Steve Gerber

Foolkiller (1990)

The last time I read Foolkiller, almost fifteen years ago, I really liked it. I wish I knew what I’d liked about it because it’s really not good. Even back then I know I thought the art—Joe Brozowski on pencils, Tony DeZuniga then Vince Giarrano on the inks—was bad. And the art’s bad. It appears DeZuniga had been handling the facial features and without him, the people start looking real bad, but then Giarrano adjusts or something. Very rocky, art-wise. Never good, sometimes less bad than other times.

But the art’s not the problem. The problem’s the script, which is from Steve Gerber, who’s not just good, but also not the guy you expect to do a comic all about how the “super predators” are real. At one point they even do a Central Park Five reference. In Foolkiller, it’s a string of Central Park attacks on cyclists where the gang beats the victims to death, enraged the victims can… afford bicycles. Even the killers’ parents are okay with their sons brutally murdering those better off bicycle owners.

Of course, one of the other bad guys is a right-wing TV host. The first few issues of Foolkiller have a different feel than the rest of the comic and not just because the noses go bad at some point. The comic’s about a new Foolkiller, inspired by the original, who’s actually the second one, and is currently in a mental institution in Indiana. The protagonist, Kurt, has just lost his father, his job, his house, his wife, and finds Foolkiller—on the right-wing TV host’s show—aspirational. Pretty soon Kurt’s going around killing bad guys, romancing his shift manager at the burger joint—the only job he could get because savings and loans—and working out in garbage. On one hand, Foolkiller feels like Gerber amping up the absurdity over this kind of character but Gerber’s also grounding it as he goes along. It’s like Gerber’s too dedicated to the actual narrative to subvert it with jabs at the protagonist’s philosophy. Taxi Driver: The Comic.

And outside a mention of The Avengers and Spider-Man swinging through an issue to sell at least one to the Spidey collectors, Foolkiller doesn’t feel very Marvel comic. Outside the art, which—even bad—looks like Marvel and the lettering, which is perfunctory and somehow inappropriate. Foolkiller’s journals are all supposedly written on the computer but they appear in handwriting. It’s also unclear how the journals are supposed to be read—contemporary to events, past tense. It’d be nice if it mattered. Something in Foolkiller should matter.

Yeah, Gerber created Foolkiller, didn’t he. At least the most famous one—and he was in Man-Thing. I just can’t figure out what happened to the joke in Foolkiller. The comic takes a shift when it starts dealing with the Iraq War in the last few issues; that news is pushing Foolkiller’s killing spree out of the headlines. The other headlines are about crack babies and something else kind of iffy, even for the early nineties. The first half of Foolkiller is Randian objectivism with some sprinkles of libertarianism, the second half of it is the lead dispassionately offing examples of those philosophies. Maybe if there were a connection there’d be some impact but Gerber introduces the relevant supporting characters—outside the TV host—when he needs them, not before. And the TV host doesn’t really provide much texture. Foolkiller confuses hyperbolic with effective.

Nothing in the comic stands out. None of the characters, none of the moments Gerber tries out with the supporting cast. He’s got a lack of empathy for everyone involved, which matches the protagonist I suppose but… it’s a little long—ten issues—to go just to prove you can do something. Though Foolkiller is from the old days, back when publishers never would’ve dreamed off cutting issues off a limited series. Or at least it seemed like they wouldn’t. What do I know? I used to be a big Foolkiller (1990) fan. And not when I had any excuse to be.

Maybe the most disappointing aspect—other than Gerber’s exaggerated, almost defensive classism—is the pointlessness of the narrative. It doesn’t add up to anything for anyone involved, not Foolkiller III, not Foolkiller II, not Foolkiller II’s too liberal psychiatrist, not the girl who falls for Foolkiller III, not the stupid villain who can’t seem to die… no one. One of the villains is even a New York City real estate developer who is way too competent to be confused for any real figure.

Either something went very wrong with Foolkiller or it was always a terrible idea.

I’m not sure I wrote about Foolkiller the last time I read it, but if I did, the posts are long gone. I don’t know if I want to know what I thought but I’m frankly embarrassed about it.

Foolkiller (1990) is most decidedly not good. From the start. I kept thinking maybe it turned around in the last few issues and Gerber finally acknowledged the nonsense.

But no.

It’s just bad all the way through.

Howard the Duck 29 (January 1979)

Howard the Duck #29Gerber writes the script from a Mark Evanier plot.

It starts with Howard in Cleveland again, though it doesn’t look like Howard. Will Meugniot and Ricardo Villamonte’s art is strange; Howard’s reality is gone. It’s a comic strip. Meugniot’s got fine enough composition, but zero detail.

The story doesn’t have much Cleveland–Howard almost immediately ends up in Las Vegas where he’s going on television because some idiot Vegas lounge act thinks Howard’s a kid with a strange disease. You know, a disease where he looks like a duck.

How did this one not get turned into the movie? Maybe it did. I don’t think I’ve ever finished the movie.

Anyway… it’s not exactly bad. The art’s not good. Gerber’s dialogue is funny but detached. And the satire is pretty tepid. There’s no great diatribes, no passion, just easy targets.

It feels like a pitch for a TV show.

CREDITS

Help Stamp Out Ducks!; writers, Mark Evanier and Steve Gerber; penciller, Will Meugniot; inker, Ricardo Villamonte; colorist, Michele Wolfman; letterer, Joe Rosen; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Howard the Duck 27 (September 1978)

Howard the Duck #27Howard is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. So what does he do? He stops the Circus of Crime. Why? See the first sentence. Is he mad at the Circus of Crime? Not so much. Is he worried about his friends being hospitalized? Not so much. Does Howard finally admit he’s got deep feelings for that hairless female ape Beverly? Sort of.

Did Marvel just not let Gerber get crazy with Howard’s affections for Beverly? There’s got to be an explanation. Because this issue isn’t just strange–it’s an action comic, one with good art and good dialogue, but an unambitious action comic. And Gerber is usually all about the ambition for what an issue can do.

So when this one doesn’t do much, the mind has time to wonder what else is going on with the comic. Hence my questions.

Though troubled, it’s solid.

CREDITS

Circus Maximus; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Phil Rachelson; letterer, Gaspar Saladino; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Howard the Duck 26 (July 1978)

Howard the Duck #26Well… last things first. Winda gets assaulted and Gerber shucks it off page. After her startling–and entirely unnecessary–attack, Gerber just mentions her in Howard’s summing up of the issue’s misadventures.

Most of the comic involves him running around with the Circus of Crime and how he gets away from them. Gerber, Colan and Janson do a rather good human drama subplot too, which one of the Circus’s victims drunkenly reacting.

But then Gerber ties it all together and there’s not enough room to do it in scale so Colan is left to rush through it. And if anyone is going to do reaction shots instead of action shots, Colan should be the one to do them; he gets a lot of energy in them. It still feels like an unsteady issue. Gerber has enough story for two issues or at least one and a half.

It’s mostly good.

CREDITS

Repercussions…!; writer, Steve Gerber; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Janice Cohen; letterer, Irving Watanabe; editors, Jim Shooter and Gerber; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Howard the Duck 25 (June 1978)

Howard the Duck #25Well, Bev’s back this issue and… Gerber has her and her new husband getting it on. He plays it for laughs, starting with Bev complaining about being stuck in a square marriage like her mother’s and ending with the creatures of Bong’s island peeping on them.

So it’s kind of like if Sue married Doom to save Reed and then was happy about it. It’s weird.

Meanwhile, Howard’s other pals are back (after ten issues, which is way too long), and they’re hanging out in New York society.

The issue’s okay enough. Howard’s no longer the lead in his own book–not sure why Gerber thought Paul Same, failed artist, was better than Howard the Duck for a story protagonist; not much of Gerber’s moves this issue make sense.

With the Colan and Janson art, however it’s hard to get too upset. Like I said, it’s okay enough, just not special.

CREDITS

Getting Smooth!; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Janice Cohen; letterer, Irving Watanabe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Howard the Duck 24 (May 1978)

Howard the Duck #24I have a lot of fundamental problems with this issue of Howard the Duck. I don’t mind it being great, but I don’t like how Gerber’s not just able to get away with finally addressing the Bev situation he’s also able to get sympathy from it. The effectiveness of Howard walking the streets sad is incredible. It’s an introspective look at how the character works. Gerber’s laying it all out for the reader to examine.

It’s amazing. It’s an amazing comic book. And I don’t like how Gerber’s able to get away with it. Just because he can get away with it doesn’t mean he should. It’s frustrating.

Howard the Duck–with its realistic Colan pencils (with Palmer inks, natch)–is all of a sudden Henry Miller the Duck and it’s awesome. Gerber sells it all. He even gets to a truly great soft cliffhanger.

Frustrating or not, it’s phenomenal.

CREDITS

Where Do You Go — What Do You Do — The Night after You Save the Universe?; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Tom Palmer; colorist, Janice Cohen; letterer, Joe Rosen; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Howard the Duck 23 (April 1978)

Howard the Duck #23Leave it to Steve Gerber to do the impossible here. Wow. He takes this peculiar story arc (which ties back to Howard’s first appearance and ignores everything else in the series so far) and throws in these (intentionally) painfully obvious Star Wars references and then goes loose with it all.

The result is a good Spaceballs. The result is the perfect mix of subversive material, mainstream gags and storytelling intelligence. The comic’s called Howard the Duck and the duck’s been paddling around in a circle. Why’s Gerber do it? To make the return to him here work. It’s a strange thing–this issue is so tied to the previous one, it might have worked better as a single issue. Maybe double-size.

Because this comic–with gorgeous Mayerik art (wonderful depth)–is amazing. It’s “space humor” done better than anyone’s done it since or before. Even Dark Star.

It’s magnificent.

CREDITS

Star Waaugh; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; artist, Val Mayerik; colorist, Janice Cohen; letterer, Irving Watanabe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Howard the Duck 22 (March 1978)

Howard the Duck #22I’m not sure Howard is back on track so much as Gerber has found someplace to take it. The existing narrative of the series is on hold; this issue continues Howard’s first appearance (and death) over in Man-Thing. Now he’s back with Man-Thing, Jennifer Kale (Man-Thing’s blondie girlfriend), a blond Conan and an old wizard. His mission, save the universe.

In a very Star Wars fashion. It’s a little weird to see Gerber so obviously–and appreciatively–aping Star Wars at the same comic book company printing a monthly Star Wars comic book. Maybe Howard would have had legs as a zeitgeist parody, but it’s only because Gerber brings such personality to the homage.

Val Mayerik is back on pencils, which is cool, especially given the integral Man-Thing guest appearance, which works so well because it’s got Gerber writing it.

It’s a solid issue. Real solid.

CREDITS

May the Farce Be with You!; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Val Mayerik; inker, Bill Wray; colorist, Janice Cohen; letterer, John Costanza; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Howard the Duck 21 (February 1978)

Howard the Duck #21It’s a better issue than the recent norm, but Gerber still doesn’t have Howard on much of a path. At one point, Howard all of a sudden seemed like the perfect cultural relic from the Carter presidency, but it’s not.

Instead, it’s like Gerber is showing how much he can abuse the reader as far as the plot is concerned. Howard meets up with Beverly Switzler. Not Howard’s Beverly, but her uncle. What a joke. Gerber gave a fat dude Beverly’s name and ran him into Howard.

I’m not sure if the series has just gotten too tame (this issue has Howard battling the nicest, most likable murderous cult leader ever–one who even gets sympathy from the reader when Howard’s being sexist) or Gerber’s just lost interest.

But, it’s a better issue than usual. Carmine Infantino guest pencils. He and Janson are a neat team; contrasting while still complimenting.

CREDITS

If You Knew Soofi…!; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Carmine Infantino; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Glynis Wein; letterer, Irving Watanabe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Howard the Duck 20 (January 1978)

Howard the Duck #20I’m seeing the problem with Howard. Gerber is refusing to get Howard into a comfortable situation at all. Bev is still out of the picture, but so is the new girl. Bong is even out of the picture. Howard just happens into an entirely new situation with a new supporting cast.

The problem isn’t the fluidity, it’s how little Howard cares about it all. He’s not worried about Bev being married to a Doctor Doom knock-off, he’s curious why said knock-off isn’t more enthusiastic about her. Gerber doesn’t acknowledge Howard isn’t enthusiastic enough about her. It’s weird.

The comic is nearing its two year mark and Gerber himself only seems enthusiastic about one thing–treading water as far as Howard’s character development goes. It’s stopped. But so has the plot development.

It’s too bad because Colan and Janson knock the art out of the park on this one.

CREDITS

Scrubba-dub Death!; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Janice Cohen; letterer, John Costanza; publisher, Marvel Comics.

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