Thursday, 17 December 2015

Third World War: Book 1 (CRISIS #1-14)

"Wean the peasants away from subversion.  Win their hearts and mind" - Freeaid slogan

Given that I was raised by a hardcore lefty, during that most political of decades, the 1980's it probably comes as no surprise that I'm a pointy-headed lefty myself.  But while I would have become one sooner or later, it was actually a comic strip that opened my eyes to the inequalities of the world, it was a comic strip that really radicalised me age fourteen, and that comic strip was the Pat Mills written and Carlos Ezquerra drawn "Third World War" in the mature readers comic CRISIS.  Having not read it for around twenty years I was interested in seeing how much of it holds up.  And I think with it's attack on globalised capitalism and condemnation of western interference in the developing world, it's almost ahead of it's time.  Yes, it can be preachy in places, but it's basically a left wing propaganda series, preachy comes with the territory.. It's set in the near future (for a 1988 strip obviously) and shows us the damage being wrought by monolithic western capitalism on the communities of an unamed Central American state through the eyes of some "peace volunteers" who are in fact semi-soldiers suppressing dissent on behalf of their capitalist masters. It's an angry, diatribe by UK comics most political of authors, published during a period of stifling conservatism in Britain. This was the lead story in the first fourteen issues of CRISIS, running alongside The New Statemen's revisionist and gay friendly look at superheroes.
Eve is drafted.
The backstory in detail is that it is the year 2000AD.  After a global uprising of some description in 1996, the west and the Soviet Union nearly wiped each other out in a nuclear war. And it goes to show what a shock the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and then collapse of the USSR was that this comic, the majority of which was published less than year beforehand has it still alive and well and imagines the 1990's as a decade of violent turmoil in the west not the relatively peaceful "sigh of relief" it was after the end of the Cold War and before the start of the War On Terror.  Anyway after that it seems Western governments and huge multi-national companies decided it would be in both of their interests to collude in "freeing" the peoples of Central and South America and Africa from undesirable (ie: communist or Marxist inspired) rule via massive interference in their countries with the lie that they are bringing them "stabilty" when in fact they are acting purely in the economic interests of the big corporations. 
Left to right: Paul, Eve, Ivan, Trisha and Garry.
This is enacted by a type of army that drafts young adults from western countries and sends them out as a policy called "Freeaid".  Our five protagonists are all British, Eve is a black English student who narrates the story from her perspective noting the huge gap between the propoganda and the reality.  Paul is a secretive New Age pagan type.  Trisha a vacuous fundamentalist Christian who belives she is going through a time of tribulation before being "Raptured".  Ivan, a crazy punk who is the son of a high ranking military officer but who was kicked out of military school for subversive behaviour and Garry, a laddish cretin who volunteered because he thought he'd get lots of foreign poontang that way.  They are a squad in a collection of squads known as the "Psychos", Eve having been placed there because she tried to commit suicide after she was drafted.

Their first mission see's them attempting to displace a village.  One woman called Mrs. Garcia with a young son resists.  She tells them she won't move to the supposedly fabulous new accomodations provided by Multiburger, not even with bribes like a years supply of them.  When Garry gets aggressive with her, a man with a gun bursts out of the cupboard.  Thinking he's a guerilla, Garry is about to shoot him but Eve talks him down.
Bringing "peace" to the people.
However they persist on trying to get them out there and Trisha says he'll have to come and be interrogated to see if he is a subversive.  Mr. Garcia lunges forward in fear and Garry shoots him dead.  They then take Mrs. Garcia away with her son on the back of some trucks. Garry says he must have been a subversive as he was running an adult literacy group unathorised.  Eve sarcastically responds that teach adults to read is really subversive.  After they leave the area it is napalmed to scorch the Earth ready for conversion to farmland.

On their way to the Multifood village, Ivan gets on a skateboard and is pulled behind their truck.  Unfortunately this is misconstrued as enemy action by the planes escorting them and they drop a can of white phosporus which hits Mrs Garcia.  When they finally reach the new village, she catches fire again because her wounds weren't cleaned properly and refuses to let them near her as she burn, simply saying one word: "Basta!" as she burns to death.
Mrs Garcia makes a stand.
The next couple of issues take a shot at cola manufacturers.  Eve has been tasked with writing a positive story about what Freeaid is doing but is having a hard time.  They meet a gang of kids who are totally addicted to "Coola Cola" apart from one kid call Raul who just says it's OK.  The kids ask our gang if they can get a tour of the Coola Cola plant they are gaurding and Trisha says she is sure that can be arranged.  Even Raul seems keen to come along, much to the suspicion of Paul.

Sounds delicious.
When the group have time to relax, Ivan tunes the TV over to rebel propaganda.  But when their immediate superior, their sadistic sergeant finds out, he twists Ivan's arm nearly to breaking point.  After he leaves Paul says they need "mutate to survive" and the reason he is here is he forgot that.

Paul: "You're not at one of your student demos now Eve!  These people are dangerous...! If you stand out, they'll break you!"

After that incident, Eve who submitted her story is called to the Lieutenant's office about it.  He sighs and pinches his nose before finally saying:

Lieutenant: "I think you have an attitude problem Eve".

He belittles her attempts to write the truth saying they're fighting a different kind of war now, a "Third World War".  Winning doesn't matter and preventing it escalating into "Wargasm" is their job. Then he threatens to move her to a combat unit and Eve folds, saying she'll play along, "as I too, became part of the lie".
The smug Lieutanant.
She returns to her unit and is told to get tooled up in riot gear as there is a demo planned against the Coola Cola plant.  They put the demo down with water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets.  But the Coola Cola plant explodes, it was sabotaged by the kids who were so enthusiastic about the stuff and the tour.  They run past chucking grenades shotuing "Basta" and get lost in the urban jungle.  It's then that Eve realises even the kids hate them and want to stand up to them now or when they are older.

The next story is about the ethics of crop spraying and intensive farming.  In a barrio (shanty town) the team are installing televisions in the people's houses, gifts from Freeaid so they can watch their propaganda being pumped out.

The team chat for a bit about how they joined.  Trisha revealed she joined so her parents could get social security under a "parent-help" scheme.  She lived in Apartheid South Africa and her parents were very kind to black people, they even let their houseboy live in a shed at the bottom of the garden even though they could have got into trouble.  After an uprising, they had to flee to the UK and were left with nothing, hence Trisha joining up (the relatively peaceful transition out of Apartheid was also unimaginable a couple of years before the release of Nelson Mandela).
Poisoning the land and people.
 We then see a plane spraying the crops heavily.  A farmer tells Trisha the sprayings have got heavier and heavier as the pests get used to the poison.  The farmers are made sick by the poison and have to sell their oranges for tiny amounts compared to their real worth to the big orange juice manufactuers.

Paul and Eve go off and have a private chat, Eve tries to probe his past.  He resists then changes the subject to wanting to broadcast all the crap they are doing to the Third World and how the only problems it has are caused by the First World.  Then they kiss and start to make love.  They are being watched by some real guerillas who say they'll attack tonight.
Eve and Paul have sexy time.
That night Ivan, Eve, Paul and Garry bond by holding a mock seance to freak Trisha out.  When they tell her they are joking she tells them that what they were doing was dangerous and hands them a pamphlet on the dangers of role playing games, rock and roll records, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, with the instruction to throw them away which Eve thinks is "a bit of an over-reaction."

As they drink round the fire with other members of their Freeaid platoon, Trisha asks Eve if she's shacking up with Paul because he's scruffy like her.  "I happen to like him" says Eve.  Trisha says it's more like he's put a spell on her, she's convinced Pagan = Satanist. Suddenly they are attacked and a mortar lands close by.  Paul is knocked out and the sergeant gives a panicky Eve an assault rifle.
Eve's first kill.
Eve suddenly realises she has brains spattered all over her shirt and runs to wash it off.  She is surprised by a guerilla and fires at her killing her.  She recovers and searches the corpse because she wants to know about the woman who tried to kill her.  Paul chews Eve out for killing, saying she should have stuck to her priciples. Even if it meant dying for them she asks?

Paul: "Especially if it means dying for them. If I'd been in your position it would have been time to put my personal belief in reincarnation  into practice."

God, Paul is such a sanctimonious douche.  He admits to being put in the position to kill before, he was a soldier on patrol and they stopped a man whose identity had a "shoot to kill" note next to it.  He opened fire and Paul fired back but wide, the man escaped and Paul got put in jail for a while.  "It was another country.  Another war."

The guerilla's uprising quelled, the Freeaiders leave the barrio.  Somehow the dish Paul erected is able to get the Pirate channel and this story ends with an old man watching the anti-western propganda being broadcast on it.
Local hero.
The next two-parter is drawn by Angie Mills (nepotism?), so let's all applaud the first female artist featured on this blog (it's taken too long, mea culpa).  The first part is mainly a long debate about the ethics of Third World debt. They are operating their hearts and minds bit in another barrio. To combat them, a luchador appears and is introduced as "Super Barrio!".

He points out that their trillion dollar debt is being paid for by the people who never saw a penny of the money originally as it was paid to dictators and warlords. Now the poor are being heavily taxed to compensate the west.  Their country had to borrow money from the International Monetary Fund, which meant they cut government spending to the bone instituting austerity measures and closing schools and hospitals.  Hah! Sound familiar boys and girls?
Discussing the mysterious "Finn".
The gang go for a meal at the nearest fast food joint and conversation turns to a wanted man called "Finn" who is some sort of big shot eco warrior the governments are after.  Paul wants to change the subject and says there is no proof he exists, but Garry says he does and they have found out he's a deserter from Northern Ireland who let a terrorist escape who then ran over one of the other soldiers in his unit.  CLANG!  That was a pretty unsubtle hint as to who he is...

The team are tasked with moving the inhabitants of another barrio to a brand new location which is a prison camp in all but name.  To combat Super Barrio Eve is forced to dress as a superheroine called the "Silver Saviour" and Garry as "Multi-Man".  They start telling the folks they are going to be moved to a much nicer place when Super Barrio appears and starts telling the truth.
Eve saves Super Barrio's life.
Not only is the new place like a prison camp, they'll be farther away from where they work and with the bus fares doubling to help pay the debt they'll be poorer than ever.  The Lieutenant orders Super Barrio's arrest and he tries to escape.  Garry comes charging in on top of a bull dozer and grabs him. Eve thinks Garry is going to kill him and whacks Garry over the head with a stick.  Then Super Barrio starts having a heart attack and Eve performs CPR on him.

Eve: "Some photographer took a picture of the Silver Saviour  "kissing" a "dangerous subvert".  And I guess with everything else that had gone wrong, they decided to shelve plans to clear the barrio - for the time being..."
Super Barrio survives and thanks her as he is taken away for treatment.  She then says to Paul she knows he tipped Super Barrio off about where the people were going to be moved to. She says she read his body language and that he should be more careful.  When Paul asks if Super Barrio said anything more to her, she says he said, "To hold people down forever is like putting a hand up to the sun".

The next two-parter deals with government sanctioned death squads.  Our gang end up rescuing a young woman called Monica from a death squad and take her to a safe location.  She tells her sad story to them (click the image for the full story).  Basically her husband Sergio was a union organiser at a Multifood factory, they were captured by a death squad.  She was tortured and raped and beaten so badly she has memory problems now.  They let her go after five days but she hasn't found her husband, he has been "disappeared".
Monica's sad story.
In the bar Paul acts like he has "seen a ghost".  Actualy who he has seen is his old Sergeant Major.  He's a Freeaid soldier now, here advising the fascist government.  Paul tells Eve he escaped from prison and he's a deserter.  Eve says he doesn't look anything like he used to so he should be OK, but we get a close up of his old Sergeant Major's face showing he has recognised Paul.

We then travel to the dump outside town where the bodies of the disappeared are dumped where Paul and Eve help Monica try to find her husband.  They search the bodies and Eve photographs them.  While they are there, Paul offers up his loathesome philosophy of life.  He waffles on a bit but in short, he cares not for human life which is generally against nature.  Humans are not set apart from living things despite the apartheid they have created between them and nature.

Paul: "I don't believe in the sanctity of life, you see?  Because that's not how nature does things."
Looking amongst the dumped coprses of the "disappeared".
They fail to find Monica's husband and return to town.  They return to town and Monica thanks them for helping.  Eve asks how she copes with her bad memory.  Monica says she keeps a diary about their happy times "so I can never forget him".

Later Paul and Eve are in bed together, Paul wakes up from a bad dream crying out (and as with The New Stateman kudos for having an obviously sexual interracial relationship without it raising any eyebrows).  He says he dreamt his old Seregant Major had come for him.  Eve says she can't imagine him in the army.  Paul says he joined up for comradeship and to muck around in the great outdoors because he loved nature.  When he ended up in Northern Ireland he let the terrorist go rather than shoot to kill, Eve asks him why he didn't if he doesn't care about the sanctity of human life.  "I don't.  But it doesn't mean I have to go out and kill people" he responds hypocritically.

He ended up in military prison after the terrorist ran over his mate and killed him, something he refuses to feel guilty about.  And soon he escaped saying Eve is "better off not knowing" about what it was like in jail.  Later they go to secretly hand some food aid to Monica's guerilla friends.  But they are surprised by the death squad from before, and Paul's old Sergeant Major is with them.
Yes, hit Paul go on, he deserves it!
He confronts Paul and Paul tells Eve to run.  Paul and his Sergeant Major get into a fist fight after Paul tells him he sees no difference in what the army does and terrorists do.  Eve is grabbed by the sleazy death squad leader and it looks like he is going to rape her

Then the cavalry arrive in the form of Monica and her guerilla friends.  They mow down the death squad and shoot Paul's old Sergeant Major.  As Monica leaves, Eve says she'll think about her. Monica replies:

Monica: "No - because that may make you sad, you know?  Think happy thoughts Eve.  Think about the revolution.. when the death squads are gone and there are no more 'disappeared'.  Think about when we are free!"
The cavalry arrives.
The next story has the gang trying to persuade a Mayan tribe to stop growing maize and start growing cash crops for Multifoods instead.  With them is a huge truck with nuclear material in it, a portable food irradiator driven by a chubby woman called Susan.The Mayan leader Xoyon refuses to play ball.  He says that:

Xoyon: "Maize is the basis of our religion.  Without it, we lose our Indian identity.  Our Holy Book, the Popol Vul, records how the first men were made of mazie paste after the gods rejected mud as too soft and wood as too hard.  We are made of maize.  What are you made of?"

Eve walks with Xoyon and asks him why his government wants to change their way of life.  Xoyon says they are "Ladinos - they have forgotten their roots."  He says that "private ownership of land makes as much sense as private ownership of the sky, the weather or sea.  Is crazy!".  Trisha says that makes them "Marxists".  Xoyon says they are not, both Marxism and Capitalism is against the natural order.

Xoyon: "We want to survive, the Ladinos are waging a war of genocide against us.  Forbidding us to wear our traditional clothes.  Speak Mayan.. or hold land in common.  So we have to fight."

Trisha tries friendly persuasion.
He says there is a holocaust going on in Central America.  Cash cropping makes the people poor.  When they protest, they are shot.  They are herded into camps to be more easily managed.  When guerilla's are captured they are publically tortured and executed.  Trisha says that's the government not Multifoods doing, Xoyon says, "Scratch a government and you find a multinational, yes?"

Meanwhile Paul seduces Susan and has sex with her.  The next day Xoyon is still standing firm about not giving in to Multifoods.  The gang have a chat about Finn as they make to leave, apparently Finn's Green Army attacked a nuclear irradiator back in Britain.  Ivan says "It's not terrorism - it's eco defence."  When he then says they never caught Finn, Paul says he "must've found a good place to hide."
The irradiator crashes.
It starts to rain and they and the portable irradiator truck leave.  They negociate some treacherous roads and the irradiator truck's brakes fail and it plummets off a cliff.  Later Eve confronts Paul, saying she knows he tampered with the brakes  He sacrificed Sue's life in an irresponsible act.  Once again he tells her "Human life is meaningless to me." when Eve presses him about Sue.

Eve says the Mayan Indians paid the price.  The army thought they sabotaged the truck and steamed in wiping the village out and burning their maize fields.  Only a handful escaped.  Paul says she shouldn't lay a guilt trip on him, he didn't pull the triggers.  Eve retorts that he gave them an excuse.  He says he has to act to protect Mother Earth in the same brutal ways it's being exploited in.

Eve: "And that's your way... Finn."

The village pays the price.
The story then jumps forward a non-specified amount of time.  Eve, Paul, Ivan and Trisha are sat in the Freeaid compound.  There is a violent uprising going on and the government is falling.  Garry has had to leave as he contracted HIV from his slutting about.  In the compound are the upper classes of the country hoping that the west can fly them away safely.

They talk about what they'll do next, Eve says Multifood have offered her a scholarship to study in the US.  Paul says she's "selling out".  She says he can wear his own hairshirt, "it's better than killing people."  Then they are sent to collect some orphans so Multifood can get some good publicity in their final hours there.
Eve is distressed by the spare part kids.
At the orphanage they get the orphans then there are protestors outside.  Eve goes to talk to them then returns to the jeep and tells them to get the kids out and to hand them over to the people.  As they drive off, Eve tearfully says that orphanage was locally known as "The House of Frankenstein".  The orphans were being used as spare parts for rich westerners, one kid being worth around "two hundred thousand and a million dollars on the black market."

They report back to the Lieutenant saying they didn't find any children.  The Lieutanant doesn't really care, he makes sure the whole compound has been rigged to explode.  Then they get the final signal to get to the helicopters and leave.  Paul asks Eve is she has mentioned he is Finn in her diary, she says of course not, and as they leave he smiles to himself.
The rich fight  for worthless money.
Two million dollars is dumped in a fire as Freeaid leave, the rich scramble for it as it floats down. When they realise there will be no escape for them they start rioting and rushing to the helicopters.  Paul tells the Lieutenant he should have one last look around make sure they have everyone.  The Lieutenant agrees and Paul and Eve go off.  Actually what Paul is doing is defusing the thermite bombs so the compound won't blow and all the incriminating evidence of Multifoods and Freeaid's collaboration with the fallen government will be left for the rebels to find.

With that done they make their way back to the helicopter being chased by the rich people.  Paul makes it to the helicopter first and doesn't tell it to wait for her because he's a fucking prick, but luckily she is picked up just as it takes off.  And they leave the rich folk trapped and helpless behind them.
Eve is nearly left behind.
Later the new provisional government announce that their revolution was not communist inspired, "it is injustice - not Marxism - that is the source of our revolution."  He goes on to say certain documents have fallen into their hands and Multifoods may not be compensated for lost land.

Then we join Eve as she goes to see the Lieutenant.  He says "I'm sure you'll be a future asset to the company" and hands her a visa so she can go and do her studying in the US.  Before she leaves, he asks for the diary she's been keeping, "call it a small test of loyalty to the company."  He says it might be embarrasing if her thoughts got published somewhere.  "Everything costs something in this life.. surely you realised that? So.. what's it to be?"
Eve's conscience gets the better of her.
Eve then has a flashback to various people she met and realises she can't accept and tosses the visa back on his desk.  He shrugs it off saying she can't get it published anyway under the Official Secrets Act.  He mocks her writing and she says that at least "they've beaten you, they're free, they've claimed back their lives."  She starts hallucinating the Lieutenant looking like the Multifoods mascot as he says "have they really?"

Having failed to win their hearts and minds, they're going to do things "the hard way."  They might cut off their economic aid and blame the starvation on their leaders.  Or finance armed counter-revolutionaries to do the job.  They might even invade directly using manufactured evidence that they support terrorism.  When Eve says they'll be stopped, he says in a few years time everyone will do what the multinationals want.  "It's not 'later than you think'.  It's too late."  And Book One ends.
Multifoods personified.
This is a piece of work unashamed about its leftwing, anticapitalism, enviromentalist bias predating the likes of Naomi Klein's "No Logo" by many years.  I wish there were comics around today with the balls to critique the western world so directly.  One of the few I can think of is DMZ's angry condemnation of the War on Terror and even that had to make up a fantasy scenario where North Amercians were the victims and well as oppressors to make it more palatable for readers. Although there is a lot of talking, the five main characters are given just enough personality to make the dialogue seem natural because if you find yourself in the propaganda wing of western corporate interests of course you're gonna discuss it with your fellow "volunteers".  The build up to the reveal of Paul actually being Finn is a little unsubtle but I can't honestly say I did or didn't see it coming when I first read the series. Overall, it had a lasting effect on me, I joined Amnesty International age fourteen and incorporated a long-sleeved T-shirt bearing their logo into my school uniform.   I still donate to them monthly (and Oxfam too) to this day although my activism is restricted to what I can do in response to their email appeals. 

Third World War came out twenty-seven years ago and in highlighting all the horrible things the west did then to the Developing World, it's depressing to note that this kind of bullshit is STILL going on both as a part of the fallout from the War on Terror and in big corporations exploiting and cheating their dirt poor workers and propping up dictatorships all over the world still.  Bah.  This series did get a sequel which chronicles the further adventures of Eve as she returns to a Great Britain that is virtually a fascist state and is a far less effective strip as it exaggerates all the most paranoid intellectual left-wing fears of the eighties and extrapolates something that is so far removed from what the nineties and beyond were like that it verges on dystopian comedy.  I did intend to cover it but to be honest as a story it quickly devolves into a series of barely connected points about racism, animal rights and Northern Ireland meandering from one awful event to the next without much in the way of narrative glue holding it together as well as fetishising "blackness" to an incredibly uncomfortable degree.  very poor.  For now though, the original Third World War:  powerful, influential (on me) and radicalising.  Less a comic and more a treatise on how the world sucked and still sucks.  No wonder I grew up so cynical.


  1. ok Im depressed now :(

    abit heavy for me, but the ezquerra artwork is always cool.

  2. Sorry G. It's the job of my blog not only to pour honey into a cup, but sometimes to give bitter medicine.

    Hmm, sorry came over a bit Putin then do excuse me. Anyway now I have read all my CRISIS collection I've planned more series from it to be featured during UK comics weeks so hooray, I can depress you some more :P

  3. What counts as 'interference' in the developing world? Boots on the ground? Food aid? Condoms? Volunteering as a teacher? All of the above?

    The Nineties was a happy, innocent decade, full of Tamagotchis and Monster Munch.

    LOL at the reminder that the USA 'freed' Afghanistan from communism by... arming the Taliban. (Their name means 'students' so Sir Salman of Rushdie parodies them in his latest novel as the Swots.)

    Ivan has a point. Apparently it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven. (One can, of course, pass a camel through the eye of a needle, but only if one chops it up into extremely small pieces first.)

    Mr Garcia was obviously a terrorist! I mean, he had a beard!

    Wait, J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis are dangerous now? Probably explains why I'm messed up in the head. Too much Rivendell and Narnia.

    Angie Mills is now Angie Kincaid. She is no longer married to Pat Mills.

    If Paul doesn't care about the sanctity of life, why did he set those animals free? And if humans are part of nature (which we are), how can anything we do be described as 'unnatural'?

    What's that? You say Pat Mills tends to fetishise 'blackness'? "I've always been attracted to goddess religions. I guess it's the African in me. I've always thought that somehow nature was watching me... trying to communicate with me."

    Yes, that is Eve in 2000 AD's strip Finn, starring the one and only Paul. Good to know he was a douche right from the start.

  4. I think what counts as helping a country and meddling in its affairs is certainly a sticky subject. But the type of stuff shown and referenced in this strip basically intefering in the interests of the west and not the people would be my line.

    The Nineties were great, for me full of music and girls :D

    Our record on turning on our former allies is long and depressing and our governments never seem to learn their lesson.

    You only have to look at the bee in the bonnet that Harry Potter caused evangelical Christians in the USA to realise any hint of fantasy and magic in childrens literature is a big no-no for them.

    Paul is a tit, after Eve's story is told in Third World War 2, he gets Book 3 and he's just as repellant. I didn't know he got his own strip, and Mills really said that?! Oh, very dear. Still this first volume is good stuff, it should have stayed a one off and freed up space in the comic for new stuff by new writers.

  5. For me the Nineties were also full of music and girls... and boys... I was prepubescent at the time, so my memories are probably a lot more PG rated than yours :D (Fond reminiscences of childhood discos with endless supplies of Skips and Quavers... le sigh).

    Paul's strip in 2000 AD is called Finn. Check out this page:

  6. Heh, yeah my nineties got pretty saucy ;)

    I shall definitely check that link out, he's the very definition of a Mary Sue to me. No matter how awful he behaves the narrative always has him in the right. Bleh.