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The Foot Soldiers

Originality is not a virtue that lends itself well to the superhero genre nowadays, and it's not the fault of the writers or the artists. Put simply, most of it's been done before. Every kind of superpower imaginable has been imagined, from "cosmic awareness" to "super fecal matter" (believe it or not, both Erik Larsen and Mark Millar have used the latter). Stan Lee used to comment on how hard it was to come up with superhero and villain names during his golden age of character creation at Marvel Comics, and that was decades ago. It has become increasingly difficult to mix Character A with Superpower B, shake well, and come up with a superhero that doesn't feel like a derivative second cousin to an established do-gooder. Dark Vigilante Avenger who only uses his wits and well honed combat skill to battle evil is a "Batman" and anyone that grows anything out of their hands had better be Wolverine's long lost offspring, or the character will be panned as a knock-off (I'm looking at you Ripclaw).

Essentially, this is one of the problems with the genre of superheroes: we build up these icons out of the heroes, making them representative of their powers more than their individual character. All new characters are then seen as "not as good as the original" and are summarily ignored by the cash-paying public. This shoots the creator who wants to tell his own superhero stories directly in the foot when trying to get his book read and probably keeps more than one fanperson from reading what could be interesting material.

Jim Krueger manages to write a superhero story that is refreshingly original when placed against its peers, keeping clear of any obvious ties to any one icon of superheroism.

The story takes place in an undetermined future where the Bio Technic Law (B.T.L. or Beetles) control the population through the use of their insectoid-robotic mecha. Healthy children are taken from their mothers as infants while the sickly are left to live in the ghettos of the future, surviving on rations doled out by their overseers. Reading and writing are archaic practices and one can be executed for stealing a loaf of bread.

About to be executed for theft, the boy called Story is saved by an act of mercy and led to his destiny. When Story, Johnny, and the blind beggar Rags are lead to a hidden cemetery by an old man with a glowing walking stick, they discover the Graveyard of Forgotten Heroes! And what does one do when one finds a Graveyard chalk full of super corpses? That's right, go grave robbing. Grab your shovels!

It's at this point that Krueger injects some oddly original concepts. Story picks a pair of stilt boots from his grave-o-delight and becomes The Second Story Kid. As lame as the idea sounds, and as easy as it is to make a Stilt-Man joke right now, Krueger uses Story's unique power both for the story purposes and metaphorically. Story's power takes him above his friends and lets him look down on, or "gain perspective" on what the Foot Soldiers are doing.

This leads to Story asking some of the harder, but ultimately logical questions as the plot goes on: How did the Old Man know about the graveyard? Why would heroes, known for wearing masks and using secret identities have a graveyard full of stone idols to their own greatness? Are the Foot Soldiers actually accomplishing anything?

Krueger uses Story as a narrator at the end of each chapter, providing a small page of text that outlines Story's thoughts and inquiries about what the Foot Soldiers accomplish or fail to accomplish. He's the philosopher of the group, the thinker, and Krueger keeps the reader off balance when he raises questions about the plot that you forget to ask while reading, making you re-read to make sure you covered all the salient points.

The other Foot Soldiers, Johnny Stomp and Rags, both obtain powers from the graveyard. Johnny snags a pair of ridiculously large boots from a skeleton in a jumpsuit, which enable him to well, stomp things really, really hard and Rags finds some rags (coincidence, Krueger? I think not) that heal all ailments.

In Rags, Krueger creates a Christ-like figure as the boy is willing to give up his "power" to heal those around him, even willing to lose his regained sight so that someone might be free of pain or disease. In the first volume, Michael Avon Oeming creates a visual nod to Krueger's characterization when showing Rags propped up against a manhole cover, alluding to a halo around his head. Rags is a moral compass for the rest of the Foot Soldiers to follow, and Krueger often uses this to show that Story and even the overconfident Johnny both strive to be as "good" as Rags, to become heroes in more than one way.

And that may be Krueger's point in writing The Foot Soldiers: to show the many ways people can be heroes. Let's admit it; the Foot Soldiers' powers are somewhat lame and even ineffective at times. Their powers do not define them so much as complement their personalities. Story is the objective questioner so his power gives him an objective view of the world he inhabits. Johnny's stomp boots are an extension of his anger and his inability to look before he leaps…onto the Beetle Mech he's crushing. And Rags' passive ability to heal can only be used to help people, which is what he does anyway. Krueger made the characters before he made the powers, the powers only being there to fill a plot related need.

The first volume sets up the story for The Foot Soldiers, while the second introduces the real threat behind the scenes of Krueger's plot, which ties right back to the first few pages of the first volume. Gotta love cyclic plot points. The first volume is illustrated by Mike (Powers, Hammer of the Gods) Oeming, with the second done by Phil (Green Arrow, The Wretch) Hester.

I'm more fond of Oeming's take on the characters than Hester's, but that doesn't mean they're not both spectacular. Foot Soldiers was originally published by Dark Horse Comics back in 1996, and was before Oeming managed to perfect his art style into the one he currently employs on Powers, drawing such things as superheroics and monkey coitus.

What's interesting is that unlike some early work of artists with a recognizable artistic flare; Oeming's art doesn't look sketchy or unpolished. It's more of a combination of his usual simplistic cartoon style with a more realistic tone. There's greater detail in his character work and backgrounds and better attention paid to facial expression and emotion than in Hester's work. But Hester handles the action sequences very well, as anyone who reads Green Arrow can attest to. Hester draws some beautiful splash pages in the second volume, as well as illustrating Krueger's poem in the back called, "The Greatest Hero Who Ever Died."

Each volume collects four issues of each series, as well as several back-up stories illustrated by other artists. There are also some blurbs from other comic book writers and artists, espousing their love of The Foot Soldiers and its popularity (apparently, it was mightily popular back in 1996); everyone from Alan Moore to the late Mark Gruenwald had nice things to say. In the back of volume one, Krueger outlines the creation process that led to the book, as well as his many influences from the comic book, cinema, and book worlds. Volume two boasts script excerpts from the third volume (which I haven't been able to get my hands on yet, which features art by Invisibles alum Steve Yeowell), as well as the illustrated poem mentioned above.

I wish I'd been able to review all three volumes at once, because Krueger seems to have written a very intricate story that deserves full consideration. Luckily, these two volumes are just as stronger on their own as together, and I'm thankful AiT/PlanetLAR decided to collect the disparate issues of this series in three tight volumes. They're well worth the cash at only $14.95 a piece, and a welcome addition to anyone's bookshelf. Go and buy, because the Great Month of Capitalism has descended upon us, and no one shall escape its wrath.

The Foot Soldiers vol. 1

Foot Soldiers, Vol. 3: The Spokesman

Robert Sparling

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