A medium once condemned as corrupting the morals of America’s youth, as well as being banned in the Soviet Union as a subversive influence, is now reduced to retconning the sexuality of characters in order to troll Hollywood stars (witness Marvel Comics announce that ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ character Star Lord is bisexual. Of course, noted Christian Chris Pratt plays him in the film adaptation).
Fortunately, this timely reissue helps to celebrate a time when comics could be much more than mindless escapism.
First published in 1988, Crisis was an attempt to move comics in a more openly political direction while also allowing for greater rights for creators. An extension of 2000AD, it gave home to Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s 'Troubled Souls' (an examination of the conflict in this country), Grant Morrison recontextualising the Bible John murders and Third World War.
2000AD founder Pat Mills had this to say about the climate that spawned this tale.
As the 80’s progressed and the political situation got much worse, there was a very strong reaction against Thatcherism. 2000AD readers had grown up with us; when the comic first came out in 1977, the readers were juveniles. Move on 10 or 12 years and they’re all students, and they’re looking at the world in a very critical way – and 2000AD has been winding them up on subjects. Crisis was very much a response to that. The case was put to me by quite a few 2000AD readers that criticising the authorities or the state through science fiction is a kind of disguise, and why not tell it like it really is? That interested me – I was almost stung by readers saying, look, tell it how it is, don’t wrap it up in science fiction bullshit.
Set in Britain in the year 2000, it depicts a time where, due to unrest and attempted revolutions in the third world, the multinationals (with co-operation from various governments) have begun to reinstitute order through the veneer of military intervention and delivering aid (such as TV’s and Coola-Cola). Eve Collins, our narrator, attempts suicide in order to avoid the draft. She fails and ends up being drafted into Freeaid (Free World Agency for International Development) to play a role in Central America in order to “wean the peasants away from subversion…” and to “win their hearts and minds.”
Her unit consists of an assortment of misfits and weirdos, such as Paul (who has a taste for the esoteric), Gary (a football hooligan), Ivan (a punky military fetishist) and Trisha (a Christian who never questions the official line). Throughout the book, we see them encounter resistance from the locals (including kids who happily bomb the local Coola-Cola factory), retaliation from Freeaid (such as their scorched earth policy) and various human rights abuses (such as the abduction, murder and “disappearance” of local “subversives.”
Although the theme of multinational corporations raping and pillaging the developing countries for growth and profit still resonates on an emotional level, the storytelling doesn’t always. Didactic, unsubtle and laced with two dimensional stereotypes for characters, it's akin to being beaten over the head with a ton of leaflets from the local SWP member.
However, as the tale progresses, we begin to see flickers of personality emerging from the studiously 'right on' Eve and the misanthropic Paul. This leads to the revelation that Paul had served in the British Army during the recent conflict where his actions had led to the death of a fellow soldier from a teenage IRA volunteer and that Paul himself is Finn, the “eco-terrorist” discussed in tones of horror and disgust among senior Freeaid ranks. Similarly, there are moments when Trisha is allowed to be much more than just a stereotypical conservative and actually shows a bit of concern for Eve.
Although these moments are brief, it does allow space for the reader to reexamine their own prejudices towards certain characters and, as a result of this, the didactic storytelling becomes less of a sludge for the reader and gradually becomes gripping (especially when Paul/Finn’s old British Army commander finds him).
The artwork from the legendary Carlos Ezquerra is both gorgeous in its detail and emotionally effective. Take the following as an example:
Notice the contrast in colour between the goodies the kid is receiving and the bag it comes in? Normally, this is used as an example of the old adage that one should never judge a book by its cover. However, us readers know fine rightly that these goodies are part of the divide and conquer mentality used by Freeaid. Therefore, we are sickened at what is happening and find the kid’s genuine excitement heartbreaking.
Revitalise your faith in the comics medium by giving this a go.
Pat Mills, Angela Kincaid (writing), Carlos Ezquerra, D’Israeli (art) 2020, Third World War: Book One, Rebellion. ISBN-13: 978-1781087510
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist.