Retro Review: Third World War Book Two: Back to Babylon

By Pat Mills, Alan Mitchell, Malachy Coney, Carlos Ezquerra, Sean Phillips, Duncan Fegredo, plus Angie Kincaid, Richard Piers Rayner, Glyn Dillon and John Hicklenton

Review by Luke Williams

The Book: After her eye-opening experiences of corporate interference in Central America, Eve returns to Britain with a renewed political drive and determination to fight for what she believes in.

Written in the late 1980s by Pat Mills (Nemesis the Warlock, Slaine), this incendiary second volume of the ground-breaking political comic not only contains contributions by legend Carlos Ezquerra (Judge Dredd, Preacher) but also introduced now international comics stars Sean Phillips (Criminal, Kill or Be Killed) and Duncan Fegredo (Hellboy, Kid Eternity).

The Review: Third World War is the Pat Mills and Carlos Ezquerra created strip that featured in the late 1980s early 1990s Fleetway published 2000AD stablemate, Crisis.

If Crisis were published today, it would be considered woke. As it was then, there were accusations of it being heavy handed and overly worthy, however, it did publish some wonderful strips in its 63 fortnightly and monthly issue life span. It also gave Pat Mills a forum to write about many of the political issues that concerned him, without the filter of a warped warrior, a far future alien freedom fighter or weary and ancient war droids.

Third World War Book Two Art

Third World War Book Two: Back to Babylon picks up from the end of Book One, reviewed here, where we left Eve Collins on leave from “Freeaid”, (the Free World Agency For International Development) the organisation into which she was conscripted at the beginning of Book One. In Book Two, she’s back home in Britain in the year 2000, a country policed by private paramilitary companies, where there are no go zones in inner cities and corporations dictate government policy.

Book One’s focus was on multinational corporations and the western world exploiting the developing world (as it was known then). Book Two ramps up the themes of racism and colonialism, but closer to home, within the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

Third World War Book Two - Ivan

The structure is similar to Book One, made up of a series of short stand alone strips, at most four episodes, that fit into an overarching plot. To lend the story authenticity, Pat Mills, ever the meticulous researcher, wrote this story in collaboration with the late Alan Mitchell and Malachy Coney, who had direct experience of events similar to those dramatised in the book. After 30 years, none of them have lost their impact, and, if anything, they may even be more affecting as your reviewer has got older.

Now that the strip is set in our “past”, Mills & Co. couldn’t have predicted the changes in technology and politics in the ten years following publication in the early 1990s; but they weren’t wildly off the mark, in spirit, if not in specifics.

There are appearances from some of Book One’s supporting cast. Paul, Eve’s on/off lover becomes increasingly important to the plot and Ivan continues to act as comic relief. But there is more focus on Eve’s relationship with her boyfriend Rohan, who appeared briefly at the start of Book One, the introduction of her family and, most notably, members of the Black African Defence Squad, which sets the direction for the whole book.

Third World War Book Two - art by Richard Piers Rayner
Art by Richard Piers Rayner

Art wise, Carlos Ezquerra returns, but there is also work here from a returning Angie Kincaid, a far more confident Sean Phillips, a manic Duncan Fegredo, a sadly underused Richard Piers Rayner, Glyn Dillon of Deadline and Nao Of Brown fame – and a typically unhinged John Hicklenton.

Hicklenton’s contribution is particularly effective, considering the subject matter of his sequence, regardless of the inappropriate colouring. Despite the wide range of styles, the book is beautifully drawn and hangs together very well. If anything, the change in art styles complements the story and serve as natural breaks.

What hasn’t changed is the writing style. Like Book One, there are extended sequences where characters just pontificate. The subject matter is worthy (and not in the commonly used pejorative sense), the arguments are sound, but like Book One, the story slows the plot down to a crawl. The characters are well rounded and interesting, but frequently they can become just be plain irritating, patronising and unsympathetic. However, as ever with Pat Mills, his villains are truly odious, Chief Inspector Ryan is a Torquemada without the religious zeal and the human race behind him.

Third World War Book Two - Art by John Hicklenton
Art by John Hicklenton

Third World War Book Two offers an important stage in the strip, not just for the themes that it introduces and how it was an attempt to raise awareness of issues that are still with us today, if not more so. But it also has features absolutely stunning art from some of the best of British and European artists.

This is where the world of Third World War begins to expand, and the seeds for 2000AD’s spin off Finn series are cultivated.

Like the first book, for all its preachiness it helped broaden your reviewer’s horizons and certainly informed their politics. Hopefully, Rebellion will complete the run with a collection of Book Three in the near future.

Luke Williams

Third World War Book Two - WebShop Exclusive Cover

Buy Third World War Book Two: Back to Babylon (AmazonUK Affiliate Link)
ISBN: 9781781089293
First Published: 5th January 2021
Price: £19.99
Pages: 256
Format: standard paperback and 2000AD webshop exclusive hardcover with cover by Sean Phillips
Dimensions: 259×168mm

Copies of the limited edition hardback Third World War Book Two are still available from the Treasury of British Comics web shop

Read Luke Williams review of Third World War Book One here

Read the downthetubes tribute to Alan Mitchell

Categories: British Comics, British Comics - Collections, British Comics - Current British Publishers, Comics, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News, Features, Reviews

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