Created by the late Steve Gerber for Marvel Comics, the Foolkiller is clearly an offbeat character in the same vein as Howard the Duck. The only difference is, he's played totally straight. The name is inspired partially by the O. Henry story of the same name and the novel by Helen Eustis, the latter of which was made into a movie starring, appropriately enough, Anthony Perkins. There is also a minor character of this name in L. Frank Baum's "The Enchanted Island of Yew".The original Foolkiller was introduced in Man-Thing #3 (March, 1974) and killed in the the following issue. Several individuals have adopted the mantle of the Foolkiller, such as Ross G. Everbest, Greg Salinger, Kurt Gerhardt, and Mike Trace. Trace's incarnation appears in the Marvel MAX universe. Each incarnation modified the definition of "fool" to fit his mission. Everbest, being a devout Christian, sought out those whom he considered sinners. Salinger, on the other hand, hunted those whom he deemed lacked a poetic soul. Gerhardt's razor sharp definition of fool caused him to target those whom he judged to be guilty pursuing "momentary gratification" at the expense of others.
Foolkiler provides examples of the following tropes:
- Accidental Hero: In the '90s mini-series, Kurt is seen as a hero by the public when he starts killing off criminals and other unsavory individuals in New York. Things however change when he goes after corrupt authority figures that hold an image of being benevolent, and the public begins to hate him and demand his capture. -
- Beard of Sorrow: Greg Salinger in the 1990-91 Foolkiller limited series. Now he really does look like a poet.
- Calling Card: All the Foolkillers have their own calling card which they either send to intended victims or leave at the scene of the killing.
- Catchphrase: Salinger: "Live a poem or die a fool.": Gerhardt: "I kill fools"
- Chekhov's Gun: The flask of sulfuric acid seen in Merle's apartment. It was part of some backstory between her and Salinger. She would use it to help Gerhardt later.
- Comic-Book Time: Curiously averted, partially. In the 1990-91 limited series, The Runyan Moody Show dates the activities of the First Foolkiller as far back as the early seventies. Salinger, in explaining his inspiration for taking on the mantle, refers to elements of the same decade that he found annoying. He refers to the shallow banality of the music ("Disco back then") and the testimonies at the Watergate hearings. The 1990-91 limited series is clearly set during the year of publication. The aversion, however, is not without faults. Spider-Man is not 10-15 years older like Salinger obviously is.
- Continuity Snarl: In the Raft Breakout in New Avengers and his appearances in Deadpool, Gerhardt is wearing his original face. The last issue of the '90-'91 miniseries makes that highly improbable. As part of his plan to vanish, he uses the sulfuric acid to destroy his original face as a pretext for needing extensive reconstructive surgery.
- Double Standard: A certain way to get a death sentence in this series:Reverend Mal Flapton: "Of course the police pledge to hunt him down. He shoots White fools too."
Reverend Mal Flapton: "What right does he have mass murdering minority children...Why haven't the police caught him yet."
- and one issue later:
Female Student: So does this mean I can have someone expelled for calling me a nymph?Dean at ESU : We certainly wish to safeguard the rights of women. However, students who pursue alternative lifestyles are most apt to suffer damage to their self esteem as a result of insensitive language.Kurt Gerhardt: Would your self esteem suffer, Dean—if I called you a fool?
- Regarding a sexism issue at Empire State University.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Salinger's first appearance in Omega The Unknown #9. His costume consisted of a cowboy style hat with no red sash, a simple domino mask, and a cape. This variation of the costume never appeared again.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: He kills fools.
- Heel Realization: During his battle with Spider-Man, Greg Salinger, the second Foolkiller, runs into a bum that tells him that only a fool would want to fight Spider-Man, as Spidey is a genuinely good person who puts himself into danger to protect innocents. As soon as he realizes this, Salinger tries to turn his purification gun on himself, but Spidey stops him, and he's been incarcerated in a mental institution ever since.
- Hell-Bent for Leather: Gerhart trades the Zorro-style costume of his predecessors for this. In the 1991 Marvel Year in Review, Salinger, during an interview, explains "He kept the gun but made himself a more fearsome costume. I guess he's not as flamboyant as my predecessor or me." There is a certain irony to his statement since Gerhardt's costume would not be out of place in a BDSM scenario.
- Heroic BSOD: An aging barfly who befriends a depressed Gerhardt unkowingly shows him something that blows his mind and helps solidify his definition of fools. Mavis points him to a sign that she says renews her faith in her own intelligence. Gerhardt stares at it for a very long time oblivious to everything around him. The sign in question is a mechanic's advertisement where they mispell the word alignment (as in auto alignment) as alinement. Mavis' point being that "A fool is someone who would trust his car to someone who can't spell what he does for a living''
- Iconic Outfit: Foolkiller's Zorro-esque classic outfit.
- Hollywood Hacking: How else is Salinger able to get the modem on a computer in a mental institution connected to a computer bulletin board (the 1990 version of the internet) so that he may secretly communicate with Gerhardt? Salinger was given access to the computer with the assumpton that he was writing a book. The 1991 Marvel Year in Review lampshades this somewhat when Salinger states "My shrink still lives in the Freudian age of paper and pencil. He didn't even think to check it out.". Although this is years before internet tracking, it is before cable modem, it should have at least shown up on the institution's phone bill if anywere, especially as they log and monitor all phone activity in and out of the facility.
- Insanity Defense: This is why Salinger is in a mental hospital in Indiana and not a prison or death row. Also, the only fool that he is publicly known to have successfully killed was an annoying second string supervillian named Blockbuster. His other publicly known actions were all failures to kill his intended targets.
- It's Not You, It's Me: This is exactly how Kurt breaks off his relationship with Linda.
- It's What I DoWitness: So I asked him why he had to kill they guy and he says "Because that's what I do. I'm the Foolkiller, not the Fool Reprimander"
- Knight Templar
- Name Drop: Gerber mentions Reagan, Bush, and Willie Horton, all on the same page in issue 2. But he had a good reason.
- On the Next: So what exactly was "Greg's Secret Sorrow"? That's what was promised for issue 10 of Omega the Unknown (Salinger's first appearance). But we were left hanging due to the unexpected cancellation of the series with issue 10. That issue, instead was dedicated to trying to tie up all the loose ends with the title character Omega. Actually, they didn't manage to do even that.
- Odd Name Out: In the Foolkiller limited series, whenever Steve Gerber inserted a character based on a real life figure, the character's real life analog is somewhat derivable from the fictional name. For example, Mal Flapton (an analog of Al Sharpton). However, the source of the name Runyan Moody is hard to trace back to its inspiration of Morton Downey Jr.
- This is a case of No Celebrities Were Harmed.
- Master of Disguise: Gerhardt's incarnation more than any of the others.
- Mythology Gag:
- The Marvel Max series has a prison called the Gerhardt Detention Facility and a bookstore named Salinger's.
- The alias that Gerhardt goes by as seen at the very end of the series is Gregory Ross Curtis, a pastiche of all the three Foolkiller's first names. The picture seen on his driver's license looks like the face of Richard Rory.
- My Nayme Is: Unlike other noted uses of the name (Eustis, O. Henry, Baum), Foolkiller is one word instead of two.
- Out Gambit: Richard Rory agreed to take his friend Salinger to meet the Defenders (friends of Rory). Salinger expressed interest in joining them. Rory anticipated that the Defenders would realize that Salinger was a danger and find a way to non-violently put him out of action. Salinger, however, actually secretly planned to kill the Defenders as he deemed them fools for letting supervillain Lunatik escape.
- Present Day: Clearly dates the story as it gives the year of the mugging/killing of Gerhart's dad (1989 as seen on the tombstone) and takes place during Operation Desert Storm.
- Ray Gun: Foolkiller's purification gun.
- Rule of Cool: The Foolkiller's mission could easily be carried out with any old gun. But then again, he'd just be a clone of The Punisher.
- Unlikely Spare: Foolkiller was defeated by the Defenders and Spider-Man. In both cases, it would be logical to assume that his purification gun was confiscated at the time. None of the Foolkillers appeared to have the technical know how to build their own purification guns, so it is reasonable to assume that it is the same gun that is passed on to each successor. The apparent uniqueness of the gun (as well as the deliberate lack of explanation of the exact origin and nature of the gun) seems to support this. Therefore Everbest (the original Foolkiler) must have had a lot of spare guns to begin with.
- In The Marvel Universe, there's plenty of sources for items like this gun; some villains even make weapons to order for others.
- The Foolkiller was a suspect of the Scourge of Crime supervillain killings (in the Captain America series.) But he wasn't involved. The Scourge turned out to be a whole group of self-righteous vigilantes, organized by an old WWII hero, The Angel. Maybe there's a similar setup for the Foolkillers.
- Serial Killer
- Strawman Political: Kurt Gerhardt's victims included exemplars on both sides of the political spectrum.
- Suspension of Disbelief: The exact nature of the purification gun is never explained. As mentioned above, this appears to be deliberate on the part of Steve Gerber. It also never seems to run out of power, hence the noticable absence of power cells or energy packs. The Marvel Max series dispenses with the Zorro-like costume and the purification gun. Instead, his favorite weapon is a sword cane (which you could purchase in the real world). However, whether or not real sword canes can cleanly decapitate arms or legs is rather subject to its own criticism. We are also meant to accept that 90 pound weakling assassin Sickle Moon can also do the same with his impractical looking glaive.
- It should be noted that the continuity of the MAX series with the mainstream Marvel universe isn't 100% official. Some of its stories seem to be apocryphal, similar to Ultimate Marvel.
- The Dragon: Drug lord Backhand to Emilio Mendoza who in turn is this to Darren Waite. Interestingly, Backhand survives the story, Waite and Mendoza don't.
- The Fundamentalist: Everbest believed that all criminals, sinners, and dissidents were fools that needed to be eliminated by an acting agent of God and that he had been chosen by God to be that agent.
- Villain Protagonist: In the '90s mini-series.