Comic Book / Marshal Law

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I'm a Hero Hunter. I hunt heroes. Haven't found any yet

If Watchmen did in any way kill off the superhero - which is a dubious proposition - then Marshal Law has taken it further with this wonderful act of necrophilia, where it has degraded the corpse in a really amusing way. I think that's great... Pat and Kevin do it so well, with such style and with such obvious malice; that's the fun thing about Marshal Law. They're not just kidding, they really hate superheroes.
Alan Moore, The Comics Journal #138

Set Twenty Minutes into the Future, Marshal Law is the story of Joe Gilmore, a.k.a. Marshal Law. A violent anti-hero super-hero cop, Marshal Law's job is to kill super-heroes and other super-powered criminals, most of which got their powers from the US Government.

A biting satire of super-hero comics, the series was published by Marvel Comics Epic line before being moved onto a variety of other publishers. The series was famous for its satirical look at super-heroes and the public's love of them, while exploring the seedy underbelly of what it means to have absolute power. It also offered a rather scathing attack on American foreign policy under Reagan in the 1980s, as Reagan's war against communism in the Central America serves as the backdrop of Marshal Law's origin.

The series was created by Pat Mills and drawn by Kevin O'Neill. The series itself was a minor hit but has only recently had the rights sorted out; DC Comics printed a hardcover collection of the core books in 2013 (although unfortunately some important bits of character development took place in crossovers with other characters that aren't collected in the edition). However, its impact can be felt on both The Boys and the "Team Achilles" incarnation of Stormwatch.

Also, whatever you do, do not confuse this character with the resident Bruce Lee Clone of Tekken Marshall Law. Or mistake this series for the late-nineties TV series Martial Law. Or, of course, the governing tactic of the same name.


Marshal Law provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Private Eye's parents. They outright state they only had him in order to have a subject for their experiments.
  • Abnormal Ammo: Law tends to avoid using regular bullets on his Super Hero enemies. Instead he opts for electrified nets and harpoon tasers in his Meat Cannon. He's also used incendiary and fragmentation rounds on his gun.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: The Public Spirit before his death in "Fear and Loathing"
    The Public Spirit: It's impossible! No one can be a super man! No one. But I tried my best.
  • Anti-Hero: Marshal Law himself. He's a major Type III.
  • Awesome McCool Name: Marshal Law.
  • Berserk Button: Even the mention of the word "superhero" sends Marshal Law into Unstoppable Rage.
    Marshal Law: Thanks, Pierce! You just said the magic word! "Super hero!" That's my Shazam! My spinach!
  • Beware the Superman: More like beware The Hero and anyone who wants to be one.
  • BFG: Even from his debut in the '80s, he carried guns that'd give '90s antiheroes penis envy.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: Averted with the Public Spirit. He's a flyer-type superhero and flyers have an ahem..."altered biology" that makes it dangerous to have sex with normal humans. That's one of the reasons why "siren" type supers such as Celeste were created.
  • The Big Guy: Kiloton and later Razorhead.
  • The Blank: As a teenager, Private Eye was forced to wear a hood over his face for over a year that left him blind, all as part of a sick experiment his father conducted to see how his son would cope if he was blind.
    • One of Private Eye's replacement sidekicks is also like this, wearing a featureless mask whenever we see him on panel (adding to the creepiness when Marshal Law finds him dissected).
  • Black and Grey Morality: About the only decent characters are supporting characters and side kicks. The rest are corrupt, venal authoritarians and fake heroes, while Law is hardly more admirable than any of the people he hunts down, and indeed he continues to serve a corrupt and authoritarian government and essentially hunts heroes because he's a sadist.
  • Body Horror: At virtually every opportunity.
  • Bondage Is Bad: A recurring visual motif is the overuse of leather and BDSM-style costumes.
  • Brown Bag Mask: Sleepman wears one with a single eyehole cut out.
  • Came Back Wrong: Marshal Law wants to bring Lynn back from the dead, she returns as a zombie entirely different from how she was in life, and she mocks Marshal's obsession with the dead, pointing out that he was just projecting himself on Lynn.
  • Captain Ersatz:
    • The most significant are Public Spirit (Superman), Private Eye (Batman) and The Persecutor (The Punisher) who all appear in a twisted fashion, emphasizing the sadistic or tragic aspects of the characters and anti-authoritarian political readings.
    • Besides The Persecutor, Marshal Law Takes Manhattan features parody versions of several other Marvel superheroes, including Mr. Fantastic, Thor, Spider-Man, Captain America, Namor, Doctor Strange, Silver Surfer, The Human Torch, Ant-Man, and Daredevil.
    • Later we are introduced to the Golden Age Jesus Society of America (JSA), the predecessor to the Jesus League of America, featuring Public Spirit (here being more like Captain America), Private Dick (Bucky/Robin), Miss Victory (Wonder Woman), Tomcat (Wildcat), the Blue Battery (Green Lantern), the Lightning Streaker (The Flash), Hyperman (Hourman), G-Man (Starman), and a bunch of other nameless ones. And where the more modern heroes are Darker and Edgier, these guys are incompetent, condescending, and anything but heroic.
    • Similarly, Secret Tribunal are the X-Men. and the "League of Heroes" group of heroes-in-training in the same story are the Legion of Super-Heroes.
    • Less parodically and more as a straight Captain Ersatz, Dr. Shocc is blatantly based on the title character of Dr. Strangelove.
    • In "Secret Tribunal", O'Neill carefully avoids treading on H. R. Giger's toes too hard, but the story is still pretty blatantly "Marshal Law Vs. Aliens". According to some reports, it was originally written as an official cross-over, but negotiations with the rights-holders fell through.
  • Character Filibuster: The excerpt from Lynn's thesis on the evil of her universe's "heroes", which is also a metafictional denunciation of the superhero genre, laid in as text boxes over the climactic fight between Law and the Public Spirit at the end of the original "Fear and Loathing" story.
  • Chekhov's Gun: When Law's background as a Screaming Eagle SHOCC trooper is introduced, his unit wipe out South American guerillas by ambushing them with the use of Chamo Cloaks. In a later series, he gets the drop on the Private Eye by using his cloak
  • Crapsack World: San Futuro, though the rest of the world doesn't seem any better.
  • Crossover: Marshal Law has had a couple of these, mainly with Savage Dragon. He has also met The Mask and the main Cenobite Pinhead from Hellraiser.
  • Damaged Soul: Lynn as a zombie in "The Hateful Dead"/"Super Babylon".
  • Dead Guy on Display: The tunnels leading to Law's base, in a disused BART station, are decorated with the mummified corpses of superpeople who Law presumably killed.
  • Dead Sidekick: Marshal Law hasn't had the best luck with sidekicks, what with Danny turning out to be a psychotic serial killer and murdering Law's girlfriend, and Kiloton getting murdered by the Private Eye. Indeed when Growing Boy offers to be Marshal Law's sidekick, he tells the kid, "Don't push it".
  • Death Is Cheap: The endless resurrections of superheroes is brtually parodied in The Hateful Dead/Super Babylon where they all become zombies searching for human meat. Marshal Law gets tempted when they resurrect Lynn only to find out that she becomes a zombie too.
  • Deadly Doctor: The Private Eye uses surgical skills to torture and mutilate small-time criminals and homeless people.
  • Deconstruction: More like outright demolition.
    • Golden/Silver Age heroes: Homophobic, sexist, glory-seeking assholes, who don't deserve any of the fame they get, and their example only leads those who look up to them to ruin their lives. However, they're also tortured over the fact that they must always be perfect, an image which is impossible to keep up for any human.
    • One entire issue, set in a museum celebrating the "deeds" of the superheroes of the Golden Age, note that they almost always attacked safe targets, were killed off rather easily when attempting to actually fight in the war (causing the war to run longer by an estimated six months), and aren't a tenth as heroic as cops or soldiers who risked their far more vulnerable bodies to serve something bigger than themselves.
    • The Kingdom of the Blind likewise attacks the Batman mythos, mocking the billionaire's angst when Deceased Parents Are the Best, exposing his questionable sexual identity and tendency to violence, and stressing the class-war elements of a multi-millionaire going out at night to beat up poor people.
    • Dark age heroes: Violent, brutal, and psychotic murderers who aren't that different from the villains they fight. Also, their violent ways even serve to inspire more villains. However, they're acknowledged as psychologically scarred humans who can even portray themselves, and their victims, as sympathetic. It's even pointed out that Marhsal Law's barbed wire can be seen as a symbol of penance for his actions.
    • Teenage groups like Legion of Superheroes and X-Men are basically an elite club of cool kids who lord over and shame insecure kids into becoming sidekicks and lackeys who fall into peer pressure over body image and looks. These kids in turn spend all their time thinking about acceptance and expect the hot girl leader's attentions as a reward. Marshall Law's friendship and kindess with Growing Boy ends when the latter finally "gets accepted" from the group, and refuses to see it for the sham it is.
  • Deliberately Painful Clothing: Marshal Law has barbed wire wrapped around his arm as a symbol of his self-loathing, although his Super Soldier augmentation makes it impossible for it to actually hurt.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The members of the Jesus Society of America can hardly see an Asian person or hear a German word without coming to the conclusion that they've become stranded in a parallel universe where the Axis won World War II. Marshal Law sets the record straight that these guys were legitimately not real heroes by any stretch of the imagination.
  • Detective Mole: Danny is actually the Sleepman
  • Dirty Cop: Commissioner Mcgland. While Mcgland isn't on the take from the mob, he does act as an enforcer for the corrupt Federal gov't, has been known to stiff Marshal Law on payments and regularly screws his revolving door of secretaries.
  • During the War
  • Expy: Marshal Law, in terms of both the character's personality and the wider nature of the comic, has some similarities to Judge Dredd, which Mills played an important role in creating. Indeed, the comic was originally intended as a Dredd rip-off before Mills decided to make into an aggressive satire on superheroes.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: While all SHOCC troopers are a type of SuperSoldier, the elite Screaming Eagles that Marshall Law and Commissioner Mcgland were a part of get the vast majority of the focus whenever mention of the Zone comes up.
  • Feel No Pain: Almost all the supersoldiers have this and it's explicitly stated as one of the reasons why they fight so much - they have little sensation of any kind in their bodies and getting horribly injured is the only way they get to feel something.
  • Friendly Enemy: Marshal Law and Suicida, in an incredibly twisted way. Due to being Not So Different and both being Too Kinky to Torture.
  • Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke
  • Gorn: Kevin O'Neill lets his hair down and really tunes up the meat grinder.
  • Genius Bruiser: Marshal Law has a sound understanding of the pathologies and bizarre physiologies of his quarry and he has the detective skills to dig up dirt on many of them. He also understands the college texts of his ex-girlfriend Lynn and can come up with some effective battle tactics on the fly.
  • Groin Attack: On several occasions. Parodied when the Private Eye electroshocks Law in the crotch.
    Marshal Law: They always go for them. Every time. Which is why I wear Rubber Johnny's "Box Clever" insulated under-trunks.
  • Growing Muscles Sequence: As some superheroes "pump ions" to gain bulk
  • Hand Cannon: Law's Meat Cannon was originally a three-barrelled automatic pistol that's the size of his forearm. Later series has it grow even bigger and get even more barrels.
  • Heroic Second Wind: Parodied when Black Scarab has sex with zombie!Lynn in front of Marshal Law, and she calls him by the ridiculous sexual endearment that she once reserved for Joe.
  • Hollywood California: Subverted, mainly because after Twenty Minutes into the Future, San Francisco has been hit by a huge earthquake which largely destroyed the city, leaving miles of it still in ruins years afterward.
  • Hypocrite: Law himself. He thinks that heroes with actual powers are phonies because they're never in any real danger. But he was subjected to the same Super Serum treatment that produced all supers, Law came out of the procedure with moderately superhuman strength, speed and durability as well as a low level Healing Factor and a vastly increased pain threshold. Due to his opinion on supers he's not big on bragging about it... but it is mentioned in his narration.
  • I Can Live With That
  • I Let Gwen Stacy Die: Deconstructed with the Sleepman's murder of Lynn, as Marshal Law himself bears a considerable moral responsibility for it. Also parodied is Marshal's guilt and obsession for it. In "The Hateful Dead", when Lynn comes back as a zombie, gives Law a "The Reason You Suck" Speech, and gets rekilled by him. Played much straighter with Growing Boy and Super-Sensitive Girl in "Secret Tribunal".
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: In "Kingdom of the Blind", when Suicida fights Law.
    Suicida: I've always wanted to wear the costume of a fascist pig! A barbed wire bondage freak! A leather-clad tinkerbelle! A posing asshole soopah hero!
    Marshal Law: Call me a fascist pig. Call me a barbed wire bondage freak. Call me a leather-clad tinkerbelle. Call me a posing asshole. Just don't call me a... a... that word.
  • It's Personal: After the Public Spirit, the guy Marshall Law hates the most is the Persecutor. Back in his Screaming Eagles days, Joe Gilmore was the only member to object by the Persecutor's use of torture for interrogation. So the Persecutor had Joe tortured to make an example of him. As such Marshall Law was just itching for a reunion with his old mentor.
  • I Want Them Alive: Marshal Law actually wanted to bring the Public Spirit to trial and he refrained from using lethal force. However Commissioner Mcgland could not allow the Public Spirit's downfall to be made public and so he has him assassinated. As he states, in death, the Public Spirit would become a martyr, joking that heroes are especially useful when they are dead.
  • Knight Templar: Marshal Law himself, and as the quote above shows, he's perfectly fine with being thought of as one.
  • Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: As stated in one story, when you first look at him he appears to be a brutal thug. But when you look under his tough exterior, you see that he's really... a brutal thug.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: He's got his moments especially when he's not in uniform or he's dealing with harmless but broken supers like the Beast Boy-Expy in the Secret Tribunal who he sees as the same naive idealist he once was as a young man. His advice to the kid who ends up being accepted into the snooty group is to enjoy his youth and fantasy of acceptance because one day the real world will come, and "It's painful!". Also a major moment in showing that Marshal Law means well, happened in the first series. He accepts a cheque for 1 million dollars from the Public Spirit and then thanked his foe in front of the media. Law hated every minute of it, but the money meant that a homeless shelter could expand and improve its services.
  • Judge, Jury, and Executioner: In the purview of people with superpowers, Marshal Law has unlimited jurisdiction and is licensed to kill in any situation he feels necessary. And he feels it's necessary a lot.
  • Legacy Character: The Public Spirit has Golden Age, modern, and outer space incarnations that have all run afoul of Marshal Law.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: Marshal Law initially has some positive feelings towards the Private Eye, given that he's a brutal, sadistic, vigilante and that the only thing that makes him any worse than Law is that the Eye's targets aren't usually as able to fight back. Then Kiloton finds out that the Eye is using his sidekicks as organ donors, the Eye kills him, and Law decides that Even Evil Has Standards. note 
  • Manipulative Bastard: Mrs. Mallon aka Virago. She tries to manipulate both Danny and Law into killing the Public Spirit and Celeste for her, and inadvertantly helps to turn Danny into a serial killer.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Doctor Shocc, a Nazi Scientist largely responsible for the superpowers in the book.
  • Motive Decay: Zombie!Lynn notes that originally Marshal Law was an anti-authoritarian who hated superheroes but now he hunts superheroes while serving a corrupt establishment and out of sadistic love for violence, and he uses Lynn's death as an excuse to justify his blood lust and guilt.
  • Murder by Inaction: At the climax of the "Kingdom of the Blind" storyarc, Law is very much capable of helping the Private Eye up rather than let him fall to his death. Watching from across the room, Law jokingly blows his nose and insists he "can't quite reach" as the Private Eye struggles and eventually falls. This is a parody of Batman and other writers stretching Batman's Thou Shalt Not Kill to ridiculous levels.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Surprisingly averted by Marshal Law. While he has an unlimited license to kill supers and really hates most of them, he doesn't always act on it. One example was when he was asked why he doesn't wipe out the ultra-violent Gangreen, he mentions that if he did that there are nine other gangs waiting to fight over their turf. The resulting gangwar would make the Big One look like a day at the park.
  • Nineties Anti-Hero: Marshal Law himself, and in The '80s no less. Wearing full bondage gear and with a barbed wire tattoo actual barbed wire along his arm...
    • Also the Secret Tribunal, which is a parody of the X-Men.
  • Not Quite Dead: The Sleepman survived getting gunned down by Marshal Law. But his injuries reduced him mentally to a child and Dr. Shocc is currently using him as a psychology experiment.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Danny pretends to have been crippled in the earthquake.
  • Oedipus Complex: Discussed; Danny/The Sleepman contemplates whether or not this applies to him as he watches Virago and Public Spirit argue. While he admits to not being qualified enough to be sure, he dismisses the idea and concludes that the problem lies mostly with his parents.
  • One-Man Army: Played with. Law often gets his ass kicked by superhumans whenever he has to go one on one, or if he's caught in a free-for-all punch-up. However if he brings out his Meat Cannon or Eagle gunship, enemy casualties go through the roof while he's barely scratched.
  • Once an Episode: At least once an issue, Marshal Law says his catchphrase
  • Patricide: Private-Eye as a young boy ordered his butler to kill his parents in an alley and disguise it as a mugging, so as to inherit the fortune because Deceased Parents Are the Best.
  • Pet the Dog: Marshal Law does show a kind streak from time to time, especially when dealing with harmless but down on their luck ex-S.H.O.C.C troopers. Shows a surprisingly big one when working with Growing Boy when he and the Secret Tribunal were sent to hunt aliens.
  • Police Are Useless: No-Go zones have formed because the police cannot handle the power of ex-S.H.O.C.C troopers returning from the Zone. Police action in No-Go zones only take place in the presence of armoured convoys and large, heavily armed groups. Even Marshal Law is stated to be only making a dent in the crime problem, as he's the only the super that actively hunts other supers.
  • Putting on the Reich: As the Golden Age heroes note, Marshal Law's costume resembles that of a Super-Nazi.
  • Rule-Abiding Rebel: Lynn's thesis in "Fear and Loathing" sees Marshal Law as this. A supposed "Hero Hunter" who poses as an anti-heroic violent fascist thug who for all his anti-authoritarian posture, ends up serving the same status quo of the heroes.
  • Satire/Parody/Pastiche: Marshal Law combines attributes of all three.
  • Save the Villain: Parodied with Private Eye's death, which itself parodies the Batman convention of forcing him to save people he absolutely despises and regards as dangerous.
  • Self-Parody: Marshal Law Takes Manhattan features ruthless parody versions of popular Marvel superheroes, and it was published Epic Comics, a Marvel Comics imprint. "The Hateful Dead" story can be seen as a parody of the Dark Phoenix saga with Lynn returning from the dead as an entirely different zombie and then cheating on Marshal Law in front of him.
  • Sex Is Evil: The world of Marshal Law is not a pretty one, and the rampant sexual imagery reinforces it.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Most of the cast, but especially Marshal Law himself and Suicida.
  • Stranger Behind the Mask: There's an in-universe comedy example when a gang of Jerk Ass supers ambush Law while he's trying to get something else done and rip his mask off, then let him go in disappointment when he turns out not to be a celebrity.
  • Subverted Catchphrase: As Marshal Law salutes Kiloton's mutilated corpse at the end of "Kingdom of the Blind".
    Marshal Law: I'm a hero hunter. I hunt heroes. I guess maybe I found one.
  • Super Serum (and its counterpart, Psycho Serum): Hyperman, a parody of Hourman, who used pills to get his powers, snuffs a mysterious powder and injects a dodgy liquid into his arm to get his.
    • The book reveals early on most superpowers are the direct result of this.
  • Super Soldier: Marshall Law and the other SHOCC troopers are this trope. Averted with the Jesus League and Jesus Society of America, they were made as an initial test for seeing if making superhumans was viable. They're main role in WW2 was for propaganda purposes and they were actually awful in a real battle, with the Jesus Society easily getting massacred by ordinary Mafiosos.
  • Super Hero Packing Heat: Marshall Law just has low-level superstrength and speed plus the power to shut down his pain centers. So he carries guns to give him an edge against bog-standard bricks, and they help act as an equalizer whenever he fights enemies that can fly or shoot energy beams out of their hands.
  • Straw Feminist: Zombie!Lynn becomes one. Original Lynn was a feminist but one who was rational and logical in her critique of patriarchy. The Zombie version is a misandrist who sees Joe's love as another authority to resist while at the same time submitting herself to be Black Scarab's Sex Slave, like other heroes who come back from the dead, she decays significantly from her original characterization as does Marshal Law himself, in her eyes.
  • Take That: To the entire superhero genre, with different arcs specifically attacking one character and story:
    • Fear and Loathing attacks Superman/Captain America and to some extent Wonder Woman. Both are figures of the establishment who refuse to take responsibility for the ideology they espouse and perpetuate.
    • The Kingdom in the Blind attacks every facet of Batman: Deceased Parents Are the Best, Kid Sidekick, Butler, Sociopathic Hero and his belief that Insane Equals Violent.
    • Marshal Law Takes Manhattan attacks the Marvel Universe as a whole, showing them as Rule-Abiding Rebel and making fun of I Love Nuclear Power, Vigilante and teenage heroes.
    • The Hateful Dead mocks the Death Is Cheap and Retcon-heavy nature of superhero stories, with dead superheroes coming back as ugly zombies and decaying further away from their original concept and context, which was hardly all that heroic to start with.
    • The Secret Tribunal as per Kevin O'Neill was inspired by his total dislike for Legion of Superheroes as a child and the whole boy scout and teen group idea.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Played with by Private Eye, a Batman expy. He absolutely forbids killing his enemies. He states he will "main, mutiliate, electrocute, gas, or burn them." But he'll never kill them.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Marshal Law, controversially with some fans, in "Secret Tribunal". He's still obnoxious and sarcastic, but he doesn't kill any of the heroes, commiserates with Breathless when she confides in him about her troubles after they have sex, and even acts as something of a mentor figure to Growing Boy, albeit in a cynical "don't turn out like me, kid" way.
    • Breathless, a member of the Secret Tribunal, is a self-pitying and insecure airhead who's constantly kvetching about how hard her life is. However she was the only one that agreed with Marshal Law in trying to rescue the League of Heroes. The other members were going to abandon the League to the aliens.
  • Transhuman: Obviously the supers running around the US, but the reason why an army of brutal and savvy, genetically enhanced, high-tech Super Soldiers could only earn a draw in the Zone? South America had used the methods pioneered by Shocc to uplift most of the population.
  • Twenty Minutes into the Future: A recent gravestone says it's 2020, and America is still fighting off the Soviet Threat, nearly 30 years after it ended in Real Life.
  • Unbuilt Trope:
    • Of the Nineties Anti-Hero and the Deconstruction of superheroes that would be common in comics in the late 1980s-1990s. It's worth noting that while the series takes a dim look at super "heroes", anti-heroes of Marshal Law's ilk don't exactly escape condemnation either.
    • Also, O'Neill's art was conceived as a satire of superhero art, with huge, misshapen, excessively muscular heroes carrying gigantic weapons, and ludicrously curvy, permapouting, heroines in pornographically skimpy costumes. The style of Rob Liefeld and his imitators would subsequently do very similar things without any humorous intent.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Pretty much every villain he kills; they're presented as super-heroes in this reality, but would be considered anything but in most settings.
  • Your Eyes Can Deceive You: This is a huge part of Private Eye's origin: His Mad Scientist father forced him to wear a hood over his face for months if not years, engendering in him an eerie affinity for the dark.
  • Weak, but Skilled: Marshal Law has the standard level of SHOCC enhancement. He has no fancy powers like some of the other supers, but his background as an elite Screaming Eagle and years of jungle warfare makes him qualified to take on any enemy.
  • Wolverine Claws: Sleepman has them.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: A superhero one in "The Hateful Dead"/"Super Babylon".
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