All illustrations are © Kevin O'Neill & Pat Mills
Behind the mask
Marshal Law is a policeman with a secret identity, Joe Gilmore, who does voluntary work for an hospital. Joe Gilmore is a veteran of The Zone, a war that occurred in Panama, Ecuador, Brazil and Venezuela. Like all the Screaming Eagles employed by the government for its South American guerrillas, he was made a superhero by being genetically enhanced. Basically, his nervous system does generate an electrical feedback that has the effect of blocking any information coming from nerve pain. Since then, he cannot feel pain (the symbolism of barbed wire around the arm), which will offset much of his psyche. This fact, along with schizophrenic tendencies, will feed much of the character development. As a result of this genetic engineering, Marshal Law also gets super strength, but he often deals with his opponents using a multi purposed gun.
In the near future described by the authors, Marshal Law is officially a police officer employed by the government to manage the gang of super heroes, often veterans of The Zone too, in the most dangerous neighborhood of San Futuro, San Francisco renamed after an earthquake has devastated the city.
Birth of a (literally) anti hero
The original character comes from a graphic design by Kevin O'Neill, and was originally intended to serve in a role playing game book as a police officer. Starpo, as he was called at this time, was not a super being, but already was designed to have this kind of fascist look. Pat Mills had already tried to develop this type of book, including characters from 2000 AD magazine (Slaine, Nemesis illustrated by Kevin O'Neill too, Torquemada) and even one where the reader had to incarnate Margaret Thatcher. With Starpo, one was intended to resolve a police investigation. Some elements of the plot will eventually find their way in the first story of Marshal Law, like the scene with the priest in the confessional. At that time, the environment of the story was not super hero related.
Eventually, the project was never published, but the character was found so attractive by the authors, that they choose to recycle him for a comic project proposed to Epic Comics (a subsidiary company in creator own of Marvel Comics).
For the editor was not prompted to give them a response, the authors had time to explore the background of their creation.
Below early sketches from the Graphitti Design Edition
Because Kevin O’Neill had given to the character the appearance of a super hero, Mills decided to look further into the genre, for which he had not a very positive first impression. And his research led him to loath much of the imagery used in this industry, particularly in time of war. Indeed, with his previously First World War British strip Charley’s war, Pat Mills had described in details what’s really defined a true hero, and it had nothing to do with what the caped crusaders stand for. Fortunately for us, he decided to direct this hatred for phony super heroes in his creative process: Marshal Law will be his spokesman, his catharsis, his hero hunter.
For that reason, Marshal Law is not to be confused with a satire of the genre, even if it contains a lot of humor and DC/Marvel Comics references. Its main purpose is to be a manifesto to answer the question ask in the title of this blog.