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THE BALLAD OF HALO JONES, VOL 1 REVIEW

by Gavin Johnston on May 02, 2018

Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Ian Gibson
Colourist: Barbara Nosenzo


In the crowded, futuristic city of The Hoop, where rampant unemployment and boredom have created a world constantly on the edge of violence, a young woman named Halo Jones dreams of a better life. When tragedy strikes, Halo journeys out into the world beyond The Hoop, in search of adventure.

 

Originally published in the anthology comic 2000AD in 1984, The Ballad of Halo Jones was the work of Alan Moore and artist Ian Gibson. When 2000AD was a boy’s comic full of macho adventures and war stories, The Ballad offered something entirely new. First appearing in Prog 376 alongside the all-action classics of Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper and Strontium Dog, Halo Jones’ early adventures involve going to a concert and embarking on a shopping trip. It was a deliberate attempt to move away from, in Moore’s own words, the “guns, guys & gore”.

 

From its first double page spread of a chaotic and overcrowded 50th Century Earth, accompanied by the jargon filled narration of a news broadcast, the reader is thrown headlong into a wonderfully realised world. As Halo Jones stares morosely out from the page, we get our first glimpse of a character trapped in an overbearing universe, where most lives amount to nothing. As elements of The Hoop are revealed, we also get a glimpse of the Clara Pandy, the outdated space liner which offers an escape from drudgery and a journey into the world beyond.

 

The world created by Moore and Gibson is packed with detail and possibility. From the Drummers - an intimidating but strangely calm street gang - to the dangers of public transport, or the naming traditions of the alien Proximen, this is a fully realised world which it’s easy to become lost in. Individual characters, some of whom might only appear briefly, hint of entire lives and hidden secrets. The elderly Brinna remembers a meeting from her teenage years. A security officer hints at long lost love. Without throwing information or backstory at the reader, we are provided with a compelling world filled with interesting people who it is easy to care about.

 

Nothing here is random, or lacking in thought. The street signs which appear in an alien dialect are actually a full language developed by Ian Gibson. The Drummers take their name from a work of literature from the mid 19th Century. The song that is played at a concert will be heard again, much later and in a very different place. Media celebrity Swifty Frisko will return. Every line of dialogue, every design and image, has been considered. At the same time, although this world might be entirely alien and overwhelming, it is delivered in a very naturalistic way. Characters simply chat to each other, or react in an understandable fashion. When a character mentions “zenades”, or is horrified at the idea of a “shopping expedition”, it won’t comes with an abrupt explanation. Instead the reader is respected enough to be expected to wait a few pages, or at the time of original publishing a few weeks, to discover more.

 

For all its finely realised alien world and cast of characters, The Ballad of Halo Jones is a relatable story of ordinary people who happens to live in extraordinary times. With an almost entirely female main cast, its a comic that presents fully realised and relatable characters, to tell the story of a person who chooses to step beyond society's limited expectations for them. Thirty years later, many mainstream comics still have an issue with portraying strong women. With Halo Jones, two male creators provided a cast of realistic female characters, who are never overtly sexualised, and who refuse to be victims. When Halo first appeared, 2000AD was a comic marketed at teenage boys, full of macho war stories and tough talking cops. But this feminist story became iconic. Halo Jones refuses to accept the small life handed to her, fighting against the tide of the universe, finally escaping the reaches of those who would seek to control her.

 

The story might revolve around an ordinary young woman, but that doesn’t mean its not full of action and tension. With the people of The Hoop living on a constant knife edge and an entirely unknown universe just beyond its metal walls, there’s real drama in every day interactions. The characters here don’t wield guns or superpowers, but that only adds to the tension. Heroes are frequently invincible. Halo is an ordinary person, often at the receiving end of other’s aggression and schemes.  A group of young women being confronted late at night by a gang of Drummers contains a great deal more drama than a shoot out, even though the violence might be implied, because there's a real chance that characters we care about will be hurt. There’s more drama in this than in yet another superpowered crime fighter battling against evil.

 

The Ballad of Halo Jones is told in three books, and the first is collected here. Halo’s journey will take her far beyond the Hoop and transform her into a very different person. Famously, the original vision was for a total of nine books, with the story taking Halo from her teenage years into old age. That dream was never realised after a dispute between Moore and the publishers, and the story ended with three, but these three are among the creator’s greatest work, certainly their best for 2000AD.

 

This edition takes Ian Gibson’s highly detailed art and adds colours by Barbara Nosenzo. The Ballad has been coloured before. When Quality Comics gained the rights to produce reprints of 2000AD stories for the American market in the late ‘80s, they produced a low quality colour version, which stretched the pages to fit a different page size, mangling the art along the way. In all, it was a bit of a disaster.

 

It’s a bold move then, to mess with a classic. But in this edition it pays off. Delicate use of colour adds a sense of claustrophobia to the alleyways of the Hoop and increases the awe of the Clara Pandy against the setting sun. The inviting glow of the entertainment screens on which characters are often fixated, and the darkness of the world beyond home, add to the scale of the decision to leave safety behind. Whilst colour might not transform The Ballad, it certainly never detracts from it. It does exactly what great colouring is intended to do without a single misstep, adding character and weight to the page. 

 

The Ballad of Halo Jones is a beautiful and compelling story. There are have been plenty of different editions, but this remastered and coloured version is easily the best available. If you’ve previously read The Ballad of halo Jones, then the colouring might not transform the story, but it’s worth some consideration.

If you’ve never entered Halo’s world, walked the corridors of The Hoop, discovered the secrets of the dolphins, or found out just why rats might be so important, then this is the ideal place to start.  The Ballad of Halo Jones is a majestic comic, a wonderful story beautifully conveyed.

Our Score:

10/10

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