Though he may be best known for working with classic superheroes in projects ranging from “Earth X” to “Project Superpowers,” Jim Krueger’s heart and soul has always been in creator-owned work. More specifically, it’s been with “Foot Soldiers.”
Originally started as a Dark Horse mini series in 1996 before expanding with new stories at Image Comics and AiT/Planet Lar over the following years, Krueger’s story of three teens in a post-apocalyptic world who steal the superpowered shoes from a superhero graveyard is back on the stands thanks to Image. Earlier this month, the publisher released a remastered edition of the first series – titled “First Steps” and featuring work from Michael Avon Oeming as well as contributions from the likes of Walt Simonson and Mike Parobeck -Â and Krueger told CBR News that the volume is only the start of the Foot Soldiers renaissance.
“It’s the beginning -Â not only the book coming out but me going back to it with a new eye on how to tell a story and fill in all the spots I didn’t even know I had to fill in in the first place,” the writer said, noting plans are on tap for remastered, full-color editions of the next two books in the series drawn by Phil Hester and Steve Yeowell. “When Vol. 2 comes out, which is all Phil Hester, there’s going to be a lot of new stuff in there. I’ve been working on it going, ‘How did I never think of this before…duh!'”
Below, Krueger explains the history behind the project and how he parlayed friendships made while on staff at Marvel Comics into an all-star launch for the series in the ’90s as well as what new stories readers can expect from continued volumes and the eventual conclusion of the series epic saga.
CBR News: “Foot Soldiers” has always been planned as an epic post-apocalyptic tale from its very first mini series at Dark Horse. What was your plan for the book when it was created, and how did that mutate over the years?
Jim Krueger: Bits and pieces of it began in college. Johnny Stomp, my character who has these mirrored anti-gravity boots, began as a spokesperson for Odor Eaters. [Laughs] I don’t even think I have that ad anymore, but at the time I was getting a degree in advertising, and my whole approach was to create Mr. Whipple or the Jolly Green Giant for Odor Eaters as a class assignment. And then I re-read “Dark Knight Returns” and it has that awesome Alan Moore introduction in it where he talks about what it takes for a character to truly become a legend -Â how it requires the death of the hero. Alan talks about how it’s not until we know about the last shot that Robin Hood makes with his bow to determine where he’ll be buried -Â not until then do we know the legend is complete and can grow beyond that. I just thought, “How do I do characters that are legends and have this mythos to them but they’re not dead?” That’s how this idea came of having the entire age of superheroes be over and gone. The characters in this book step into their shoes not even knowing what the legends are and creating them anew.
This was your first major comics project, and you recruited a lot of big name talent to work on the book when it first launched. A young Mike Oeming drew the series, but this was also the first time you worked with Alex Ross. Walt Simonson did a piece for you. What took you from being an unknown to having that talent on the book?
You know what it is? I do really mediocre things with tracing paper. And so I designed the costumes – kind of coming up with a look for the series. And then you go to parties and show that around, and people go, “Oh, I’ll draw that” and “I’ll sketch that.” Because I had these designs to start from, no one I asked felt like they were doing work for free. It just became a fun thing where artists got to do their own take, and there was this sense of, “Oh, I get to be a part of this book.”
The fact that I’d become friends with Alex helped too. And when I get into an artist and find someone’s work I really love, I’ll scour back issue bins to find everything they’ve ever done. With Walt, even though there was his “Thor” work, I’d talk to him about Captain Fear and Manhunter, which still is on my desert island shelf of greatest comics ever done. And since he was working on “Star Slammers” at Dark Horse then, it worked out easily. With Tim Sale, I remember calling up Matt Wagner to get Tim’s number to ask if he would draw a little ten-page Nightcrawler story that Marvel was going to publish in the back of “Excalibur” #75, and Tim said yes. And that was his first work for Marvel! He worked on loads of things with Loeb after that, but for me, my whole thing was to build friendships and pay my friends a good page rate. So they were always happy. It wasn’t, “Oh, I’ve got to do this page for charity’s sake.” Although, some people have done work like that, for which I’m always grateful.
But generally, I’d just go to conventions and find that people always liked to talk about their work, especially work that people don’t ask them about a lot.
Sure. People get wore out telling the same stories over and over or talking about the same books.
Yeah. Even now, I’ll be at a convention, and someone will come up and go – and I’ve heard someone say this -Â “‘Earth X’ is the ‘Citizen Kane’ of comics.” [Laughs] Or they’ll want to talk about “Justice” or something else, but when they’d say “‘Foot Soldiers’ was always my favorite thing. You should do more of that” I always though that was cool. And creators want to talk about the things that were their passion projects.
You eventually continued the “Foot Soldiers” concept at Image with Phil Hester and now have finally brought all this material together for two really complete collected editions. What did you want to put in their alongside the stories to introduce fans to this world?
Well, I wrote new appendices for each chapter called “Story’s Story,” and that’s the kind of thing I was doing when we had these bad reprints in black and white from some poor scans a long, long time ago. But I reworked all that. Mike Parobeck was originally slated to do the first series at Dark Horse, and then he got sick and eventually died, which was so sad. So I was able this time to put in some pages Mike had done. He didn’t do much aside from some tracing paper images of storylines we had planned for along the way. So it was fun to be able to recognize Mike and put his name on the cover to honor his effort.
As you’ve been re-reading all these issues and prepping these new volumes, what was it that connected with you most strongly about the three lead characters and they world they inhabit?
You know, I didn’t think about the world in general as much at the beginning as I do now. It’s definitely a world of Haves and Have Nots. It’s about the elite versus the dregs of society, and I kind of think of it as a terrible Detroit of the future. I like the system in which it was holistic. Like, the people who were abused by the authorities patrolling the streets in these tanks also had to build the tanks that oppressed them. We make the very things that ultimately enslave us. That’s an exciting idea to me. So as the series progressed and these volumes came out, I figured out what the next two volumes of “Foot Soldiers” will be after the planned Vol. 3. I think now that Vols. 4 and 5 will really tell all the story I want to tell right now for the characters. I still have to find artists for 4 and 5, but that will all come together.
As far as the characters go, I’m kind of laughing because I’m almost writing them as though I’m isolating the best characteristics from other heroes within them. So Johnny Stomp with his mirrored anti-gravity boots always shows villains their own image as the last thing they see when he come down on them. This is a guy who you could plant him in a hurricane, and that wouldn’t knock him over. He’s so grounded, and his foundation is so strong that no matter what happens, he’s going to kick ass and never stop. There are elements of that in so many comic book characters we love. In the same way these characters rob the grave of heroes, they rob parts of their identities.
The Second-Story Kid has a stilt boots, and his whole thing is that he can do these kicks and act like a battering ram, but because of the stilts, he rides above everything. He’s all about perspective and seeing the pieces come together and being the tactician and strategist who sees there’s more to changing the world than just kicking butt like Johnny Stomp would think.
Finally, Rags who has the healing bandages – which we’ll find in the future came from the last supervillain -Â his thing is that with all that’s gone wrong, he wants to heal the world. He realizes that healing someone is a lot more than just taking care of a wound. He’s all about restoration. I know a lot of those ideas can be turned into big metaphors for life, but I want to maybe stay away from too much of that. [Laughs]
But overall, the pan here is not just to recolor or reprint these stories but move them forward in Vol. 2?
Yeah. The new story in the second volume really dives into everything that’s been going on from the villain’s perspective. It tells that side of the story in this society, and I’ll also define the newest character who really doesn’t show up on the team until Vol. 3 -Â the Spokesman. We’ll get more of him in the second volume partially just because I want to see Phil draw him.
“Foot Soldiers Vol. 1: First Steps” is on sale now from Image Comics. The remastered Vol. 2 will follow later this year.