Wednesday, 1 June 2016

The Ballad Of Halo Jones: Book 1 (2000AD #376-385)

"Where did she go? Out. What did she do? Everything" - series tagline

Lets talk about Halo Jones.  Like a lot of early 2000AD I got into this via the monthly "Best of 2000AD" comics, which was a great way for younger readers like I was in 1986 to catch up with the cream of 2000AD's back catalogue before trade paperbacks became a thing. Initially the story of an eighteen year old teenager and her attempts to explore far beyond the restricted circumstances she grew up in, at the time it was originally serialised it rated dead last in reader response surveys, at least for Book 1 which was attributed mostly for the sheer amount of weird slang in it that is notably gone in the following Books. But it was popular with Tharg, and notable for being their first female led strip, so it got two more Books that gained a far better reception before Moore got into a ownership dispute with then publishers Fleetway (of course he did), leaving a planned nine book series chronicling Halo Jone's entire life only one third finished.  Unlike his other 2000AD work, this appears to be the one series he wrote for the comic that has attained some measure of popularity and respect in the US as well as the UK, so I am not labelling it an Obscurity.  It also seems to be the only series he wrote for 2000AD that Moore feels fondly towards as well and it definitely ranks highly with me as well, helped along by Ian Gibson's magnificently cartoony artwork. Lets crack on with Books 1 this month, and because this is all I have left of Moore's UK stuff, I shall be covering Books 2 and 3 during UK comic months to come.

We start with a pan across "The Hoop", the place where the unemployed and unemployable of Halo Jone's world are sent to live.  We light upon the teenage Halo's face, a mixture of boredom and a faraway look in her eyes.  She shares a living space with her best friend Rodice, an older woman called Brinna and Brinna's intelligent robot dog Toby.
Halo Jones, dreaming of better things.
Brinna says she wants to go and see a luxury liner called the "Clara Pandy" which has come there to be decommissioned.  Halo wants to come too despite Rodice's dire warnings of the "Different Drummers".  But when Toby says he'll be going Rodice changes her mind.

They walk and chat, Rodice says it's a lot of fuss for a bit of flying scrap.  Halo responds that it's not scrap, it's been everywhere.  Brinna says she met the human Clara Pandy when she was a little girl.

They pass a group of Different Drummers, teens with shaved heads and vacant expressions.  Who have an implant in their brains that pipes a constant beat into it.  "Bunch of mindless glombies" says Rodice of them.  They reach the Clara Pandy and Halo gasps that "she's beautiful".
The Clara Pandy.
Someone in the crowd voices his displeasure that she's going to be broken up, then an argument starts between some humans and an alien.  It escalates into a fight and so the women decide to leave.  A creepy man propositions Rodice, but Toby tells him to get lost.  "I could have crumped that schmoo without any inbut from you Fido" says Rodice.  They get away before the "jackwagons" arrive but Halo isn't happy:

Halo: "I'm sick of this place.  Every time something nice happens, a fight starts"

She goes on to say she's going to get out of there one day.  Rodice says even if she does escape she'll get dragged back and broken into pieces, "just ask the Clara Pandy".

Later Rodice and Halo are attending a concert in a club their friend Ludy is playing her "Dota" at. She "was blue-hot" exclaims Halo.  Ludy packs up and Halo says her music should allow her to get off the Hoop one day.  Ludy wonders how she'll survive until then.

Halo: "Me and Rodice and Brinna'll take care of you.  You're out pet celebrity!".

Rodice joins them and the three of them leave the club.  Unfortunately the streets they need to go down are dark and they are surrounded by a group of Different Drummers. 
The Different Drummers.
But the leader points at Ludy and tells her, "played chief Dota tonight.  We appreciate.  You all right by the Drummers." And they nod their way off.  Ludy collapses in some distress.

When she recovers, Halo tells her that her music saved them from "getting crumped" and that she should learn a lesson from this.  Ludy says she has, "in lots of ways".  On arrival back to their living quarters, the make a terrible discovery.  They have no food left.  "But that means..." says Halo, "A shopping trip!" finishes Rodice.

Halo and Rodice start planning their trip like a military operation.  With a strict timetable to hit each area they are going to go through to reach the mall.  Halo asks jokingly if Ludy want to go in her place, then sees Ludy has her Dota and is off to rehearsals.  Halo enocurages her so she can one day "quit this dump".  Ludy leaves, not looking very enthused.
Rodice and Halo plan their shoping trip.
With shopping  schedule in hand, protective gear on and Toby along for protection, Rodice and Halo set out for the shops.  They make it to the main Hoop concourse on time, but over the tannoy the news announcer "Swifty Frisco" says "Algae Baron Lux Roth Chop" has bought the Clara Pandy and the ship won't be demolished.  Rodice realises this will be a problem for them, Toby says "we got trouble, girly. Hoop riot!"

We then jump forwards to Rodice reviving an unconcious Halo.  She got "crumped" by a "Proximan" tail and she and Toby dragged her up a side artery away from the riot.

Halo: "That riot... what would they have done if Lux Roth Chop hadn't saved the Clara Pandy".

Rodice says they'd have rioted of course, now back to shopping and her sechdule is all to hell now.

They can't use the main Hoopway due to the riot so they use an "updraft" to float up to the "overstrat".  They take a shortcut through the "Exit Gardens" which is an illegal one, but Rodice says:

Rodice: "If anybody asks we tell 'em that we were going to kill ourselves but we saw the funny side at the last moment."
Taking a shortcut.
After some more shortcuts they find themselves where the Hoop has to seperate to allow waves to go past (the Hoop is moored in the ocean).  Rodice's heel gets stuck in a grate and by the time she gets free, separation has happened and they are on the wrong side.

They discuss what to do next and Halo has an idea, "we can go outside!".  There is a "magentrax" they can ride the other way round the Hoop and get to the mall that way.  But Rodice holds up a couple of items Halo identifies as "Zenades" and Halo wants to know why?

Rodice: "... the first person to take me outside is gonna find out why!"

We're given a quick description of Zenades, a 50th century invention it renders it's victims, "incapable of anything but meditation, intuition and complete non-agression".  Rodice drops them but they appear to be duds, except the last one, which works, but affects Rodice instead of Halo.
Rodice is not keen on going outside.
Toby tells Halo to get Rodice outside before the effects wear off.  He's going to make his own way as sea-salt doesn't agree with him.  Halo and Rodice climb through a hatch to the surface of the Hoop and jump in the Magnetrax.  A blissed out Rodice asks why they don't come outside more often.  "Because you're terrifed of wide open spaces" says Halo.

They ride round the Hoop until the reach the Mall indicator, just as Rodice returns to normal and starts having hysterics about being outside.  Halo gets her down through the hatch and back into the Hoop where they are immediately confronted by a gang of snappily dressed men and women.
Hipsters in the future.
The gang ridicule Halo and Rodice's clothes.  Rodice calls them "Checkout Hags" and threatens them with a "Sputstick" which releases a spray that will make the victim throw up.  But an air con unit close by blows the spray back in Rodice's face and she begins to vomit.  This causes the gang to lose interest in them and they leave.

Haloe and Rodice go shopping, while browsing some stuff for the others, Halo notices a Dota which looks just like Ludy's, right down to the scratches... Then Toby arrives and tells them to hurry if they want to make it home in time.

They go to catch a "ring roadster" but the next one isn't going to be along for six hours.  So they bed down for the night alongside a fellow commuter, an alien called "Snivelling" and spend the night sleeping at the "Skid Stop".
Missed the last bus home.
Later they are aboard the ring roadster, Rodice and Toby are sleeping, but Halo is awake and writing her diary.  She mostly notes the activity of The Hoop in the early hours and that she thought she heard mention that "Ice Ten", Ludy's band had been signed by Chop Leisure and how she hopes that is true.

They arrive at their destination and start to walk back to their quarters.  Toby suddenly tells them, "Excuse me.  I gotta job to do.  And listen, I'm sorry..." and he walks off.  Laughing and joking Halo and Rodice arrive back home, the place its trashed and then Halo and Rodice look on in horror as Rodice whispers, "Toby.  Toby must have smelled the blood."
Returning home to a terrible discovery.
Brinna is dead. The "rumblejacks" sent to deal with taking the body starts to piss Rodice off with their repetative questions, Halo says to her:

Halo: "These rumblejacks are persistent offenders remember? They've been leucotomised - you can see the scars on their heads - They can't react.  There's no point getting angry with them!"

Rodice regards the mess and says "but I just need to get angry with somebody".  The man in charge says Brinna had a "Ripper" (Toby) right?  He's possibly smelled the blood and gone after the killers.  When Rodice gets mad at him, he calmly replies he is a volunteer, and that he knew Brinna a long time ago, "she was a special woman" he says and leaves.
Ludy, now a Different Drummer.
Halo and Rodice wonder how they'll break the news to Ludy.  But when Ludy appears she is now a Different Drummer.  She says she quit Ice Ten and joined the Drummers because she was sick of feeling scared all the time.  When Halo scolds her, Ludy yells:

Ludy: "Maybe I don't want to get killed...just to make you proud of me.  I'm sick of living up to your escape fantasies Halo.  I don't wanna listen to you any more."

Rodice tells her Ice Ten got signed, but Ludy has zoned out, listening to the beat in her head.  Halo strides out of their quarters and when Rodice chases after her saying their problems will still be their when they get back, Halo says:

Halo: "Who said anything about coming back?"
Halo has had enough.
Halo and Rodice go to the employment desk and get passage off the Hoop to go and find work in Manhattan where the Hoop is moored just off from.  The place looks grim, but Halo is determined:

Halo: "Brinna's dead.  Ludy's turned into a gloombie.  The Hoop got 'em.  You think I'm going to sit around and wait for it to get me?  I'm not going back."

Then Halo detects someone is following them, they run and trip over, but their stalker is revealed to be Toby.

He says he smelled the blood and tracked it's spoor.  He dealt with Brinna's killers, "all four of 'em.  I don't wanna talk about it."  He tells them Brinna left him to the both of them in her will.  They carry on job hunting until they arrive at the dock where the Clara Pandy is moored and Halo says, "I think I'm in love"
Toby catches up with them.
They go and ask about jobs aboard and a man working on mending the hull says there is hostess jobs going for nine thousand creds a year, but only one and the person must be able to speak Cetecean.

Halo does indeed speak it, saying to Rodice she was a member of the "Ritit Rikti" fanclub and learned it then.  Rodice says she can have the job and Toby as well.  She promises she'll work passage on the next liner out and they'll meet in Charlmange in a years time, "last one buys the drinks".  They bid a teary farewell and the Book ends with Rodice watching the Clara Pandy leave.
Halo takes her leave of Rodice and The Hoop.
This is a fantastic work from a writer who was churning out amazing stuff on a weekly and monthly basis.  A Bechdel Test passing masterpiece that introduces us to a pair of strong female characters and through the events they go through inspire Halo to become the main protagonist of the Books that follow.  The future world is beautifully painted in via the language and Ian Gibsons fantastic designs, he is probably my favourite of all the regular 2000AD artists. I think it's a bit of a shame the slang was dropped in the further books, because the wordplay on show here is masterful and I have always been partial to a bit of wordplay.  But I can see how it might alienate the more general, younger reader.   It's fun and tragic to compare the eighteen year old Halo making military like plans to just do some shopping with the thirty year old Halo of Book 3 who joins the real military.  The Hoop, a ghetto for the people society considers no hopers, is portrayed as a realistically unpleasant place, and the death of Brinna and the giving up of Ludy makes Halo realise she wants to trade security for freedom and we'll be joining her during her time on the Clara Pandy during my next UK comics month.

4 comments:

  1. that robot dog is badass! I should read more old 2000AD stuff, you were lucky being able to buy collections for 50 pence :P

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  2. It was the eighties man! 50p was like half a weeks pocket money for me. I delivered a lot of newspapers and babysat a lot of kids to be able to afford as many comics and early TPBS as I could get me hands on :D

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  3. This also works if one thinks of it as a companion piece to Skizz.

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  4. It does feel very similar in tone and subject to Skizz, which is why I don't really understand why Moore hated Skizz so much. I guess he maybe saw Halo Jones as a solely his own creation while Skizz had been a task he'd been set by the editor.

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