Marshal Law (comics)

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Marshal Law
Publication information
Publisher Epic Comics
Dark Horse Comics
Format Monthly
Genre
Publication date 1987 - present
Creative team
Writer(s) Pat Mills
Artist(s) Kevin O'Neill
Creator(s) Pat Mills
Kevin O'Neill
Collected editions
Fear and Loathing ISBN 0-87135-676-7
Blood Sweat and Tears ISBN 1-878574-95-7
Fear Asylum ISBN 1-84023-699-X

Marshal Law is an English-language superhero comic book series created by Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill.[1]

Marshal Law was first published by Epic Comics in 1987. The series is a satire on the superhero genre as well as a deconstruction of Golden and Silver Age superheroes.

The series is characterized by its extreme graphic violence and nudity, and Mills' skewering of superhero conventions and US government policy and society.

Publication history[edit]

Epic Comics launched Marshal Law in October 1987 as a six-issue limited series. It was followed by the Marshal Law Takes Manhattan one-shot, in which most of Marvel Comics' major characters were parodied.

In 1991, Mills and O'Neill took the character to the fledgling Apocalypse Comics for another one-shot. The character then starred in the lead feature of Toxic!, a weekly comic started in 1991.Toxic! proved to be short-lived and Apocalypse Comics went bankrupt in 1992.[citation needed] Mills and O'Neill then took Marshal Law to Dark Horse Comics, where the story in Toxic! was completed in late 1992. That year also saw the character return to Epic Comics for a two-issue series pitting the Marshal against Clive Barker's Pinhead character.

The next few years saw Marshal Law appear in various Intercompany crossovers with other characters, including the Savage Dragon and the Mask. In 2000, Mills and O'Neill took the character to the Cool Beans World website. The stories here were illustrated novellas, rather than actual comic strips, titled The Day Of The Dead (which was published in a paperback edition) and Cloak Of Evil. The website closed in 2002.

Plot[edit]

Cover of issue 4 of the original Epic Comic series.

The title character, Marshal Law, is the government-sanctioned "super hero hunter" (aka law enforcement officer, or “cape killer”) with superpowers in the city of San Futuro, the near-future metropolis built from the ruins of San Francisco following a massive earthquake. Law's job is to take down other superheroes who have gone rogue, which he does with maximum force and great pleasure. Aided by the wheelchair-using “Danny” and his physically imposing (but extremely polite) partner “Kiloton”, the Marshal operates from a secret police precinct hidden below the city, dispensing just enough brutal justice to keep the city’s many super-powered gangs in a balanced détente while safeguarding the ordinary citizenry.

Marshal Law's secret identity is Joe Gilmore, a former supersoldier consumed with self-hatred about being a superhero. In this world, superheroes are commonplace thanks to genetic engineering, much of the United States' armed forces having undergone the process. However, while their bodies may become super-powered, their minds remain exactly as they were, and in many cases the inability to feel pain causes the subjects to compensate by inflicting pain on others. Psychosis of varying degrees is also a common side-effect, and some subjects develop wildly uncontrollable superpowers.

The plot of the original six-issue series revolved around the Marshal’s attempts to unmask the Sleepman,[1] a serial killer[1] and rapist who preys on women dressed as Celeste, the current girlfriend of the beloved superhero, Public Spirit.[1] Marshal Law’s loathing of the Public Spirit as standing for everything that is fraudulent and hypocritical about superheroes leads him to suspect the Spirit himself of being responsible for the Sleepman’s crimes; without any proof, though, the guilty party goes unpunished until a surprising revelation from a former superheroine reveals that the Marshal’s suspicions may not be too far from the truth.

While in the first series, the Marshal's primary nemeses are the Public Spirit and the Sleepman; he later faces off against Private Eye and The Persecutor. A recurring secondary adversary (initially treated seriously, though later becoming comic relief) is Suicida, a psychopathic ex-soldier who leads the murderous Gangreen street gang.

The plot of "Secret Tribunal" revolved around an orbiting incubation center that created and mentally programmed superheroes. It was under attack by a monster called The Incubus, which was defeated by Growing Boy.

Cast[edit]

  • Marshal Law (Joe Gilmore) A violent and uncharismatic lawman, dealing with the twisted superheroes of San Futuro while searching for an actual hero. His public unpleasantness contrasts with a strong internal moral compass.
  • Public Spirit (Colonel Buck Caine) The world's most powerful and popular hero who was a product of US genetic engineering and copious steroid usage. Marshal Law regards him as corrupt and untrustworthy. Following the death of his fiancee and fellow superheroine, Virago, before he was sent on a space mission, he becomes a suspect behind the murders of strippers dressed like his new love, superheroine Celeste. Eventually it is revealed that he tried to kill Virago himself, as she was pregnant, which would keep him from being able to participate in the space mission. She survived and took the identity of Mrs Mallon. The Sleepman is actually his son, Danny, whom Virago encouraged to kill in a revenge plot against his father. At what was supposed to be his wedding to Celeste, the truth about Virago is revealed and he is humiliated. He tries to secretly flee the country, but is discovered at an airport, killing innocent people in his attempt to escape. Public Spirit is eventually killed by McGland after being defeated in a protracted fight with Marshal Law, during which Caine finally admits that he hates his life as a superhero, as it foisted responsibilities onto him that he believed he could never live up to, and that his desperation to go into space was caused by his desire to escape the prying eyes of the American public, only to come back and discover that he had been more or less forgotten by the fickle public, reducing the once-mighty hero to nothing but a minor celebrity. McGland decides to make it appear that Public Spirit died defending the airport from a terrorist attack, and to hush up his connection to The Sleepman, against Marshal Law's wishes, though it is shown later that most of the world's superheroes know the truth, and all but his most ardent followers couldn't care less.
  • The Sleepman A serial killer wearing a metallic costume, black cape, and a brown paper bag over his head under which is a second mask. He rapes and murders women who dress like Celeste. As he is a superhero who can fly, Marshal Law suspects him to be Public Spirit, as flying superheroes are rare. He has a deep-seated loathing of himself and all superheroes, and longs to be stopped by Marshal Law, leading him to rape and kill Lynn to motivate his idol. It is eventually revealed that he is the Public Spirit's son with his believed dead former fiancee, Virago, and Marshal Law's supposedly crippled friend, Danny, who had inherited both of his parents' powers and thus is the most powerful superhuman in existence. Virago survived Public Spirit's attempt to kill her (he did so because her pregnancy would preclude him from going on a space mission) and raised Danny in secret. While only a few years would pass to Public Spirit and the crew, more than two decades would pass on Earth, hence Danny is roughly the same age as his father. His mother encourages him to kill strippers who look like Public Spirit's current fiancee, Celeste. At the end of the first six issue arc, The Sleepman is believed to be killed by Marshall Law after being shot and falling into the sea, but in actuality was taken by Dr. Mendel to be studied and reeducated, as he has severe brain damage due to his being submerged for twelve hours.
  • Lynn Evans Marshal Law's girlfriend, a college journalist and female rights activist. They met when the great earthquake destroyed the wall separating their apartments. She does not know he is a superhero. She is killed by The Sleepman, her death affects Marshal Law greatly. She, along with multiple dead heroes, is eventually revived as a zombie, but the process transformed her into a twisted strawman-like parody of her former self, turning her into a violently misandrist supervillain before she is put down by Marshal Law, who had decided his love for her wasn't enough to disregard the fact that she was wearing a costume like a hero or villain.
  • Mrs. Mallon A shopkeeper who resents superheroes but seems to enjoy the company of Marshal Law due to his work as a hunter of heroes. Her only known relative is her son Danny. It is eventually revealed that she is Virago, the first fiancee of Public Spirit whom supposedly died more than twenty years before the main events of the series. She was supposed to have drowned while the two were flying in a storm. Her pregnancy would have stopped Public Spirit from going to space (even though he would have aged only a few years, due to nature of the space travel, more than two decades would have passed on Earth so anyone with a family was ineligible). She raised Danny with a hatred of superheroes and encouraged him to kill women dressed like Celeste, the current lover of Public Spirit, in a plot to humiliate his father. She is killed by Public Spirit after the two began arguing about Danny and her revenge plot.
  • Kiloton The large partner of Marshal Law who watches their base below San Futuro. He is killed and mutilated by Private Eye. Upon avenging his death, Marshal Law salutes him and calls him the only hero he had ever met.
  • Razorhead A mercenary with the ability to grow blades out of his body. Razorhead was initially hired by the former sidekick of the Black Scarab to kill Marshal Law, but eventually sided with Law against the zombified Black Scarab and became Marshal Law's new partner.
  • Celeste The second fiancee of the Public Spirit and a member of a cult of heroines with sexual powers, often used as spies and assassins. She is killed (and presumably raped) by Sleepman on her wedding day.
  • Gangreen A gang of costumed psychopaths who battle other super teams for the control of the dystopian San Futuro. They dress in matching green costumes and utilize explosive weaponry.
  • Growing Boy A naive young hero who appears in Secret Tribunal, whose size-increase power sometimes malfunctions.
  • The Private Eye Appears in Kingdom of the Blind. The Private Eye is really Scott Brennan, billionaire and best friends with Public Spirit. Brennan got his inheritance after gunning down his abusive parents in an alley with the help of his butler and now battles the unwashed masses, whom he hates. He styles himself as being a moral doctor, using his father's own twisted experimental techniques to "cure" the city of petty crime. He also finances his ventures and keeps himself fighting by stealing the organs of his young orphan sidekicks, selling the parts he doesn't need to other heroes. He manages to kill Kiloton before being killed by Marshal Law, who knocks him into an industrial meat grinder.
  • The Persecutor (Don Matrione) is a vigilante and an old acquaintance of Marshal Law from his time in the military. The Persecutor was a torture technician who was employed by the CIA to prop up several South American dictatorships who were friendly to America. His family was later assassinated by vengeful revolutionaries, who had tracked him back to America. In his grief, Matrione was driven insane and after hearing a speech by the Public Spirit, came to believe all of his problems were the result of foreigners and members of the counter-culture, refusing to believe himself to be at fault for anything and thus developing a "persecution complex". He then became the Persecutor, a jingoistic neo-nazi vigilante who kills minorities and left-wing Americans who he blames for all the country's ills regardless of whether or not they are committing a crime. He was hounded by Marshal Law in "Marshal Law takes Manhattan" for killing innocent Hispanic protesters and checks himself into a maximum security superhero asylum to try and escape him. Law eventually finds him and, after a drawn-out fight in the burning asylum, is defeated and handcuffed. The Persecutor again attempts to deny any wrongdoing and pleads to be let go, so Marshal Law shoves him out of his vehicle into a district full of homeless cannibals, where he is promptly skinned alive and roasted.
  • The Jesus Society of America is the first team of superheroes ever assembled during World War II and is idolized as the pinnacle of patriotic heroism in America. In actuality, the JSA was completely incompetent, with their bright costumes and lack of combat training making them easy targets on the battlefield and thus prolonging the war by six months. Following the war's end, multiple scandals caused the remaining members of the group to be screened by the Committee for Unheroic Activities, leading several to commit suicide after their more unsavory personal lives were dredged up and many more to be sent to prison for crimes ranging from drug use to bestiality. The final remnants of the team then tried to take on the mafia to regain the love of the public, only to be wiped out entirely. Ashamed, the government had the corpses embalmed and placed in a museum filled with falsified tales of their heroics for propaganda purposes, allowing time to erase the team's failures. They were eventually revived by Black Scarab as zombies, and proceeded to torture and murder the German and Asian-American tourists visiting the museum, believing themselves to be in an alternate universe where the Axis won the war. They then fight Marshal Law, who wipes them out with his superior technology and a tank on display at the museum, all while berating them for their hypocrisy and self-absorption. The few remaining members revive the normal soldiers buried on the grounds of the museum to try and get back-up, only to be ripped apart by them, as the vengeful soldiers had died because of the heroes' cowardice. The only members of the team to survive were the original Public Spirit and his sidekick/lover Private Dick, as they cryogenically froze themselves to be together forever.

Publications[edit]

Comics[edit]

Original comic appearances:

  • Marshal Law #1-6. Epic Comics 1987-88.
  • Marshal Law Takes Manhattan. One-shot, Epic Comics 1989.
  • Marshal Law - Kingdom of the Blind. Apocalypse Comics one-shot, 1990.
  • Toxic! #1-8, 14/15, Apocalypse Comics 1991.
  • Marshal Law - The Hateful Dead. One-Shot, Apocalypse Comics 1991. (Reprints Toxic! #1-8)
  • San Diego Comic Con Comics #1, Dark Horse 1992. (cameo)
  • Marshal Law - Super Babylon. One-Shot, Dark Horse 1992.
  • Marshal Law Vs Pinhead-Law in Hell. Two issue series, Epic Comics 1993.
  • Marshal Law - Secret Tribunal . Two issue series, Dark Horse 1994.
  • Marshal Law/Savage Dragon. Two issue series, Image Comics 1997.
  • Marshal Law/The Mask. Two issue series, Dark Horse 1998.
  • 2000AD #1280. Rebellion 2002. (1-page official cameo.)

Novellas[edit]

A couple of illustrated novellas have been released on the defunct Cool Beans World website, and one them have been published in book form:

Collected editions[edit]

The comics have been collected into a number of trade paperbacks:

  • Marshal Law - Fear and Loathing (collects Marshal Law #1-6, Epic Comics, 1990 ISBN 0-87135-676-7; Titan Books, 2002 ISBN 1-84023-452-0)
  • Marshal Law - Blood Sweat and Fears (collects Kingdom of the Blind, Hateful Dead, and Super Babylon. (Dark Horse, 1993 ISBN 1-878574-95-7; Titan Books, 2003 ISBN 1-84023-526-8)
  • Marshal Law - Fear Asylum (collects Takes Manhattan, Secret Tribunal, and vs The Mask (Titan Books, 2003 ISBN 1-84023-699-X)
  • Marshal Law - Origins (Titan Books, 2008 ISBN 1-84576-943-0, collects the previous novellas The Day of the Dead and the previously unreleased Cloak of Evil)
  • Marshal Law: The Deluxe Edition (DC Comics, 2013 ISBN 978-1401238551, collects Marshal Law #1-6, Takes Manhattan, Kingdom of the Blind, Hateful Dead, Super Babylon, Secret Tribunal)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]