Columns > Published on April 3rd, 2023

Foolkiller: The Strange, Forgotten Marvel Anti-Hero

When you tell people you like 90s comics, they assume it’s because of the grittiness, the way anti-heroes were cool before TSwift, the belts with endless pouches, the belt pouches even occasionally strapped to a character’s thigh, just in case there weren’t enough pouches.

They make fun of Rob Liefeld’s drawing style, especially the feet he drew. All of a sudden, everyone’s a foot fetishist.

But we’re here to talk today about a forgotten 90s character with a reasonable number of pouches and an absolutely unreasonable crimefighting method: Foolkiller.


There were a few Foolkillers before the 90s Foolkiller, and I wasn’t going to mention them because, eh, who’s got the time?

But there’s a nugget for each that makes a quick rundown worthwhile.

Ross G. Everbest

The original Foolkiller, he used a “purification gun” to zap people into piles of ashes. How he got this gun is unknown, doesn’t really matter, there must be all sorts of ray guns and super suits and weird vehicles and shit all over the Marvel universe. Look around enough, you’re bound to find some kind of gizmo.

Everbest was a little different from your typical hero: he targeted people he deemed “fools,” a pretty loosely defined category with very elastic rules.

The most interesting bit: he was inspired by a preacher to do good. THEN Everbest found the preacher at an orgy, so he killed the preacher, preserved his body in a tank, and was eventually killed by getting stabbed by a piece of glass from the preacher’s dead body tank.

It’s true poetry.

Greg Salinger

Salinger took up the mantle, including the purification gun and incongruous pirate costume, and he went on a killing spree of his own.

Salinger defined fools as people who were materialistic, consumerist, capitalistic, things like that. He was very in the Rorschach/Azrael/Venom,/bonkers anti-hero mindset.

If something written in 1991, depicting the problems of 1991, feels prescient, it’s not because it did a good job predicting the future. It’s because 1991 and 2023 aren’t all that different in the ways that really matter.

He was eventually bested by Spider-Man. At one point, they’re fist-fighting in an alley, another typical sight in the Marvel U, and a homeless guy who happened to be on the scene said that only a fool would fight Spider-Man. Salinger was like, “Holy shit, he’s right!” and attempted to turn his purification gun on himself.

Salinger was captured and locked up in an asylum, where eventually, some nutbag (kind of a 90s Alex Jones) decides to put him on TV, where he inspires…

Kurt Gerhardt

Kurt is the subject of today’s column. It’s with Kurt Gerhardt that things get interesting.

Kurt is separated from his wife, he loses his job at a fancy corporate bank and works at Burger Clown, his father is killed in a mugging over six bucks, and his life is in shambles when he channel surfs smack into former Foolkiller Greg Salinger on the aforementioned talk show.

Kurt sends Salinger a letter, and they eventually start corresponding through an internet chat board. There was a window in time when this was a totally do-able way to correspond with someone about doing shit like vaporizing people with a ray gun as there were only a couple hundred nerds in any city who had any idea how to use those chat boards in the early 90s.

Salinger passes Kurt his costume and purification gun, and on his way home with the costume and gun in a box, Kurt stumbles onto a savage beating in progress. The two guys doing most of the punching are skinheads with actual Nazi armbands, so it's no big loss when Kurt turns both into piles of ash with the purification gun.

From Fool To Foolkiller

Suddenly he’s downwind again. Smelling the burnt air and flesh. Hearing the truncated screams. Two days. Five dead. It sickens.

Kurt’s first outings as Foolkiller are, um, productive?

He vaporizes a handful of people, and most of them seem pretty clearly in the wrong: a drug dealer, some guys trying to mug someone on the subway, and a dude threatening a woman with a knife.

I know, perhaps drug dealers don’t deserve to be turned into piles of ash. We’ll get to it…

This last fool, a guy threatening a woman with a knife, is shot by the purification gun, and he’s depicted as a mostly fleshless skeleton, his skin and muscle blasted off his body in a full-page, gruesome image.

Then, Kurt goes home and pukes.

The Weirdest Training Montage of All Time

If he intends to go on, he’ll have to make himself stronger. Much. Some, anyway. Never was athletically inclined. Exercise till doomsday–Rambo’s not in the genes.

Kurt decides he needs to make himself tougher, and what follows is one of the weirdest training montages in history.

Kurt brings home bags of garbage from Burger Clown, dumps them out all over the floor, and works out in them. Eventually, he sleeps in garbage, too.

He plunges his hands in icy water and takes scalding showers.

I can now punch myself in the face 20 times without flinching.

For the final preparation, Kurt needs to see if he’s ready to kill again. He climbs mostly naked into the sewer, picks up a giant rat, and headbutts it to death.

It's strange, and it's a little wacky, a little fun.

Which makes the coming tonal shift even stranger.

Comics Code Authority

At this point, you might, like me, be a little surprised about the Comics Code Authority seal that’s appeared on every issue of Foolkiller so far.

For people who don’t know, in the early 90s, most comics came with this little Comics Code Authority stamp in the upper corner of the cover, which indicated that the comic was appropriate for kids. Or, at least, not SUPER inappropriate.

When I was reading Foolkiller, I was like, Damn, Comics Code Authority, are you sure about this?

Issue 5 was the last issue that bore the seal. Whether it should’ve gone away sooner is uncertain, but after reading issue 5, I could see why issue 6 looked hastily redesigned, the Comics Code Authority stamp whited out, and on issues 7-10, even the box that once held the seal is gone.

Turning Point

What happens in issue 5 that would have the Comics Code Authority pump the brakes?

A series of brutal beatings in Central Park turn out to be the work of a bunch of kids, probably 13-15 years old, who live in a housing project in the city.

Which is why issue 7 opens with Kurt putting the purification gun in his own mouth.

Kurt figures out who they are and what they’re doing, and he follows them home.

On page 2 of issue 5, Kurt blasts one of the teens, his flesh flying from his body. Also on page 2, Kurt blasts a second teen, who falls from a roof, and his burning corpse hits the street below, the impact popping one of his eyes out of his skull.

Kurt vaporizes at least 5 more kids before the kids’ mothers emerge, try and fight off Kurt, and he blasts one of them as well.

One of the last kids is trying to attack Kurt from above on a fire escape. Kurt spins, fires, and the blast cuts the kid in half. His two halves bounce down the side of the building, his head and torso fall in a dumpster, and his legs crash into bags of garbage.

Later in the same issue, Kurt sees a guy toss a dog out of a moving car. He follows the guy, finds him beating his wife, so Kurt blasts him away. 

Perhaps the ugliest scene of the entire series comes in issue 6, when Foolkiller, killing his way through a crackhouse, finds a young boy who’s already hooked on drugs. The boy manages to stab Foolkiller, throwing his aim off, so Foolkiller shoots the boy once, severing his arm from his body. Foolkiller takes a second shot, which vaporizes the boy below the waist, but his one-armed torso is still very much alive for the time it takes Foolkiller to finally end the ordeal with a third shot.

Which is why issue 7 opens with Kurt putting the purification gun in his own mouth.

But he’s not ready to die. Not yet.

The Wheels Come Off

At this point, Kurt becomes more erratic.

He talks to himself, screams in the night.

He kills a “fool” who’s leading a bonfire where parents are asked to burn toys that encourage violence (he’s a fool because he’s protesting toys instead of doing something more substantive).

He kills a “fool” who won’t sell a small American flag to a child for less than $5 dollars (the child being at a rally for the troops in Gulf War I).

He kills both the leader of an anti-Gulf-War protest and the leader of the counter, pro-war protest, in the same breath.

He kills the Alex Jones figure who introduced him to the original Foolkiller in the first place.

He kills the dean of a college for expelling a student who told a politically incorrect joke.

He kills an obvious stand-in for Al Sharpton, and then kills a couple cops, partially to escape, partially because they call the Sharpton character the N-word.

Ahead Of Its Time?

Okay, that’s probably enough plot summary. You get the idea. Guy gets special gizmo, probably shouldn't have, goes off the deep end.

Let’s talk about the world outside the panels.

Foolkiller has probably been read by others as a “prescient look at modern society and its ills, an extremely timely story!” Or maybe it’s something about toxic masculinity, or maybe something about the political divide. Maybe it’s a “shrewd prediction of the incel movement, showing the way vulnerable people are recruited into terrible things.”

I’m not sure about any of that, but what I AM sure about is that Foolkiller isn’t ahead of its time.

It didn't predict 2023, it depicted 1991.

If something written in 1991, depicting the problems of 1991, feels prescient, it’s not because it did a good job predicting a future. It’s because 1991 and 2023 aren’t all that different in the ways that really matter.

Why "Foolkiller"?

These Kurt Gerhardt issues have never been reprinted digitally or collected into a trade paperback (with the exception of issue 1). Which definitely feels like a choice as opposed to an oversight. TONS of 90s stuff is available in paperback, or digitally, these days. You can hardly throw a backing board in a comics shop without hitting some collection of an X-book you were never interested in before, but, eh, why not give it a whirl?

We are still really, really bad at reading texts where the main character is not a good person.

It’s pretty clear why: These Foolkiller books are more than a little fucked-up, and they haven’t aged perfectly. If you think people are upset about Bruce Wayne being Batman instead of being a responsible billionaire, imagine the feelings about a guy blasting a pre-teen drug user into ash because he’s hooked on heroin.

But I like Foolkiller, the book, not the man, for the same reasons most people would find it revolting.

I like Foolkiller because it tells a type of story that's in short supply, and I think they're hard to find because we are really, really bad at reading them.

We are still really, really bad at reading stories where the main character is not a good person. 

We are still really, really bad at understanding the difference between depicting something and endorsing it. 

We are still really, really bad with stories that don't come with a clear, concrete, "And the moral of the story is..."

I know how I feel about Foolkiller. I think Steve Gerber was very, very good at writing stories that asked moral questions without answering them. I think Gerber was a unique writer in his ability to balance the ridiculous and the real (he was the driving force behind Howard The Duck, after all). I think Foolkiller is not for everyone, it's not a stone cold comics classic, but for some readers, it presents something strange, something difficult, something that sticks with you.

Before I said that Foolkiller wasn't ahead of its time, and I stand by that.

Foolkiller is a story we're not ready for. And we'll never be ready for it. I don't think we'll ever really embrace stories that don't give us good guys on one side, bad guys on another, and a crystal clear writer's statement about how the reader should feel when they walk away. 

Foolkiller isn't ahead of its time.

Because, for better or worse, Foolkiller's time doesn't exist.

You can't really get this run of Foolkiller from Bookshop or Amazon, but you CAN read some of writer Steve Gerber's other books, which I highly recommend:

Get Omega The Unknown by Steve Gerber at Amazon

Get Howard the Duck: The Complete Collection, Volume 1 at Amazon 

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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