Hero Killer

Marshal Law: The Deluxe Edition: written by Pat Mills; illustrated by Kevin O’Neill (1987-94; 2013): Misunderstood and mismarketed by Marvel’s Epic Comics line when it first came out in 1989 as a Judge Dredd clone, Marshal Law became perhaps the most scabrous, irreverent superhero comic book of that self-serious, ultra-violent era of superhero comic books. Marshal Law hunts rogue super-heroes, beings created to be America’s super-soldiers. And he was one of them. Now he hunts rogue super-heroes for the former San Francisco police (now, after a devastating earthquake, renamed San Futuro) in the middle of the 21st century.

There’s a nod to serious drama in the first six-issue miniseries, as Marshal Law’s civilian identity suffers a grievous personal loss, and the dynamics of his horrible future America with its horrible super-heroes is laid out. Later installments would abandon drama in favour of all-out satire, and this actually made the series much more satisfying as Mills and O’Neill cut loose in prose and pictures. Targets of Law’s violent justice included thinly disguised versions of Superman, Batman, The Avengers, The Punisher, The Justice Society of America, Captain America,The Legion of Super-heroes, and the X-Men.

O’Neill would gain more fame as the illustrator of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen; here, he’s as anarchic as many of Mad magazine’s most anarchic early artists such as Wally Wood or Bill Elder, but with way more graphic sex, nudity, violence, and bodily fluids. He’s probably the most grotesque of (sort-of) mainstream superhero artists.

Mills is equally high-energy and bleakly satiric. Mills and O’Neill use the heroes as double-layered parodies throughout of both the history of American superhero comics and of the dark side of American history. It’s a brilliant, disturbing romp.

Kudos to DC for re-publishing this series, which will delight people dubious about super-heroes and people who are just a bit tired of their dominance of the mainstream comics marketplace. With superheroes now a dominant force at the box office as well, Marshal Law‘s vision seems more appropriate than ever. Hopefully, the rights issues to the four Marshal Law team-up books of the 1990’s (with The Mask, Pinhead, Savage Dragon, and Judge Dredd) can be worked out simultaneously so that there can be another volume. Or new stories. I’d imagine Marshal Law has only become more violent and jaded over the years. Highly recommended.

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