In 1991, a short-lived UK comic called TOXIC was launched by Pat Mills who wanted a comic that had some of the edginess he felt 2000AD had lost over the years. It was pretty bad, a noxious mixture of bad art, lowest common denominator writing and the finances were so badly managed that many of the artists and writers quit stories before they were completed due to lack of payment. I've dedicated a tumblr to it if you're interested in checking it out. The comic folded in the same year it began after thirty-one weekly issues. However during that period the publisher "Apocalypse" released two Marshal Law storylines that followed on from the six issue miniseries published by the defunct Marvel imprint Epic, which I covered here. These two storylines, the bleak "Kingdom Of The Blind" and the slightly dafter "Marshal Law Takes Manhattan" were published seperately in 1991 as 48 page one-shots and it is the Manhattan story I'm covering today (I'll be looking at "The Kingdom Of The Blind" later in the year).
Marshal Law lived in a world were the US government had genetically engineered superhumans to serves as soldiers in an ongoing war in South America. Joe Gilmore, the man who became Marshal Law was one of those soldiers. He developed a deep hatred for other superheroes and in the shattered city of San Futuro (a renamed, earthquake devastated, San Francisco) he took on the job of policing the superheroes who returned home to find a society that had no place for them.
|Marshal Law doesn't pussyfoot about.|
|Can you identify all the parodies?|
He is talking to Commissioner McGland who is telling him about a superhero called "The Persecutor" who has been murdering Hispanics in his district. McGland tells Marshal he has been accused of encouraging vigilantes by employing a certain "fascist thug". Marshal saracstically commiserates. He then goes on to say that if he doesn't get the cash to run his precinct properly others will have "to do the job for us."
|MacGland and Marshal Law.|
Marshal Law: "Because they don't want to know."
McGland: "Of course. That's the purpose of the asylum - to keep the American public's fantasies intact."
McGland wants Marshal to bring The Persecutor back if his application to The Institute fails. Marshal says it will be a pleasure. When he was a soldier in South America, The Persecutor was a CIA operative called Don Matrione, who demonstrated all different forms of torture to them. When he returned home to his wife and two kids, he was attacked by two hit squads at once, one from Brazil the other from Uruguay. Although he escaped, his family were killed in the crossfire.
|I'm surprised Marvel didn't raise a fuss, so on the nose the parodies are.|
Marshal Law: "Mmm. You're my kind of hero Persecutor. You're gorgeous. I love you and want to have your babies."
We then cut to The Persecutor at The Institute. "Who do I have to see about entering this nuthouse? " he asks arrogantly. "Mr. Fantastic" tells him "us of course". The Persecutor responds "but you're mad." Who better to judge you worthy replies "Mr Fantastic" and he queries whether or not The Persecutor fits the criteria of superhero as he never had the surgery to give him superpowers. The Persecutor points to "Hawkeye" and says he doesn't consider having a bow a superpower. "Mr. Fantastic" says they've tightened things up since then.
The Persecutor: "I'm a serial killer! Isn't that good enough for you?"
Not really says "Mr. Fantastic" they are all in The Institute because the surgery they underwent affected their minds as well as their bodies. As they talk, two nurses are watching them. One of them is from South America and is disgusted The Persecutor is even being considered. The other nurse says she should be grateful for America giving her sanctury from her war-torn country.
Nurse: [thinks] "I would be if you hadn't screwed mine up in the first place."
|Don Matrione, CIA thug.|
Marshal Law: "No, none of that was ever taught or intended. 'Cos we were the good guys. Ha."
The superheroes of The Institute come to a decision and reject The Persecutor's application. The Persecutor freaks out and disarms the cop guarding him, kills him and shoots a security guard.
The Persecutor: "Men are animals. It is in our nature to kill. Killing is beautiful. Kiling is noble. Killing is art."
The Hispanic nurse attacks him with scissors, but he guns her down. While the Persecutor fights, there is a pisstake of the tendency to massively overwrite that makes Marvel comics of a certain vintage completely unreadable for me.
|Ahahahaha, Pat you're a card.|
The heroes trick Marshal into releasing the Human Inferno, a man tortured by being constantly on fire. Marshal manages to escape him and starts to lay into the rest of the heroes. "Mr. Fantastic" gets "Captain America" to join in the battle by telling him Marshal was responsible for the death of The Public Spirit (the original superhero from the miniseries) who was called Buck. In revenge for "Bucky", "Captain America" helps overpower Marshal and they drop him down a liftshaft where he gets tangled up in a mass of sticky webbing made by "Spiderman".
|The Human |
Returning to Marshal, he is trapped in the webbing still and The Persecutor is torturing him with a live electric cable. He tells Marshal he wasn't just some deranged sadist, he was a CIA operative acting with full authority and following proceedure. It's still a crime what he did, says Marshal.
The Persecutor: "How can we be in the wrong? We're the guardians of the world. We really are superheroes!"
|The anti-torture message is welcome if not exactly subtle.|
Marshal Law: "What... what a terrible tragedy. Can America ever recover from the lost of its finest superheroes who've done so much for our culture? I.. I'm just glad I've a little left on my boot to remember them by."
|Alas poor supes.|
Marshal law Takes Manhattan is a compact little story of quality. I loved Marshal Law back in the day, he was my favourite comicbook character of that era by far. By using a spoof of The Punisher, a psychopathic creation that already sits somewhat uneasily in the Marvel Universe of Fantastic Fours and Avengers, Pat Mills was able to cleverly blend a critique of the complicity of the US government in the torture of foreign detainees (that hits even harder today with what we know of Extraordinary Rendition, CIA Blacksites and Guantanamo Bay) with hilarious parodies of various Marvel characters. Characters he rendered pathetic and delusional just to hammer home how immature he believes the superhero concept to be (note the barbed and meta "done so much for our culture" comment from Marshal).