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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 20 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 '80s, as Reagan's war against communism in 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).

Though not a huge hit in its time, Marshal Law would be Vindicated by History, and its themes would be revisited and expanded in The Boys and Stormwatch: Team Achilles. Ironically (and in the wake of the success of The Boys in particular), the series has been subject to revisionism with focus on the humanity in the character compared to the hero hunters in The Boys and Team Achilles.

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:

  • 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.
  • Abusive Parents: Private Eye's parents. They outright state they only had him in order to have a subject for their experiments. This eventually bites them in the ass.
  • 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-Climactic Unmasking: A gang of Jerkass 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.
  • Anti-Hero: Marshal Law himself. He's an Unscrupulous Hero bordering on Nominal Hero.
  • Badass Normal: Downplayed with the Persecutor. The Persecutor was once an officer with the Screaming Eagles elite despite never having underwent the Shocc treatment. That said the only reasons he's with the Screaming Eagles is that he's a CIA interrogator and is on loan to train the Eagles on torture techniques. Other Shocc troopers are contemptuous of him for being normal and the Persecutor had been largely been ineffective in the comic before being eaten by cannibals.
  • Batman Parody: The antagonist of the Kingdom of the Blind one-shot is a pastiche of Batman called Private Eye, who has the twist of arranging his own parents' deaths by conspiring with his butler and prowling the city to mutilate and stitch up every punk or vagabond he runs into.
  • Broken Aesop: The arc Super Babylon satirizes Golden Age superheroes for their conservative attitudes and prejudices, but also constantly attacks them for their supposed sexual perversion. It's rather hard to take accusations of dated attitudes seriously when the comic itself treats bondage, crossdressing, homosexuality, nudism, and prostitution as either punchlines or signs of moral decay. It's especially obvious when Law's old girlfriend (a strident feminist who gave cogent arguments against toxic masculinity) comes back evil, which is shown by having her dress in a skimpy outfit and get in a relationship with another guy.
    • The crux of the comic is that superheroes are bad, nowhere as heroic as real heroes, and promote the idea that violence is the best option. The titular protagonist isn't exempt from this, when called out for how his actions inspire people to acts of just the characters he fights against, he doesn't deny. The problem is what while the comic criticizes superheroes for resorting to violence, some of the "real heroes" it praises are soldiers who fought in war, ie, people who took part in horrific acts of violence.
      • It should be noted that earlier comics in the series, mostly the original and Takes Manhattan, didnít have this problem, as they took a much dimmer view of soldiers, the military, and police, seeing superheroes as an extension of their hypermasculine quasi-fascistic methods.
    • Super Babylon mocks superhero outfits as impractical, getting them killed when they went into combat, but it occurs in a story where they handed a defeat by Marshal Law whose outfit is equally impractical.
  • Broken Pedestal: Law initially respects the Private Eye as a fellow vigilante, but that respect disappears when he discovers his organ-trafficking operation.
  • 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.
  • Big Prick, Big Problems: The Public Spirit is 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. His son Danny AKA the Sleepman also had this, and was bullied at school when he had an erection - his classmates were disgusted at how grossly large it was and nicknamed him "Elephant Trunk".
  • 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).
    • The honor guardsmen who recruit young men into becoming super-powered soldiers for the US government wear blank, faceless masks. When Marshal Law ends up getting the crap kicked out of him at their hands while investigating the Sleepman murders, several of them take off their uniforms but not their masks.
    • Discussed by the female hero Marshal Law dates in "Marshal Law vs Pinhead"; the heroine comments that her father wore a blank face mask and never let anyone, not even his own child, see his actual face. She later implies that caused her to develop a fetish for older masked heroes like Law, due to them reminding her of her father.
    • Deconstructed with Marshal Law, whose Marshal Law mask and Screaming Eagle grunt mask are blank-faced. However, Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill show Law's face early on in the series so as to humanize Law as a person.
  • 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: In "The Hateful Dead", 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.
  • Cape Busters: This is the occupation of Marshal Law and his partners. It's somewhat subverted as Marshal Law himself is a super-soldier, who has enough Super-Strength to toss cars and can even shut down his pain receptors.
  • Cast of Expies: Practically all the "heroes" are Captains 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. Unlike the main three, they aren't so much evil as just stupid.
    • 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 (specifically its authoritarian and conservative aspects), is laid out 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
  • Combat Sadomasochist: San Futuro is overrun by gangs of superheroes who, enhanced not to feel pain, inflict pain on others and get themselves horribly injured in order to feel something. Marshal Law himself enjoys brutally killing other superheroes, but wears barbed wire wrapped around his arm and a costume that resembles bondage gear to symbolize his self-loathing.
  • 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 brutally 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.
    • Silver Age heroes, particularly Superman, are attacked in the original series as roving monitors of the Reagan-era status quo, existing as a monument to toxic masculinity and nationalistic savior complexes that led people to do horrible things. They're constantly cracking under the strain of having to be perfect, they're a complete psychological mess under the hood, and for all their good press, they don't actually serve to make the world a better place.
    • Golden Age heroes in Super Babylon are depicted as a bunch of relics of a bygone era that were never anything impressive even in their prime: their usage in warfare was a dismal endeavor that only drew the war out, designed for propaganda rather than effectiveness and with the heroes only seeing any success as high-class prostitutes, and they miserably failed to transition away from the battlefield, being wiped out by criminals and gangsters. When revived in the modern day, their old prejudices and perversions have come to the fore to the point that they can scarcely function in modern society, unable to even look at a Japanese or German person without frothing at the mouth. Even their biggest fan, the man minding the museum, ultimately admits that they were a pretty pathetic bunch, and his reason for liking them has less to do with any of their actual feats of heroism and more simply the fact that he's convinced himself that their status as the first heroes means they must have some value.
    • 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.
      • On another level, Secret Tribunal (the comic with the aforementioned expies) mocks the Fantastic Racism seen in X-Men in two ways. First, by calling out the absurdity of using what's more or less a power-fantasy to tell a story of being "outcasts feared by the world" (perhaps best shown when the Jean Grey analogue talks about how no man would choose a mutant like her for a partner despite being an obviously attractive girl with no visible deformities wearing an outfit showing her goods off, which comes off as a jab at Stripperific/Ms. Fanservice lady X-Men characters like Storm or Psylocke or Emma Frost). Secondly, by taking a hacksaw to the notion that mutants are "the next stage of evolution" or Homo Superior by Marshal pointing out that the mutants, from all their talk on how they are destined to replace humanity and are their betters are nothing more than glorified Nazis (backed by one mutant speaking of purging the "inferior").
  • 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.
  • Designer Babies: Before the SHOCC supersoldier program, genetic engineering already led to families successfully having their children's intelligence and whatnot increased. The technology eventually became viable for South America and they ended up uplifting the local population's intelligence.
  • Detective Mole: Danny is actually the Sleepman
  • Disposable Woman/The Lost Lenore: Explored with Lynn. See I Let Gwen Stacy Die below.
  • 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.
  • Dramatic Irony: At one point, Lynn states to her boyfriend Joe that she would never a date a superhero, especially one as fascist as Marshal Law.
  • During the War: Most of the superhumans were former soldiers in the Zone War, which took place in South America.
  • Electric Torture: The Persecutor is fond of using this technique.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: While all SHOCC troopers are a type of Super-Soldier, 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.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Marshal Law may be a sadist, but even he is unwilling to dish out the punishments the Persecutor inflicts on South American prisoners. He also is a brutal fascist policeman, but he hates Nazis as well as Pinhead found out.
  • 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.
  • Experienced Protagonist: Besides being an ex-Screaming Eagle, Marshal Law in the past was also a vigilante who called himself the Vet as he believed it took a vet to catch another vet.
  • The Fantastic Faux: Marshal Law Takes Manhattan has the story involve an asylum with inmates who are spoofs of Marvel superheroes. Among them are a representation of the Human Torch (who, much to his dismay, is the only asylum inmate who makes it out alive) and a Mr. Fantastic stand-in who talks to an invisible wife who isn't really there.
  • 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.
  • Foil:
    • Marshal Law is one to the Public Spirit. Spirit's costume resembles that of a traditional superhero while Law's costume resembles that of an grim anti-hero. Likewise, Spirit's powerset is more superhuman and includes flight, lightning manipulation, and bulletproof skin while Law's powerset is more mundane and forces Law to use guns and gadgets to compensate. Deconstructed as Law's desire to become the Spirit's antithesis resulted in the death of his girlfriend.
    • Marshal Law is also one to the Sleepman. They are superheroes that hunt other superheroes and loathe all sorts of superheroes including themselves. However, Sleepman was born a superhero while Marshal Law was born normal but later underwent an experiment to gain superpowers. In addition, Sleepman's hatred of superheroes stems from an abusive childhood with his mother whereas Law's stems from a traumatic adulthood in the war.
    • Another one would be Marshal Law and Virago. Both of them hate superheroes and both admired the Spirit at one point before the Spirit betrayed them. The difference is that Virago's hatred for the Spirit is more personal as they were once lovers before the Spirit attempted to drown her. Marshal Law's hatred is more abstract: he believes that the Public Spirit betrayed the American Dream by motivating young men into becoming superheroes and fighting a devastating war that either killed them or turned them into Shell Shocked Veterans.
    • The Persecutor is this to Law. Both of them are sadists, killers, and Gun Nuts. In addition, their appearances invoke Nazi imagery: Law's costume resembles the uniform of a Nazi officer while the Persecutor has a swastika painted on his forehead. However, Law hates Nazis and their ideology whereas the Persecutor seems fond of gunning down liberals and minorities to "protect" America. In addition, Law loathes himself for taking part in the war; on the other hand, the Persecutor believed the war in the Zone was a just war.
  • Friendly Enemy: Marshal Law and Suicida, in an incredibly twisted way. Due to being similar and both being Too Kinky to Torture.
  • Funny Background Event: The various signs and graffiti in the city, as well as random background characters' appearances. The art was partly influenced by MAD Magazine, which often uses this.
  • 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"ô 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.
  • Hate Sink: Just about every foe Marshal Law meets is an irredeemable scumbag with severe mental issues that all abuse their good publicity to do wicked things behind closed doors. While Marshal Law is not really all that different from them, having issues himself, it is pretty cathartic to watch him slay them all.
  • 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.
  • Hunter of His Own Kind: Marshal Law and his partners are superheroes that hunt other superheroes.
  • 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.
    • The Public Spirit claims to stand for conservative Christian values like marriage and the family. However, he tried to murder his pregnant girlfriend because she wouldn't get an abortion, since having a family would disqualify him from a space mission.
  • 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, and not just of the "I wasn't fast enough to stop him doing it" kind. 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.
  • 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 one 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.
    • The Persecutor is described as this, word for word. He guns down liberals and minorities on the spot because he feels that they are a threat to America.
  • Knight Templar: Marshal Law himself, and as the quote above shows, he's perfectly fine with being thought of as one. This is implied to be self-hatred on his part though.
  • Leatherman: Several characters think Marshal Law is gay because of his outfit.
  • 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.
    • The various unnamed Marvel superhero parodies in "Takes Manhattan" seem to be less evil than the other so-called "heroes" in San Futuro, and are instead mostly portrayed as idiotic and ineffective. At the very least, they don't approve of Persecutor's actions— not that it stops Law from brutally killing them in pursuit of the Persecutor regardless.
  • Loophole Abuse: The Persecutor, during his days as a Torture Technician, had a training program that was supposedly about teaching soldiers to resist torture, since teaching them to do it would be against regulations. However, as Joe Gilmore (a young Law) pointed out, the program seemed designed mostly to show soldiers how various torture methods worked while impressing upon them how difficult they were to resist, making it functionally no different from a torture training program.
  • 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.
  • Mirror Character:
    • A recurring theme of the series is that, when you break him down, Marshal Law more or less is a superhero. He has both superpowers and unique gadgets, he operates largely on his own initiative, he has a distinctive costume and codename, he fights other superpowered beings he perceives as evil or dangerous, he has a Secret Identity, he has what are essentially sidekicks in many stories, and despite his claims to the contrary, he does want to do good. People pointing this out to him causes him to froth at the mouth.
    • Oddly enough, Marshal Law and Pinhead have more in common than one might expect. Both of them have bondage imagery as an integral part of their appearances and characterizations, and they both were once soldiers. The plot of the Hellraiser crossover story focuses on how they both welcome physical pain but are less prepared to deal with the emotional pain of their experiences in war, which ends up being their weakness. Pinhead's past human self also wore a uniform with a peaked cap and tall boots that gave him a similar silhouette to Law.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: When Law is chasing him, Private Eye tries to escape by hiding in a pen of "Beefillas", cow-gorilla hybrids.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Doctor Shocc, a Nazi Scientist largely responsible for the superpowers in the book.
  • Most Common Superpower: Mocked (like so many other superhero tropes) with the Sirens, superheroines engineered for maximum sexiness.
    Lynn: God, look at that sexist cow. The unbelievably long legs... the enormous bosom... the mass of hair... and the exceptionally small head! Do you realize her head is smaller than her breasts?
  • 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" arc, 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.
  • Mythology Gag: When Marshal is trying to figure out what Green Lantern Expy Blue Battery's weakness is, he muses about if it's rubber, concrete, steel, or wood. On that last one, he says that couldn't be because that would be stupid. Anyone familiar with Golden Age Green Lantern would know why that's funny.
  • Name of Cain: Colonel Caine aka The Public Spirit.
  • Neck Lift: During their fight in the airplane graveyard, the Public Spirit lifts Marshal Law by the face and throws him.
  • Never My Fault: The Persecutor's entire motivation. He's totally unable to acknowledge that he might have made some enemies in his time as a Torture Technician, and assumes he was attacked For the Evulz, inspiring his crusade.
  • '90s Anti-Hero: Marshal Law himself, and in The '80s no less... wearing full bondage gear and with actual barbed wire along his arm. Although one of the points of the series is that he's no better than the more conventionally styled heroes he fights, making this an Unbuilt Trope.
    • Also the Secret Tribunal, which is a parody of the X-Men.
  • Nixon Mask: On one page of Fear and Loathing, there is a satirical poster depicting a superhero with a face resembling a Richard Nixon mask coming out of his crotch. The text on the poster says "Big Body, Small Dick", which is a reference to Nixon's nickname "Tricky Dick."
  • 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. He would later become the host for The Mask in a crossover.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Danny pretends to have been crippled in the earthquake.
  • 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.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Private Eye is a despicable maniac, but there's hardly a soul who would blame him for killing his own parents after all the crap they had put him through.
  • 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-SHOCC 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-SHOCC 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.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The Public Spirit goes on a homophobic rant when he fights Marshal Law, the Golden Age heroes attack everyone who looks Asian or German, and The Persecutor is a Nazi.
  • Punny Name: Marshal Law is a pun on "martial law."
  • Putting on the Reich: As the Golden Age heroes note, Marshal Law's costume resembles that of a Super-Nazi. Subverted in that Law really hates Nazis, such as the Persecutor.
  • Recruiters Always Lie: Joe's Backstory.
  • 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 and, 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-Deprecation: Marshal Law is prone to this. In the very first series, he admits that it is fair criticism to call him a "fascist cop" or a "glorified Nazi". It's implied that he is fine with these harsh criticisms because they came from his girlfriend Lynn, whose beliefs led to him questioning the morality of the war in the Zone. In a later comic, he tells the Growing Boy not to be like the other costumed superheroes or worse, like him.
  • 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.
  • Shock and Awe: One of the Sleepman's signature abilities is shooting electric beams out of his hands. His father, the Public Spirit, has the same ability.
  • Shout-Out: A rather obscure one in Super Babylon: the suicide of G-man is an allusion to the suicide of Paul Bern, Jean Harlow's husband, including the rumors that it had to do with impotence. Then again, the very title of the story is a Shout-Out to the infamous Hollywood Babylon, so...
  • 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. Their 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 super strength 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.
  • Superman Substitute: Public Spirit is an overt stand-in for Superman, complete with the spit curl and red and blue costume.
  • 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, mocking its superheroes as "exotic variations of nothing". The comic mostly targets The Punisher, who is depicted as a jingoistic, sadistic killer that enjoys torturing his victims. The other Marvel Expys, portrayed as former soldiers driven insane by the Super Serum and the war, even reject him from joining the asylum.
    • 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.
    • According to Kevin O'Neill, he badgered Mills into doing a Legion of Superheroes parody in "Secret Tribunal", because of his lifelong hatred for their "popular teen" cliquishness and arrogance.
  • Therapy Is for the Weak: Suicida says he's been diagnosed with PTSD after coming back from war, but hates therapists because, "If you try talking to them they just walk all over you with their big dictionary words. ... What they need is a smack in the mouth."
  • They Died Because of You: Public Spirit informs Law that he is indirectly responsible for his fiancee's death, since he served as an inspiration for The Sleepman.
  • 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.
  • 20 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:
    • While deconstructing traditional superheroes, the comic managed to deconstruct the '90s anti-hero in the '80s. At one point Marshal Law accuses the Public Spirit, a Superman analog, of inspiring an entire generation of heroes to go to war in the Zone, in what can only be described as "Super-Nam". The Public Spirit turns this around by telling Law that Law's own vigilante actions have also inspired people, except in a more horrific manner. The Spirit then reveals that Law inspired the main villain to take up his actions in the first place, thus completing the cycle. The comic then concludes that the differences between traditional superheroes and grim anti-heroes are superficial; Marshal Law is just as bad as, if not worse than, the Public Spirit.
      • This is continued even further in the first sequel, Marshal Law Takes Manhattan. While the traditional Marvel heroes get some pretty brutal parodying, including things like a Spider-Man analog who's all about shooting a different sticky fluid in public, they're treated as stupid and banal, but mostly harmless. Meanwhile, the Punisher analog gets by far the most direct satire, with him being portrayed as a fascist, racist, paranoid sadist with a persecution complex a mile deep, the ugliest part of the Right-Wing Militia Fanatic power fantasy taken to its endpoint. And even he's not that different from Law, being his old mentor, implying that Law's archetype is rotten at the root.
    • O'Neill's art was conceived as a satire of Jack Kirby-influenced 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.
    • It also works as a Deconstruction of the Cape Busters comics that came after it. The cape busters in the aforementioned The Boys and Stormwatch: Team Achilles are generally heroic and have actual superpowers, which can lead to Broken Aesops since their comics revolve around the dangerous nature of superheroes, yet said cape busters are superheroes in all but name. On the other hand, Marshal Law acknowledges that he is a Hunter of His Own Kind. Not only that but Law is portrayed rather negatively and is sometimes called a fascist by the other characters, given his pseudo-Nazi costume and admitted obsession for brutalizing other superheroes; furthermore, Commissioner McGland, Law's superior, views Marshal Law as another tool to ensure the dystopian status quo of San Futuro. In short, despite Law's occupation as a cape buster, Marshal Law is part of the superhero problem rather than the solution to it.
  • Villain Has a Point: When Public Spirit delivers his "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Marshal Law, he lays out some very good points about how Law is himself partly responsible for turning Sleepman into a psychopathic killer.
  • 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.
  • Visual Innuendo: Blatantly phallic-looking buildings, spaceships, and weapons are everywhere.
  • 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.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: After it's revealed that the Sleeping Man is alive and is being raised by the gov't, the stories never tell what happened to the Sleeping Man afterwards and in Secret Tribunal, there's a new teenaged Publis Spirit now that Col. Buck Caine is dead.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: In "Kingdom of the Blind," Kiloton and the punk who got his fingers cut off have this reaction to Marshal Law's reluctance to go after the Private Eye.
  • Wolverine Claws: Sleepman has them.
  • Xenomorph Xerox: The aliens in "Secret Tribunal" are virtually identical to the Aliens in their stealthiness and parasitoid lifecycle. This is because the story was originally written as an Alien crossover, but negotiations failed.
  • You Are What You Hate: Marshal Law is a superhero that hates superheroes, including himself. Sleepman and Virago are other examples although they have different reasons for hating superheroes.
  • 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.
  • Zipperiffic: Marshal Law's costume has a lot of zippers. It becomes humorous when he has sex with Breathless, and they have trouble unzipping the correct zipper.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: A superhero one in "The Hateful Dead"/"Super Babylon".