Marshal Law: Origins

By Avi Weinryb
November 9, 2008 - 16:23

Marshal Law is a superpowered vigilante, and the star of a self-titled comic book franchise. This creator-owned character made his debut in Epic Comics, a Marvel Comics imprint, and has since bounced around between various publishers, even finding his way to Dark Horse Comics. The latest publication to feature the superhero bounty hunter is the self-titled prose novella, Marshal Law: Origins. It is a tepid attempt at crafting a readable book, and although it offers no pretensions of literary ambition, it is not even all that enjoyable.

Set in a dystopian California, the world is filled with genetically modified ‘superheroes’ that were previously crafted for war. They now form various gangs and factions, wreaking havoc on the city of San Futuro. Armed with a split personality, hospital worker Joe Gilmore moonlights as Marshal Law – a superhero hunter for hire. Working for the local police, Law ensures that order is kept and out of line heroes are put out of their misery. He carries a powerful gun that can dish out a lot of pain.   

In the opening story, ‘Day of the Dead’, Marshal Law is forced to confront some painful memories from his past, while combating a group of irredeemable villains, including the shape-shifting Doughface. Law encounters a new young heroine named Zip Code, who wants to team up with Law in more ways than one. Her constant advances culminate in her having sex with Law in a bathroom stall, followed by making some moves underneath a table at a banquet dinner.

Poor Joe Gilmore must balance his hero hunter life with that of his secret identity, always striving to keep his girlfriend Rosita from discovering the truth. Uniquely, the Joe/Marshal Law relationship is very much that of a Jekyll and Hide composition. He does not have much control over his alter ego and often succumbs to his ‘other side’.

The second story, ‘Cloak of Evil’ centers around a prostitute, Kassie, who specializes in serving super powered people. She finds herself embroiled in crimes and conspiracies, and only Marshal Law can swing in to save the day. She eventually finds herself being raped as part of a satanic ritual, but luckily Law is able to take care of things and kills some baddies.

In comic book form, these stories would be gritty, violent fun (other than the rape bit). It could be another dystopian action adventure, featuring a hardened vigilante going up against the world, defending an old fashioned code of justice in a cynical, harshly lit environment full of thuggery and immorality. But instead, Pat Mills has written a novella – and the content does not translate well through his prose.

Anything is possible with the written word, so I pin my blame on the actual writing. Characters are largely one dimensional, and never fully realized. The environment of San Futuro is never described in detail, leaving out a lot of potential ambience. The content and issues at hand are largely sophomoric, leading one to believe that this book is intended for high school students. There is absolutely nothing wrong with aiming for a younger demographic, but the book can’t seem to make up its mind. Simple story arcs, gloating villains and zero mature language (characters often shout ‘Frag’ as their four letter word of choice) are contrasted by orgies, rape scenes and bathroom stall encounters. This seems to be a book trying to find an audience. I do not know how successful it will ultimately be.

Mills has a history of excellence in the field of comic books and comic culture, so it pains me to write such a negative review. As a reader, I was disappointed by the quality of the publication. The artwork, by Kevin O’Neill, is worth complimenting. Appearing throughout the book in double splash page format, the illustrations help float the story along, and add some eye candy.

I wanted Marshal Law to rock my world, but instead, I was let down.

Rating: 3 /10

Last Updated: May 19, 2020 - 12:25

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