It is the 50th century, and The Hoop is a vast floating society, tethered to Manhattan Island. Within this claustrophobic overcrowded community – where few have tasted fresh air, and even less have experienced anything resembling the natural world – eighteen-year-old Halo lives with her housemates Rodice and Brinna plus robot dog Toby. Navigating the strange clans and confrontations that come with living in such a tinderbox environment means life can be a daily struggle, where even embarking on a shopping expedition requires detailed planning. No wonder Halo dreams of escaping The Hoop and journeying amongst the stars…
Thus begins The Ballad of Halo Jones – amongst the most underrated, under-appreciated and criminally under-read science fiction comics.
Arguably the first feminist heroine in sci-fi comics, Halo Jones made her debut in the July 1984 issue (Prog 376) of the British science fiction comic magazine, 2000 AD, known popularly for its Judge Dredd and Rogue Trooper stories. Created by writer Alan Moore – of Watchmen, Swamp Thing, From Hell, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and V For Vendetta fame – and artist Ian Gibson, Halo Jones is an imaginative and inventive masterpiece that remains, to this day, one of the high points of British Comics.
An enjoyable, adventurous space opera, The Ballad of Halo Jones follows the life and adventures of an ‘everygirl’ in the 50th century who wants to get out and break free of all the successive repressive and constricting situations she finds herself in, and ultimately ends up becoming a much-admired legend. Path-breaking at the time – not least because Halo Jones was a female title character in a comics magazine known for its testosterone-fuelled, male heroes and anti-heroes – The Ballad of Halo Jones, was conceived as an attempt to introduce a realistically observed and realised female character into the alpha-male dominated line up of 2000 AD. Speaking about the genesis of Halo Jones, Alan Moore said in an interview with Mustard, “We wanted to do something with a female element in it that wasn’t purely for prurient purposes. At the time all the girls’ comics like Bunty had been cancelled. 2000AD was one of the only comics that had a strong female minority to its readership so we did a story about an ordinary girl in an abnormal situation in the distant future.” Elsewhere, Moore and Gibson speak about how Halo Jones was their attempt at addressing what the rampant sexism in comics at that time. Outspoken as always, Alan Moore speaks of how he didn’t want to ‘write about a pretty scatterbrain who fainted a lot and had trouble keeping her clothes on’ and most definitely not about, ‘yet another tough bitch with a disintegrator and an extra “Y” chromosome’.
The result of this was The Ballad of Halo Jones, a comic that would gather a cult following among comics fans not just in its time but in the decades to come and influence quite many people. As the acclaimed SF writer, Lauren Beukes writes in her introduction to the 2013 edition of The Ballad of Halo Jones, “She’s remarkable for being just a girl caught up in extraordinary circumstances. Halo is working class, she doesn’t have any superpowers, in her own words, she was ‘just there’. It’s a story about choices and compromises, about defying expectations, about poverty, society, celebrity, identity, the toll of war, and also love, ambition, ambivalence and the places restless curiosity will take you.” Going further, Beukes says of Halo Jones, “Halo Jones was my first love. Or maybe my first role model. The girl that got out.”
And for all of this The Ballad of Halo Jones is just three short books long, each with a few chapters, which shows both the creators at the top of their craft in a story that is liberating, poignant, comical, adventurous, witty while packing in mystery and action without losing out on its sensitive, humane treatment of all its characters. Book 1 introduces the eponymous heroine who lives in a floating ring-shaped community called “The Hoop” and covers just one day in her 50th century life as Halo Jones and her housemates are introduced with their almost comical misadventures shopping trip, returning from which Halo finds her best friend Brinna murdered, and a friend joining a youth cult, which leads her to carpe diem the situation she finds herself in, to leave Earth and explore the great beyond of space. In Book 2, we follow Halo Jones in her life a part of Clara Pandy, a starship’s crew and in which she finds out who murdered her best friend in a surprising and almost heart-breaking sequence, but not before it introduced an unforgettable character that has moistened the eyes of not a few readers, The Glyph, a person who has changed its gender so many times it has forgotten their original gender. Book 3 is set ten years later and brings to the forefront a conflict only hinted in the previous two books and sees Halo Jones serving as a soldier in a great interstellar war in which all of the chief combatants – soldiers and resistance included – are all women while being courted by a famous general. As always, Book 3 too sees Halo Jones making the most of a bad situation and determined to the master of her own destiny. Amidst this, the short prologues to Books 2 and 3 show us that decades later, Halo Jones has become something of a legendary figure, a hero admired by many, studied and written about by many.
Book 4 was to be about Halo Jones as a space pirate. But it never came to be. While The Ballad of Halo Jones was originally envisioned by Alan Moore and Ian Gibson as a 10-book series – with her getting older in each one, because, as Moore has said, he liked the idea of a strip in 2000AD with a seventy or eighty-year-old woman as the title character – three books are all we have of The Ballad of Halo Jones, because a disagreement over creator rights and copyright led to Moore walking away from 2000 AD with the last chapter of Book 3 of Halo Jones being the last comic he wrote for the magazine.
Twenty five years after it appeared, The Ballad of Halo Jones has lost none of its punch and is just as enjoyable on its umpteenth read as it was on its first, and remains an essential read not least as a lesson on how to write women in comics, nay, how to write about an everyperson in the graphic medium. The Ballad of Halo Jones definitely deserves to be read – and appreciated – more than it is, and this writer hopes that it will be, beyond just the fandom that holds this comic in the highest of regards. As Halo Jones says of her adventures, “Anybody could’ve done it”. Have you?
On that note, I wish you happy reading and hope to see you here on FactorDaily again next weekend for the 126th edition of this New Worlds Weekly column as we further explore this many-splendoured genre we call science fiction.
Live long and prosper!
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