Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Reprint This! Third World War

Reprint This! is a periodic feature where I talk about some out-of-print comic book gems that are not available in collected form for readers to enjoy. This is hoping to let rights owners know that, yes, readers are out here, and we'd like to buy the things we can't get at this time!

Despite such an enormous variety of books available these days, and genuine efforts to present the material in reasonably-priced, archival volumes, there are still countless fabulous series from the US, Britain and Japan which are overdue for new editions. I've selected several titles which should be on bookshelves, but at this time are not.

One missing gem is THIRD WORLD WAR by Pat Mills and a variety of artists, including co-creator Carlos Ezquerra, John Hicklenton and Sean Phillips. Borrowing from the listing I wrote for the Touched by the Hand of Tharg fan site, the series "concerns a near-future where corporations have grown so powerful that they can conscript soldiers to assist them in clearing the native populations of south and central America from regions necessary for their economic stranglehold over Western consumerism. "

Third World War was one of two series chosen to launch the twice-monthly anthology comic Crisis in 1988. The plan was to present a pair of 14-page color episodes in each issue, and these would later be shrunk and compiled in the smaller American comic format. It gave Carlos Ezquerra the opportunity to work in full color for the first time in his career and so, already unsatisfied with the long-term plans to conclude his ongoing series Strontium Dog in 2000 AD and now having the chance to work with Pat Mills, the artist jumped on board.

It's a real shame that it's not a better series, but it's certainly a polarizing and fascinating one. As I said over at Hand of Tharg, "Truly, it's hard to disagree with the points raised in this series, especially as companies like Wal-Mart and Starbucks continue a stranglehold on the marketplace, but it's done with such po-faced pretension that the final product is incredibly disagreeable. Mills depicts Christian characters, not for the last time, as two-dimensional retards, and the 'open-minded' heroes, Eve and an eco-terrorist named Paul, who would later resurface as the titular character in 2000 AD's Finn, are only open-minded insofar as they reject conventional society in favor of paganism and rebellion."

There's a lot more to Third World War than most American readers saw. Ezquerra only stayed with the series through its first phase, set in Central America, and opted for a return to Judge Dredd rather than illustrate the wild adventures awaiting Eve when she returned back to a very ugly, near-future Britain where economic collapse has sent most of the nation's youth to find the only work available, as gunmen for corporations. Without a consistent artist, the strip as a whole suffered, but individual installments by Hicklenton, Phillips, Glyn Dillon and others were fascinating. Joined by co-writer Alan Mitchell, Mills put Eve through the ringer in a long battle of wits against a drunken police inspector obsessed with her.

It's tempting to use my blog as a platform to prop up unavailable comics as really being gems of overlooked brilliance. Third World War is not one of those. It's highly flawed and very dated, but that's actually what makes it so very interesting from a present perspective. Pat Mills has long been an iconoclast of a writer, bucking convention and presenting antiheroes as protagonists. This was the first time, though, that he really threw caution to the wind and really railed against the social injustices that he perceived. It's Mills without restraint, as the editors of Crisis stepped back and let him have his platform. The result is never subtle and it almost every page screams "right on!" like an undergraduate on a free speech platform, but every page is equally fascinating, and the artwork is often just amazing.

Plus, you know, it makes you think.

Third World War originally ran for 49 episodes, each about 14 pages, throughout the first 53 issues of Crisis. With nearly 700 color pages in total, this looks like a good bet for a three-volume paperback collection. I've been crossing my fingers that Rebellion would begin licensing the material from Crisis, and give it the same high-end treatment that they do with 2000 AD's stories. It's long overdue, but what do you say, Rebellion? Why not put this back into print for a new generation to consider it?


  1. Rebellion don't own the rights. :-(

    But this would make a great collection.

  2. Mr Hitler's Holiday was reprinted as a separate standalone reissue, and maybe a trade paperback too.
    The Publication Crisis was actually pulled by Robert Maxwell himself, because he didn't like the implied illuminati theme running through the Third World War story arc, esp. The Shining Ones. One of the victims of Finn as The Green Knight was vert similar to Maxwell himself, in looks and occupation. It didn't transfer over very well into 2000AD as Finn. The artwork was excellent, but 2000AD with it's younger demographic couldn't carry such politically sensitive issues as WWIII could in Crisis. Or rather, couldn't.

  3. It looks like Rebellion is more likely to be in a position to reprint these days, with the deal they cut last year.