Publisher: RebellionWriter: Pat Mills Artists: Kevin Walker, Henry Flint, Liam-McCormack-Sharp, Mick McMahon, Boo Cook
The Third Element takes place during a time of war, a hard-fought battle in which neither side could afford to lose. Not in the comic itself, but in the editorial offices of 2000AD. You see, the then editor Andy Diggle was on a mission to return the magazine to its action-packed roots. To this end he charged the brilliant but sometimes-indulgent scriptwriter Pat Mills with producing an old-school ABC Warriors yarn, a series of mini-stories set within the same overall arc, with lots of bullets and bombs but steering away from esoteric concepts such as the khaos magick and heavy-handed political commentary which had crept into the saga over time. The two never saw eye to eye on the subject, with Diggle very disappointed in what was handed in and Mills furious at the editor’s re-writing his scripts without consulting him. The result? A messy tale that many consider the ABC Warriors’ lowest ebb…
The book starts well enough with Roadkill, an entertaining piece which sets the scene and whets the appetite for what’s to come. The ABC Warriors are back on Mars – spread the word. But what follows is a jumbled mosaic of uneasy compromises, clichéd speeches and battle scenes you can barely care about due to their lacking a credible context.
In itself, a return to the action-based footing of the 2000AD of old wasn’t a bad idea, but this particular collection would seem better suited to a throw-away children’s war comic than a legendary sci-fi magazine. In rebooting the story to return to its roots, all the intelligence and sophistication was left behind. There’s very little character development in here, or even characterisation. The ABC Warriors themselves are dumbed-down and one-dimensional, the dialogue is often-inappropriate for the series and allegiances are confused but never explored, with trash-talking replacing meaningful discourse.
The storylines themselves are equally unsatisfying. There are just too many last-minute reprieves from seemingly-impossible situations, and they do little to create a world to serve as a backdrop for the action. There’s little sense of continuity here, and virtually no attempt to link the tale with the previous – and far superior – ABC Warriors-on-Mars saga. New story elements appear out of nowhere as soon as they’re needed, and frequently disappear again just as quickly, without rationale or explanation. What we’re left with is a series of loosely-connected violent vignettes with scant attention paid to the overall story arc. If you look closely enough you can detect the remains of an interesting plot, but not much survived the war between writer and editor.
The collection is not without its points of interest. A President that looks like George W Bush and takes liberties with freedom in the name of security is amusing (though perhaps not surprising with Pat Mills at the writing helm), and the artwork is generally good to excellent, except for a few stories in the middle which look like they were drawn in a tea break. Key story elements include the death of Morrigan (if anyone ever cared about this under-developed and uninteresting character), Mongrol’s brain reboot that gave him back his intelligence (‘Mongrol SMUSH!’ was getting tired) and the return of Steelhorn, in his original body – he’s no longer The Mess.
Yet overall, ‘the mess’ would accurately describe this particular chapter in the ABC Warriors’ history. Using too many artists does little to assist the already-ropey continuity of the overall tale, and the conflict between Diggle and Mills ripped the robotic hearts out of the characters and turned them into bland clichés.
For undemanding kids and die-hard completists only.