I first read Third World War in the pages of Crisis, where it was originally published back in 1988. This fortnightly anthology comic from the publishers of 2000AD started with two series, both aimed at more mature readers than its sci-fi sibling. To be honest, I suspect the radical ecological and socio-political message Pat Mills wrote into Third World War was a bit beyond my sixth-form sensibilities, though its message hits home a lot harder now and might well have a greater impact on a modern 16-year-old. Because perhaps the most interesting thing about his nightmarish vision of big corporations vs indigenous people is that it’s become all too close to reality.
The story follows Eve, a young British woman who’s conscripted into a sort of military service by the government. Working for the interests of a multinational food company she’s essentially employed to clear fertile South American land of its current inhabitants to make way for farms and food factories. Coercion, persuasion, bribery and lies are their main weapons, but if that doesn’t work, it’s followed up with bulldozers and guns. With a ramshackle group of colleagues (an Irish eco-warrior, a God-botherer, a lager lout and a skater-punk) she attempts to reason with locals despite not believing in the legality or morality of her missions.
There’s a depth of character to all this. Eve is torn between her personal requirement to make it through the horror of her enforced labour and the problems she has following the orders she has to perform. Her boyfriend Finn, the eco-warrior, is soon causing problems from within, while the other three characters are essentially there to put forward alternative points of view. It’s an interesting ensemble of teenagers, drawing on all sorts of influences, but liberally dashed with typical Mills-like anti-authoritarian attitude.
The series is mostly illustrated by the late, great Carlos Ezquerra, with a little sympathetic stand-in from D’Israeli and Angela Kincaid. Ezquerra does a solid job, as ever, in his inimitable style, carrying the story further than the words alone can take it, and creating a look for the characters that grounds them in time and place. With his style so familiar, it helps tone back some of the greater leaps of fantasy that Mills writes in.
As an impetuous youth I remember the story reading like overwrought eco-nonsense. In retrospect, I enjoyed the story far more this time round, flabbergasted that, written 30 years ago, it feels as important and pertinent today as it probably would have then if I’d cared more about the world. It lacks some pizazz, is relatively po-faced and perhaps a little short on charm, but nevertheless feels like a brave and important foray into a world where British comics were stepping over the thin red line of childhood and into the world of adults.