Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened twice monthly to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends ‘The Ballad of Halo Jones’, out May 16 from Rebellion.
By Arpad Okay. Halo Jones, made in 1984 for 2024, maybe 5054. Alan Moore and Ian Gibson saw a gap in 2000AD some thirty-plus years ago, a magazine read heavily by girls but lacking stories for them. Sure, there were vixens, there were Amazons, gun toting broads tougher than nails. But Moore and Gibson wanted to add something new to their favorite comic rag, not just something more.
And so The Ballad of Halo Jones was born. Our tale stars a band of independent women, trying to eke out a place in a future much more like the lives of its readers than Mega-City One, though no less ridiculous. And, thanks to Barbara Nosenzo, now captured in beautiful, reverent color.
What keeps the pages of The Ballad so fresh decades later is their unique blend of the mania of urban chaos with a utopian, optimistic view of tomorrow. Halo’s home, the Hoop, is densely packed with people, cars, signage, goings on, and it is realistic in its way. There are rich folks and poor folks. There’s danger.
What it isn’t is all blasters and grit. The Hoop, not the safest place after dark, still has buses that run on time, shopping malls, rock concerts. The Hoop is mundane. Halo and crew draw a line connecting us to this unlikely world, with youth culture. Music. Shopping. Boredom. The queues are endless and just as terminal as the riots.
The adventure that comprises the bulk of the first volume of Halo Jones is a bizarre send-up of the 80s: a trip to the grocery store. Yeah, Moore is lancing the consumerism of the times, but he is also winking sideways at counter culture. The drugged out, paranoid young freak to whom a foray to the corner market is an impossible psychic marathon; Halo Jones is that Philip K. Dick bad trip, an epic journey through robot arteries. Dodging the armless lizard folks (paupers), the surgical cults (surprisingly hip), the unwashed masses (murderous), just to get sustenance.
As one might expect from Alan Moore, each step of the journey seeds a garden of ideas about the shape of Halo’s world. The technology to get them to the store and back, that keeps them safe, the news media and slang fit for James Joyce. Moore explores the city and he mines the psychology of its residents. What would the people who live in a tube be like? What scares them? How do teens rebel? What are the hot new trends?
Ian Gibson’s art is haute couture geometry. The interlocking rectangles of a watchband are the coil of a city street tunnel. The long curve of a parabola stretches from foreground to the horizon. Samurai pads stretch past shoulders, turn down at acute angles, and join at a high belt. The coats, the vests, hats, gloves, shawls, it’s French Foreign Legion and it’s Buck Rogers, Grace Jones, The Dark Crystal. Whatever keeps you covered from the male gaze, they’ll kill you, but fashionable enough for the mall gaze, because they’ll kill you, too.
Nosenzo’s colors dovetail Gibson’s art with seamless success few modern colorists achieve with older art. Her work employs a diverse palette as vogue as Gibson’s outfits, with contemporary touches like light flares and screens, but it maintains a respect for the feel of 2000AD. Halo Jones looks like the classic watercolor pulp paper aesthetic of its era. By choosing to color to inform feeling rather than to explain content (like many classic books by Moore), Nosenzo makes Halo Jones look even more like what it is than what it was before she came to it.
All of this work and quality of art is matched by the story. The richly nuanced but still semi-absurd serial turns deadly serious on a dime. While the girls were out shopping, multiple tragedies struck at home. The fallout brings the first part of the story to bear on the last, and the reader gets a sense of what this book truly is, the humble beginning. Halo Jones, the girl who went everywhere, before she went anywhere. The frustration that drove her off-world. Her friends, their lives, their loss, a fate to which she would never succumb. Next: out, and everything.
Written by Alan Moore.
Art by Ian Gibson.
Colors by Barbara Nosenzo.
Letters by Steve Potter.
‘The Ballad of Halo Jones Vol. 1’ hits stores May 16.