Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The Ballad of Halo Jones

Alan Moore & Ian Gibson The Ballad of Halo Jones (1986)

I followed 2000AD more or less from the beginning, or at least from prog #21 onwards, simply because that was the first issue I saw in Gibbons' newsagent; but I caught on quick and cashed in a bag of toy cars against the previous twenty issues with some kid at school who is probably still kicking himself. I remained faithful until roughly October 1980 at which point the comic slid into a somewhat shitey period with the advent of unreadable tosh like Meltdown Man and The Mean Arena, although it's probably no coincidence that it was also around this time that I discovered punk rock, Devo, and record shops. Several years later some guy at art college gave me a stack of more recent issues because he didn't want to just throw them away, and my addiction reasserted itself. It would be overly generous to say that the comic had grown up in my absence, but Mean Arena was nowhere to be seen, and it had at least stopped being quite so shit, and there was this story called Halo Jones.

In case it isn't obvious how radical The Ballad of Halo Jones seemed at the time, or at least how radical it seemed to me, here was a strip about urban boredom and shopping trips gone horribly wrong with an almost exclusively female cast smuggled into a comic specialising in stories about tough men who hunt down renegade robots, tough robots who hunt down renegade aliens, renegade men who hunt down tough dinosaurs, alien dinosaurs who...

...well, you get the picture I'm sure.

Meanwhile in the 1990s, I ended up selling my entire stash of progs - about fifteen years' worth - to Skinny Melinks' comic shop in Lewisham for what seemed a slightly insulting sum, probably a fucking tenner or thereabouts, and all because I'd met a girl who had agreed to let me have sexual intercourse with her. This later became a source of regret, at least until history repeated and someone else gave me a free stack of old progs, and once I got beyond the raw nostalgia, I realised that a lot of those stories worked better when you still belonged roughly to the age group at which they were targeted; or you can never go home as both Thomas Wolfe and Mark E. Smith have observed under entirely different circumstances.

Thankfully, not least because this collection was a Christmas present, The Ballad of Halo Jones has endured as a story where Moon Runners and Colony Earth sort of haven't. It comes as a shock reading something so conspicuously episodic requiring a punchline every five or six pages, but it's still pretty damn satisfying despite that. Alan Moore has, I would guess, always had a thing for soap opera, at least if Big Numbers, Top 10, and even Watchmen are anything to go by - his stories as a rule being about people dealing with circumstances rather than the circumstances themselves. To this end Halo Jones is closer in spirit to one of the more eccentric Mexican telenovelas than any of the tales of renegade justice dinobots hunting down tough maverick mutants with which it once shared a cover. The events are massive, but no more massive to Halo than anything experienced by the reader out here in the real world, relatively speaking, and the themes are both timeless and immediately familiar - the uneasy transition to adulthood, the desire to escape from the crushing circumstances of one's childhood environment, the subsequent lack of direction, and the inevitable realisation that things are not going to get better. It's an extraordinarily depressing tale, regardless of it being told by means of jokes, weird aliens, and a ton of fancy ideas. The story - divided into books one to three - is, for my money, encapsulated best by a single caption near the opening of the third book:

Records of her movement over the next few years are incomplete, yet reveal a pattern of increasing desperation... as if she were pacing the galaxy trying to get out.

Yes, I know the feeling, and that's precisely why I ended up in Texas; and just as I bagged a happy ending thank you very much, so too does Halo it seems, which somehow justifies all the preceding crap of the big, horrible journey.

Aside from the conspicuously episodic feel of the first book, I think the only other surprise is Ian Gibson's artwork which definitely worked better on the low quality paper of the weekly comic as I remember. It's not that it's bad so much as that it's often very, very sketchy and overly stylised as though the characters are torn between hasty fashion design and the pouting offspring of Donald Duck. It lacks the clarity of the similarly wavy and otherwise superior Jesus Redondo, although there's a marked improvement in the third and final book for some reason. That said, I still can't imagine this working so well with any other artist at the wheel, although I could have done without hearing about the Halo Jones hamburger shot collector's art that almost went on sale at some convention or other.

Classic is an overused adjective in the crazy biz of comics, but entirely justified in this instance.

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