Marshal Law:
Blood, Sweat & Fears

by Pat Mills, Kevin O'Neill
(Titan, 2003)

Originally published a decade ago, Marshal Law followed the constant struggle of a lawman whose job is to take down any would-be superheroes with any means necessary. Marshal Law: Blood, Sweat & Fears collects three stories/chapters of the series. "Kingdom of the Blind" has Marshal Law squaring off against a caped crusader with a deadly secret. The next chapter, "Super Babylon," begins the marshal's battle against the resurrected corpses of past superheroes, which concludes in "The Hateful Dead."

As if the cover doesn't say it enough (Marshal Law is splitting through a Superman-esque torso complete with splitting ribs), this book is beyond violent. (I guess the proper description is "uber-violent"?) It's like a latter-day George Romero zombie movie thrown into a blender with cellophane-veiled superhero references, garnished with a bit of T&A just to keep it spicy. As the "hero," Marshal Law is a fascist extrusion of authority with an S&M costume (complete with a barbed wire sleeve) and an endless cadre of weapons.

The problem with this graphic novel is that it borders between violent superhero romp and satire, but never takes a side. It's not just the writing by Pat Mills; the inconsistent scratchy/cartoony art of Kevin O'Neill reinforces the go-between nature. Violence is taken to a ridiculous level, providing a visual visceral gore-fest whose purpose is questionable at best and ludicrous at worst. The satirical aspects are over-used elements, even for 10 years ago: Adversaries that are actually superheroes with deep, dark (gasp!) SECRETS! Batman & Robin-esque homosexual references? -- like that's NEVER been done before. Wonder Woman bondage jokes? Pointing out the lame qualities of Golden Age superheroes?

Honestly, this graphic novel offers nothing new. If you're itching for a violent superhero romp, there's better stuff out there. If you're looking for satire, there's better stuff out there. If you're wanting both a violent superhero romp AND satire, there's still better stuff out there.

- Rambles
written by C. Nathan Coyle
published 19 February 2005

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