In Review: Third World War Book One

Third World War - Cover

By Pat Mills, Carlos Ezquerra, Matt Brooker / D’Israeli & Angela Kincaid
Publisher: Rebellion
Out: 9th January 2020

Eve is unemployed after leaving university and is immediately conscripted as a soldier working for a corporation and discovers just how South American countries are being exploited to create food needed to feed the increasing population for their profit under the guise of western paternalism…

To begin at the beginning. “Third World War”, created by Pat Mills and Carlos Ezquerra was one of the two launch strips in Crisis, Fleetway’s overtly political stab at creating an “adult” comic the brainchild of Steve MacManus, long term editor of 2000AD.

Set around the turn of this century, it depicts a world where the Third World had tried to overthrow the control the multinational corporations and their government lackeys had over their population’s way of life, since the end of the British Empire and the Second World War. Consequently, the multinationals, most notably “Multi Foods” (a huge food conglomerate) and their first world allies had begun to re-impose control and “economic and political stability” with a combination of military intervention and delivering aid via organisations such as “Freeaid” (The Free World Agency For International Development).

Eve Collins, an 18-year-old A level student, is drafted into Freeaid, and finds herself in Central America with four other “freaks”, the psychologically damaged members of “Market Force”, a military unit whose task is to win the hearts and minds of the local population: Paul, a witch; Trisha, a South African born Christian evangelist; Garry the football hooligan and Ivan, a paranoid army school brat with a mohican.

Third World War - Join Free Aid

Third World War: Market Force

Broken down into short story arcs, the cast encounter evidence of exploitation, depravation, ecological devastation and human rights abuses. With Eve as narrator, it becomes a tour of a nameless Central American country, and a litany of the destructive effect that the presence of western culture, consumerism and politics has had on the population.

Politically, Third World War represents almost a distillation of Pat Mills’s writing up to its first publication in Crisis in the 1988. You can trace the origins (if not necessarily the specific topics) of this all the way from “Charley’s War”, through his 2000AD work, “Marshal Law” and beyond. Pat is never particularly subtle, but there is no subtext here – it’s all front and centre.

The result is that Third World War is hard hitting politically and quite savage, but the research that Mills undertook, and feels the need to impart, almost swamps the narrative, in places becoming a screed. Injustices are an opportunity for characters to pontificate. The strip’s plots slow to a crawl as it becomes a diatribe with a plot attached.

Third World War - Sample

Third World War - Sample

Some of the characters also sink into stereotype and are far too earnest and worthy, their dialogue occasionally stilted and unlikely. Trisha has no depth and is present only as a conservative, right wing foil for Eve, saved only by the irony that she seemingly has a crush on her. Eve herself is too “right on”. Garry is Club 18-30 party man who likes a drink and a ruck. Ivan is probably the most rounded, certainly the most likeable – and the pair bring some much needed levity.

The commanding officer of Market Force is the resident representative “villain” on hand to have that handy expositional chat or to act as another counter point to Eve, but that is his limit. Mills can create fabulous baddies, but here he is so Machiavellian as to be unconvincing, particularly in a comic that that was essentially extrapolating current (1988) events and political situations and aiming for realism.

Third World War - Sample

Third World War - Sample

Third World War - Sample

The endless soap boxing does become tiresome but as the story progresses the focus shifts to questions over Paul’s past and his identity. There are some great character moments when the cast are not acting like sub editors on The New Internationalist, and the strip works better when the characters are able to react to the events around them, weaving their message into the plot and script, rather than the other way around.

The original strip had prefacing chronology pages that appear to have been omitted from this edition. It’s interesting that although we are 20 years past the pivotal date of 2000, Mills may not have foreseen technological developments, but there are predictions that aren’t too far from the mark. His research is meticulous and exhaustive; frankly, he’s a machine and should be lauded for it. He has extrapolated what had already occurred since 1945 and taken it to its next stage. Low intensity conflict? Check. Multinationals exploiting unrest and regime change? Check.

Third World War - Sample

Third World War - Sample

Carlos Ezquerra was an interesting choice for this kind of strip. Third World War was drawn just before the artistic tour de force that was Judge Dredd: Necropolis. He proves here that he could turn his hand to most things, even the quieter (or rather, talkier) moments of the strip are wonderfully drawn. The militaristic environment, the jungle etc and the occupational army suit his talents. The art is bold and colourful with some dynamic page layouts – always one of his strengths. Beautiful work, and there are original pages in the “wild” for those who are made of money and have a hankering to own a piece by the King.

A young D’Israeli and Angela Kincaid (co-creator of Slaine) fill in for an episode each, and jar a little, but not enough to disrupt the flow.

Included in the edition are the cover of Crisis Issue One, and reprints of the remaining Carlos drawn covers.

As much as reading Third World War occasionally feels like wading through treacle, it’s a good strip, and this collection delivers a great package with lovely art – and an important part of British comic history. It would be nice as a hardback.

Third World War introduced the teenage version of this writer to The Dead Kennedys, informed his politics, broadened his horizons, helped with his World Development GCSE and upset his eldest brother who considered the strip “subversive”.

It’s still topical, and perhaps for that reason alone, you should read it.

Review by Luke Williams

• Third World War is on sale on all good bookshops from 9th January 2020 and AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)

Comics and Graphic Novels on AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)

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