Fiction Review

Marshal Law: Origins

(2008) Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill, Titan Books, 7.99, pbk, 240pp, ISBN 978-1-845-76943-7

On the whole I'm not a fan of comics' characters exploits being transferred to prose (nor of novelisations of movies, for that matter), and the extreme landscape of Marshal Law was always going to be particularly hard to express in this format. Just as well then that, for the uninitiated, there are plenty of illustrations herein. There is a brief scene-setting prologue that introduces the backdrop of the Marshal's universe but, even so, I have to say that I cannot see this appealing to the casual reader. Marshal Law first appeared way back in 1987 and was published sporadically until 1993 (or thereabouts) by a number of companies, including Epic Comics (Marvel), Apocalypse Ltd (in Toxic!), Dark Horse Comics and Titan Books (who reprinted the tradepaperback collections in 2003). The two novellas herein were written at the turn of the millennium for Nick Percival's Cool Beans website. Both, to some extent, feature incidents relating to the creation of the super-hero hunter. 'The Day of the Dead' is by Pat Mills and, of the two stories, is the most heavily illustrated by Kev O'Neill. 'Cloak of Evil"'is by Mills and O'Neill, but with fewer pictures. For those who don't know, the universe of Marshal Law is one in which genetically enhanced humans fought a battle in South America (called The Zone), but were beaten and returned home to a San Francisco renamed San Futuro after 'The Big One', an earthquake that all but destroyed the city. Like the Vietnam vets of decades before, their society had no use for them, so many turned to crime and other degrading activities to get by. Marshal Law hates heroes; he hasn't found any yet. He is also an ex-Zone Trooper, now working in a hospital-cum-rehabilitation centre looking after old vets.

But Law is a more than usually schizophrenic hero, and he and his alter ego hate one another. With his black leather outfit, barbed wire arm band, black and red bondage mask, scary gun and the words 'Fear and Loathing' on the front of his outfit, Law represents the most extreme mixing of Judge Dredd and Frank Miller's Dark Knight. In the first story Law must break up a gang of heroes who torture normal humans to experience their pain vicariously, with various incidents reminding Law of his time in the Zone and the atrocity he witnessed there that set him on the path to becoming the hero-hunter he is today. In the second tale, inspired by the Profumo affair, Law must take on Satanist heroes, with a side-trip to Russia to release US heroes from captivity, Rambo-style, and mentions how it was that Law came to be recruited by the San Futuro PD as a licensed vigilante and hero-hunter. It all works well enough, with plenty of satire and humour and grotesque fun. But it still looks wrong to see BUDDABUDDABUDDABUDDABUDDA "Aaaaaaaaaaaaargh!" in print form, rather than adorning a comics panel. One for fans only, I think, but recommended to them.

Tony Chester

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