The Foolkiller is a fictional character appearing in the Marvel Comics universe. He was created by writer Steve Gerber and first appeared in the pages of 1974's Man-Thing. He also had a ten-issue limited series that ran from 1990 to 1991, followed by another in 2007. There have been four different individuals to adopt the mantle of the Foolkiller. The character was inspired by a Southern legend that was the basis for a short story by O. Henry. This in turn was the inspiration for a later novel by Helen Eustis. The novel was made into a film featuring Anthony Perkins. A character of the same name also appeared in L. Frank Baum's The Enchanted Island of Yew.
His real name was not given until a later flashback in Amazing Spider-Man #225, which stated that it was Ross G. Everbest (a variant of Gerber's Reg Everbest pseudonym with his middle name attached to it).
Gerber's Foolkiller miniseries, illustrated by JJ Birch, was published from October 1990 to October 1991. It focused on a new character, Kurt Gerhardt.
The original Foolkiller was more of a reactionary crusader than subsequent versions of the character. Upset by anti-Vietnam War protests and counterculture movements, he decided that sinners, dissidents, and criminals alike were "fools" who must be eliminated, and that he had been chosen by God to do so. He was inspired by a faith healer, Reverend Mike Pike, who cured his childhood paralysis. As a result, he became an evangelist with Reverend Mike as his mentor and soon became as popular as the Reverend. But after catching Reverend Mike in a drunken orgy, he killed his former hero, preserved the corpse in formaldehyde, and used the preacher's money to fund his vigilante activities. He donned a flamboyant Zorro-like costume and acquired (by unknown means) his "purification gun", a raygun which disintegrated people instantly. Some of his victims were given a 24-hour warning in the form of a calling card: "Foolkiller / e pluribus unum / You have 24 hours to live. Use them to repent or be forever damned to the pits of hell where goeth all fools. Today is the last day of the rest of your life. Use it wisely or die a fool."
The Foolkiller had sought to kill disk jockey Richard Rory and businessman F.A. Schist. During a struggle with the monstrous Man-Thing in the Man-Thing's swamp, the Foolkiller died in a freak accident, impaled in the heart by a shard of glass from the tank containing Reverend Mike.
Rory, feeling responsible for Salinger's breakdown and crimes, tried to help the Defenders arrest Salinger, by persuading him that he could join them as a superhero. However, Salinger had decided the Defenders were "fools" after their failure to capture another supervillain; he sought to kill Lunatik, and burned down their headquarters and was captured by the Defenders, but escaped in a road accident. Salinger reappeared, studying at Empire State University, where teaching assistant Peter Parker (Spider-Man) befriended him, then stopped him in the midst of another killing spree. When a homeless witness suggested that only a fool would fight Spider-Man, Salinger attempted to shoot himself, but was stopped, arrested, found criminally insane and institutionalized for good at the Central Indiana State Mental Institution. He appeared briefly as a mental patient, where he was questioned by Captain America concerning a possible connection with the vigilante known as Scourge of the Underworld.
He also appeared as a seemingly much saner inmate, and was interviewed on the Runyan Moody TV show. He advised the third Foolkiller (Gerhardt) through a computer bulletin board, though their contact was finally discovered by psychiatrist Dr. Mears and the police.
The first issue shows much of Salinger's life in the mental hospital. He details nightmares and guilt to his doctor. He expresses a desire to write out his feelings, believing it will make him feel better. The doctor points out that the last time Salinger was given a pencil, he drove it into his own neck. Salinger promises it won't happen again. The therapist allows Salinger to use one of the institution's computers' word processors so that he can write letters. He decides to send his memoirs and thoughts to media and publication centers. No reply comes back.
Salinger is noted by popular talk show host, Runyan Moody, who browbeats his way into an interview with Salinger. Gerhardt sees this and via Salinger's secret use of the modem in his therapist's computer, they set up a correspondence via a computer bulletin board.
Salinger directs Gerhardt to an old confidant who provides him with the Foolkiller costume and "purification gun". He eventually abandoned the gaudy costume, substituting a bondage-style leather mask and outfit (or appearing in a variety of disguises), and created a simpler calling card: "Foolkiller / e pluribus unum / Actions have consequences."
Initially, Gerhardt directed his vigilante campaign at violent criminals, garnering some praise from the public, but his anger at abuse and neglect in general led him to kill drug-addicted negligent mothers and even their (albeit violent) children in a series of escalating massacres. His ever broader definition of "fools" who deserved death broadened to include those guilty of what Gerhardt believed to be rank hypocrisy or stupidity.
At Burger Clown, Gerhardt develops a promising romantic relationship with a fellow coworker, Linda Klein. He becomes a popular man in his neighborhood. Acting heroically, even without the gun, Gerhardt saves an acquaintance from being run down by a drunk. Gerhardt, however, must be stopped from beating on the driver.
In a move celebrated by his friends at the restaurant, he gains a job at a credit agency. His work-neighbor is a crass, older man who enjoys using his power for thrills and cheap revenge. In a moment of weakness, Gerhardt even considers using his gun on this man, along with others who are guilty of only being annoying. This includes the new man in Linda Klein's life.
Gerhardt was especially frustrated at the public's thoughtless pursuit of instant or momentary gratification and this became the centralizing theme of his killing spree. Gerhardt abruptly broke off his relationship with Linda and sent a manifesto to the Daily Bugle newspaper. His ever-increasing kills become more violent, taking place in front of, and traumatizing, many innocent people. Once such incident is viewed by Linda who had recognized Kurt's voice though, for reasons unknown, she elected not to inform police. Gerhardt even goes after 'foolish' celebrities. His final major kill was an industrialist who was stripping Amazon rain forest land to raise cattle for beef and this turned the public hostile towards the Foolkiller. At the end of the series, after escaping the police (his online communications with Salinger discovered) and failing to kill his drug-lord nemesis, Gerhardt had his face altered with the assistance of his predecessor's friend. She carefully uses acid to mar his face. He leaves New York to assume a new identity in Arizona.
Gerhardt appeared in New Avengers as a Raft inmate, although the circumstances surrounding his capture have not been revealed. After Electro organizes a massive breakout, he was seen attacking Spider-Man with many other villains, after which he escaped.
The Hood has hired him as part of his criminal organization to take advantage of the split in the superhero community caused by the Superhuman Registration Act.
All of the Foolkillers have been athletic men with no superhuman powers, and all are criminally insane.
Everbest was a charismatic preacher, and skilled in several forms of hand-to-hand combat.
Salinger is an amateur poet, and is a self-trained fair hand-to-hand combatant.
Gerhardt was skilled in basic hand-to-hand combat and had developed a high tolerance for pain. He was also a good strategist and a master of disguise.
I’m a Punisher guy. What Garth Ennis has done with Frank Castle really is what made me realize what comic books could do. The Foolkiller is obviously different in a number of ways from the Punisher, but he’s also perhaps the closest thing the Marvel Universe has to him.
He was interested in writing a crime thriller and Punisher was off the table.
The Foolkiller of the Marvel MAX universe is Mike Trace, a man who treats his murders as works of art. Typically, he will leave the bodies at the scene along with ironic indications of why they were killed. In one case, he murders a corporate industrialist and leaves the body in a trashcan filled with toxic waste form the industrialist's own factories. The story of this Foolkiller, however, is told mostly through the eyes of Nate McBride, a former enforcer for twointhebush.com a loansharking operation. When Nate steals money to pay for his daughter's much needed heart operation, his employers punish him by killing his wife and younger daughter and threatening to kill his invalid daughter in thirty days if the money isn't paid back. Nate, fearing for the safety of his hospitalized daughter, decides to enlist the help of the Foolkiller whom he had heard about from the news and from whispered rumors on the street. Although the Foolkiller initially berates Nate as a fool due to the life he leads, he takes an interest in twointhebush.com and their possible connection to a mob boss known as The Cheese. Nate acts as the Foolkiller's assistant, gathering information on the Cheese's henchmen and operations. As the Foolkiller begins to eliminate Cheese's enforcers, the Cheese calls in a diminutive assassin known as Sickle Moon due to the sickle shaped blade he employs. Foolkiller, concluding that Sickle Moon will abort his mission if his employer is killed, decides to go after Cheese directly with Nate acting as a diversion. While Foolkiller is successful in killing the Cheese, Nate is killed by Sickle Moon who, as expected, retreats after realizing that his employer is dead. Foolkiller carries Nate's body to the hospital and announces that Nate's heart should be suitable for a transplant for the daughter. It is not certain if the operation was carried out.
In the just-begun "Foolkiller: White Angels" arc, his latest target is a white supremacist gang called the White Angels, which lynched an ex-convict who'd become a white-collar worker and had evidently turned a new leaf/his life around. The Punisher will be appearing starting with the second issue, since he is also targeting the White Angels.
In keeping with the realism of the Marvel MAX line, Mike Trace does not dress in a costume or use a purification ray gun. He will employ whatever weapons are available but his favorite weapon is a sword cane. He leaves a tarot card of the fool at all of his killings. The tarot card has handwritten on it "Are you?". There are oblique references to the Foolkillers of the classic Marvel Universe such as the naming of a prison as Gerhardt Detention Facility. One character whispered rumors he heard such as "Doesn't he wear a mask and cape like Zorro?" or "Didn't he work at Burger Clown?" before another character chastises him to not talk foolishly. Since the Foolkiller's activities of the Marvel universe were publicly known, it is uncertain if Trace had any forgotten predecessors or he was the only Foolkiller of the MAX universe.