Marshal Law (comics)

Marshal Law (comics)
Marshal Law
Martial Law.jpg
Publication information
Publisher Epic Comics
Dark Horse Comics
Format Monthly
Genre Superhero
Publication date 1987 - present
Creative team
Writer(s) Pat Mills
Artist(s) Kevin O'Neill
Creator(s) Pat Mills
Kevin O'Neill
Collected editions
Fear and Loathing ISBN 0-87135-676-7
Blood Sweat and Tears ISBN 1-878574-95-7
Fear Asylum ISBN 1-84023-699-X

Marshal Law is an English-language superhero comic book series created by Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill. One of the first major creator-owned characters for a major publisher, it was first published by Epic Comics in 1987. The series is a satire on the whole superhero genre, and certain specific hero characters in particular.

The series is characterised by its extreme graphic violence and nudity, and Mills' skewering of superhero conventions and US government policy and society.


Publication history

Marshal Law started life at Epic Comics on October 1987 in a six-issue limited series. The series proved popular, although it did suffer from shipping delays, and was followed by the Marshal Law Takes Manhattan one-shot, in which most of Marvel Comics major characters were ruthlessly parodied.

In 1991, Mills and O'Neill took the character to the fledgling Apocalypse Comics for a one-off special & then as the flagship story in Toxic!, a weekly comic started in 1991 to compete with 2000AD. Toxic! proved to be short lived and the Marshal Law strip suffered from missing issues and eventually Apocalypse Comics went bankrupt in 1992, leaving the character in publishing limbo and the story in Toxic! incomplete. Mills and O'Neill then took Marshal Law to Dark Horse Comics where the story in Toxic! was completed in late 1992. That year also saw the character return to Epic Comics for a two issue series pitting the Marshal against Clive Barker's Pinhead character.

The next few years saw Marshal Law appear in various crossovers with other characters, including The Savage Dragon and The Mask. In the year 2000 Mills and O'Neill took the character to Cool Beans World, which was a website which also featured the works of Simon Bisley. The stories here were illustrated novellas, rather than actual comic strips, titled The Day Of The Dead (which was published in a paperback edition) and Cloak Of Evil, they were popular but problems with the site led to its closure in 2002.


Cover of issue 4 of the original Epic Comic series.

The title character, Marshal Law, is the government-sanctioned "super hero hunter" (aka law enforcement officer, or “cape killer”) with superpowers in the city of San Futuro, the near-future metropolis built from the ruins of San Francisco following a massive earthquake. Law's job is to take down other superheroes who have gone rogue, which he does with maximum force and great pleasure. Aided by the wheelchair-using “Danny” and his physically imposing (but extremely polite) partner “Kiloton”, the Marshal operates from a secret police precinct hidden below the city, dispensing just enough brutal justice to keep the city’s many super-powered gangs in a balanced détente while safeguarding the ordinary citizenry.

Marshal Law's secret identity is Joe Gilmore, a former supersoldier consumed with self-hatred about being a superhero. In this world, superheroes are commonplace thanks to genetic engineering, much of the United States' armed forces having undergone the process. However, while their bodies may become super-powered, their minds remain exactly as they were, and in many cases the inability to feel pain causes the subjects to compensate by inflicting pain on others. Psychosis of varying degrees is also a common side-effect, and some subjects develop wildly uncontrollable superpowers.

The plot of the original six-issue series revolved around the Marshal’s attempts to unmask the Sleepman, a serial killer and rapist who preys on women dressed as Celeste, the current girlfriend of the Public Spirit. Marshal Law’s loathing of the Public Spirit as standing for everything that is fraudulent and hypocritical about superheroes leads him to suspect the Spirit himself of being responsible for the Sleepman’s crimes; without any proof, though, the guilty party goes unpunished until a surprising revelation from a former superheroine reveals that the Marshal’s suspicions may not be too far from the truth.

While in the first series, the Marshal's primary nemeses are the Public Spirit and the Sleepman, he later faces off against Private Eye and The Persecutor. A recurring secondary adversary (initially treated seriously, though later becoming comic relief) is Suicida, a psychopathic ex-soldier who leads the murderous Gangreen street gang.

The plot of "Secret Tribunal" revolved around an orbiting incubation center that created and mentally programmed superheroes. It was under attack by a monster called The Incubus, which was defeated by Growing Boy.


  • Marshal Law (Joe Gilmore) A violent and uncharismatic lawman, dealing with the twisted superheroes of San Futuro. His public unpleasantness contrasts with a strong internal moral compass.
  • Public Spirit (Colonel Buck Caine) The world's most powerful and popular hero who was a product of US genetic engineering. Marshal Law regards him as corrupt and untrustworthy. Following the death of his fiancee and fellow superheroine, Virago, before he was sent on space mission, he becomes a suspect behind the murders of strippers dressed like his new love, superheroine Celeste.
  • The Sleepman A serial killer wearing a black costume, black cape and a brown bag over his head. He rapes and murders women who dress like Celeste. A subplot deals with Marshal Law trying to discover his real identity.
  • Lynn Evans Marshal Law's girlfriend, a college journalist and female rights activist. They met when the great earthquake destroyed the wall separating their apartments. She does not know of his secret identity.
  • Mrs Mallon A shopkeeper who resents superheroes, and seems to enjoy the company of Marshal Law. Her only known relative is her son Danny.
  • Kiloton The large partner of Marshal Law who watches their base below San Futuro.
  • Celeste The second fiance of the Public Spirit and a member of a cult of heroines with sexual powers that empower male clients. This (and anabolic steroids) are the source of the Public Spirit's powers.
  • Gangreen A gang of costume psychopaths who battle with other super teams for the control of the dystopian San Futuro. They dress in matching green costumes and utilize explosive weaponry.
  • Growing Boy A naive young hero who appears in Secret Tribunal, whose size-increase power sometimes malfunctions.
  • The Private Eye Appears in Kingdom of the Blind. The Private Eye is really Scott Brennan, billionaire and best friends with Public Spirit. Brennan got his inheritance after gunning down his parents in alley with the help of his butler and now battles the unwashed masses whom he hates. He manages to kill Kiloton before being killed by Marshal Law.



Original comic appearances:

  • Marshal Law #1-6. Epic Comics 1987-88.
  • Marshal Law Takes Manhattan. One-shot, Epic Comics 1989.
  • Marshal Law - Kingdom of the Blind. Apocalypse Comics one-shot, 1990.
  • Toxic! #1-8, 14/15, Apocalypse Comics 1991.
  • Marshal Law - The Hateful Dead. One-Shot, Apocalypse Comics 1991.
  • Marshal Law - Super Babylon. One-Shot, Dark Horse 1992.
  • Marshal Law Vs Pinhead-Law in Hell. Two issue series, Epic Comics 1993.
  • Marshal Law - Secret Tribunal . Two issue series, Dark Horse 1994.
  • Marshal Law/Savage Dragon. Two issue series, Image Comics 1997.
  • Marshal Law/The Mask. Two issue series, Dark Horse 1998.
  • 2000AD# 1280. Rebellion 2002. (1-page cameo.)


A couple of illustrated novellas have been released:

Collected editions

The comics have been collected into a number of trade paperbacks:

  • Marshal Law - Fear and Loathing (collects Marshal Law #1-6, Epic Comics, 1990 ISBN 0-87135-676-7; Titan Books, 2002 ISBN 1-84023-452-0)
  • Marshal Law - Blood Sweat and Fears (collects Kingdom of the Blind, Hateful Dead, and Super Babylon. (Dark Horse, 1993 ISBN 1-878574-95-7; Titan Books, 2003 ISBN 1-84023-526-8)
  • Marshal Law - Fear Asylum (collects Takes Manhattan, Secret Tribunal, and vs The Mask (Titan Books, 2003 ISBN 1-84023-699-X)
  • Marshal Law - Origins (Titan Books, 2008 ISBN 1-84576-943-0, collects the previous novellas The Day of the Dead and the previously unreleased Cloak of Evil)

Top Shelf Productions will be publishing a Marshal Law compendium.


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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