Random Pulls from the Bargain Bin
This Column Originally Ran On COMICS BULLETIN.
In these economic times, finding inexpensive entertainment is difficult. Thank goodness for the local comic shop and a slew of comics nobody cares about anymore! Each week Daniel Elkin randomly grabs a comic from the bargain bin (for 50 cents) to see what kind of bang he can get for his two-bits. These are those tales.
August 3, 2011 – paid 50 cents for:
Published by: Marvel Comics
Created by: Steve Gerber, J. J. Birch, and Vincent Giarrano
FISHY, FISHY, FIH- HIH—
On March 2, 1991, Del Ballard Jr. threw a gutter ball during a PBA match. This was also the day that the Gulf War, for all intents and purposes, ended. The next day, March 3, 1991, LA Police beat Rodney King in front of a camera for all the world to see.
On the 14th of March, 1991, Kurt Browning won the Men’s Figure Skating Championship in Munich. Later, on the 21st, Tatsumi Fujinami defeated Ric Flair for the NWA Wrestling Championship.
One day later High School teacher Pamela Smart was found guilty of getting her student/lover to kill her husband. Then, on the 31st of March, 1991, in Phoenix, Arizona, former Partridge Family star Danny Bonaduce attacked a transvestite prostitute.
Do you see where I am going with all this?
Neither do I.
But it does provide an interesting backdrop for the release of Foolkiller #6, this week’s Cheap Thrill, and let me tell you, it’s the perfect backdrop.
This comic is brutal. I mean really brutal, especially for a mainstream publication.
I realize that comics at this time were moving towards a more gritty portrayal of the world as entertainment. The publishers had begun to realize that their audience had aged, and they were looking for new ways to appeal to a more mature sensibility. In this case, though, the powers behind the comics associated “mature” with brutality.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a prig or anything. I enjoy a good curb stomp or puppy mowing now and again just like the rest of us, but I like to have a little preparation before I get involved in these sorts of activities. When it is just thrown in my face unexpectedly, I tend to tense up.
(Author’s note: The previous paragraph does not actually reflect the true opinions of the author. He is trying to be gritty, as he understands that a more mature audience appreciates this sort of thing. The author would like to apologize whole-heartedly for any confusion this may have engendered and would like to publicly declare his unabashed love for puppies)
By the end of Foolkiller #6 I was pretty damn tense.
The comic opens up innocently enough.
Champagne in a Burger Clown cup equals a juxtaposition I can get behind. This splash page got me hooked from the get go and I eagerly turned the page.
The story unfolds that Kurt Gerhardt has quit working at Burger Clown and has landed himself a better paying “white-collar” job. His co-workers at Burger Clown, Bobby and Linda, are throwing him a going away party. At the end of the party, Kurt gives Linda an envelope full of money to repay a loan he took from her in an earlier issue. This leads to an off panel romantic interlude between Kurt and Linda which is only alluded to by the fact that Kurt is eating breakfast at Linda’s apartment on the next page.
The comic then cuts to Central Indiana State Mental Facility where we see this:
What’s that he’s saying?
Fishy, Fishy, Fishy???
What is going on here? Who is this cackling madman and why is he so concerned about fish?
And how is this gritty? If you ask me, it’s just plain fishy.
Well, it turns out that this is Greg Salinger, the original Foolkiller. He is now following the exploits of the current Foolkiller incarnation in the form of the former Burger Clown employee Kurt Gerhardt. From a computer in the institution, Salinger is encouraging Gerhardt through an internet bulletin board. Salinger uses the pseudonym Ian Byrd and addresses Gerhardt as Miles Fish.
Hence the previous fishy business.
Leaving the Institution behind, the comic cuts back to Kurt Gerhardt as he is returning home from Linda’s apartment. As Kurt is about to climb the stairs to his Brownstone, a drunk driver slams onto the sidewalk narrowly missing Kurt and a neighbor.
Kurt’s reaction sets the tone for the rest of this comic.
To avoid a possible confrontation with the police for his brutal chastisement of the drunk, Kurt retreats to his apartment and turns on his computer. He goes to the message board and gets a message from giggling Salinger (not to be confused with the author of A Catcher in the Rye)
I assume the squirrel pelt was something that occurred in a previous issue. It is never mentioned again. It doesn't need to be. This comic takes care of itself.
Night falls and Kurt puts on an overcoat and a snappy fedora and goes on a stakeout in the South Bronx. He’s conducting surveillance on a “rock house” operated by someone named Backhand, which, as a nickname, is pretty awesome for a pimp.
During his stakeout, Kurt observes Backhand exiting the house with a woman and her young son. Backhand and the woman depart in a brown Cadillac, leaving the boy behind. Kurt assumes that the woman has cut a deal with Backhand to “make him happy in exchange for a few bucks or a couple of crystals.” She does this at the expense of having her kid “deal with these streets alone.”
Kurt grits his teeth (grittily) and vows that for this “she and everyone else in this house of fools is going to pay.”
It should be noted at this point that Foolkiller is a vigilante. He metes out his own brand of justice on what he calls “fools” (hence his name). For Kurt, a “fool” seems to be anyone who contributes to the misery of the world, but more on this later.
The comic then takes us to the next day where we are introduced to Kurt’s new job at a Credit Bureau. Here we meet his co-worker Buddy Bricker and his green plaid jacket.
Buddy is a real sack of vomit who uses the information he has access to from the Credit Bureau’s network to blackmail and take revenge on people he doesn't like. As you can see from the wavy lines around him, Kurt’s “fool-sense” is tingling about Buddy.
Foolkiller #6 then features a montage of sorts that documents Kurt’s full week of experiences in the city watching people be cruel to each other. He’s watching “fools” do their “foolishness.”
By Friday night he remembers giggling Salinger’s words via the message board: “You are only beginning to find out who the F’s are.” This leads to another montage.
This murder rampage reverie unnerves Kurt. It unnerves him enough to finally decide to take on the situation at the “rock house” in the South Bronx.
He does this by donning a leather vest, a bondage mask, and holstering his “purification gun.” The outfit is, at best, disturbing. The “purification gun” disintegrates people. The whole comic has been building up to this moment. It is not going to be pretty, and for Foolkiller, it’s personal.
His first act is to disintegrate a woman for being a bad mother. This is how Foolkiller deals with people who bring misery to others. How this helps the now orphaned baby in the long run is certainly subject to debate.
But there are more fools in the house.
Yea, the whole broken bottle thing in the leg – SKOOCH! -- it’s only going to get worse.
Leaving the helpless baby wailing on the table to “see who else is home” doesn't help me root for Foolkiller either.
Down the hall Foolkiller runs into the woman he saw the previous night abandoning her child with Backhand. She comes after him with a crowbar.
Aaaaannnnddddd, that’s another orphan!
Then it gets even worse. Foolkiller knocks down the last door in the “rock house” for this scene:
Ok, understand what just happened here. Foolkiller is all upset by the woman abandoning her child to the streets for her own reward. He kills the mother. He then finds this child smoking crack in the house. In a drug induced stupor, the boy throws a knife at Foolkiller. Foolkiller responds by disintegrating the boy’s arm. Foolkiller then shoots the boy AGAIN and severs the boy’s torso from his legs.
And it gets worse.
On the next page the boy is still not dead. He looks at Foolkiller and tells him he hates him and wants to kill him. Foolkiller then finishes the boy at point blank range, disintegrating him into a pile of ashes.
Am I wrong to be disturbed by this? Am I wrong to be horrified by this? Am I wrong to be very concerned about a comic book that somehow is saying that this can be seen as a form of justice?
I’m sorry, but this is brutal and horrible and disgusting and disheartening.
It is also some powerful stuff.
The comic ends with Foolkiller walking away from the scene of his mayhem and dropping his calling card.
If you can’t read it above, Foolkiller’s card reads “E Pluribus Unum,” a Latin phrase which translates as, “out of many, one.” The card also has written on it “Actions have consequences.”
What about Foolkiller’s actions?
This goes beyond vigilantism and enters the realm of the criminally insane. This is psycho stuff, my friends, real sociopath kind of behavior. In 1991 this was sold as entertainment by Marvel Comics? Are we supposed to see Foolkiller as a hero?
I can hear you say, “No, Daniel, no, you misunderstand. Foolkiller is an anti-hero like The Punisher.”
To which I reply, “Fuck you. This is disturbing shit.”
But it is powerful, I will give you that. If the purpose of art is to create a visceral reaction in its audience, then Foolkiller #6 is a masterpiece, and the team of Gerber, Birch, and Giarrano deserve acknowledgement on that level. But if this is just plain pandering to the lowest common denominator in order to build an audience and make money, then fuck them too.
Sorry I’m so wound up about this, but watching a man disintegrate children in the name of “justice” brings up all sorts of negative emotions in me.
So was Foolkiller #6 worth the fifty cents I paid for it? I have to say that the answer is a disturbing yes. As a matter of fact, I really want to find the whole ten-issue series to see how this character develops and to see what the ultimate moral of this tale is .
I hope it is redemptive, because otherwise my faith in humanity will drop just one more little notch.
If anyone knows, please drop me a line.
Thanks and see you next week.