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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Marshal Law: Origins

Two long text stories make up the latest Marshal Law book from Titan: "The Day of the Dead" and "Cloak of Evil". The former has been published previously as a stand-alone story in 2004 and reads as if it was originally written as a script which Mills subsequently expanded into a text story—it was serialised at Cool Beans World in 2001. The story explores some of the background of hero-hunter Marshal Law. Joe Gilmore, a lowly worker at the Mission Hospital for super heroes in San Futuro, built on the ruins of California's coastline after a massive earthquake known as The Big One. Joe is a veteran of the conflict in The Zone, where genetically modified super-soldiers fought and lost a sprawling battle in South America. Joe's self-loathing for himself spills out into anger against all the so-called super heroes that now haunt San Futuro, some burnt out wrecks, others psychotic. In the guise of Marshal Law—leather-clad with barbed wire wrapped around his arms—he hunts the worst of the rogue super heroes.

Pat Mills and Kev O'Neill's original comic strips were parodies of the whole super hero genre and, given the basic stupidity of the who costumed hero concept, had plenty of room for to satirize them mercilessly. This doesn't translate quite so well in text where you have to point everything out rather than leave things for the reader to discover in the artwork. This is very apparent with the graffiti that litters O'Neill's artwork and makes you appreciate that pictures do indeed paint a thousand words.

"Cloak of Evil", originally co-written by Mills and O'Neill for the Cool Beans World website in 2001-02, has more of a feel that it was written for the medium rather than adapted from a script. The story lifts its basic plot from the Profumo affair of 1963: Kassie Kelly stands in for Christine Keeler, the Secretary of State for War Dan Powers (aka The Undertaker) for Profumo and super hero KGBH for Russian attache Yevgeny Ivanov. Lexden Kaye and Steffi Riley-Davey are Stephen Ward and Mandy Rice-Davies.

The Mills/O'Neill version is even more twisted but follows the same rough outline of the Profumo scandal. In the middle of it all is Marshall Law, SHOCC gun out, pumping all six barrels. It's the better of the two stories; the first, although filled with Mills' typical nasty inventiveness, has too much time taken up by Joe Gilmore's hand-wringing and self-pity. The second is more of a ride without brakes.

Anyone coming to Marshall Law for the first time might do better picking up one or other of the collected volumes. Origins is more likely to be appreciated by people who know the character and want to see him in action again, or by heavy metal bands looking for ideas for a name.

Marshal Law: Origins by Pat Mills & Kevin O'Neill. Titan Books ISBN 978-1845769437, 26 September 2008 [released August 2008].

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