As the song goes, everybody plays the fool sometimes. Which is actually really bad news if you live in the Marvel Universe, because that makes you ideal prey for The Foolkiller.
One of the delightfully simple concepts in superhero comic books, The Foolkiller is a villain/sometimes antihero driven by a single quest in life: killing fools. Originally created by Steve Gerber & Val Mayeric and introduced in 1974’s “Man-Thing” #3, Marvel Comics has featured several different Foolkillers over the years, even long after the word “fool” stopped having the resonance it once did.
In recent months, Greg Salinger — the second and likely most famous Foolkiller, due to his past encounters with Spider-Man and his Zorro-esque former costume — resurfaced after years in limbo as part of Gerry Duggan and Mike Hawthorne‘s “Deadpool” cast, specifically one of the “Mercs for Money” — a team of obscure characters employed by Deadpool, who later starred in their own spinoff team book. As hinted at by earlier teasers, The Foolkiller, Solo and Slapstick are now being further spun off into their own respective ongoing series as part of this fall’s Marvel NOW! lineup refresh, with “Foolkiller” in the works from the team of “X-Men: Worst X-Man Ever” writer and Say Anything lead singer Max Bemis and recent “Red Wolf” artist Dalibor TalajiÄ‡.
CBR has the exclusive first interview with Bemis on “Foolkiller,” a series which sees the title character putting his psychiatry degree to good use: attempting to rehabilitate criminals. Given that this is comics, inevitably some of his patients will surely turn out to be lost causes — in which case, it just may be time to kill some fools. Bemis — whose past comics credits include “Polarity,” “Evil Empire” and “Oh, Killstrike,” all at BOOM! Studios — also discussed his industry ambitions, and makes it clear he wants to be known as a comic book writer, not as a rock star who sometimes writes comic books.
CBR News: Max, The Foolkiller is certainly a goofy and unique character — I remember first seeing him in a reprint of one of his early Spider-Man appearances.
Max Bemis: Right, with the outfit.
He just kept saying the word “fool” over and over again. It felt like it could have been a parody comic.
It is, at this point. No one will deny — if you can find one person on the planet who finds that costume and his demeanor intimidating, you’re a better man than I. I find myself trying to not say “fool” too much — I’ll be like, “I just want to use it,” just because it’s so funny that’s his whole schtick, but I think it would wear out its welcome.
Foolkiller is on the more obscure side — when did you first become aware of the character?
I actually first became aware of him in his Marvel MAX incarnation, which bared very little resemblance to what I later discovered. Honestly, until the latest volume of “Deadpool,” I was not really familiar with his main Marvel Universe counterpart, or the fact that they are three of them. I’m not an expert on too much Marvel history like that, when it comes to knowing every single obscure character. I knew he was culled from the ranks of a B-level villain/antihero from that Marvel MAX series, but I wasn’t really familiar with anything about him. In “Deadpool,” he was great, but it’s not like he was a central character — he was kind of in the periphery.
I did some reading up on it — I almost didn’t want to know too much. I didn’t want to go back and read every Foolkiller appearance. The idea that we’re starting with is very different, and since he’s never really been fleshed out as a person, I reinvented — or invented — Greg like a new character, in a way, without disregarding anything he’s done in the past. There’s just not much.
How did you devise the concept for this re-imagining — Foolkiller attempting to reform villains using his psychiatry degree?
That’s our hook. In a way, it’s kind of a “Dexter”-y plot set-up — you have an antihero who’s a vigilante, who enjoys getting into the minds of these people that, on face value, he would just shoot in the face. That’s the basic plot set-up. It’s really a fun set-up, and I get to do a lot with it. I think the main underlying sentiment that makes it a fun book to write is, besides Deadpool, a lot of these Punisher-type characters are very un-self-conscious and very serious. Greg is kind of affable at this point, because he gets this new lease on life. The whole premise is, he never really enjoyed it — he had a pretty horrible existence as the Foolkiller — so he’s offered a chance, in a way I won’t detail too much, to have this job as a shrink, and to have a sort of normal life. He wants that.
If anyone read my “X-Men: Worst X-Man Ever” miniseries, that was about being an outsider in the mutant community. For Greg, he’s kind of an outsider in the normal person community, because he was a friggin’ vigilante and he’s actually a lunatic. I think all of my work will probably have that theme. If you read any of my creator-owned stuff, there’s always some kind of fish out of water-ish scenario, because that’s my neurotic thing.
Given his position of at least trying to reform criminals, will we see some known villains in that spot?
There’s definitely already a lot of known characters who show up, without giving away too much, more thematically. So far, of what I’ve written of the book, I’ve tired to invent new characters to actually be his patients, but the Marvel Universe is their lives, so they will have some connection to existing characters. Then as the book goes along, I think we will see some people in the patient’s chair who are straight-up [established characters]. But it was important for me to set up the tone of the book and have people get acquainted with Greg, and like the book for what it is, before it became too entrenched in continuity — even though it is in continuity.
As an example, “Ms. Marvel,” the current incarnation — the story really was centered around her and her family, and there’s a brand-new villain, and now she’s basically a new Spider-Man. But at the beginning, you want to be sold on a book because it’s an interesting comic book, y’know?
On that note, Foolkiller is not the most recognizable or famous character on Marvel’s rosters — are you planning to bring in guest stars?
For sure. From the very beginning of the book, in the first issue, his first patient is kind of a young version of an existing Marvel villain, who’s trying to be like a Young Avenger version of this character. There’s a lot of talking about, and seeing the actions, of that original villain, but less actually being there in the moment. In the second issue, someone shows up, in the periphery. But again, right at the beginning, I wanted to built its own little universe, then if I’m allowed to, I’ll branch out and mess with stuff.
Also, the tone is so crazy — it’s a very weird, dark book, even though it’s funny. On the spectrum of Marvel humor, it’s on the darker end, before you go into “Deadpool MAX” or something. I wanted to be able to do that. It feels more, I think, like something you would read from a creator-owned company. Then you start to recognize symbolism from the Marvel Universe. A lot of my favorite books did that, like “Alias.”
It sounds like we may not see him right away, but the most recent appearances of Foolkiller have been in “Deadpool” and “Deadpool and the Mercs for Money.” Does that status quo affect this book? Is this something of an outgrowth of that?
Completely. I feel like his lowest point if working with Deadpool. It only has a brief mention at the beginning, to let people know what’s been going on in Greg’s life. This guy used to have standards — he was his own dude, and had his own image, for whatever that’s worth. Then he got committed to a mental hospital, and the next time we see him, he’s basically a hired gun working for and with Deadpool. Where our book begins, he’s purposeless, and that’s the jumping-off point, when he’s given a purpose. Even though he’s a very dark dude with lots of issues, he’s almost an optimist, because everything in his life was crappy. He feels he has a chance to be a hero, in the way Deadpool sometimes tries to be a hero and fails. It’s kind of like that.
The artist on the book is Dalibor TalajiÄ‡. He’s drawn a lot of quirkier Marvel stuff already — some “Deadpool,” the “Hit-Monkey” miniseries a few years back — so he certainly seems like a good fit. What are you looking forward to with collaborating with him on?
I’ve worked with a spectrum of artists at this point that’s pretty friggin’ broad, even though I’m pretty new to the scene. The cool thing about working with him is, it’s so exciting and dynamic, but there’s a realism I think is important for this series, and it just kind of happened. This guy can do anything, but the way he’s approaching it is very character-driven. It’s realistic portrayals of this stuff. I think if we went too impressionistic with the art, it would kind of just be this over-the-top package. But because there’s so much weirdness — and to clarify the weirdness, a lot of it is because it’s narrated by Greg, so we see certain things that he’s thinking or hear certain things he’s thinking or imagining — it’s pretty off the wall in that respect. To see it actually fleshed out, rather than kooky, makes it funnier for me.
You’ve got a prominent day job that keeps you busy, but you’ve been doing comics for about four years now, and between the “X-Men” miniseries and now you’re first ongoing series at Marvel, you’re doing more and more. Have you evolved the way you look at writing comics? Has it become less of a side thing, and something that you’re focusing more time on?
Oh, completely. From the very beginning, when I decided to do it — I don’t really do anything half. I’m so passionate. There were years where I was like, “I know I should be writing comics,” but I was like, “You’re not ready.” Emotionally, in terms of how much how I digested, to do it in the way that I want to do it. Once I decided I wanted to actually try do it, I’ve had varied results in my own mind, but I do think of it as just as important as music. It’s not like I’m in U2. My idols in comics have done some of the coolest stuff in the world, whether it’s really long-running series, or doing something great at Marvel or DC, reinventing a character, or creator-owned work that’s definitive. There are all these things to aspire to that I don’t know if I’m good enough for, but I’m at least going to try.
That pertains to working with Marvel. I don’t want to be this dude who dips my toe into the pool — ideally, I would love to work on more than one book at Marvel at the same time. Those are the people I look up to, not necessarily the people who are great, but don’t have that much time to fully write comics on a normal schedule. I do have enough time, and I do have the drive to actually do it. [Laughs]
That’s how it’s evolved. Over time, I’ve gotten less scared. I feel like things are now evolving at their own pace, now that I have some work out. I don’t have to knock down as many doors as much, even though that’s still a big thing. It’s not like I’m that far along. From here on out, if I just keep doing stuff because it speaks to people, that will happen.
If you’re going to do something, you might as well go for it, right? Between this and the X-Men miniseries, you’re also working more in the work-for-hire and shared universe space rather than in your BOOM! Studios comics, which were creator-owned. What has that experience been like for you — changing your focus as a writer and learning to do that, which is obviously a different thing than working with your own creations?
You know, it is and it isn’t. I imagine in the ’90s or even early 2000s, it would have been a real stark difference. But there’s so much cool stuff going on at the Big Two right now — I know some people would disagree, but to me, I’m more excited than I’ve ever been when it comes to superhero comics.
I kind of came in prepared, having read all the horror stories. I’m like, “Oh god, it’s going to be really hard!” But, no — they’re just the nicest, sweetest people, and really let me spread my wings and do stuff within reason. It’s not like I came in and said, “I’m going to kill Captain America again.” I know what to not ask for at this point. I don’t need to push the boundaries in ways that are unrealistic. But I think you can pretty much do anything at Marvel nowadays. It’s so weird and broad at this point.
Last question — will Fookiller still be using his calling card, which warns people that they will be damned to the pits of hell where goeth all fools?
He hasn’t used that exact phrasing, but he’s definitely slipping. So it could happen. The more unhinged he becomes, I think we have a better chance of him saying that.
“Foolkiller,” from Max Bemis and Dalibor TalajiÄ‡, is scheduled to debut from Marvel this fall.