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Foolkiller #1 (review)

Foolkiller #1 (review)
Marvel Comics, November 2016
Writer: Max Bemis

“Foolkiller” #1 is the start of a new mini-series from American publisher Marvel Comics. It focuses on an anti-hero character, the Foolkiller, first introduced in the pages of the comic “Man-Thing” #3, which was published in March, 1974. The character is obscure but has gone through four different incarnations. This new comic focuses on the second version of Foolkiller, a character named Greg Salinger.

The “Foolkiller” name comes from the character’s modus operandi. Foolkiller is a vigilante that targets individuals who have committed wrongdoings, which he dubs as actions of a “fool.” True to his name, and unlike most characters in the American superhero genre, Foolkiller kills his targets. None of the Foolkillers have superhuman abilities, relying only on athletic abilities that come from training and a macabre “purification” gun that incinerates enemies.

The comic’s premise is that Greg Salinger, seemingly the most grounded of all the Foolkillers, is now under the employ of S.H.I.E.L.D.. This is Marvel Comics’ futuristic espionage agency, the platform and backdrop for many of its superhero stories. Salinger is now working as an in-house psychiatrist that attempts to rehabilitate young, amateur would-be villains, which of itself is an interesting premise. Salinger’s patient in this issue refers to himself as Red Skull Jr. (the “Red Skull” is the evil nemesis of Marvel Comics’ primary character, Captain America). Salinger’s task will not be easy: Red Skull Jr arrives in their rehabilitation session bearing face paint made out of dried human blood.

The most enjoyable parts of the issue are the flashbacks and the internal monologues, which help explain how the main character went from being a vigilante and mercenary to a happy family man with a professional career and a purpose in life. It turns out that the fateful event was a paid hit on a reformed mafioso who was under the protection of S.H.I.E.L.D. Realizing how ridiculous and futile the situation is, Foolkiller gives up and surrenders himself to S.H.I.E.L.D custody. The scene displays a refreshing amount of self-awareness and wit, without devolving into a tiresome comic book industry cliché.

The first issue is a great plot springboard and a satisfying read in and of itself. Writer Max Bemis incorporates a hefty amount of self-deprecating humor to what could have been easily a depressing and violent story about former vigilantes, psychopathic supervillains, and failed criminal rehabilitation programs. It is a well-crafted balance between some of writer Frank Miller’s darkest “Punisher” stories (the Punisher is another Marvel anti-hero with a penchant for assault weapons) and the current crop of Deadpool yarns that sacrifice narrative cohesiveness at the altar of irreverent humor (Deadpool is another Marvel Comics’ antihero who uses guns and swords).

We may be cynical, but we wonder, given the wild success of the “Deadpool” motion picture, whether Marvel Comics is endeavouring to revitalise another anti-hero in the hope of replicating the winning formula. Regardless, the writing is solid and entertaining, and there are intriguing plot points set up in this first issue.