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The Ballad of Halo Jones

written by Mark Doyle September 28, 2016

Alan Moore is one of the most celebrated and lauded writers in the comic/graphic novel arena, a writer of thought-provoking, invigorating work.  His influence on the graphic novel genre is huge – along with writers such as John Wagner and Pat Mills, Moore helped to redefine the socio-political scope of modern Western comic book stories and characters, leading to darker, more cynical imagined worlds. V For Vendetta is perhaps Moore’s most infamous creation – and has become one of the most recognisable modern motifs for resistance, the Guido Faulkes mask, as famous now as the iconic Che Guevera image created by graphic artist Jim Fitzpatrick.

Moore is probably best known for his Watchmen series of books, recently made, like V For Vendetta and The Extraodinary League of Gentlemen, into a Hollywood film. Watchmen rewrote the script for all American Marvel/DC superheroes – both of these major comic publishers were never the same after Watchmen came out in the 1980’s. The cynicism of Moore had infected their creations, turning Batman darker, and leading the likes of Superman and Spiderman into edgier realms.

For me, Alan Moore’s greatest comic book creation is his least read and least known about – the superb The Ballad Of Halo Jones. Released as a series in iconic British comic 2000AD, Halo Jones is a superb character study, a story where nothing really major happens to someone of no consequence, a story about a nobody that decided not to accept her fate. A woman with an ambition to see the galaxy.

As Lauren Beukes states in the introduction to a recent reisssue of the series;

Halo Jones was my first love. Or maybe my first role model. The girl that got out.

Halo was a role model for me too, a 16 year old boy living in dull suburbia, attending a school that had no interest in my development, on the edge of adulthood, final exams, and a probably a dead end job.  I wanted to get out too. I read Halo Jones and watched her get out. Where she ended up was where I wanted to be – in charge of my own destiny, and not where everyone wanted me to be or predicted me to be – “Get a job, settle down,  save some money…”

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Halo Jones lives in a ghetto called the Hoop, a floating slum tethered to modern day Manhattan, a place where society (ie the rich) puts all its undesirables, criminals, disabled, disaffected and unemployed. Out of sight, out of mind, just like the Conservative Party in the UK would like it to be. This is another interesting thing about Moore’s writing – its timelessness. I hadn’t read Halo Jones for over 20 years until recently. My memory of it was that it was ‘of its time’. I was wrong, so very very wrong. All the themes in Halo Jones speak directly to the now.

As Lauren Beukes states:

It’s about choice and compromises, about defying expectations, about poverty, society, celebrity, identity, the toil of war…

I was surprised at its ability to resonant with the current but I shouldn’t have been really – the best fiction, afterall, is timeless and speaks on a human level. I would like to make every young person in Britain read Halo Jones – it’s a blueprint for the modern world, a rallying call for non-mundanity. Be something – anyone can. I think it’s an especially important book for teenage girls to read. In a world of increasing insecurity, not only politically but personally (body image, place in society, material wealth, sense of self), Halo Jones offers a critique of, and a refuge from, the absurdities of an uncertain world.

The Ballad unfolds over a series of three books. The first deals with life on the Hoop and Halo’s escape, the second about her life on a cruise ship travelling the stars, the third on her life as it crashes around her and where she ends up enlisting in the army to fight a pointless war on a distant barren world.

The story appears at first rather mundane – ordinary in many ways (in as much as space travel is ordinary!), but rather like an onion there are many allegorical layers to the narrative. One of the more interesting characters is that of one of Halo’s shipmates on the Clara Pandy cruise ship, a woman/man that largely goes unnoticed by everyone on the ship. This person ‘whatsizname’ has undergone many sex changes (47 in total) until the he/she can no longer remember his/her original sex. This loss of personal identity, coupled with a deep rooted insecurity, has lead ‘whatsizname’ to become invisible in society – he/she becomes largely unnoticed by everyone. This sense of alienation and distance from other members of society is a perfect metaphor for the issues that a lot of young people face as they grow up, and also reflects  modern societies own confusion about self, gender, mental health issues and personal identity and how it should respond to them.

In a society that is increasingly connected and homogenised and tolerates only ‘normal’ and ‘consumers’, what happens to those that do not fit into societies expectations? Are we living in a world that is so self-absorbed that we cannot see what is right in front of us, as Halo finds with ‘whatsizname’?

Halo’s own journey takes a turn for the worse as she leaves the service of the cruise ship and spends 10 years on a backwater planet as a washed-up alcoholic. Yes, Halo escaped, but to what? Another cage of her own making?

Redemption however, comes by way of war – in desperation she signs up to join the army and after completing her training is set to fight in pointless wars on distant worlds for the glory of the Empire. Again, there are parallels with modern conflicts, but its clear to see the influence of the folly of the Vietnam War in the conflict portrayed in Book Three of the series, and the risk in the real world of another Vietnam happening again in the Middle East. Halo survives the war, and through a double-crossed romance with her commanding officer, General Cannibal, a war criminal on trial for atrocities, she eventually achieves transcendence. She tricks the General into killing himself, and steals his ship for her own. Halo is finally free.

One of the best quotes I can think of for summarising Halo Jones comes from Moore’s Watchmen:

We’re all puppets, Laurie. I’m just a puppet who can see the strings.

Halo Jones could see the strings, where her friends and colleagues couldn’t. Halo was an anti-hero in that she was not special, she had no special powers, no gimmick, no magic wand. She wasn’t smart, intelligent or overly-empathic. She cared about her friends, and she cared about getting out. She achieved a lot in life considering where she started out from – a slum. But as Halo says herself  – ‘anyone could have done it.’

And that’s the most important thing I learnt from The Ballad Of Halo Jones, a lesson that has stayed with me since 16 – you can achieve anything, you don’t need to be a superhero.

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