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Comic Book: Marshal Law

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, 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.
  • Anti-Hero: Marshal Law himself.
  • Awesome McCoolname
  • Badass Normal: Law himself. He thinks that heroes with actual powers are phonies because they're never in any real danger.
    • Well, he's more of Super Soldier, as he was subjected to the same Super Serum treatment that produced all supers, just failed to draw the best ticket at the Superpower Lottery.

      Law came out of the procedure with moderately superhuman strength, speed and durability as well as a low level Healing Factor. Due to his opinion on supers he's not big on bragging about it... but it is mentioned in his narration.
  • Berserk Button: Even the mention of the word "superhero" sends Marshal Law into Unstoppable Rage.
  • Beware the Superman
  • The Big Guy: Kiloton.
  • 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 Black Morality: Law is hardly any more admirable a character than any of the people he hunts down, all of whom are bad people who happen to be widely respected. If there are any characters with admirable traits, they're all supporting ones - whilst Lynn's feminist/queer-theory narration over Fear And Loathing gives the story its entire context and tone, her appearances are fairly rare and she gets Stuffed into the Fridge.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Catch Phrase: "I'm a Hero Hunter. I hunt heroes. Haven't found any yet."
  • 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.
  • Crapsack World: San Futuro, though the rest of the world doesn't seem any better.
  • Cross Over: 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.
  • 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.
    • Indeed one entire issue, set in a museum celebrating the "deeds" of the superheroes in the Golden Age note that they always attacked safe targets 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.
  • Deliberately Painful Clothing: Marshal Law wears barbed wire around his arm.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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. Then parodied 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 American 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 insists he "can't quite reach" as the Private Eye struggles and eventually falls.
  • Nineties Anti-Hero: Marshal Law himself, and in The Eighties 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.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Danny pretends to have been crippled in the earthquake.
  • Once an Episode: At least once an issue, Marshal Law says his catchphrase
  • Putting on the Reich: As the Golden Age heroes note, Marshal Law's costume resembles that of a Super-Nazi.
  • Satire/Parody/Pastiche: Marshal Law combines attributes of all three.
  • Save the Villain: Parodied with Private Eye's death.
  • Self-Parody: Marshal Law Takes Manhattan features ruthless parody versions of popular Marvel superheroes, and it was published Epic Comics, a Marvel Comics imprint.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Wolverine Claws: Sleepman has them.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: A superhero one in "The Hateful Dead"/"Super Babylon".
The Manhattan ProjectsScience Fiction Comic BooksMen In Black
Mage The Hero DiscoveredSuperheroMartian Manhunter

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