The book’s first story, “Origins,” establishes the character and his world. Set in post-earthquake San Francisco analogue San Futuro, Marshal Law surreptitiously hunts down superheroes that run rampant over the city’s civilian population, while his Zone War veteran alter ego, Joe Gilmore, provides care for patients in a hero hospital. “Somehow Joe, alone, had kept a spark of human decency,” setting him apart from the seemingly countless heroes gone wrong. Gilmore is haunted by the “Zone Roses,” civilian victims of a military action during the war, leading him to a moral crisis and reconsideration of his true identity.
“Cloak of Evil” is based on the actual Profumo espionage affair, then adds, as a character says, “orgies, missing in action superheroes, threats from outer space, satanic secret societies” to a more typical Marshal Law story of sex, extreme violence, and heroes behaving very badly. It’s nearly all plot, punctuated by Law’s ongoing invective and retribution. Of the book’s two stories, this reads more like fleshed-out comic book script, but both novellas suffer from skimpy detail and description, relying on O’Neill’s illustrations to provide images of Law’s brutal world that the text doesn’t adequately convey. Likewise, apart from the mental conflict between the Law and Gilmore identities in “Origins,” the stories lack much in the way of characterization.
Origins shows promise as a suitable format for Mills and O’Neill to express their sentiments about war, imperialism, government conspiracies and cover-ups, and—of course—heroes. And it may be that Marshal Law may also be developed into a suitable vehicle for stories built on these themes. This work, however, seems like a transitional step between graphic and prose forms, not firmly enough in either to test Marshal Law’s adaptability to media outside of comics, nor likely to attract many new readers to the character.