2000AD is a comic book icon in the UK and Ireland. Most boys growing up read it, and I read it because my brothers occasionally bought it; for some unspoken reason I understood that it wasn’t supposed to be the kind of thing that girls’ liked. But, I lapped it up. Several of the writers and illustrators that I admire to this day started out in Tharg’s sweatshop, in particular, Alan Moore. I’ve read quite a lot of Moore’s work over the years, including his ongoing series such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (now in its second volume) and Promethea.
One series that has always been recommended to me is The Ballad of Halo Jones, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Ian Gibson (in the days before you needed different people to pencil, ink and colour). It was originally published in 2000AD in serial fashion from 1984-1986 in three main volumes, or story arcs. I recently noticed that Titan Books (2000AD’s printing house) published the Complete Ballad of Halo Jones, which brings all three volumes together; a handy way for me to read the series and judge for myself.
Moore himself describes Halo as “an ordinary woman”, though she lives in the 50th century – one of those nice round century numbers that satisfied SF junkies in the 80s. Volume one starts with Halo living in the “Hoop”, a giant floating ring tethered to Manhattan, to which the unemployed are relegated. There are 10 episodes in the first volume and they chart Halo’s increasing desire to escape the Hoop and get out to see the inhabited worlds. Along for the ride is Rodice, Halo’s smart-talking friend, her dota-playing friend Ludy, the mechanical dog Toby, and their older room-mate Brinna. The language of Halo Jones consists of futurespeak slang you have to read a while to understand, but then it becomes second nature. This world is dominated by the media, with talk shows and soap operas on 3D holos or beamed directly into brain implants. The first episode summarises the main themes of the volume: the dangers involved in the overcrowded hoop – gangs, riots, and fights a common occurrence – and Halo’s desire to escape which is symbolised by the interstellar cruise liner, the Clara Pandy. Going outside your apartment is dangerous, and a shopping expedition becomes a risky adventure. True to her determination, Halo leaves the Hoop by the end of the first volume after undergoing a series of tragedies which shake up her world.
The second volume starts with an episode fourteen hundred years after the the death of Halo Jones, in which we learn that she has become a minor cultural icon. It’s a handy device to summarise the events of the previous book, and to explain some minor details that weren’t explicit in the first volume. Then the second volume continues with Halo’s adventures as a hostess on the Clara Pandy. We are introduced to the seven-foot tall Toy Molto, Halo’s cabinmate, and the ship’s navigator, the dolphin Kititirik (or Kit for short). As usual Halo fall into adventures by accident, and manages to fall out of them in equal measure. The book ends with Halo getting to the world of Charlemagne, where Rodice has agreed to meet her, only to discover that her friend has never left the Hoop. There is no way back for Halo, only forward, and she emphatically states that she will not return to her old life.
The final volume, the longest, starts with another synopsis, but this time it summarises Halo’s misadventures as she rambles through the known worlds, until she ends up destitute, at age 29, on a nasty little world called PWUC. There she is reunited with Toy, and with nothing better to do, enlists in the Armed Forces, where she is told she will rarely see action. As it turns out the military, headed up by the giant General Luiz Cannibal whose has massive implanted tusks, is engaged in a long-running battle on a series of worlds called Tarantula. Halo and her new friends quickly see combat, which result in some severe psychological changes for Halo. I particularly liked the combat sequence on the heavy-gravity world, where 15 minutes in the Crush is the equivalent of two months outside the high gravity zones. This is Moore’s most political volume of the series, where he gets to examine religion, the effects of war on soldiers, the propaganda of war, and the pass-the-buck attitude of politicians. The series ends with Halo finally getting out by commandeering a cruiser to explore the galaxy on her own terms.
The fact that the story was told in episodic fashion is obvious when you read the entire story in one sitting, but on the whole it avoids being too fragmented. In each arc Moore usually inserts a stand-alone story about a subject he’s interested in. Overall I was most impressed with the third volume, which is the longest, and displays a great deal of character development for Halo. While there are some serious subjects broached in this volume, Moore keeps with his main theme: the individual’s desire for freedom. Halo is an everywoman, and, as she is quoted as saying: “Anybody could have done it.” What’s more interesting about the series is Halo’s struggle to keep moving forward, to exorcise her past ghosts, and to look to new horizons despite her problems. Halo has no special abilities or an expense account; she’s a working class future hero who makes her own destiny, with plenty of mistakes, and along the way she has many adventures. Ian Gibson’s art work is fantastic: stylistic black and white curvy-sharp characters, with marvellous ships, costumes and creatures. There are small story gems in the series, such as zenades: a grenade that puts your opponent into a Zen-like state of meditation and non-aggression, and sputstik: a defensive spray that makes someone vomit (rather similar to the “sickstick” concept recently used in Minority Report). For those of you who follow Alan Moore’s work then this is a must-buy, because in The Ballad of Halo Jones you can see the development of some of his early ideas, along with reading some funny and poignant stories.