Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Marshal Law: The Kingdom Of The Blind (one-shot)

"A lot of people say I hate heroes.  That's not true you know...you see I just LOVE beating the crap out of them!" - Marshal Law

If you haven't read my two previous posts on Marshal Law then here is a quick summary.  He's an ex-soldier from a catastrophic war between the US and various South American countries.  Genetically fiddled with, the soldiers were given super strength and resiliance and when they returned to civilian life many ended up very messed up and Joe Gilmore became Marshal Law, a secret policeman who specialised in dealing with "heroes" roaming the wreckage of the former San Francisco now renamed San Futuro after a devastating earthquake destroyed much of the city.  At the same time the government was making supersoldiers they were also creating more traditional superheroes as propaganda tools, who were murderous, venal and corrupt yet worshipped by the masses.  The first miniseries I looked at, "Fear And Loathing" saw Marshal Law tangle with "The Public Spirit" his earth's Superman analogue.  The Public Spirit was assassinated by the government after becoming an embarrasment to them with his drug fueled murderous antics.  This 1991 one-shot follows directly on from that first miniseries and has a very somber tone. "Marshal Law Takes Manhattan" which came after this one saw the finger of fun being poked at Marvel's superhero line-up in a slightly more humorous tale.  This time writer Pat Mills and artist Kevin O'Neill take on the Batman archetype, in a typically savage and bloody deconstruction.  This one-shot was another "TOXIC Presents" deal, but has been collected in the hardback Complete Marshal Law book, which I don't own hence the rather murky scans of a twenty-four year old comic printed on crummy paper.  Let us continue.
Introducing The Private Eye.
The story begins with a mocked up newspaper front page called "The Public Eye".  It claims that a hero called "The Private Eye" is the cure for the crime epidemic sweeping San Futuro.  We then see a huge building and zoom inside it as a man narrates his thoughts, he is billionaire Scott Brennan aka The Private Eye.

He thinks about how he has the same dream every night.  Lots of hands grabbing and grasping trying to "take it all away from me."  They are animals, diseased, parasitic dog-meat.  So every night he goes out and deals with them.  But once he's cut out their greed he's doing them a favour, they'll become "victims" and then "they'll get sympathy from all the do-gooders and bleeding hearts".
He ruminates that some people speculate that he has "something wrong in the bed department".  But "sex is a poor mans polo" and he keeps himself pure because there are "more exciting things to do at night."  He then puts on his crime fighting uniform asks the shrine to his dead parents if they approve of what he does?  Does he have their blessing?  "After all, you were the ones who taught me to love the dark".  They were shot leaving a video rental store when he was a teenager.

He drives out in his Eye-Mobile, while a news report fills in the role of Marshal Law in local law enforcement over the radio.  Private Eye accosts a young man who just robbed an off-licence.  He beats him badly and tells him:

Private Eye: "I am a specialist of criminal disorders. And I intend to cure this city of the infection that is eating its soul."
Interesting um.. weapon there Suicida.
Meanwhile a crazy war vet called Suicida and his gang are causing a commotion at a sex shop that caters for superhero fetishes.  Suicida thinks it's explotative of the ex-soldiers.  The clerk says they donate money to a veteran's rehabilitation fund.

Suicida: "I don't want to be rehabilitated!  I like being a psychopath!"

Then Marshal Law arrives and they have a knock down, drag out fight that Marshal wins.  He drops Suicida down a hole and then tells the rest of his gang to tell him the war is over.  "You know our war is never over" snarls one gang member back at Marshal, who is then called away.

He finds Private Eye in the process of slicing up a criminal.  Marshal calls out to him to stop or he'll fire.  "Somehow I don't think so, Marshal" says Private Eye, and he swoops away.  Marshal speaks to the criminal who is now minus seven fingers.  Apparently Private Eye offered him the choice, ten years or ten fingers.  Marshal notes he's been left three fingers, "time off for good behaviour?"  This incenses the man:

Criminal: "I don't believe this! Marshal Law the hero hunter, siding with the hero! Why..? What's so special about Private Eye?"

Marshal says nothing.  Back with Private Eye's thoughts and he notes that Marshal "reveres him as a God."  Falling for the myth he has created of the avenging hero looking after the city.

Private Eye: "He turns a blind eye to the truth.  That I secretly fear them as much as they fear me... that I'm terrified my dream will come true."
Definitely one of the best designed and coolest characters ever.
He runs over another criminal, the underside of his car cutting then stitching up the man as he drives over him.  He arrives at an orphanage and a nun introduces the kids to him.  The nun thanks him for coming, Private Eye notes that his father would invite orphans to their house on Christmas day "to share in their good fortune" so he's always had an interest in them.

She says he's done good work placing children with his rich friends.  He says he wonders if he has the right to "adopt another after the tragic death of my last six wards?"  Then he asks how number seven is shaping up and is introduced to a young boy in a green superhero costume called Tom.  Private Eye asks how he'd like to be the next "Emergency Ward?"  Tom is excited and says yes. 

After a conversation about his shruken genitals courtesy of the anti-masturbation pills the nuns give the children, Private Eye says he'll have fun with him, no time for girls. Tom says he might end up like Public Spirit.  "Yes, I think you probably will" says Private Eye.
The new Emergency Ward.
And in a grimly humourous cut, we shift to Public Spirit's funeral, which is well attended by screaming fans.  In his underground base, Marshal Law and his friend and fellow cop, a huge man called "Kiloton", are watching.  Marshal says he wishes he could have been there, "to kick the corpse".  Kiloton says Marshal Law hates heroes even when they are dead.

Marshal Law says Public Spirit was "murderous scum" and that it's a "pity the government had to cover up what a slime he really was."  They spot Scott Brennan giving the eulogy.  Everyone knows he is Private Eye and Kiloton says they need to go after him next.  Marshal admits he bumped into him the other night and let him go, much to Kiloton's horror:

Kiloton: "Joe, he's even more of a shit than the Public Spirit."

Marshal: "Oh, I don't know.  I used to really admire the guy."

Marshal says he has an aura like Dracula, a "ruler of the night."  Kiloton points out he's a "pervert who enjoys pain" and in the thirty years he's been hacking up criminals crime has actually sextupled. 

Marshal says Private Eye is an American institution, Kiloton says he belongs in one.  Kiloton then shows him an article by Scott Brennan criticising Marshal Law and when Marshal shrugs it off, Kiloton says that it's a warning shot.  Private Eye knows Marshal is responsible for the circumstances around Public Spirit's death and will come after him. Marshal says they are both in the business of "dealing with punks".
Do YOU feel lucky?
Kiloton says the difference is that Marsal has the badge behind him.  Then he asks Marshal why he thinks Private Eye goes on about the deaths of his parents so much  He would love to know what really happened the night they were murdered.  This leads us into a flashback to said night.  At the video store, a teenage Scott is checking out the porn.  His father says it's not suitable and his mother has picked him something wholesome from the cartoon section.  "'Wholesome', that's rich coming from you" says Scott as they leave.

Then outside his parents are shot by their butler Albert.  His mother dies instantly his father is injured but still alive.  Scott thanks Albert then asks for the gun to finish his father off and blows his brains out.  Back in the present, Private Eye thinks back to how he learned so much about manipulating the human psyche to create a hero figure, from his father's notes. "Enabling me to declare war on them and make them love me for it."
Private Eye's Secret Origin.
He walks up to the coffins holding his parents remains and says "thanks pop".  He walks outside his "Eyrie" which towers above the city and takes a piss over the edge, over "his" city.  Then he goes back inside and is attacked by Albert, this is allowed as it keeps Private Eye on his toes.  Albert is still working for him thanks to Scott blackmailing him about his role in his parent's death.

Private Eye sits and thinks and we get a flashback to his parents who are scientists doing cruel experiments on animals.  Most crucially sewing up a newborn kitten's eyes then finding out when they take the stitches out weeks later it can't see.  They also decapitate Scott's dog and keep it alive via machinery.

Then they start experimenting on Scott, on Christmas day he is allowed to open his presents and play with them in the morning, then in the afternoon they invite orphans to come over and force Scott to give them his toys.  Then they tested how he would react to sight deprivation and make him wear a hood all the time.

Private Eye: "For months I staggered about in the dark.  I was as blind as a bat... and I learned to love the dark."
Flashback to Scott's childhood.
He began plotting the deaths of his parents then too.  In the present Kiloton has gained access to one of Scott Brennan's slaughterhouses and found that as well as animals he's been keeping the bodies of his wards, including Tom as organ donors for him and sold to others too.  Kiloton shows Marshal this via a comm link:

Kiloton: "The Private Eye is Dracula, okay... a vampire preying on young boys."

Then Private Eye swoops down and rams a huge chainsaw through Kiloton, this galvanises Marshal Law into action, "It's time Marshal Law. I'll be waiting for you" taunts Private Eye.

Marshal Law arrives at the slaughterhouse to be greeted by the dismembered corpse of Kiloton.  He admits he was blind to Private Eye's true motives, but now he sees Private Eye for the monster he is.  His thermal imaging gun detects someone and he fires, killing Albert.  Then Private Eye bursts out from some hanging cow meat and attacks.
Ewwwww.
They trade gunfire and Marshal Law gets knocked down and lands besides Private Eye, before he can get up Private Eye applies an electro-shock weapon to Marshal's nuts.  Marshal pretends it hurts, before revealing he had that area reinforced and he kicks Private Eye away.  He grabs a nearby hammer and strikes Private Eye in the chest, but Private Eye has that area armoured as well and he draws a gun on Marshal.

Private Eye sneers at the rest of humanity, but Marshal just insults him by insinuating he has sex with his wards.  He then jams some hanging meat into Private Eye and escapes down a conveyor belt.  He uses his camoflague cloak to disguise himself and hides in a pile of cow guts.  He then rises up and grapples Private Eye into a tank of boiling water where he hits him very hard.
Batman had celebrated his 50th anniversary a couple of years prior to this.
They get ejected down another conveyor, Marshal lands safely but Private Eye ends up hanging over a huge meat grinder.  He pleads for help from Marshal.

Marshal Law: "Not even Private Eye deserves such a hideous, cruel death...gotta... gotta save him.  Just as soon as I've blown my nose."

Private Eye loses his grip and falls into the grinder.  A huge fountain of blood sprays up and an eyeball falls into Marshal's hand.  He squishes it in contempt.  Then he returns to the body of Kiloton and salutes it, the comic ends with him thinking:

Marshal Law: "I'm a hero hunter.  I hunt heroes.  I guess maybe I found one."
Paying Kiloton the ultimate tribute.
"Kingdom Of The Blind" is very Marshal Law take on Batman.  It wickedly skewers elements such as the fetishisation of his parents death and his habit of putting young boys in danger as his wards (Jason Todd had recently been killed when this came out and of course Damien Wayne got killed not long ago as well.  They got better eventually) but with, of course, a sadistic and murderous twist.  Having him as a "hero" who in some ways Marshal looks up to adds an interesting frisson to the story and Kiloton stepping up and taking things into his own hands of course gives us the wonderful moment when Marshal realises he finally found a hero, albeit at the cost of Kiloton's life.  If I have a criticism, it's that parodying The Dark Knight Returns use of a long inner monologues makes some parts extremely slow and wordy when perhaps a couple more pages would have stretched them over the action more effectively, although maybe I am just hungry for more Kevin O'Neill art!  Anyway, this is Mill and O'Neill once again at their savage best, providing the kind of shotgun blast deconstruction of the superhero concept that writers like Garth Ennis would got on to perfect a decade or so later. Great stuff.

6 comments:

  1. The most recent Pat Mills series, which ends tomorrow (for non-subscribers), also deals with the topic of 'pseudo-heroes' who need to be killed for the good of the rest of us. It's set in seventeenth-century England.

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  2. Oh? That sounds intriguing... what's it called? And was it any good?

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  3. It's called Defoe. It's all right, except that it's obviously about twenty-first century England, which makes me wonder why Mr Mills didn't just write a comic that was set in twenty-first century England.

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  4. Yeah does sound odd. He should set it in the 21st century society he predicted Britain would become when writing about it in 1989 *snicker*

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  5. I agree with you, marshal law is one of the coolest character designs ever. I wish he still had a series today!

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  6. I'd LOVE more Marshal Law as well. Still I need to get the Best Of Compilation at some point, so I am sure more will get covered here.

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