Publisher: DC Comics
Release date: 30 April 2013
Number of Pages: 480 pages
I’ve been a fan of Pat Mills for a while now, and i would like to think that I was familiar now with his witty, satire and politics laden writing. However, nothing would prepare me for the shock (or should that be Shocc?) I received when I read Marshal Law for the first time. It was like nothing I had read before; sure the deconstruction of the super hero in comics had been tackled before, the most notable example being Alan Moore’s Watchmen, but Marshal Law is a whole different beast altogether. Where Moore showed sympathy for his characters, Mills tears into them with devilish glee.
The story is set in 2020 after a war in The Zone or South America, (an allegory for Vietnam) in which super-humans were created and used. Our protagonist Marshal Law rounds up and brings the super-humans who violate the law in San Futuro (a post big quake San Francisco) to justice. It is a city that worships superheroes. The book is a critical look on the complacency and apathy of society as a whole, demonstrating the idiocy of celebrity worship, and a world in which the corrupt politicians and the rich dictate our lives. And the superheros in particular bear the brunt of Marshal Law, who has a clear disdain for them…
The artwork by Kevin O’Neill is rendered with such wit, style and all round awesomeness that only a handful in the comics industry can match. Yes it’s that good. His panels are saturated with so much richness and detail, full of witty lines whether as graffiti art on the walls or on the superheroes costumes themselves.
This beautiful hardcover deluxe edition collects all the Marshal Law series and one offs except for the crossovers. I have never read said crossovers so cannot comment on them, but this collection is more than enough to keep all Pat Mills & Kevin O’Neill fans happy. First off is an introduction by long time Marshal Law fan Jonathan Ross. It’s a nice piece where Ross shares his first encounter with the comic and its influence and importance. It is followed by a stunning two page colour spread of San Futoro by O’Neill afterwhich we begin on the stories themselves. I’ll go through in order and give my thoughts on each story.
1. Fear And Loathing: this 6 parter is the best story in the collection. It centres around Buck Caine a.k.a ‘Public Spirit’; a superhero modelled on Superman who is not as clean cut and heroic as the public would like to think. First off he’s a murdering, egotistical maniac with an addiction to drugs to maintain his good looks. The story is also a thrilling piece of mystery and intrigue as a super villain wearing a paperbag on his head goes round raping and killing women who are dressed up as a popular heroine; Celeste, who in turn is engaged to Public Spirit. Pat Mills is on top of his game here especially where all the satirical politiking and scathing commentary is concerned. It also serves as a great introduction to Marshal Law and we get to learn more about the man behind the mask (something which is missing in later stories). He operates from a secret police precinct that is located underneath the city, with his two sidekicks, Danny, who is in wheel-chair and Kiloton, the likeable walking man mountain. His civil identity is as a blue collared guy – Joe Gilmore. He’s in a romantic relationship with a woman named Lynn, who also hates superheroes but also Marshal Law too (if only she knew eh?) who she thinks is a fascist pig and probably gay on account of his fetish for leather.
As the web deepens, so the twists and turns start unfurling in this thrilling story. Every chapter ends with Marshal Law’s signature quote; “I’m a hero-hunter. I hunt heroes. Haven’t find any yet”. However the very last page of this 6 part issue ends with Marshal Law claiming “but i know where they are” and the panel is juxtaposed with images of victims of torture and rape by the so called superheroes in ‘The Zone’. It’s not hard to see who the real heroes in this world are. I thought that was a really nice touch by Mills.
2. Marshal Law Takes Manhatten: I must say that i absolutely loved this story! There were moments in it where I was howling with laughter, so much so in fact that the next day my neighbour was intrigued enough to ask what had prompted me to laugh so hilariously! This time the Marvel world is under Pat Mills’/ Marshal Law’s spotlight and boy do they get a right load from our leather clad hero! We have characters who resemble The Fantastic Four, Thor, Spiderman, Captain America, The Silver Surfer (well you get the picture!) who are locked inside a lunatic institute and we soon find out why they’re here. ‘Captain America’ is a paranoid patriot who is seen questioning everything right down to the medication he’s given by the nurse or ‘drug pusher’. And ‘Thor’ believes he is the actual Thunder God talking with a Shakespearian tongue and ‘Mr. Fantastic’ thinks himself the sanest one in the group when in fact, he is probably the most insane! It seems all of the superheroes are deluded. And what better way than Marshal Law to give them the proper treatment?
Pretty soon The Persecutor (or The Punisher) also joins them, but the group spearheaded by ‘Mr. Fantastic’ are unwilling to accept him into their fold because they do not see him as a real superhero (‘Hawkeye’ being an exception!). The Persecutor is desperate to mesh with the other inmates, it seems that he is afraid of something or someone, and rightly so – because that someone is Marshal Law! We soon learn that the two had some prior history going back to their tour in The Zone. The Persecutor it seems is a nasty piece of work, coming up with ingenious methods of torture for his victims. It’s not hard to see the message that Mills was trying to get across with this hugely satirical yet almost topical story (on U.S foreign policy, torture, etc – and even though the comic was written more than 20 years ago its message is still resonant today). Again O’Neill’s artwork is a sheer joy to behold full of style and wit. The climax to the story – with the heroes water sliding down the the building whilst monologuing – was just hilarious and plain awesome.
3. Kingdom Of The Blind: up till now, we had Marshal Law laying into Superman and the whole Marvel world, now ‘Batman’ a.k.a Public Eye is the nemesis! We open with a brilliantly illustrated look into Public Eye’s solitary billionaire existence and his motivations for crime fighting – or more rightly, surgery – on the criminal masses. Marshal Law bumps into him but cannot find it in him to shoot him. We soon learn that he admires the Public Eye, however his colleague Kiloton raises some doubt about Public Eye especially the nature of his Parents death. We also learn more about the childhood of Public Eye and how his scientist parents psychotic experiments (or torture) impacted on him as a youngster. That for me was one of the standout moment of the story (and indeed the whole collection) when we get to psycho-analyse the superheroes – which makes for some very funny findings! In this case, well lets just say poor old Benji the dog! And lets not forget a wonderful twist on Alfred or ‘Albert’, Public Eye’s faithful butler!
Overall it was a really funny, fun and thrilling read. Which is just as well because from here on forth it’s a case of diminishing returns.
4. The Hateful Dead: this story is a bit of a let down when compared to the others, but still it does have its moments. This time the super dead are rising from their graves and Marshal Law has not only to contend with the Zombie-fied hordes (many of them being superheroes he helped put in their graves), but also the slimey ‘Agent’ Everest and on top of all that, someone from his past makes an unexpected appearance. One of the funniest moments in the story was when Marshal Law visits the seedier side of town and the ‘Stress Relief Parlours’, where those suffering from ‘techno-stress’ or feelings of ‘inadequacy’ can get the chance to beat up a hero and feel like a real man! “Twenty dollars for a fist in the face. Sixty for a full work over” cries a Superman lookalike to his weasly customer. It shows the depths the superheroes have plunged to, turning to consensual debasement and prostitution to earn a living.
5. Super Babylon: this is the continuation of the preceding storyline where the walking dead superheroes continue to run rampage. But to spice things up the ‘Golden Age Heroes’ who’ve been embalmed on display in the museum also start coming to life – you’d think this would make Marshal Law’s life doubly hard, but thats only just the start because Suicida the Gangrene gang leader is also on Marshal Law’s back! One of the funniest moments in the comic is when we see the Golden Age Heroes on a McCarthy-esque hearing where all their dastardly deeds are laid bare, literally, including H2O man’s lewd encounter with a dolphin! Regardless of the fact it was probably the weakest (two-part) story nevertheless it was still entertaining.
6. Secret Tribunal: this was more enjoyable in my opinion. A riff on Ridley Scott’s Alien with superheroes thrown in the deep in for good measure! This time Marshal Law has to team up with a bunch of hardcore superheroes called ‘The Secret Tribunal’ to go on a bug hunt in space. Marshal Law does not take to the idea too kindly but he has no choice, but not before having a potshot at his new colleagues’ costumes!
The story is told from the view of a budding young superhero ‘Growing Boy’ who is aboard the Lifelab space station, hoping to be admitted into ‘The League of Heroes’ lead by Public Spirit Jr. He meets ‘Super Sensitive Girl’, a blue skinned hottie with the hots for him and our virgin protagonist starts to fall for her too. But first he has to take a ship from the Lifelab (which is shaped like a giant phallus in space by the way!) to The Cape of Good Hope; the ship which was piloted by the original Public Spirit – and spend a night in the desolate ship. Of course all does not go according to plan and soon an Alien is on the prowl for fresh meat….
This was a really fun read. It was more heavy on the action side of things with some raunchy moments thrown in for good measure. We also got to see a softer side of Marshal Law (well in his case, lets just call it leniant side!), especially where Growing Boy was concerned. But overall I really enjoyed it, and the last page was superb where we see Marshal Law riding off into the sunset or in his case, the hellhole of San Futoro. I felt it was a fitting end and since we’ve come to know the character on his thrilling journey thus far, you could say he wouldn’t want it any other way.
To end proceedings we have an afterword by Pat Mills where he explains his ‘hate’ for superheroes, and some other interesting and insightful thoughts before the book is rounded off with an excellent cover gallery.
By the time I finished reading Marshal Law I was quite saddened because i was enjoying it so much! I had been drawn into Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill’s hugely enjoyable, colourful, satirical and comedial world that I didn’t want to leave it. And that is all thanks to the strength of Mills’ writing complemented by O’Neill’s masterful artwork. I cannot praise it highly enough; it is without doubt the best comic not to mention the most beautifully presented comic collection I have had the pleasure of reading this year, and one I look forward to re-reading again soon.