type of incident I mentioned. I'm not claiming that only unacceptable results came from them; quite a few times they would expose truly racist crap from people who'd been getting away with it for a while(fraternities, for example).
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 30, 2015 10:35 AM
Mark, what Cullen means is that the story that's repeated isn't the whole story. Several black women were making a lot of noise and several students started shouting at them, some of whom used racial epithets. The women complained but the only person the campus police could identify was the "water buffalo" kid, so the college started proceedings against him. You can definitely argue that the college tried to use him as a scapegoat because they couldn't find the other kids but it wasn't simply a case of humorless administrators.
Posted by: Michael | July 30, 2015 10:15 PM
Thanks, Michael - that is indeed what I meant. I never know how much is too much to have discussions in the comments that are only tangentially about the comic...
I do think Foolkiller here is an iteration of an early-90s trope, the "pox on both your houses" realist renegade. The Snake Plisken of the second "Escape..." movie also qualifies.
Posted by: cullen | July 31, 2015 1:41 AM
I've never read this series but any series that kills off Morton Downey Jr, Gordon Libby and Al Sharpton has something going for it.
You gotta love the way Sharpton changes his tune as soon as it becomes clear that Foolkiller is an equal opportunity killer.
This does seem like a more logical extension of what the Punisher would really become. You can't tell me that the Punisher hasn't accidentally offed some innocents over the years.
Posted by: kveto | July 31, 2015 6:00 AM
Let me hasten to add that no one endorses the assassination of these public figures in real life!
Cullen, the conversation here was fine, but if people ever feel like they want to say something that will create tangents, especially when political in nature, they can always create a topic in the forum and link to it from the relevant entry. That's a good way to keep it out of the way for people not interested in a political debate but still keep it tied to the relevant story.
Posted by: fnord12 | July 31, 2015 9:24 AM
Thanks, fnord. I guess I should expect a visit from Homeland security sometime soon.
Posted by: kveto | July 31, 2015 9:48 AM
My intention wasn't to start a tangential political discussion; it was to give a prime example of why the speech codes Gerber references here wound up in the media in the first place(and possibly how Gerber took notice of them--I don't think this subject was broached in any previous Marvel story).
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 31, 2015 2:00 PM
To be clear, i wasn't saying you were, Mark. Your comment was fine here too. I was just addressing Cullen's comment about not knowing how far was appropriate to go in reacting to that. It's all fine. And your comment about the "water buffalo incident" being in the zeitgeist that Gerber was reacting to was dead on relevant, regardless of the circumstances/accuracy of the common understanding of the incident.
Posted by: fnord12 | July 31, 2015 2:09 PM
Comments are now closed.
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