Marshal Law: Fear Asylum

By Pat Mills & Kevin O’Neill with Mark A. Nelson (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84023-699-6

In 1987 Marvel’s creator-owned imprint, Epic Comics, published a six-issue miniseries starring a hero superficially very much in the vein of Judge Dredd, but one who took the hallowed American creation of the superhero genre and gave it a thorough duffing-up, Brit-boy style, in the tale of a costumed cop who did the Right Thing and did it His Way…

San Futuro is a Metropolitan urban dystopia built on the Post- Big Quake remnants of San Francisco. America is recovering from another stupid, exploitative war in somebody else’s country, and as usual the discharged and brain-fried veterans are clogging the streets and menacing decent society. Unfortunately this war was fought with artificially manufactured superheroes: now they’re home and a very dangerous embarrassment.

Marshal Law was one of them, but now he’s a cop; angry and disillusioned. His job is to put away masks and capes. This establishing series was collected as Marshal Law: Fear and Loathing.

Being a creator-owned property, old zipper-face went with Mills and O’Neill to the British independent outfit Apocalypse, publishers of the talent-heavy 2000AD rival Toxic, which ran from March to October 1991. But before that a final Epic one-shot ‘Marshal Law takes Manhattanwas released in 1989, and forms the first part of this final collection.

With some art assistance from Mark A. Nelson and Mark Chiarello, the Hero-Hunter was dispatched to New York to extradite a war criminal (and Law’s old army trainer) The Persecutor. Unfortunately (for them) the perp has hidden himself amongst the inmates of “The Institute” – a colossal Manhattan skyscraper housing all the Big Apple’s native superheroes; each and every one a brilliant, barmy, bile-filled parody of Marvel’s Mightiest.

Naturally carnage and mayhem are the result, but not before author Mills slips a few well-aimed pops at US covert practices and policies in South America under the door.

Less contentious – unless you’re a fan of the movie “Alien” or the Legion of Super Heroes – is ‘Secret Tribunal’ wherein the Marshal is sent to an orbiting Space Station where the government grows its manufactured superbeings just as a nasty incursion of fast-breeding carnivorous space-beasts starts ripping the immature supermen and wonder women to gory gobbets…

The book closes with the decidedly odd pairing of ‘The Mask/Marshal Law’ which finds the militant cape-crusher on the verge of resigning just as the magical mask that made mucho moolah for Dark Horse and a star out of Jim Carrey resurfaces in San Futuro… Cue chaos, carnage and lots of deadly silliness…

Although still fiercely polemical and strident, this is probably the least effective of the Marshal Law books. The feeling that Mills has said all he wanted or needed to say is ominously prevalent and although O’Neill’s art seemingly improves with every page – and the sketch and unseen art sections are engrossing and powerful – the overall feeling is one of tired duty rather than passionate verve.

Although still tremendously entertaining it’s clear than the Marshal hung up his barbed wire and boots just in time. Hero-Harriers Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill produced a wonderful edgy parody, but until the industry annoys them enough to come back with all Honking Great Guns blazing, fans should just content themselves with this one last hurrah.

© 2003 Pat Mills & Kevin O’Neill. Art © 1993 Kevin O’Neill. The Mask is © 2003 Dark Horse Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.