Book Club / but Then I Love Dogs So I’m Probably Biased


The Ballad of Halo Jones
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Ian Gibson

 

 

 

Come let us sit together and hear The Ballad of Halo Jones, from the talented hands of Ian Gibson and the tangled beard of Alan Moore. Cross the galaxy with the very best – and some of the worst – of 2000 AD, the tragedy of unfinished stories and a lot of rotten animal excretion (i.e. cheese). Where are we going? OUT. What are we doing? EVERYTHING.


 

Let’s cut right to the chase – for me (when it comes to comics) Alan Moore is Elvis, The Beatles and Radiohead all wrapped up into one gob-smacking package of brilliance, awesomeness and joy.

 
This might be a bit strong – but what the hey: if you don’t like the comics that Alan Moore writes (I mean – not all of them: I’d happily admit that he does misstep a little now and again: especially a lot of his recent stuff (sorry Alan)) – then you don’t really like (or understand) what comics are about (either that – or you just enjoy being contrary for contrary’s sake).
 
It’s like if you were into Fantasy but didn’t like Lord of the Rings (not that I really know that much about either of those things but yeah). Basically in terms of all the many cool things that comics can do (for pretty much of all them) Alan Moore did it first and Alan Moore did it best. 
 
Case in point: The Ballad of Halo Jones. 

JONAS
Twitter

 

As this is my first time responding as a member of this group I should probably introduce myself first. Hi, my name is Jonas, and I’m a recovering comic fan…..actually there’s no recovery but I can quit anytime I like! I’m currently working as a library manager for Richmond (but live in Reading), finishing my MA in LIS from UCL, a father to two young cheeky kids, and a bit of an all round geek. My dissertation is focused on exploring the different restrictions which the 33 London boroughs apply to the borrowing of the graphic novel format, so anybody who knows about your boroughs policy or who can put me in touch with the right person, get in contact. You can find me on twitter at @jonasherriot.

 

The last time I read The Ballad of Halo Jones was over 20 years ago, so I’m going to save my discussion on the story itself until the copy I’ve ordered turns up, but thought I might give my views on Alan Moore now. The man is undoubtedly a flawed genius.

 

Do I need to say more? Probably, yes, so here goes. He is responsible for some of the top graphic novels of all time but, in my eyes, falls short of being the best. His stories are rooted in the sociopolitical landscape of the world we inhabit and are often written as a way of creating an easily accessible commentary that is designed to affect those who read his books. From V for Vendetta, through to Watchmen, via Lost Girls, the story you read is on the surface easily digested, but underneath runs a deep vein of anger at the perceived problems he is addressing. This makes his stories hard in some cases to enjoy properly for me, because if I disagree with the issues or feel ambivalent towards them it affects my overall pleasure of the story, as sometimes they are not subtle at all. Case in point is the recent Fashion Beast, a commentary on the fashion world which to me seemed excessively heavy-handed and laboured.

 

As already mentioned this could be due to the fact that his recent work is not as good as his early work, possibly due to becoming more jaded over time, or because it becomes harder for authors to maintain that connection with the audience after so many years and so many stories. We all have a book inside so the saying goes, but even for the best writers I doubt there is an infinite well to dip into. Although saying that I did enjoy The Courtyard and Necronomicon, but as a massive Lovecraft fan that’s understandable.

 

But his early work, now that’s some good stuff for the most part. Watchmen is rightly lauded as the classic it is, V is absolutely amazing for the depth of the character and the cleverness of the writing, and nobody has ever managed to write Swamp Thing like he did. So he deserves a place at the table of my top five favourite writers of this format, along with Neil Gaiman (my favourite, and unsurpassed in this format or possibly any other), Frank Miller (sold-out a bit, but again his early work is something else), Stan Lee (legend), and Garth Ennis (Preacher is so weird, so cool, and so strange, it’s unbelievable).

 

Also this is one of the men who invented Constantine, the coolest and best antihero of all time in my eyes, and for this alone Alan Moore should be knighted, not that he would want to be. Also the man is a wizard, which probably excludes him from that sort of thing anyway.

 

That’s probably enough rambling for now, but once I’ve reread Ballad I will let you know what I think about that, and I look forward to hearing your views as well. Many thanks.

 
 
 

 

I’ll jump in early with this one too as I missed the last book.

Herriot? Any relation?
Tam? Is this the Tam I know from Islington Comic forum?

Alan Moore.
You know, it’s very bad, but I’m just not good at remembering who wrote what! Moore, that other really famous person, that other other really famous person… (Garth something) I can’t even remember them off the top of my head! I can keep authors of books straight but for some reason I remember the comic creation better than the author (don’t put this on the blog as it’s ridiculous). I mean, Fables by Bill Willmington, Sandman, I happen to remember. But ask me to list which of the many comics I have read that are by Moore? Well of course I would remember V for Vendetta and Watchmen, but not Halo Jones.

Is this something to do with the visual medium? The author is not the only artist, you can look at a picture and say, Oh the person who did that episode of Sandman for Neil Gaiman is now doing this other comic for this other author. Is the visual element grabbing itself such a huge part of my brain that the author gets crowded out? Do I just have a bad memory?

Older artists getting out of touch: I really, really hope, and believe, that the ‘well’ does not dry up, or needn’t dry up. Carol Dweck said that this sort of thing depends on whether you believe we are always learning, or that failure is failure and not a chance to learn. This hugely affects whether you keep growing and staying interesting, or if you are afraid to try new stuff and afraid to step off the path of what you have proven you are good at.

Also, was it Gretchen Rubin (Happiness Project) who said that she had to ‘spend out’ or use up the nice present before it goes off, and use up her good ideas now? Saving them up to dole them out is not the best way. Use the good ideas now and more will come. If that was her, then it seems to work as she is just about to publish her next book, and is as enthusiastic as ever about the topic (Happiness is shading into Habits, we need good ones to be happy).

Halo Jones. So I read this some time ago, so this is a discussion of what stuck with me the most. Spoilers (if I remember any).

The bit about the promising career when she was on the spaceship and the world seemed her oyster (the impression I got), and how it all came to nothing, with her taking up the worst possible job (soldier in a horrible war) struck me.


The bit where the drill leader said how horrible the natives were (and deserving of being attacked) as they ate the rotted excretions of animals (cheese as we would call it). I could never figure out if the soldiers, who were grossed out by this, just didn’t make the connection, or if they genuinely didn’t have cheese. Quite a good joke, though also sad as it was about dehumanising people so they could be more effectively exterminated.


Of course the bit where Halo realised her youthful happy memories were destroyed, was pretty sad, but quite a hopeful ending, and the ‘baddies’ received their comeuppance (if my vocabulary hasn’t changed since I was 8 and watching the A-Team, is that me or is that the story?).

Is the fact that I barely remember the heroic sacrifice of Halo’s third cabin mate, a genius part of the way that character was written? Or if you tell people a character is invisible, do they actually become invisible in the readers (my) mind?

Also I’ve taken the plunge and bought the book as Islington only has one copy which is out. There is a dull boring new copy starting from £8.75 including shipping on abe books. You can get the collectors edition for a mere £60ish.

 

 

I’m Tam Laniado, I’ve read way too many comics over the years and my favourite one is still probably 2000 AD, which I returned to a few years ago after a long absence. Even after all these years it’s still fun, eclectic, capable of surprising and the only comic where I’ll still finish an issue desperate to know what happens next. Also John Wagner just keeps getting better on Dredd, staying relevant and fresh in a way that none of his contemporaries really come near to. That aside, my favourite recent comic has been Garth Ennis’s Red Rover Charlie about how a trio of dogs deal with humanity turning into zombies, but then I love dogs so I’m probably biased.

I’m also a member of London Loves Comics facebook group which is strongly recommended…
https://www.facebook.com/groups/1451400028437800/

Anyway, onto Halo Jones…

First thoughts: It’s all great! As I’m sure you all know it was meant to go on for longer, but doesn’t really feel incomplete to me. I have a particular soft spot for the third book which coincided with the first prog I bought, and I only ever read the previous two books long afterwards so that’s probably what I’m mostly going to focus on here. I’m always really rubbish at giving artists credit when talking about comics so I’ll start by saying the art is great in all three books, Ian Gibson is great at showing the teeming chaos of the Hoop but the art in the war story of the third book is even better than that and some of the best ever shown in a comic…

As for the writing, the third book is basically a retelling of Joe Haldeman’s excellent science fiction novel ‘The Forever War’ (a brilliant read even if you’ve read the comic) although with the sexes reversed. This isn’t a criticism, what Moore has in common is that unlike many other comic writers, he’s read a lot of books and is more influenced by them than other comics. He’s also good at ensuring he always stirs something extra into the conceptual mix rather than just ripping off his influences, for example, in this case, by reversing the sexes.  And another thing he did better than anyone else at the time was long term plotting. The war was introduced in the background in the earlier stories, only coming into view in the third book. This is fairly commonplace nowadays but was pretty much unheard of in comics at the time. Thinking about it, telling a story that took two years to play out must have seemed a pretty risky editorial decision at a time when it was assumed comics were things kids grew out of…

 

I haven’t  been on the thread for a little while. But I was excited to see you all have been talking about The Ballad of Halo Jones.

I immensely enjoyed this comic, though it is a while since I read it. While it’s not the happiest of stories or settings, I felt it was an intriguing adventure and really liked Halo. There were sad moment as Christine pointed out (the invisible housemate and all the war stuff). It just seemed so imaginative and colourful, also an interesting take on how history looks at the past, considering those studying her in the future as a hero, when she was really an ordinary person just trying to get on with her life.

And yes and Tam says, I could do with more Halo Jones…

That’s all for now.

 

As a kinda cheeky break / displacement / whatever – instead of sitting down to read Halo Jones like I knew I was supposed to – this week I’ve kinda been reading Rogue Trooper instead (had a copy of Rogue Trooper : Tales of Nu-Earth Volume 1 come in from another Library – thanks London Libraries Consortium!). For those that don’t know – Rogue Trooper is a hit character from 2000 AD which is the same place that Halo Jones comes from. He’s a future warrior bred for conflict – a G.I. (Genetic Infantryman): with blue skin and everything (which isn’t quite obvious seeing how all his early stories were in black and white – but what the hell right?). 

 
Now I used to read Rogue Trooper a helluva lot when I was a kid (I used to have Book 2 and Book 3 of the Titan Books: and man – just looking at those covers gives me a strange rumbling of nostalgia somewhere deep down in my belly) – so much so that it’s still hard for me to think that G.I. doesn’t stand for Genetic Infantryman (apparently instead it stands for “Government Issue” or “General Issue” or “Galvanized Iron” or something rubbish like that….). But man – reading them now as a (supposedly) way more discerning adult – I’ve gotta admit that it is kinda rubbish. That same old thing (that you get a lot of as a kid) of a guy with a gun who goes around shooting people and then feeling bad about it afterwards (The template for seemingly every story was “Cool Future War Thing” “Bang! Bang! Bang! Explosion!” and then at the end Rogue coming out with some variation of “War is hell.” Rinse. Repeat. Roll Over. Sleep. 
 

Thing is yeah – that was the main draw for your standard 2000 AD reader (which – let’s face it: was mainly a pimply teenage boy: not that there’s anything wrong with that). Not only was it mainly just  “Bang! Bang! Bang! Explosion!” but it was also very serialised storytelling, like the kind you used to get on TV all the time before it all went “serious” and whatever (and man – Rogue Trooper would have made an extremely excellent children’s cartoon – just saying). No matter if you’ve never read it before – you can still just show up and know exactly what’s going on. His name is Rogue Trooper. He’s a rogue trooper. He kills people but feels bad about it after. It’s on a place called Nu Earth. His three dead buddies are on biochips, which are uploaded on to pieces of his equipment like Gunnar (= rifle) Helm (= helmet) and – ha! – Bagman (=backpack). And that’s pretty much all there is to know. 

The Ballad of Halo Jones flips that – which is a big part of what makes it so damn beautiful.

 

So – instead of a Rogue Trooper, it’s just an ordinary women (with a name that sits gorgeously on the line between mundane and exotic – I mean: on the one hand (which I guess is the Jones part) she sounds like she could have come from the council estate down the road. But on the other (Halo) – well – she sounds like she’s from another world…. (The only other Halo I can even think of is Laurel Halo: who would be pretty good (maybe) at doing a Halo Jones soundtrack….). 
 
Instead of the “Bang! Bang! Bang! Explosion!” it’s a lot more – well – kinda no-actiony (well – mostly at least: it does seem to kinda capitulate a little to 2000 AD expectations as it goes along….). 
 
And yeah – like I said before with the whole world-building thing (which I think is my favourite aspect of the book): instead of letting you know everything straight from the top (like Mr Trooper above) – it parcels everything out in small chunks – here’s a little bit of peas, here’s a chip, here’s a mouthful of steak. Which yeah – just makes me even more hungry for more. 
 
But yeah – I have the book next to me now – so I think I’m gonna sit down and (finally) give it a read. Although – urg – I have one of the new copies with the god-awful cover art and an introduction by Lauren Beukes (who the hell is Lauren Beukes? And what the hell is this crappy introduction with massively clichéd nonsense like “Like the best fiction, it’s important because it’s true.”? I mean – come on: it’s set in the 50th-century and it’s got a robot dog in it). 
 

(Ooh wait – I just did a google and it turns out she wrote Zoo City. Well – that’s a shame: I thought that book looked good – but if she’s going to mess up my Halo Jones introduction with stuff and nonsense I don’t think I’ll bother now). 

Might try and write some more in a bit after I’ve done. I mean – it’s such a lovely sunny day – what better way to spend it than sitting inside and reading comics?

…………

 
Ok. Done. Things: 
 
1. Didn’t think that Laurel Halo was actually going to work (the stuff I’d heard from the past always felt a little bit – I dunno – crappy). But I put on Chance of Rain and it actually worked pretty well. So – yeah – if anyone out there is looking for a soundtrack for when they read it….
 
2. I totally forgot how funny this book was. I mean – there’s practically a killer line on every single page. I really don’t want to be that guy who just quotes stuff but what the hey: “John Cage: Atonal Avenger!” “Putting the ‘Edible’ back into ‘Credibility’! Everything Zenade-related. Marxmas Vacation. “Matthew, Marx, Luke and Jung.” “Maybe being dead is a skill that will come in handy in later life.” “Sure. Best friends. That’s what I meant.” 
 
3. Aw man – it’s such a damn crying shame that it ends on Book 3. I mean – back when I was younger I only had Books 1 and 2 (the Titan editions natch) and so when I finally got a collected edition with all 3 books – book 3 always felt a little bit weird and (dare I say this?) kinda tacked on. Which I guess is what happens when you read the first two parts of something like a thousand times and then only get part 3 years later… But reading them altogether now – it all feels much more cohesive (although there’s no denying that book 3 is pretty damn grim and dark compared to what went before – it’s like going from a Sam Raimi Spider-man film to a Chris Nolan Batman one): only now with the sense of something missing. Which I guess comes from the fact that it was supposed to be her entire life and instead it’s just her getting to her early thirties and then – well – nothing. And it’s like – you can feel that there’s supposed to more (like several missing limbs or whatever) but instead – well – you just have to be happy with what you got (I guess). 
 
4. When I was looking to snag somewhere with a pic of the cover to the latest edition of the book I found this Gosh comics link which included the line: “Halo was one of the first feminist heroines of comics”, which I’ve got to say did get me thinking – is Halo Jones a feminist hero? I mean – I think that it makes sense to say that the story is feminist (“Hey! Look! Women are people too!” and yeah – Bechdel Test passed with flying colours and all the rest of it…) but Halo herself? I mean – I’m not sure. I mean – the whole point of her is that yeah – she’s not really that brave (check her response when they realise they have to go shopping), that resourceful (if it wasn’t for the Glyph she would totally be dead) or even that smart (I mean who doesn’t know what Lux Roth Chop looks like? He’s like one of the famous people in the galaxy no?). I mean apart from her “I’m going out” there’s not really that much that makes her stand out. So well yeah – without trying to sound too mean – what makes her a feminist hero? Is it just – she’s the main character in a story + she is a women therefore = feminist hero? (and gosh – is the bar really that low?). Or is there something else that I’m missing / haven’t understood? If there’s someone out there who could explain it for me – I’d love to know! 
 

 

Hey all again, great to read your emails, sorry for my delayed response.

I don’t have much to say about Ian Gibson’s art other than it’s great. The lettering though is was what made me really feel 2000 AD nostalgic. And like the best stuff from them that I know of, it’s the background details that really make it, so credit to how dense it is without feeling overwhelming. I thought initially that the female characters were a bit uniformly high-cheekboned and stung-lipped, but then by all accounts this was at least an advance on the ‘giant-breasted Amazons with tiny breastplates’ model from before…

I agree calling Halo a feminist hero isn’t really accurate. Maybe it’d be better to call her a feminist icon? So she’s less admirable because of what she does, what she achieves as a woman or for women, but because she’s a nexus of lots of tropes and ideas about women – The Female Experience (“She’s every woman (it’s all in her)”).

The great thing about Halo Jones is that she’s not a Strong Female Character. According to Wikipedia, Alan Moore said that he had “no inclination to unleash yet another “Tough Bitch With A Disintegrator And An Extra ‘Y’ Chromosome” upon the world”.

Instead, she’s sommit else: a Complicated Female Character.

To begin with, she’s quite passive. In Book 1, her friend Rodice is the more active, propulsive agent. Often, Halo gets out of scrapes through luck – see the dropping of the Zenades – and though she acts and intervenes, for example when she gets them to take the magnetrax on top of the Hoop, or when she points out that she can speak Cetacean to get the job on the ship, these skills don’t have a massive pay-off. The Cetacean-speaking, for example, lets her, what? Swim with a dolphin? Ok.

 

But the great thing is that at least all of this is up-front. Clearly she can be passive and scared and weak, and in the mean time this is balanced with actual actions with costs. Making her then much more a deserving feminist icon than some other young women in sexist fairy tales I could mention.

The women in the comic in general are like this – there’s no fan-boy-friendly tiny-but-with-a-giant-gun Dominos or Tank Girls. They let their sisters down. They like soap operas but mainly because they’re bored, not because they’re intrinsically trivial.

So not only does the series, yes, pass the Bechdel Test with flying colours, it even gets turned up to a satirical level, where there’s few major male roles (there is a male dog I guess). The background characters are routinely male whereas the foregrounded characters are all female – it got to the point where I was like ‘this is getting a bit implausible surely’ – which,  you know, is the point! Now you know how unreal and skewed the male-heavy worlds of most other stories are.

What was also really apparent reading it this time round was how the women are portrayed as desiring subjects (they all fancy various different men) but not as love interests. The men they go for are boorish, distracted by more glamorous women, or genetically-engineered lunkheads. Halo Jones is sexual, has desires, but the point of the series isn’t landing a man. BUT then, out of the space blue, a man does come along, and – oops – he’s a tusked war criminal.

Another great detail, this: the fact that you can portray your heroine as liking someone for bad reasons – the bad boy thing? – but here the bad boy in question is very bad and isn’t valorised for it. Halo is complicated and realistic because she likes Luiz Cannibal for bad reasons – “Because you scare me” – and she admits it, but then gets out from it.

This is part of the wider, rounded, warts-and-all portrayal of her. (See the scene where she toys with snipering civilians while on R&R… Here the series is, among other things, not siding with that claim that war is essentially male). She makes mistakes, decisions with unforeseen disastrous consequences. And in the end she also makes decisions with fatal consequences, and ones she foresees…

Re: world-building, I’ve always liked the trope of radio DJs introducing crazy new worlds. They do it in Stand on Zanzibar. And I wonder if Frisky inspired the infamous radio DJ from Fifth Element, Ruby Rod (I say ‘infamous’ –  I always kinda liked him!… “Bzzzz.Bzzzzzzz!”)

It’s cool too that the radio stuff isn’t a world-building info-dump from said DJ: you know, about some crisis that has been gotten over but that like has made the world how it is. That or, gah, what science fiction (especially in films) usually goes for, the Act 2 expository dialogue scene where some characters helpfully talk about their world to an unnaturally first-premises and helpful degree. (You can imagine a scene in a  film from the 50th century doing the same about the 20th:

-Ever since our war with Adolf Hitler in the 40s, we’ve seen a rise in personal telecommunications.

-You mean the war with Germany?

-That’s right. Television was a useful propaganda tool during that world wide conflict.

-Yes, and now we have the world wide web – I mean the internet of course.)

Credit then to Halo Jones for avoiding that. And also for not going for obvious ways to defamliarise the world either. There’s lots of future lingo but it’s inventive, not just swapping English worlds for foreign language ones (I’m looking at you Burgess – yes yes I know he did more than that, but still, try reading his 1985). I like that it also has new idioms that vaguely relate to ours – “out scram!” – or words that seem to have evolved/devolved – Hoy for Oi, Mammoth for Immense. The language fun is also combined with the delayed reveals Alan Moore is always good at: with ‘SLABs’ for example, or the first time that you see those bipedal chicken aliens referred to as Proximan – in that case I’d presumed it was a neologism based on ‘proximate-humans’, which itself is cool. But of course we later learn it’s coz they’re from Proxima Centauri. And finally, in response to your comment about names Joel, in the 50thcentury, Halo is an ordinary name. It’s Jones that is found weird.

I agree about the series being Alan Moore coming into his own, exhibiting his talents without playing to the anorak crowd. We’re starting to see his device of using of multiple texts – by my count, retold history, military incident reports, diary entries, letters home (although he’s not yet doing so in the form of sample found texts like in Watchmen). There’s also lots of expert foreshadowing ; a good example is what I’d call the hidden Chekhov’s gun – the character Toy breaking the arm-wrestling lever thing is passed by without comment, and it only becomes apparent what it’s for just as Toby attacks Halo. Consider how many times well-paid lauded artists / writers / filmmakers do the exact opposite, show the Chekov’s Gun as pretty much an actual gun, on a wall, under a portrait of Chekhov giving a meaningful look, while someone walks past saying ‘huh I wonder if that will come in handy?’

 

I’m a big fan of devices , or what is more familiarly called techniques, which Moore/Gibson also use really well. So, having the black-ball recorder frame a story, that gadget that is a cross between a blackbox recorder and an audio dog-tag, as a new way to do voiceover narration, which is in fact a narration as summary or recap, and but then, aha, because this is Alan Moore, the recording is being played back by Halo, over the dead body of the Sergeant who recorded it, something which had been foreshadowed with her various ‘ow’ pain noises as she was trying to dictate her report.

There are concessions to plot with some of the devices. This might just be my 21stcentury bias, but the telecoms in their world seem pretty basic, for example the fact that Halo can’t contact Rodice until she gets to Charlemagne – but of course, you needed that slightly ‘unrealistic’ element so that the impact of the ending of that book hits home hrader: after her travails aboard the Clara Pandy, Rodice never turned up to meet her. So now Halo’s never coming back.

After the Hoop (hoop i.e. place where life goes round and round…) the defamiliarising devices continue, on into the future setting. The historian doing his lecture seems like a Utopian extension of the post Dolphin peace world – ‘Concordia’ and all that. But there are little sinister details. Earth, for example, is no longer multi-racial (in the aliens sense). Meanwhile, it looks like the teacher-student questionable relationship thing is still a thing. Oh brave new world. To know these bits of info before you get to the ending of Book 3 / ending of the whole series, gives the dolphin peace ending a little twinge, a little bit of extra depth.

A lot of the devices in the series are to do with time, again presaging an Alan Moore obsession. One way you can give a sense of pace in a story is how much reader-time you take up in ratio to how much in-story time is passing. So for example, Book 1 is all about a few incidents in the Hoop (over a matter of days?). Starting the series like that is ballsy, a good move to get your readers involved with characters, and depressingly rare these days where EVERYTHING MUST START WITH A BANG AND ALL MUST BE ESTABLISHED IN THE FIRST 5 MINS.

And yet, taking its time at the start isn’t the same as being slow-burning. It’s counterblanaced with all the business of information otherwise, so it doesn’t feel slow since you’re learning so much. Couple that with the mock-epic of their quest for shopping, and the various mishaps they undergo, and it’s still an instantly involving and compelling story.

And one great benefit of it, is that it increases the impact of the flash-forward between Book 1 and the prologue of Book 2. (And not just a flashforward – it’s also at the same time a ‘previously on Lost’ style recap, and a filling-in of certain foreshadowed threads (what happened back at the Hoop between the Distant Drummers  and the Manhattan rich vigilante people for example). I’m a big fan of what is wankily called radical prolepsis, not just because it’s disorientating, but it’s like the basic lesson of cinema: we go from this, to that: now what does the relation between this and that tell us? So in Halo Jones, it’s a great storytelling device:  this bored average 18year old girl is going to become some kinda historical legend! Cool, but how?! (Compare this with the reduced impact the story would have had, had it opened with the history lesson and then went back to Halo’s mundane early days, i.e. the familiar way most historical biogs do it…)

 

(Small note about the flashforward though. As many of you’ve said, the legendariness of Halo is undercut by the series ending at book 3, a little bit anyway. Although the teacher refers to her as an obscure historical figure, she was nonetheless history, but from what we as readers got of the series, we never saw what made her so. Other strands are not picked up too, giving it that phantom limb feeling Joel described: who was Brinna’s cop friend?)

After the flashforward,  another device, the narrative summary, this time of Halo’s exploits in her 20s. This felt a bit rushed to me, I felt I didn’t know the person Halo had become by the end of her 20s. But maybe it was part of the project’s wider ethos of showing you the ordinary bits rather than the legends. 

Having wrote that, I wonder how much of the early books taking their time was dependent on the writer’s/artist’s plan for a 8 / 9 book series. Does anyone know at what point that plan was made? Because if so, then this sense of time dilation would in a way be accidental – as in, the pacing difference I’ve mentioned would be less apparent across a more even, longer series, whereas now it feels very front-time-heavy.

Once we get to Moab, the time dilation devices come into their own – again you get to see the writer Alan Moore will become: how do you tell stories in a relativity universe? Sure Tam The Forever War did similar things and is an influence, but from what I can remember, as well as the sexes reversing, the time dilation there was to do with space travel, whereas making it localized and gravity-based is a cool narrowing of focus (I love that Halo got a promotion before she got back inside from the battle).

What makes up for the tragic unfinished nature of the series is, as has been pointed out, all the humour. A lot of the funny is in the visual details. And a lot of it doesn’t just come from the standard political satire and military satire stuff. Now that everyone is writing their own dystopian epics with ho-ho jabs at euphemistic language, it’s nice to see Halo Jones’s humour is a bit more developed than that, takes the joke further, delves a bit deeper. So for example, the irony with which we’re meant to read about the military promising that only 40% of trainees see combat, actually gets taken a step further, given its own prog-closing punchline: “I thought you said only 40% see combat!” “Yeah, well let’s hope you’re not in the 60% who’s parachutes never open!”

Another good thing it does with humour is that it’s not just at the level of wisecracks, which lesser artists/ writers focus on when trying to make something funny. Yes, making a joke out of a stutter may be cheap, but for someone to finally say ‘suh-suh-sniper’, and after being shot, is its own gag. And it gets darker than that. Toy, who we know gets soap operas broadcast straight into her ear, complains about a voice in her head when she’s injured, so Halo (and me when I was reading it), forgets about this and gets alarmed for Toy. What do you mean voices, are you going delirious?! But, haha, it’s just that soap opera storyline. BUT then it develops this gag further. Later, it’s Halo who gets a voice in her head: thinking it isToy, but in fact it is a ghost / delirium, because Toy has already died (nice visual touch from Gibson here too: Toy’s arms have started dragging out of her stretcher before the reveal).

This whole idea of jokes being developed beyond an initial gag, into something darker, and poignant, is of course embodied in the Glyph, the non-entity, who gets his/her own little parable, but then gets to be a hero, though no one saw it, apart from us readers in another dimension.

As you may have noticed, I do love The Ballad of Halo Jones, but I should at least talk about what I don’t like. For me, the Toby plot-line never worked amazingly. Though I like the way in which his murderousness is triggered – by a ‘legacy’ last will and testament programme that enacts as possessive love – and I like the way they played with the grumpy/violent archetype, so that the reason he’s grumpy and violent is because, you know, he’s bad, but in general, the whole ‘I LOVE YOU BUT I WILL KILL YOU’ stuff feels a bit pat. Even the art too in that final fight gets ropy, like the repeated jump through a wall on facing pages with skkkkkrrrrnch metal sound effects…

I thought it was a bit pat, too, the whole war crimes stuff. I guess credit to a comic at that time doing a Nuremberg Trial (with a dolphin), but the sequence contains the series’s one real false note: “If you could give conscience a shape, it would look like a dolphin.” Maybe it’s because dolphins are so 80s, or maybe it’s because we’re no longer in a Star Trek IV world, and cetaceans are no longer the height of nobility but as dangerous and violent as a lot of mammals. Anyway, at least this bit is rescued by the final rat-war reveal, set up a whole Book back. Like Tam said, this is pretty standard now, but there’s still a satisfying click when it happens in Halo.

Otherwise, the war stuff is generally good. I’m a fan of Vietnam war voiceovers (and if you like swingy slangy New Journalism prose – who doesn’t!-  then you should read Michael Herr’s Dispatches, which is like the ur text of all ‘Vietnam War’-style dialogue). And it’s cool that the Vietnamese stand-ins aren’t exoticised or ennobled by our projected guilt. They’re not nice. They mutilate corpses, use child soldiers (though we don’t know why – desperation?) You don’t have to think that they are better than Terrans to concede that the Terrans war against them is wrong – all that matters is that the Terrans are the aggressor. 

When you add that to the bad economy, the joblessness, the propaganda, the youthful desire to ‘get out’… Hey no wonder everyone still loves this story.

 

Advertisements