Ever wanted to read a comic but didn't know where to start? Interested in superheroes, manga, romance, webcomics and more? Look no further! We have all the recommendations you'll ever need.

Friday, 25 February 2011

LGBT History Month presents The Ballad Of Halo Jones

written by Alan Moore
art by Ian Gibson
Publisher: Rebellion

What's It About?
“Where did she go? Out. What did she do? Everything...” That Alan Moore, he knows how to write a tagline, I'll give him that. Also billed as 2000AD's “classic feminist space opera” this book follows the adventures of one Halo Jones from the depths of the Hoop, a ghetto for the unemployed of a future Earth, and out into space. As is pointed out more than once she's no one special but on her travels she'll become involved in spectacular events and a war that defies the laws of physics.

This book collects all three serials of Alan Moore and Ian Gibson's The Ballad Of Halo Jones.

What's Good About It?
Let us first qualify the phrase “feminist space opera” because feminism, like any political belief, is prone to varying interpretations. This book is not an exploration of feminist politics and theory. When Rebellion markets this book as feminist space opera they are pointing out that this book is a strongly written science fiction story with a predominantly female cast. The feminism here comes from the strong sense of empowerment embodied in the Halo Jones character as she escapes the ghetto and makes her way in the galaxy.

The world Moore and Gibson creates is certainly a dystopia but it doesn't fall into the trap that many fictional dystopias do: it isn't so hopeless that you can't imagine anyone living there. I've read dystopian novels where I honestly can't conceive of why the whole cast don't just commit mass-suicide by page thirty. You wouldn't want to live in the future of Halo Jones but you can see how people persevere. Its also rather a madcap world where dolphins fly spaceships and the personal defence product of choice is the zenade: a grenade that disarms your attacker by inducing a state of deep contemplation and bliss.

Each of the three serials has a different flavour to it, focusing as they do on different periods of Halo's journey. The series changes its cast, location, tone and content with each serial thus sidestepping yet another format trap: the identical sequel. Read as one volume the differences are palpable from the strangely domestic science fiction of Book One to the nightmarish warfare of Book Three. Book Three is especially striking as it views warfare almost purely from the perspective of an infantry soldier with little wider view of the conflict. The “everyman” view is a very strong theme of the series as Halo's ground-level view of her world helps to humanise her future.

Originally serialised in five-page instalments the serials contain a mix of multi-part stories and single chapter vignettes. These range from fast-paced action-oriented stories to more contemplative character pieces focusing on Halo's feelings at a given point in the story. Some stories are funny, others are tragic but through it all is the unifying figure of Halo Jones experiencing it all. Curiously the book this story reminds me of the most is The Motorcyle Diaries, Che Geuvara's account of his travels across South America in the years before he became a revolutionary: an ordinary person whose actions have a profound effect on history.

Finally, our reason for reviewing this as part of LGBT History Month. Though the book has some lesbian subtext focused around a character whose name I shall not mention here (because of spoilers) the main reason is a prominent trans character in Book Two. Well, not exactly prominent and that's the point. Alan Moore has always been a very political writer and with Glyph he writes an interesting satire on transsexual erasure. In brief, the sociological concept of erasure (which has also been applied to bisexuality) is where a group is marginalised or wholly ignored by the public consciousness to the point that people begin to assume they don't actually exist, that as a group they have no value.

For further examination of the issue written by people smarter and more erudite than me please see these two posts on Shakesville: one de-constructing a Washington Post article and the other examining the incorrect use of language by several other reputable news outlets (including the BBC).

What's Bad About It?
It might seem, as you read the first two Halo Jones serials, that plot points simply disappear but they actually don't. The three serials were clearly plotted at the same time to act as one huge story and so a lot of plot points for Book Two are seeded in Book One and Book Two begins some of the plots that lead into the grand finale.

There's also a lot of made-up future slang in the dialogue. By and large the words Moore invents make sense given time but to start with it can be a little disorienting until context and repeated use enlightens you. Anyone who was scarred as I was by studying A Clockwork Orange will know what I mean.

What's the Art Like?
Though the whole Halo Jones story was produced across a little over two years there is a marked refinement in Ian Gibson's style across the three books. Art through-out the book is plain black and white ink work.
The art in Book One is jagged and sketchy, a little impressionistic in places. Crowd scenes like these are quite common and the close ghetto confines of the Hoop with dozens of figures crowded together in lessening detail and greater impressionism the smaller they get. The figures of the Proximan and Toby the robot dog also show the sort of imaginative design Gibson uses through-out the book.

By Book Three Gibson's lines have become even finer, far sharper than in the previous two serials. Looking at the example you can see how the crowd scenes and backgrounds have become more minutely detailed though they still retain that sketchy edge. You can also see that shadows are a more prominent part of the art here, Book Three being far darker in tone than the others.

Other Information
Published by Rebellion, The Ballad Of Halo Jones (ISBN 1-905437-18-8) retails for £11.99 and is available from Amazon here.

No comments:

Post a Comment