A Past Future of Alan Moore

The Complete Ballad of Halo Jones
By Alan Moore and Ian Gibson
Titan Books – Softcover, £12.99/$19.95

TALKING ALAN MOORE WITH BRETT WARNOCK GOT ME on an Alan Moore binge, of which reading The Ballad of Halo Jones for the first time has been the most rewarding surprise (discovering that I like Tom Strong a lot more than I remembered I did is probably number two). Beginning in 1984, Halo Jones was the first 2000AD serial to star a female character. Moore and artist Ian Gibson continued the series until 1986, completing three books’ worth of stories (nine were planned), all of which are collected in this volume.

Halo Jones involves the 50th Century adventures of its eponymous main character, beginning with her life in “The Hoop,” a ghetto floating above Manhattan, built so that rich people don’t have to look at the poor and unemployed. When Halo can’t take it anymore, she hires onto a spaceship called the Clara Pandy as a hostess and later joins the army, where she sees action fighting in the Tarantulan Colonies.

Halo’s trajectory, beginning in a futuristic ghetto and ending up a soldier, bears a vague resemblance to that of Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons’ Martha Washington, but whereas Washington is incredibly gifted and a born leader, Halo Jones’ hook is that Halo “wasn’t anyone special. She wasn’t that brave, or that clever, or that strong… She was just somebody who had to get out.” Like Miller and Gibbons’ Martha Washington stories, Halo Jones is about freedom, but rather than political freedom from an external oppressor, it’s more about escaping the individual limits her life and the world put upon her. Each move takes her ever further from Earth, giving her the opportunity to find her own way in the broader universe.

What’s especially fun about reading early Moore is the chance to experience some of the same kinds of clever ideas, intricate plotting and believable characters as seen in Moore’s better-known work without the same expectations and distance that come with reading something deemed a “classic.” Which is not to say that Halo Jones is the equal of Moore’s later masterpieces––it has its fair share of plot holes, heavy-handed moments, and bits of foreshadowing that fall victim to the final two thirds of the story going unfinished––but its impressive work, frequently surprising and often emotional.

Book One sees Halo and her friends running the gauntlet of Hoopside’s dangers on a grocery shopping expedition. At first it seems like a lot of time to spend setting up the environment only for Halo to leave it forever at the end, but over the next two books it becomes clear that Halo left part of herself there, which proves an important part of her emotional life.

Book Two, a transitional story, is more episodic, taking place over the year that Halo works on the Clara Pandy. Some of the book’s best ideas and most interesting characters are in here. However, most of the action sequences in this book seems tacked-on, and don’t further the story as much as in the other books.

The best of the books is Book Three, in which Halo joins the army and fights wars on the planets Lobis Loyo and Moab. In his introduction, Moore laments that artists seem more comfortable depicting the ghastliness of war when depicting the past than the future. In Book Three he sets out to create a futuristic war zone every bit as horrifying as might be found in a story set during World War II or Vietnam, and succeeds with the ulta-high gravity battlefields of Warzone 1, the planet Moab. When soldiers’ cumbersome gravity suits fail, they are instantly pulverized, becoming puddles. Gravity is so intense time is affected and a five minute battle actually takes weeks; if someone is killed while coming back into the base, the soldier in front of them has just experienced it, but those waiting inside the door saw it happen a week ago and have already moved on.

The war itself is being fought over resources that don’t seem worth all of the killing, especially when the most unspeakable war crimes are revealed in the aftermath. As an indictment of war as a concept, Book Three succeeds admirably. The only real problem is the sudden increase of prose delivered through captions, which occasionally overwhelms what should be far more understated moments.

Page 3 of The Complete Halo Jones.
Click for larger image (without red line).

Book Three also has the best art. All three are illustrated by Ian Gibson, and the art consistently improves throughout. The page layouts are great all the way through, with panels often zigzagging down a page rather than hitting the right side of the page at the end of each tier and starting again at the left, which is a good fit with Gibson’s fluid art style. The world looks organic and believable, but early on characters come out a bit too rubbery and are somewhat difficult to tell apart, though they look good in more detailed closeups. The art starts out strictly black and white, but over time employs more cross-hatching and gets a bit grittier and more textured, which is especially important in Book Three’s battle scenes. Characters also become more visually distinct from one another, and Halo in particular becomes very well-defined.

As an object, the book is a mixed bag. I really appreciate the oversized pages and wish more American comics were printed at this size. However, the printing itself isn’t particularly clean and the richness of the blacks varies widely from page to page, with lots of little white bubbles in the larger black spaces. Nonetheless, the contents are worth it, and I definitely recommend picking up The Complete Ballad of Halo Jones if you can find it (DC also put out an American edition a few years back, but it’s smaller and I don’t know how the print quality compares).


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One Response to “A Past Future of Alan Moore”

  1. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Feb. 4, 2008: Between the cocoon and the Comics Code Authority Says:

    […] Brendan Wright on Alan Moore and Ian Gibson’s The Complete Ballad of Halo […]

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