Marvel’s New Foolkiller Book

Yes, I know about it.

It irks me to precisely this extent: I wish I’d been given the chance to do the character right, with the right artistic team, and with some real promotion behind the book. (The first issue of the Foolkiller limited series came out the same month as Todd McFarlane’s *Spider-Man* #1. Gee, where do you suppose the promotional dollars and critical attention were focused?)

That’s as far as the irk goes, though. Marvel and I have managed to reach an accommodation of sorts on some of these matters.

I do hope the new book results in the reprinting of the limited series — which, despite the art problems, remains one of my favorite pieces of work — and the earlier Foolkiller material, dating back to the original Man-Thing story. It would be nice to have that stuff back in print.

18 Responses to “Marvel’s New Foolkiller Book”

  1. Andrew Wickliffe Says:

    I had a similar response in that I hope Marvel does get out your 1990 limited. I keep wanting to recommend it to people, but there’s no easy, legal way for them to get it.

  2. Bart Lidofsky Says:

    I remember years ago going through the Foolkiller series page-by-page to see how it held up as a collected TPB (IIRC, there were maybe one or two redundant panels that interrupted the smoothness of the story). I would certainly like to see it come out.

  3. Scratchie Says:

    >there’s no easy, legal way for them to
    >get it.

    I got the complete run for (as I recall) 50c an issue on Ebay last year. Great stuff. It’s now one of my favorite Gerber stories and I recently had my copies bound up as a hardcover.

  4. Bob Kennedy Says:

    It’s one of my favorite comics as well, and it holds up better than most other comics of the same time period (I think you were the first comics writer to use the word “modem” in a story). So many of your satiric targets are still making headlines (Trump, Sharpton, et al). I hope your new DC story is as ahead of its time as your FOOLKILLER story was.

  5. Brian Spence Says:

    I used to own the old Foolkiller series, and I also didn’t like the art. For some reason, that series has disappeared from my collection (or, more likely, I will never find it), so I’d be likely to be a reprint trade.

  6. Jeff Zoslaw Says:

    Your wish is partially coming true; Essential Man-Thing appears in a month or so. Reprinting all appearences up to #14, I believe.

  7. Alistair Says:

    Are you going to read the new Foolkiller book?

  8. Steve Gerber Says:

    Probably not. I doubt I could approach it objectively.

    I do like what I’ve seen of the art, though.

  9. Micah Says:

    I think Marvel has proved a strange thing with your work. That they can’t own someone else’s characters. I think it’s especially true with you.

    I mean on paper — legally — they own Howard the Duck, but on paper — physically, in comic book form — they don’t. They proved that with one author after another trying to imitate you and failing. Then after over 20 years you proved that you actually own the character, by, in my opinion, topping yourself with the MAX series.

    I know the same is true of the Foolkiller. I mean, the new series may succeed, but I’d say if it does it will as the Punisher clone it appears to be at a glance. And to me, the Punisher is what the Foolkiller would be if you removed the intelligence from the writing.

    I guess that’s not too objective either, but really, it’s a different character with the same name.

  10. Steve Gerber Says:

    Micah: “…the Punisher is what the Foolkiller would be if you removed the intelligence from the writing.”

    The Punisher is driven by vengeance. Each of the Foolkillers was motivated by a philosophy.

    Here’s an interesting tidbit for you:

    One scene that never got into the limited series had to do with the “ray gun,” which had been passed down from one Foolkiller to the next. At some point, I wanted to have the gun’s casing break open, revealing that it was an empty shell, with no mechanism of any kind inside. In other words, the gun was a conduit for some other kind of energy, presumably originating in the shooter.

    I don’t know. Maybe readers would have found that idea too weird. As it turned out, there was just no room for the scene.

    I do know the character would feel completely wrong to me with an ordinary projectile weapon. On the other hand, it might be a much more commercial approach. Americans are total suckers for things that go boom. You rarely see energy weapons even in science fiction anymore, because they don’t get the audience’s blood pumping like ballistics.

    Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see what choices they make in that regard.

  11. Stephen Payne Says:

    Hey now! Some of us are Punisher fans here, Micah! Check out what Garth Ennis has been doing with the book for the past six years and you’ll see some good, intelligent writing.

    Besides, the Punisher isn’t an idiot. He’s just a moral absolutist, like Rorschach from “The Watchmen.”

  12. Micah Says:

    Unfortunately, the Punisher is a product of everyone who has ever written the character. And there have been a lot of stupid punisher stories. The original concept of the character is unoriginal. I’ll stand behind that.

    I haven’t read the Garth Ennis stories. They may be very good. I’m familiar with the 80’s and 90’s Punisher stories. Which were stupid.

    The idea of the Punisher is in the “Somebody killed my loved one and now I am on a crusade” mold. After that point, you can turn off your brain. He’s the typical glorified violent anti-hero. It just doesn’t get any deeper than that. It’s an excuse for some gratuitous, mindless violence.

    The Foolkiller stories don’t glorify the violence. That’s really a hard thing to do. The paradigm is flipped for the Foolkiller and I find myself actually thinking about what his victims have done, and the morality of their actions. In a foolkiller story you start asking if everyone is behaving morally. You ask how the Foolkiller is justifying his own actions. Thats amazing. In a Punisher story that never happens. There are some black and white bad guys and they are going to get killed.

    A big part of the Punisher is the fact that he is “cool”. He’s a badass. Don’t mess with the Punisher. When he kills someone he’s slick. That’s the appeal of the character.

    I find that stupid.

  13. Stephen Payne Says:

    I’ll admit there is a “Death Wish”-like catarsis to watching The Punisher eliminate the bad guys. But I believe Ennis is the first writer of the book to really ask if what Frank Castle does is actually productive. Killing murderers, terrorists and evil corporate executives may provide temporary relief, but the systems that create these characters remain untouched.

    The Punisher is somewhat aware of the futility of his actions, but he doesn’t care. It’s his job to punish the people who have crossed the line, not listen to the sob stories that made them monsters in the first place.

    At least within the context of the story, Ennis admits that the Punisher is someone not to be idolized. His sympathy lies with guys like Spider-Man and Daredevil, even though he clearly enjoys humiliating them as well.

    That “empty gun” theory of yours for Foolkiller sounds pretty interesting, and I think would tie in with Castle’s life philosophy very well. That the whole of human society is a facade, an indulgence we created for ourselves because we wanted others to do our work for us; and that personal violence is the only true justice. Or as Aristotle would have put it, Castle is a beast, one that operates with a moral code but a beast nonetheless. He has no place in society.

  14. Bob Kennedy Says:

    Excluding the stories I didn’t like, there have been five different Punishers: The Mack Bolan swipe that Gerry Conway created, the out-and-out unsympathetic villain Frank Miller wrote, Mike Baron’s character who pondered the murky morality of vigilantism while wallowing in it, Chuck Dixon’s guy who contrasted military and civilian cultures, and Garth Ennis’s Warner Brothers cartoon with napalm. (I guess Ennis’s subsequent MAX stories could be a sixth.)

    Foolkiller (well, all of them, really) differs from Punisher in two very specific ways: No military training, and his only weapon is one you can’t buy in a Virginia gun shop. The story where Kurt Gerhard trains by taking hot showers, running into walls and sleeping in garbage? I always pictured Frank Castle reading that and laughing his ass off.

  15. Bart Lidofsky Says:

    Re: The Punisher. When the Punisher was created, Marvel was in the process of experimenting with other pulp genres. That was when they came out with blaxploitation (Hero for Hire), horror (Dracula, Werewolf by Night), Kung Fu (Shang Chi, Iron Fist), and others. One popular pulp novel form was the military hero who operates outside the law to get rid of criminals who the law can’t touch, like the Penetrator, the Executioner, and the darkly satiric Destroyer (Marvel once tried to do a Destroyer series, and stupidly completely tried to do it straight, losing all the wickedly barbed humor that characterized the series). Steve Gerber came out with the Punisher. As one of the people here, as well as Steven Grant, has noted is that one of the keys to the Punisher is that he is ultimately suicidal. He knows that he can’t win, but he’s trying to take as many of his “enemy” down with him as he can. Some writers did not get the point, especially those who could not (unlike Steve Gerber) separate their own political beliefs from the character.

    Re: Foolkiller. I remember when Steve first described his idea about the weapon, way back while the series was first being published. By not-so-strange coincidence, just a couple of days ago, I saw the handbook to the marvel universe (or whatever it’s called), and checked to see what they said about the Foolkiller’s gun. They made it some kind of laser. Oh, well. The Foolkiller was pretty much the first comic to seriously show being a superhero as a form of insanity; now that this idea is old hat, I hope that Marvel comes up with something original.

  16. Steve Gerber Says:


    Correcting what was more likely a typo than an error: It was Gerry Conway, not me, who created the Punisher.

  17. Scratchie Says:

    >The Foolkiller was pretty much the >first comic to seriously show being a >superhero as a form of insanity; now >that this idea is old hat

    This reminds me of another early example of “postmodernist deconstruction” (ouch) in comics. Omega the Unknown was one of the first characters I’ve ever seen who questioned the very rationale behind crime-fighting. This was an issue where OtU fought the Blockbuster and realized that the only thing at stake were some jewels (as opposed to human life) and walked away (later, of course, the Blockbuster was destroyed by the Foolkiller!).

    I believe this issue was actually written by Roger Stern and not Steve, but I’m wondering whether the idea originally came from Steve. This seems like an interesting precursor to later revisionist superhero stories like Watchmen.

  18. Bart Lidofsky Says:

    Steve Gerber: “Correcting what was more likely a typo than an error: It was Gerry Conway, not me, who created the Punisher.”

    DAMN! What’s even worse was that I had written a lead-in paragraph about Gerry Conway that I decided was unnecessary and erased. I wish the comments feature had a preview or post-editor. Maybe I should put my comments in a text processor BEFORE putting them up here.

    Well, from my contacts with him, Gerry is one hell of a nice guy, and should understand…