Time to kick off another UK comic's month with a classic, the most well regarded of Alan Moore's British work - The Ballad of Halo Jones, drawn by the talented Ian Gibson. It's interesting that it wasn't a hit right out the gate, the first volume wasn't actually very popular with the readership of 2000AD coming dead last in a reader poll the year it ran. But Tharg recognises when quality needs time to bed in and so we got volume two and three before Alan had his usual falling out with editorial and left the planned nine volume series a tantalising six volumes short. Today we're checking out volume two, and the thing that is most noticable from the start is the often impenetrable future slang has been ditched and everyone now speaks normal British English. Our hero is Halo Jones, a young woman who lived on Earth in a place called The Hoop where the unemployed and unemployable were shunted off to exist out of sight and out of mind. It was a dangerous place where even a simple trip to the shops could result in death if not planned out in advance. Halo yearned to escape and when a job opportunity came up waitressing on a luxury space cruiser called "The Clara Pandy" she took it. She bid her best friend Rodice farewell and Rodice promised to follow her and meet her on the planet Charlmange in a years time. Halo took Toby, their highly intelligent robot guard dog with her, as Toby's owner - another woman she and Rodice lived with - had been brutally murdered so he had nothing left to stay for on The Hoop either. This story then tells the tale of one year aboard The Clara Pandy from the perspective of one of the lowly workers. Now read on.
It begins with a prologue designed to fill readers in on the events of book one. It is a class being taught about legends from the past and the teacher moves on to one very dear to his heart, "Halo Jones" which he has just published a program on the subject that one of his pupils cynically says he wants them to buy.
He says that over the centuries a lot of "nonsense and distortion" has grown up around her. That she was a war criminal, that she met "Lux Roth Chop, Luiz Cannibal and Sally Guaja". Some people even think she was a man called "Hal Jones".
|Halo Jones is now studied in classes.|
The tutor laughs and says no, it was "Rodice" and she was Halo's female best friend. Although after she left Earth she arranged to meet her on the planet Charlmange after getting work on the Lux Roth Chop owned luxury space liner The Clara Pandy after the death of another friend.
Tutor: "I've spent years researching this woman - and do you know what I've found out? It's this... she wasn't anything special. She wasn't that brave. That clever. Or that strong. She was just someone who felt cramped by the confines of her life. She was someone who just had to get out."
And she did get out, to places that don't even exist anymore and she said of herself afterwards, "Anybody could have done it." The class breaks up and the pupil that showed an interest in Halo comes to talk to the tutor. She says he talks about her very movingly, and he admits he has fallen in love with her despite her dying "fourteen hundred years ago."
|A new life for Halo.|
Her hostess job is "slappy" although she wasn't sure about the sexy leotard she had to wear at first. Halo tells Toy that if a woman back on The Hoop showed even her ankles, "well, we just didn't do it." Toy reassures her she looks fine and off they go, Halo ignoring the stowaway's question about The Hoop.
Halo tells Rodice that the passengers they serve are "loud and rich" and one of them - a woman called "Cezanne Goleiter" - has a very familiar voice. She also tells Rodice she has a crush on the ship's cyberneticist "Mix Minegold". "He doesn't say much, but he's probably incredibly deep" she says of him.
|Kit the steersdolphin|
Halo says Toby needs his memory spools replacing every six months and his replacement time is coming up:
Halo: "It must be nice mustn't it, to be able to take your old memories and throw them away, and start again with a nice clean spool".
She then tells Rodice there is a secret passenger that she just leaves food outside the door of. She finishes her message asking Rodice if she has a job yet and if she'll beat her to Charlemange.
Mix comes up behind her saying he didn't know she used the "observation blister" so late. Halo says she was just composing a letter and wanted to finish it while looking at the stars. She tells him she was particularly looking at one bright star that looked lonely but beautiful at the same time. Mix smiles and says it's not a star, "that's our solid wastes disposal trailer."
The owner of the ship, Lux Roth Chop supports this war effort. They have demands they want meeting or Halo and Kit will end up dead. Toby, elsewhere on the ship, pricks up his ears at this. As they give out their demands, Toby races to where Halo is being held. He rips through the wall and tears the hijackers to bits.
|Toby is one bad mofo.|
The next chapter has Halo recovering back in her cabin and she notices the androgynous person who lives there as well. Halo asks them who they are and they say with great surprise, "you... you really want to know who I am?" Halo and Toy say yeah.
Glyph: "People stopped listening to what I was saying and didn't seem to notice I was there. Everybody forgot about me. I wasn't a boy, I wasn't a girl. I was just a cypher. Some sort of glyph".
Glyph couldn't get a job, and couldn't get served in restaurants. One day Glyph's landlady moved a new family into her apartment. Despite Glyph's complaints, no one noticed they were there. "I was as if I'd somehow slipped beneath the threshold of human awareness".
Glyph had no home, no friends, no money but didn't starve because they could just steal food. They also enjoyed sitting down to a meal with others, pretending to be part of the family. They slipped aboard The Clara Pandy and has been living there on the fringes ever since.
Glyph asks if Halo and Toy could maybe say hello to her every now and then or listen to her jokes. But Glyph is talking to empty air. Halo and Toy have their backs to her and are discussing holo-soaps. Toy says she likes them because "she's naturally interested in people" while Glyph turns away and sits sadly in the background.
Then she hears a squeaking noise coming from inside the cabin and ventures in to investigate. She gets a big shock when she sees the inhabitnats are several rats linked by their tales and able to communicate via computer screen. One of them is dying and Halo is to find a replacement.
Rat King: "We am Rat King. Five joined as one. One of us is dying. Must replace, or knot will fall apart, one mind break into five stupid minds. No more Rat King".
They end with a threat. Halo is to find a healthy, strong rat to join them within the next hour. If she fails, she will die too.
|The Rat King.|
The Rat King undoes it's tail knot enough to free the dead one. The new rat joins the collective quite agreeably. They ask her to dispose of the body and not tell anyone about this on pain of death. How will they know, she asks them. "Trust we" it responds. Halo puts it in the disposal and back in her cabin, laments to Toy that she "has to trust a bunch of rats".
Toy: "You've been a woman for eighteen years and you only just realised that?"
Eight months out and there is to be a party that night. Tentatively Halo tries to ask Mix out, but he misreads her and says she won't be staying home alone tonight, she can listen Toby's old audio memory spools of her friends back on The Hoop.
Toy enters the cabin saying she has a date, Halo says she is staying home with Toby. But he's out on patrol. "Stood up by a dog!" laments Halo. She intends to stay in and watch the tapes which will probably make her blub.
|The truth about Toby revealed.|
We cut to the party which provides some interesting backstory amongst the gossip. Earth is trying to respossess the Tarantula colonies because Earth's natural resources are exhausted and the only thing it has of value is water which the Cetaceans won't let it sell. To avoid offending them, the Earth is trying to get the colonies back instead. Cetecean's are the only species who can navigate through hyperspace, "offend them and shipping collapses". It is said that Earth is making use of "ratwar" which was outlawed centuries ago...
Back with Toby and Halo, Toby tells her Brinna was "in the way of you and me". He says they can go to Kapek's world and he can get a humanoid body and be like a regular boyfriend. Halo stammers it's a good idea, but Toby can read her heart rate, she's frightened of him and will betray him as soon as she can. So he'll have to kill her. Halo grabs one of the broken mechanical arms Toy likes to wrestle with, whacks him with it and runs.
|Toy takes Toby on.|
He tells her that if he lets her live she'll tell everyone what he did to Brinna and he'll be reprogrammed. He's about to murder her when she fires a laser into his face point blank. She gets away, and Toy who has been looking for her arrives on the scene. Glyph follows her.
Toy grabs Toby and wrestles him into a small room. They lock him in and turn the heat up full. They think he's dead, but he bursts out half melting and runs towards the exhausted and terrified women.
Glyph sees all this and resolutely says "no", Glyph then tips over a barrel of explosive fuel and it hits Toby and he blows up, but Glyph is caught in the blast and when Halo asks Toy if they are alive, Toy says the words that are like a punch in the gut everytime I read this:
Toy: "No...nobody died today."
Twelve months out and the final party is being thrown. Halo is swimming with Kit in his tank when Toy comes in and asks her if she's going? Halo isn't sure, but Toy says she'll take her to get some decent clothes to attend in.
|A sacrifice unnoticed.|
The party is in full swing and Toy tells a shy Halo to ask Mix for the final dance, she starts stumblingly asking him when Cezanne Goleiter pushes in and asks him first. Halo finally recognises her voice, she is the woman they based The Hoop's "Swifty Frisko" news broadcasting character around.
|Dolled up for the last party.|
|Dancing with Lux Roth Chop.|
Halo leaves Toy to go to the "Solid Air Club". Whether she stays on the Clara Pandy depends on what happens with Rodice. The bar is empty when she gets there and she orders a couple of drinks. Then a video message comes through from Rodice, Halo says she won the bet and when will Rodice be getting there so she can pay for the drinks? But Rodice hits her with the stunning news, she's still on The Hoop.
Rodice: "It was difficult finding another ship at the space yards and well.. I didn't like the idea of just going out there into, y'know, all that space. Anyway I'm more comfortable on the Hoop."
She says she has lots to tell Halo when she gets back, but Halo looks angry and says she's not coming back. Rodice stammers that she just thought Halo wanted a break, "where will you go?" she asks. "Out" says Halo and disconnects the call. Sadly she puts her head on her hands and asks the pianist what his name is after he plays a mounrful little tune. When he tells her she says, "play it again, Yortlebluzzgubly".
|So important it needed saying twice.|