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'She wasn't that brave, or that clever, or that strong. She was just somebody who felt cramped by the confines of her life. She was just somebody who had to get out. And she did! She went out past Vega, out past Moulquet and Lambard. She saw places that aren't even there anymore!'
The Ballad of Halo Jones was a science fiction comic strip that first appeared in the weekly British publication 2000 AD in 1984. It was written by Alan Moore and drawn by Ian Gibson. The strip - which revolves around an ordinary 50th-century woman named Halo Jones who frequently seems to end up in extraordinary situations - became much loved for its mixture of sadness and humour, social commentary, imagination and, of course, everywoman central character Halo, who constantly dreams of a better life. The Complete Ballad of Halo Jones collects together all of Halo's adventures, which are spilt into three books within this one volume. Although there were supposed to be nine Halo Jones books and only three were ever finished, this still feels like a complete story with a beginning, a middle and an end. The story spans ten years in the life of Halo and begins with her as a teenager living in 'The Hoop', a hi-tech slum floating near Manhattan in the Atlantic Ocean. The Hoop is a place used to dump the unemployed so they can't annoy rich people, the inhabitants of The Hoop living on a state provided credit card system in this overcrowded, jobless and often dangerous place. Halo lives with her friends Rodice, Ludy and Brinna and yearns to leave one day.
The first book drops you straight into this futuristic world without much explanation but you soon get into the story and start to pick up the slang, rules and technology that drives The Hoop. Book One largely revolves around Halo and Rodice having to venture out into the walkways and public areas of The Hoop to do some shopping. Going out to shop in The Hoop is a rather stressful and sometimes dangerous experience for Halo and her friends ('I can't take a shopping expedition! I just can't! Please, let an algae satellite crash on my head right now...') and this first book has some wonderful comic elements as we follow their trip. I loved some of the weapons Moore invents for the inhabitants of The Hoop. Rodice has a 'Zenade' - which is essentially a hand grenade that makes people incapable of anything but meditation, intuition and complete non-aggression! There is a fantastic series of panels here where she accidently drops one and comes over all 'zen' herself when it explodes. Rodice also has a 'Sputstick' - which makes people violently vomit when activated but once again it backfires on her in comic fashion. This first book is full of imagination and quickly becomes great fun (later chapters take a darker tone). In The Hoop there are strange teenage cult groups, a zombie police force and Halo has a robot dog called Toby. Book One is funny with very likeable characters and some excellent visual jokes.
There is a wonderful prologue to Book Two over several pages. In the far distant future, a teacher is telling his students (all in little futuristic pods!) all about a legendary character from a long time ago named Halo Jones and trying to sift fact from fiction. Book Two is equally as good as Book One and finds Halo now working as a hostess serving rich people on the Clara Pandy, a luxury space liner. A major twist occurs in the story here and extraordinary events happen to Halo - although she only realises years later. There are some great new characters in this section, the most memorable of which is Glyph, an androgynous stowaway on the ship who people never notice is around. 'Everybody forgot about me. I was just a cypher, a sort of glyph. It was as if I'd slipped beneath the threshold of human awareness.' Glyph tells her/his story (although no one is listening!) and this particular chapter (I'll Never Forget Whatsizname) is both sad and funny. This character is a fantastic invention by Moore. There seem to be a few nods to The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy in Book Two with dolphins and rats playing an important part in the story. Dolphins here are navigators for ships and therefore wield great power on Earth as ships can't fly in space without them. Halo can speak dolphin (or 'Cetacean') and becomes friends with the Clara Pandy's aquatic navigator as a result. There is some great stuff in this second book.
Book Three is the darkest segment of The Complete Ballad of Halo Jones and begins with a drunken Halo trapped on a desolate planet called Pwuc. Unsurprisingly, the jobless and aimless Halo is having nightmares about being a trapped in a giant spider's web but a chance meeting with her old friend Toy Molto from the Clara Pandy leads to her joining the army. Halo is dragged into a nightmarish Starship Troopers type campaign on distant worlds where the laws of time are skewed and gravity can kill you as easily as the enemy. Earth is fighting a bitter war against its distant colonies in the Tarantula Nebula, the colonies mounting a guerrilla resistance on these increasingly ruined planets. Book Three is the most epic of the three sections in Halo's life but does feel a little more derivative than the other two books at times. It's wonderfully imaginative and full of great panels and flourishes by Moore but is essentially an anti-war story and therefore reminds you of Vietnam films and other sci-fi bits and pieces about interstellar conflict. The themes in Book Three remain as relevant as ever though.
The Complete Ballad of Halo Jones is an inventive and very likeable graphic novel with great characters and an epic story arc. There are many great touches by Moore (characters are addicted to soap operas despite the huge events happening around them) and some good jokes and lines. It's also very poignant and sad in places. The b&w art is enjoyable too with good detail and the characters given some real personality. I really enjoyed The Complete Ballad of Halo Jones and feel it fully deserves its reputation as a cult classic.