Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Marshall Law: Fear and Loathing

Pat Mills & Kevin O'Neill Marshall Law: Fear and Loathing (1989)
Pat Mills is of course the man who invented British comics but isn't Alan Moore - or something along those lines: the creator of 2000AD, Judge Dredd, and other names from a list as long as your arm or longer. Cutting his teeth on populist weeklies requiring stories which moved quickly in short, sharp bursts of six or seven pages, he soon developed a style entirely his own characterised by bold subversive statements, black humour, and dialogue so brash as to read like an exercise in seeing what he could get away with.

If that suggests the comics equivalent of The Sex Pistols, or at least Crass with jokes, neither should Pat Mills' work be regarded as lacking sophistication. Marshall Law is a superhero comic about hatred of superheroes, their inherent elitism and the double standards. It's a massive, hilarious contradiction which throws all manner of Freudian shit into the mix, belches Jonathan Swift flavoured cheeseburgers in your face, and, like most of Pat Mills' comics, actually bothers to say something.

Of course, dealing in big statements about the evils of society, it may fire off target from time to time - notably where stereotypically chaste female characterisation is countered with women as sexually voracious clichés; it's not so much that it's annoying as that it hints at a slightly weird overcompensation born largely of male insecurity, and it's ambiguous as to what the writer is trying to say; but this is a minor observation. I recall this sort of heavy-handed feminism coming over as sometimes misjudged in Third World War, but then Third World War is hardly likely to be remembered for its wit, chuckles being some way removed from its purpose. Marshall Law on the other hand is positively dripping with sarcasm, and yes that is a form of wit, and so it holds together quite nicely.

Kevin O'Neill's Disney-Vorticist artwork is as always bizarre, anatomically brutal, and weirdly fascinating, a perfect companion to the narrative to the point that Marshall Law could not possibly have been drawn by anyone else. Aside perhaps from Grant Morrison taking over Doom Patrol, 1989 was an otherwise unremarkable year in terms of the comics mainstream, so Marshall Law stood out as  seriously weird shit when it first appeared, and two decades later, it has lost none of its power. If Watchmen was a clenched fist in a velvet glove, Marshall Law is a prune-juice enema.

I'm saying that's a good thing.

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