Sunday Slugfest – Foolkiller #1

A comic review article by: Keith Dallas, Michael Deeley, Martijn Form, Paul Brian McCoy, Jason Sacks
“Fool’s Paradise: Part One: A Day Late and Forty Thousand Dollars Short”

SPOILER WARNING: The following reviews discuss plot developments of the issue.

Michael Deeley

Nate McBride’s gambling and foolish mistakes have gotten his wife and young daughter killed. If he doesn’t come up with $20,000 in two weeks, his older daughter’s next. During his stay in the hospital, he finds a Fool tarot card taped to his window. He figures it’s from the new vigilante Foolkiller. Foolkiller has been brutally beating, killing, and mutilating criminals of all kinds, from thieves and rapists to CEO’s of polluting companies. But why has the Foolkiller come looking for McBride?

We never actually see the Foolkiller until the last page. Until then, we see his handiwork. In another comic I’d consider this a major flaw. But in this case it creates a mystique for the character. His shocking and bloody acts of violence suggest a powerful madman. The reader comes to expect someone strong, dangerous, and driven. When he finally makes his appearance, he doesn’t disappoint.

This current Foolkiller bears little resemblance to the previous versions in the Marvel Universe. Three men have used the name and weapon of Foolkiller, a disintegration pistol of unknown origin. They all wore a flamboyant, Renaissance-style costume (though the third one eventually dropped the costume in favor of a simple mask and vest). Each had a different definition of “fool.” This new Foolkiller seems most like the last one. He might even be the same person: an ordinary man changed by his acts of violence.

The focus of the story is McBride. We may follow him as he joins the Foolkiller’s “crusade”. He may also be trained as the next Foolkiller. It’s too early to tell. I honestly cannot say what this series is going to be about based solely on this first issue. We have a very violent and controversial vigilante, like the Punisher crossed with a serial killer, and we have a three-time loser in deep, deep trouble. The story and character could go anywhere from here. And I can’t find any compelling reason to follow either one.

I will say the art is excellent. It reminded by of Andy Kubert’s work in Wolverine: Origins. Fantastic pencils and coloring. This is a very heavy and realistic book. It doesn’t feel like it’s in a superhero fantasy world but the darker parts of the real world. So it’s perfectly suited to the tone of the story. Now let’s see if the story can live up to that tone.

Martijn Form

I never saw this guy Foolkiller hopping around any Marvel book, but this character has history. Foolkiller first appeared in1974 (ah, thank you, Wikipedia!), but now he stars in a Marvel Max comic book, the universe for mature readers. And we all know that mature readers like violence. Well, actually you can pinpoint it more specifically. As a mature reader, I only like two things in my comic book: blood and tons of senseless violence. The more the merrier. Every page should be cramped with anger and rage. No, I’m not really interested in a well crafted story. Just show me a hand shoved into a kitchen disposal unit and a broken finger or two and then I’m happy…

Yeah, right! Just being sarcastic here, folks! I can not believe that Marvel is going in this direction with its Max titles. Both Foolkiller and Terror Inc. seem to have been written with one thing in mind, as this imaginary conversation might indicate:
Joe Quesada: “So Gregg, Foolkiller should turn the Punisher into the ideal son in law.”
Gregg: “What about motivation and story?”
Joe: “Deeper meaning, Gregg? Just give us blood and gore! Hack and slash, baby!”

Although I have never previously read any story involving Foolkiller, I can’t imagine this is a “faithful revival” of the character. I am puzzled by Marvel’s desire to have a violent rape explicitly shown in one of their books. It’s a shocking image, I will give them that, but it feels so cheap (even though this comic cost $3.99!).

Hurwitz wrote some violent scenes that lack any solid foundation. A foundation that is essential for building a story. I just can’t shake the feeling that if I started reading this issue on page 13 or 5 or 22, that at the end the comic still would make sense. The Foolkiller’s motivation has been already done millions of times in movies, comics and books: one man’s revenge.

So I had a hard time figuring out an appropriate bullet rating. I wanted it to be fair. Lan Medina’s art is actually quite good. It isn’t a rushed job at all. There are some highly detailed scenes with warm colors, no hard ink lines, just soft pencil strokes, which creates a lovely contrast between the issue’s art and its violence. Hurwitz dialogues and captions are quite good. It has a “Tarantino” quality to it: fast, brutal, snappy with a twist of sarcastic humour.

But still…

I don’t like what I call “Marvel’s four bucks experiment.” I have this strong feeling that Marvel is going to raise the price tag of all their books to $3.99. Why? Just look at September’s market report: Two $4 Marvel books top the list of best-sellers. So raising the price isn’t going to stop readers from buying these comics. I think Marvel is going to “test the waters” with its Max titles. A cardboard cover, no extras and a pricetag of $3.99. Hey, it’s for mature readers! They’ve all got jobs, right? They don’t care about the extra dollar and the lack of a solid story.

Fanboys will buy anything!

Paul Brian McCoy:

Well, that was different. I think that’s in a good way, but I’m not really sure. Let’s work our way through it, shall we?

One thing’s for sure, this is a story that hits the ground running. Even if we don’t actually meet The Foolkiller until the last page, his presence is felt painfully and brutally throughout the book. The author, Gregg Hurwitz, is a crime novelist (who I’m unfamiliar with) and doesn’t hesitate to begin the story with a very noir opening and main character. Nate McBride did something very stupid. The latest in a long line of stupid things, but this is the biggest and worst. He’s a man hitting bottom, who’s lost just about everything. Then he hears about The Foolkiller, and more importantly, it seems The Foolkiller has heard about Nate.

This is a pretty solid piece of work for a first-time comics writer. The pacing is good, although there are a couple of awkward transitions between scenes. There are even a few moments that made me chuckle, when I wasn’t cringing at the horrific violence. Marvel’s Max line is pretty clearly Marvel’s home for mind numbingly violent stories, and this one does a fair job at trying to one-up Ennis’ Punisher Max. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that when Ennis is finished with The Punisher, Hurwitz might just be the man to carry on the title. At least after reading one issue of something he’s written, it seems that way. We’ll have to see if he can play this story out and make something interesting of it. At the moment, the main interest is mostly seeing how many ways The Foolkiller can mutilate and display fools. There’s some intrigue about just what the connection between The Foolkiller and Nate is, but to be quite honest, I wasn’t that interested in the mystery.

Medina’s art, on the other hand, is an instant winner. These are exhaustively detailed pencils with no inks, as far as I can tell; very similar to what Jae Lee did with the recent Dark Tower comic, only with more detail and less dramatic shadowing. When someone is horribly mutilated in these pages, you see every bloody moment and it sometimes can make you want to look away. It’s that good. My only real qualm is with the look of the new Foolkiller. I understand the need to ground him in “real world” sensibilities for the Max line, but he’s bulky and muscular to excess. He doesn’t look like what I was expecting, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (no more Zorro costume is a good thing), but he dominates the final page, making his big-ass dog and his sword seem kind of puny by comparison. This is probably just a perspective problem with the one panel, though. I’ll have to pick up the second issue to see if he continues to be drawn so huge.

Hmmm. I guess that means I’m interested enough to check out the next issue.

So all in all, this is worth taking a look at, so long as you can stomach some pretty graphic violence. The writing is a nice workmanlike start that could easily turn into something very disturbing and good. It could also go the other way, though, and probably just as easily. The art is the real star of this first issue, with a very distinctive look and realistic to the point of distraction at times. It might not be for everyone, especially if you don’t like the kind of realism you might find in a Life Drawing class, but Medina makes the grotesque mutilation of fools believable. I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.

Jason Sacks:

My first reaction to Foolkiller #1 was extreme disgust. This is a tremendously violent comic book. Blood is spattered on nearly every page of this book. All manner of horrific crimes happen, including beatings, amputations, and apparent necrophilia. The world is a literal living hell. Children can’t count on their parents, cell phones cause tumors, and the police are overwhelmed by crime. In that world full of fools who think nothing of their impact on society, one man is needed: a man who removes crime in the same way that a doctor removes a tumor. That man is the Foolkiller.

No doubt many of my fellow reviewers will hate this comic for its violence; truth to tell, I was shocked and repelled by it at first glance as well. But upon reflection, I’ve changed my mind on this comic a bit. It is indeed absurdly violent and shocking. The incessant violence is exhausting and becomes overwhelming, making me feel rather depressed and overwhelmed. But the more I think of the violence, the more I think that the incessant nature of it is kind of the point. The world of the Foolkiller is our world through a funhouse mirror, a skewed and horrific reflection of our world. In a world where even the police admit they’re completely overwhelmed by the events that happen around them, vigilantism is a logical decision. At least that seems to be the feeling that permeates this book.

Am I reading something in this comic that isn’t there? That’s obviously impossible to say at this point. All I have in front of me is the first issue of a mini-series, and there’s no doubt that this book could end up being a non-stop horror show. But I hope that the long and interesting heritage of this character will inform Gregg Hurwitz’s approach to it.

The Foolkiller was created by maverick writer Steve Gerber in 1974 in the pages of perhaps his most personal series, Man-Thing (hey, stop that dirty mind!). Under Gerber’s original conception of the character, the Foolkiller was a deranged political reactionary, devoted to removing those he saw as fools from the world. This Foolkiller had an agenda, but it was difficult to figure that agenda out from the words he used. He saw himself blessed from heaven to kill fools, but those fools included outlaw bikers (this was the early '70s after all) as well as swamp-destroying developers. This Foolkiller was so deranged that in one breath he feels sorrow for killing innocents, and then moments later, callously kills an innocent survivor. He ends up dying as a result of the Man-Thing. The Foolkiller's last words are spooky megalomania: “You can’t be alive! You can’t! I killed you! I saw you burned away by the ray of purity! You can’t come back from the dead! It would make me - nothing! But that’s impossible! More than that - it is vile heresy! There can be nothing holy about a walking mass of slime - a mockery of life! Stay back! I am His living incarnation, so you hear? Me! Not you!”

The subsequent letters page in Man-Thing #8, which may have been written by Gerber, explains the character in this way: “Man-Thing #3 & 4 were... an attempt on one writer’s part to show that there is nothing worth emulating in a self-appointed one-man revenge squad out to cure what he believes are the ills of the world by killing those who disagree with him.”

The Foolkiller was revived in 1990 in a ten-issue mini-series. This series is a lost gem of ‘90s comics, the story of a man’s descent into madness as a result of his personal obsessions. That man, Kurt Gerhardt, takes his valid concerns way too far: “What’s happened to people – what’s happened to civilization - that this kind of cruelty could become commonplace?” and later, “We’re all hostages, you know that? Hostages of random, senseless brutality. Makes you wonder, though - what if the tables got turned? What if somebody made them hostages? The parasites - the animals! What if there were random executions instead of random crimes, Linda? How many of them do you think would have to die before they figured out they weren’t wanted?”

Kurt descends into madness to embrace his beliefs. He writes Unabomber-like manifestos, puts on a bizarre and outlandish costume, and even does pushups in a bed of broken glass in order to strengthen himself for his crusade. When he pulls off the costume and puts on a leather mask, it symbolizes the character’s descent into his obsession, a mad obsession that will ultimately lead to his destruction.

That ‘90s mini-series has never been collected by Marvel, but it’s long overdue. Seldom has there been a more provocative and morally ambiguous comic book. It’s hard not to have some empathy for the Foolkiller’s mission, since the deck is so strongly stacked in his favor, but at the same time, the character seems so evil and spooky that readers feel repulsed by him. In that series, too, there was no letters page or other editorial matter that gives an idea of Gerber’s approach to the character, forcing readers to come up with their own opinion.

My take on the world of that Foolkiller is much the same as mine to the new series: He lives in a violent work, but it’s an unreal world, perhaps made more evil due to his insane obsessions. I’m hoping that the setup in this first issue of the new Foolkiller series will lead to more ambiguity, forcing readers to make up their own mind on how real his perceived world really is.

I realize I’m praising this new comic for something that’s not on the page, but that seems true to the nature of this very bizarre and troubling character.

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