Thursday, 4 July 2013

Marshal Law: Kingdom of the Blind

Pat Mills & Kevin O'Neill Marshal Law: Kingdom of the Blind (1990)

Pat Mills and a group of other 2000AD luminaries formed Apocalypse Limited at the end of the 1980s as an alternative to what mainstream British comics publishing avenues were available at the time. It was felt that 2000AD had lost its bite to some degree, and Toxic! - the first regular Apocalypse title - was an attempt to bring some of that back; a doomed attempt as it happened. Whether the strips were just a little too abrasive for their own good, or it was the conspicuously weekly episodic division of longer stories clearly written with one significantly larger eye on American reprints, the public weren't buying, and the publisher folded.

About a year prior to the launch of Toxic!, Apocalypse Limited staked out its territory with this one off Marshal Law special which, I suspect, may also have served as a sort of toe of gratuitous violence dipped in the publishing waters: no longer obliged to answer to editors at either Epic or Fleetway, Pat Mills wanted to see how far he could push it.

Well, that's my theory anyway. I have no idea whether it's actually true, but it seems plausible when you compare the tone of Kingdom of the Blind to that of Marshal Law Takes Manhattan, the previous wacky adventure of that zany leather-clad cop with all the barbed wire wrapped around his right arm. Marshal Law is, for the uninitiated, Pat Mills' superhero comic about how much he loathes superheroes, and possibly the weirdest and perversely funniest thing Kevin O'Neill has ever drawn.

Where previous stories administered Chinese burns to Superman and the Marvel Comics pantheon respectively, Kingdom of the Blind dissects Batman; and much as I loved The Dark Knight Returns, it really does leave Frank Miller looking like a bit of a cunt, not that he's needed much help on that score of late. It's funny, bitterly sarcastic as you would expect, and this time quite phenomenally gruesome in its raking over the hitherto unexposed depths of psychological bullshit inherent in its target. Marshal Law was never going to work as an acceptable substitute for Betty and Veronica, but this one's tough going even by Mills' standards,
almost bordering on joyless during flashbacks to Scott Brennan's childhood. In addition, the conclusion feels a bit tacked on in lieu of better ideas - the aspirationally poignant death of Kiloton. It's not so much that he isn't a sympathetic character - although he isn't - as simply that this sort of thing doesn't really work in postscript to such a barrage of bile.

Still, not perfect but good stuff for the most part.

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