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December 12, 2010

Unsung Characters of Comicdom: Marshal Law

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Written by: Josh
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Marshal Law

Marshal Law was one of the harbingers of the anti-hero zeitgeist of the mid-nineties. The character was obviously inspired by titles such as Marvelman, Watchmen, and the Dark Knight Returns. Co-creator Keven O’ Neil even acknowledged these influences in an interview with the UK newspaper, The Times:

“What’s interesting is that when we pitched Marshal Law to Marvel Epic in the Eighties it was much more of a Road Warrior, Mad Max type of thing but we were kept waiting for a contract for so long – about a year – that we had a chance to talk it over. At that time there was a restless mood in comics – Alan Moore was doing Marvelman and Watchmen was just about coming out as was Frank Miller’s Dark Knight. People were looking at the superhero stuff differently.”

Inspiration is where the similarities end. If Watchmen was a dark look at current heroes of the time, then Marshal Law was a more drastic look at those already twisted heroes. The satire in Marshal Law is brilliant, and the comedy is as black as coal. In comparison, Watchmen is tame. I read this comic at the tender age of thirteen, and in the first issue there were bare breasts, strong sexual innuendo, rape, and gratuitous violence. Hell, the first chapter of the story is titled: “Stars and Strippers.” I don’t know if “Underground Bondage Comics” is a genre, but if it was, this book would fall into that category (among others). Imagine gimp masks, gas masks, barbwire, leather, chains, assless chaps, chestless braziers, and bizarre sex that exceeds Amsterdam’s wildest sex shows. OK, take the mental image and multiply it by a hundred. Now you’re getting the idea. The weird thing is that Marshal Law’s first appearance was published under the Marvel Epic line, making its contemporaries pale in comparison. This comic received early criticism for exploiting extreme subject matter for simple shock value, and even put into question the merit of creator controlled comics. Although those who stuck with the series soon realized that every horrendous action had a meaningful consequence. That being said, here’s another Unsung Characters of Comicdom that features the bane of my darkest repressed desires, Marshal Law!

The Screaming Eagle

Name: Joe Gilmore
Aliases/Codenames: Marshal Law, Screaming Eagle, The Vet
Occupations: Cave Cop, Hero Hunter, and Hospital Orderly
Base of Operations: San Futuro, CA (formally San Francisco)
Appearance: 6’2”, black hair, blue eyes, 240 lbs, numerous small scars or “track marks” on his arms
Powers: Invulnerability to pain but not physical or emotional harm
Weapons: Meat Cannon with special ammo (which include but are not limited to: Smart Bullets, S.H.O.C.C. absorbers, Cold Turkeys, Hot Lines, Dragnets, and Fear Gas), Peace Pipe (rocket launcher), a giant sledgehammer, and a good ol’ fashion cattle prod
Vehicles: Meat Wagon aka The Eagle

Origin: Being raised in a mortuary, Joe Gilmore was no stranger to death. In his youth, chaos broke out in San Francisco and surrounding areas following a massive earthquake on the San Andreas fault. Joe survived and was recruited by S.H.O.C.C. (Super Hero Operational Command and Control). After undergoing numerous excruciating and humiliating experiments under the leadership of Doctor Shocc, he was endowed with invulnerability to pain and super human strength. Without hesitation, he had fervently agreed to join Shocc’s army with hopes of maintaining peace in “The Zone” (the area suffering the repercussions of the quake, stretching from the Panama Canal to the Amazon Jungle). Shortly after, he became a member of an elite superhuman fighting squad known as the Screaming Eagles. He successfully executed many missions in The Zone, but in the process, committed atrocious acts towards humanity (and fellow supermen), all in the name of patriotism and the greater good. His actions in the war would later manifest as a deep-seeded self-loathing that manifested itself as an irrational hatred for his fellow super-humans. Shortly after coming home from the war, Joe took up the mantle of The Vet. This was an attempt to help him relate to other veterans of a war that had consumed most of his life, but he soon became alienated and disillusioned with this particular guise. Most of his fellow veterans had joined super-human street gangs, and appeared to be violently insane. The remainder of his comrades had suffered irreparable damages to their bodies and were now permanently disabled. The fortunate ones were admitted to a sub-par veterans home with deplorable conditions and poor funding from the government. The rest were left to fend for themselves on the streets as beggars and vagabonds. The mouthpiece for the Super Human Recruitment Act was a perverted amalgam of Captain America and Superman known as Colonel Buck Caine aka The Public Spirit. This “American hero” became a catalyst for Joe’s obsessive disdain for the super human community. In contrast to the bright primary colors of The Public Spirit’s costume, Joe dawned a costume of black and dark red leather with strips of barbwire adorning his arms. He soon invaded The Zone (now a war torn wasteland) as a one man killing machine known only as Marshal Law. His activities where given legitimate sanction by the San Futuro Police Department, but he was offered no backup other than weapons and financial support. Even if he was offered help in The Zone, he wouldn’t take it. He wouldn’t give his enemies the satisfaction of knowing that it took more than one man to take them down, and that man had to be him. This is a twisted morality that he adheres to piously. It’s uncertain whether his current mental state is a result of his physical alteration, the horrors of war, or both. Regardless, documents leaked from his psychological record list a number of serious mental issues. Following his mental evaluation, he was diagnosed as manic, violent, anti-social, obsessive, and life-threatening. The attending doctor’s recommended treatment? A full frontal lobotomy.

Allies (individuals): Sorry–The Nearly Man (a man with no powers other than his thirteen inch…tail, which he hides by strapping to his leg), Commissioner McGland, Lynn Evans (deceased girlfriend of Joe), Kiloton (deceased), Danny (computer expert), Razorhead, Savage Dragon (aided in the apprehension of The Commandment Killer via time travel, but mysteriously disappeared shortly thereafter), Growing Boy (a would-be side kick/boy companion)

Allies (law enforcement/ groups/ organizations): Star Police (No Jurisdiction in The Zone), Cave Cops (total members unknown, a vigilante force with no restrictions or limits), San Futuro PD (No Jurisdiction in The Zone beyond Martial Law), The Secret Tribune (this team formally led by Marshal Law includes: Lichenstein, Vrilla, Ragnarok, Breathless, Rune, Anti-Man, and Professor Zeitgeist)

The Secret Tribunal


Antagonists (individuals): The Mask (powered by Danny Mallon instead of Stanly Ipkiss), Suicida, Genicida (Mask incarnation of Suicida), Wire Mother, The Public Spirit aka Colonel Buck Caine, Willis Hood aka Father Hood, The Sleepman, Captain Curfew (arrested for indecent exposure and public urination…while in mid flight) & Whizz Kid, Big Bastard, Doctor Shocc, Hitler Hernandez, Pistaleros, The Betrayer aka Judas S Cariot, Scapegoat, Slugfest, Rimfire, GrimGram, Blue Murder, The Commandment Killer, Black Scarab, Private Eye (former ally who retained his youth by harvesting the organs of his sidekicks or “boy companions,” as they are commonly referred to by superheroes in San Futuro), The Persecutor, Pinhead (yes, that Pinhead), and Vindicta (a zombie superheroine who also happens to be the resurrected corpse of Marshal Law’s deceased girlfriend, Lynn Evans)

Antagonists (gangs/ groups/ organizations): S.H.O.C.C. (Super Hero Operational Command and Control), Wrecking Crew, Sewer-Sides, Brute Force, Neighbor Hoods, California Bastards, Group Therapy, Bad Energy, Ganggreen (not the band), Ammo-Zones, Cenobites (yes, those Cenobites), The Vicious Circle, The Skin Jobs, and The Incubus (an alien species that consumes its victim’s bones and organs, leaving only a deflated bag of flesh)

Hitler Hernandez, Pistaleros, The Betrayer aka Judas S Cariot, Scapegoat, Slugfest, Rimfire, GrimGram, and Blue Murder


In 1995, Marshal Law’s creators, Pat Mills and Kevin O’ Neil, signed a three year film option with Baby Productions. The screenplay and concept art was adapted from the original Marvel Epic mini-series, Fear and Loathing. In a 1997 statement, Pat promised, “there has been no compromise on the character and there won’t be.” Judging by the other films that were released in the same era (Tank Girl, The Mask, Judge Dread), this dedication to creative control is probably what eventually sank the project. As of 2002 Marshal Law seemed to have slipped into obscurity. But in 2008, Titan Books released Marshal Law: Origins, a collection of two novellas: The Day of the Dead and Cloak of Evil (one of which was previously unpublished). Then in 2010, Top Shelf Productions released Marshal Law: Omnibus, a massive full color hardcover with a whopping 512 pages! In closing, here’s a quote from Mark Millar that appears as a blurb on the back of the hardcover: Marshal Law is still my favorite comic book of all time.”

Josh Jones



  1. Billy

    If Millar endorses it, well, it must be pretty good.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Josh Jones and Josh Jones , Vickie Mullins. Vickie Mullins said: Unsung Characters of Comicdom: Marshal Law: This “American hero” became a catalyst for Joe's obsessive disdain f… http://bit.ly/ejc7Gw […]

  3. Sidekick = “boy companions” lol

    This is great man, and is this Erik Larson’s Savage Dragon or another character with the same name?

  4. Thanks Speech! ..and yes that’s Larson’s Dragon! http://tinyurl.com/34jreow

  5. Amazing dude.

  6. […] is also a really cool recap of the character’s history done by Josh over at Comic […]

  7. […] is also a really cool recap of the character’s history done by Josh over at Comic […]

  8. Tim Smith

    The omnibus was never released (though there if a DC published collection out in a few Weeks).

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