Saturday, 3 December 2016

The Ballad Of Halo Jones: Book 2 (2000AD #405-415)

"I heard what you said. I'm not coming back to The Hoop" - Halo Jones

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.
To tell them about the real Halo Jones he tells them about The Hoop.  We also find out the Different Drummers (who one of her friends joined in book one) were wiped out in a massacre a few years after she left. One pupil says she heard Halo left Earth after a failed relationship with her boyfriend "Rodrice". 

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.
Then we begin proper, with Halo writing a missive to Rodice telling her all abouther new life.  She shares a cabin with a tough, seven foot tall woman called "Toy".  Halo says "she's the toughest woman I've ever met.  You'd hate her."  She also mentions a stowaway that she isn't sure what gender they are, and has trouble bringing them to mind.

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
The other best thing is the "steersman", a dolphin or "Cetacean" who goes by the name of "Kititirik Tikrikitit".  Halo speaks his language so she gets to hang out and keep him company and call him "Kit".  Toby is also doing fine and doesn't seem to be unhappy over his mistress Brinna's death.

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 next chapter begins with a man jamming a gun to Halo's head as she goes to visit Kit.  They are soldiers in the "Tarantulan Emancipation Army" and will kill Halo and Kit if the captain doesn't broadcast their demands to the whole ship.  The leader then says to the people of Earth that "under the command of the hated torturer, Luiz Cannibal, your planet wages undeclared war on the free colony worlds of the Tarantula Nebula".

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.
Security arrive and ask what happened. "I happened" says Toby.  Mix comes in and says it was a terrible thing.  Thinking he's talking to her, Halo says she thought she'd be killed.  But he walks past her and fusses over a damaged computer instead.

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.
Introducing Glyph.
The androgynous being is called Glyph.  Glyph thinks they started out as a girl, or maybe a boy. Glyph can't be sure.  Glyph ended up not happy as either and with a serious case of body dysmorphia had forty-seven "body remoulds" which finally left them as they are now, completely devoid of gender identifying characteristics and also, "my personality had been completely erased.  That's why I'm so boring".

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.
Poor Glyph.
Four months out, and Halo complains she hasn't seen any "natural wonders of space yet".  Halo goes and delivers food to the secret passenger in the Presidential Suite.  The two guards check her ID and tell her to go lay it down and not look at the food as well.  Curiosity gets the better of her and she sneaks a peek at the food and it's plain gruel.

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.
Halo goes grovelling round for a rat but keeps missing them.  Glyph comes up and says Halo can tell her whats bothering because people forget Glyph so soon after, so Halo tells her about the Rat King and her need for another rat.  Glyph says "rats don't notice me either" and grabs one for Halo.  Glyph offers to do other little jobs for Halo if she wants them too, but Halo is gone and without saying thank you either.

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 Toby, who is hailed by Mix.  Mix asks Toby if Halo managed to get his memory tapes to play alright.  When Toby realises what he's done he goes rushing to Halo's cabin. She, meanwhile, has reached a critical momement.  When Toby split from he and Rodice on their shopping trip he went back to his owner Brinna and brutally killed her. Brinna had left him to Halo in her will.  He appears at the distraught Halo's doorway and says "I did it all for love!".

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.
Bored of all the political talk Toy returns to her cabin to find Halo gone, she is being chased by Toby.  Halo runs into a room full of machinery, Toby says that was a smart move because it's dark and noisy.  Wait; it wasn't smart because he has infrared vision.  He bursts through a wall and knocks her down.

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.
It's a Lux Roth Chop party so it'll be extra swanky, Toy tells her to ask Mix out and they return to their cabin.  They both wonder about feeling something is missing from the place, like "some piece of furniture or something we both never noticed, and now it's gone".  But it can't of been that important, can it?

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.
Sad that Swifty Frisko stole her man, she goes and sighs in a corner.  It is then the black teenage boy who's been depicted hovering around in the background all throughout the voyage, asks her for a dance.  She agrees and says not to worry if anyone laughs at them.  "They won't laugh" he says.  They dance and the floor empties as they whirl round the floor.  Afterwards everyone applauds, she tells him he's a nice kid and asks his name, "Lux Roth Chop, goodnight" he tells her and walks away leaving her in shock.
Dancing with Lux Roth Chop.
Finally Halo has reached Charlmange.  It's an ice planet so she has disembarked in a full, cold weather suit. Toy points out a mysterious box being pushed out of the Presidential Suite, this is where lots of folk change and it is heading for the Tarantula systems.  Toy comments how they never found out what was in the suite and Halo says "uh.. no.. we didn't."

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.
And on that melancholy note we finish Book Two of Halo Jones.  Immensely good stuff as befits Prime Moore.  I've always been struck by the deep unsentimental nature of this story.  The plight of Glyph for instance, there is no last minute shock of recognition, no mourning over their loss, as far as Toy and Halo are concerned a freak accident saved them from Toby and Glyph goes to their grave unremembered.  Glyph might also be one of comic's first trans and genderfluid characters and while I'll admit the portrayal isn't flattering, they do give their life up to save Halo and provide the biggest upset to the reader who unlike the characters has got to know and grow fond of them. Thanks to Moore's deft writing, I've never forgotten Glyph. Toby is revealed as a brutal killer who'd murder even the woman he killed for to save his skin and Rodice is shown to be a coward who'd rather stay in the hellhole of The Hoop than take Halo's bravery as a guide and leave.  Luckily Halo has a new best friend in Toy, a strong woman in all senses who wasn't afraid to jump in and fight a raging robot to save her, but isn't a stereotypical butch either, showing a liking for flowing dresses and general elegance too.  Halo also has Kit the Cetecean to hang out with and give her much needed peace from the stressful side of human beings (and feels similar to how Moore would develop the Abby and Swamp Thing relationship as well).  After twelve months on The Clara Pandy and with no Rodice waiting, what will become of Halo Jones next?  You'll have to wait until my next UK comic month (or buy the collected edition of all three books) to find out.


  1. "Where did she go?"; "Out"; "What did she do?"; "Everything"

    Madame Varalys, with these epic tales you are really spoiling us.

    I still have lots of thoughts about Saga, but I think I can segue in nicely to Halo as they share something that makes them both great. It's that idea of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events but also (and this is hard to explain) the idea that although the worlds are fantastical to us, they're just boring everyday background to them. It's like, if I could bring some very intelligent observer from say the middle ages I could show them devices that allow us to communicate with anyone in the world, I could point to the sky and explain those vapour trails are carrying hundreds of people to places that were borderline myth in just a few hours and offer them food from vendors from every corner of the globe. And when they asked me what this miraculous utopia was called I could reply "Doncaster town centre"

    One problem with Sci Fi is that the characters so often act like they know they're in a Sci fi story. Tbh, I actually enjoy that when it's blatant. I love that Asimov had characters using phrases like "Great Galaxies!" as swearing. I quite like adding 'space' as a qualifier to words myself. But in semi serious works like this it's great how, say, working on a starship is just a dead end job (one of the many great things about Alien was how it made space travel a blue collar trade)

    I also remember Glyph fondly (and I have some slave Sophie comparisons I'll maybe come back to in future comments). For me it wasn't so much about the gender faux aspects. I think why they were such an empathic character was how they spoke to the worried teenager wondering what their place would be in the world. Halo might have been your classic hero who came from nothing, but she at least had an arc and went on to do great things. There was a trajectory. But what about all the people who just got left behind? Glyph really captured that angst about amounting to nothing, alienation, social anxiety, creating an identity for oneself etc. We could all aspire to be heroes (I can still remember coming out of Empire Strikes Back and my personal development from then on being modelled on lukes time with yoda) but in those dark corners of our minds where the doubts lurk, Glyph speaks to us.

  2. You know because I don't tend to write up these posts in the order I'll end up posting them, it was only as I was clicking submit that I realised Halo Jones and Sag are very similar for the reasons you so accurately point out.

    You're also right about Glyph, they're actually a fascinating character in many ways. When I first read the story I think I did indeed not really register the whole sexual identity aspects of them, and was much more worried that although I wanted to be as cool as Halo, I actually identified more with Glyph's alienation and loneliness and the fact one could exist in the world and leave it with nothing left behind to mark our passing. Not even a memory. Powerful stuff for what was still ostensibly a "kid's" comic then.

    "The Empire Strikes Back" was the first film I ever saw at the pictures, I still have my old AT-AT which stands in the living room where my nephew likes to play with it now. The Hoth space battle is still one of the coolest things I have ever seen on film!

  3. "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" was my 'first time'. I still think the football match in that is one of the funniest things ever filmed.

    I remember seeing some behind the scenes footage of the filming of Empire. You probably know they used the Norwegian Army for the battle of Hoth. That's maybe why they seem to move and act like real soldiers. I also remember the director demonstrating the weapons and saying "I imagine they've got a real kick; so show that". Watch again with that in mind and you really notice it. You probably also know that after Empire a lot of arms companies looked into the feasibility of walkers just because they were so cool.

    When I came out of the cinema I jumped down the stairwell just because I wanted to be as agile as Luke (I'm the reason they say 'dont try this at home kids'). Really hurt my ankles, but worth it.

    But it is funny what we find inspirational, and how we fear not leaving a mark as you so aptly put it. I'm sure that's a common feeling that comics address. Is there a difference between marvel and dc in that I wonder? Dc heroes seem to be billionaires, all powerful aliens or literal goddesses whereas marvel are either teenage mutant outcasts or unappreciated photographers who can never get the girl. Or is that just my limited knowledge of their output?

    But Brit comics always seemed to really be good at the neglected and unappreciated character. There's a Misty story about an everyday girl who manages to save a baby. She'd be the hero in any other comic, but in Misty she dies alone and undiscovered in a basement with the few people who even know of her remembering her as an incompetent babysitter who's probably just run away somewhere.

    I can see many a lonely teenage girl identifyng with her

  4. The main difference between DC and Marvel heroes is that the normal humans of the DCverse don't tend to fear their heroes the same way much of the MCU's does which is ironic because DC heroes in general are more powerful. It's actually a plot point in the Avengers/Justice League crossover that The Avengers at first think the JLA are tyrants because of how they are worshipped. Cue fight. Also Marvel heroes spend a wearying amount of time duffing each other up over misunderstandings. That was what always put me off the comics until very recently when that trope got knocked on the head somewhat.

    Playing LEGO Batman 3 showed me how incredibly rich the DCU is in villains, LEGO Marvel doesn't have nearly as great a line up. However you also have to remember, DC began roughly 1938 when superheroes were closely linked to fantasy comics, most of what makes up the MCU began in 1961 as a deliberate reaction against the light and bright DCU. There's obviously been darker stuff in the DCverse over the years, most of what became the Vertigo line started out in the main DCU, and more recent writers like Gail Simone have pushed at how dark you can make the superhero comic with her title Secret Six. For me it boils down to DC codifying the tropes of the superhero then Marvel coming along and deconstructing them.

    That Misty story sounds hardcore, probably just as well I didn't read it back then. I think I'd be traumatised as an adult reading that let alone a young girl!

  5. Argh, I'd typed out a huge polemic, then the Internet ate it (maybe it was trying to tell me something?). But never give up never surrender. I'll retype. I refuse to capitulate to our cyber overlords. Unless they send a terminator, then I might be willing to do a deal.

  6. I hate when that happens, usually because my flailing fingers hit the back key on my browser. I'll still be here :D I'm well into LEGO The Hobbit now anyway, sleep doesn't seem to have been happening much for me and collecting all those LEGo Bricks is addictive as all hell.

  7. OK, you'd really got me thinking and sent me off into one of my stream of consciousness meanderings. I love that so I'm very grateful.

    You've provoked so many ideas bubbling in my head, so I'm just going to go with one and say J Edgar Hoover.

    Now "What you talking about Willis?" would be a fair response to that but 🐻 with me (Grrr)

    Consider how the FBI were regarded in the 30s. They were heroic G-Men, admired by all for their toughness, their bravery and their ingenuity. They combined the latest scientific investigation techniques with the ability to throw a sock to the jaw of any villain. So it's perhaps understandable that DC reflected that.

    And also billionaires were people to be admired. Bruce Wayne today is an evil member of the 1% but then he was a role model. Or if you couldn't be rich, coming from hard working farming stock was equally as acceptable.

    But by the 60s the FBI was 'the man' out to stich up MLK and Timothy Leary. So marvel came about in a time of wariness over authority and power and the heroes reflect that (be interesting to consider how a post watergate launch might have changed things even further)

    But although (or because) the marvel characters may be from the '99%' theres still that circular firing squad judean popular front tendencies of the left evident in all the infighting.

    Hmm, it's interesting to consider who various superheroes would vote for, or even campaign for.

  8. Well Captain America was so disillusioned by Ricard Nixon he quit being Captain America for a few issues and became the answer to quite a tough trivia question (he changed his name to Nomad. Lame). Actually different takes on Captain America make for fascinating reading. As originally conceived by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon he was very much the bastion of liberal, New Deal America. The Ultimate Universe Captain in contrast (as conceived by cynical Scot Mark Millar) was a thug in a flag costume gleefully hanging out with Dubya and relishing the strength of American Imperial Power.

    Actually the FBI are certainly more heroic in this day and age than they have been for a while, I watch and loved Criminal Minds which is about the work of the BAU. It's the CIA who are the bad guys now. Me and my mum were trying to think of anytime a CIA agent has shown up in the various US crime shows that we watch who has been anything other than a shady arsehole and possibly an outright baddie. We couldn't think of any.

    Stan Lee, while I might not personally care for his writing style undoubtedly gave the superhero comic (along with artist and co-plotters Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby) a shot in the arm and definitely courted the counter-culture with DC being seen as standing for "Dad Comics". But really the Marvel Revolution was also good for DC as it snapped them out of complacency and gave us some great competiton, sometimes the relationship has been friendly rivalry, sometimes it's been more hostile, but some very good comics have come from it so it's all good to me.

  9. Argh, once again you've just got so many ideas buzzing in my brain. I've almost got brainlock knowing where to begin. Politics in comics? The Comedian in Watchmen? Comics as counter culture? Freak Brothers, Crumb? Dredd as fascist? Hmm, maybe I should just do bullet points and let you infer the rest.

    But I'll stick with the FBI/CIA thing.

    Remember I told you about that seminar I went to? Well one fascinating fact that arose was pre 9/11 over 90% of FBI field agents had a law qualification. I'll leave it to you to consider the implications of that. However post 9/11 there was a switch to recruiting ex military. You probably know the FBI academy at Quantico is next door to the USMC training establishment, so they literally just went over there with the application forms. That represented a shift both in attitude internally but also how the public now perceived the FBI. They were popular again.

    The CIAs image seems to vary. It's harder for agencies like that as by definition it's hard to have a public image. So they're seen as dropping the ball on not stopping 911, then they're briefly popular after Tora Bora, then they can't find UBL, then they do (but the SEALs get the glory)

    The only sympathetic portrayal I can think of in pop culture is Tom Clancy stuff. Although Green Zone has an interesting take. Funnily enough Sandbaggers has a CIA good FBI bad view. I think that reflects the professional antagonism between internal and external intelligence agencies though and the writer's background.

    "I have a friend in MI5..."

    "Nobody has any friends in MI5"

    Oh you've just reminded me, got a great picture for you. I'll email it in a moment.

    Then we can get back to Ms Jones!

    (I heard that in book 9 she travels back in time and ends up lodging in Rising Damp)

  10. I recently wrote up that Garth Ennis "Fury MAX: My War Gone By" which has Nick Fury working for the CIA not SHIELD, and is an absolutely coruscating attack on the agency and the messes it made in the so-called fight against Communism. I'll be interested in your thoughts when I post it up in January.

    Thanks for reminding me about The Sandbaggers, once everyone's Xmas gifts have been taken care of I'll be picking up the full series boxset as my gift to me.

    Ah if only we had all nine books of Halo Jones, but Rebellion won't fork over the rights to Moore and Gibson, so books 4-9 only exist in Lucien's Library right now...

  11. I'm really looking forward to that. I also can't wait to hear your views on Sandbaggers. I do have a CIA story, but it requires a *huge* amount of context. I can share it with you perhaps one day but first you'd need to know who Shami Chakrabarty, Conor Gearty and Clive Stafford Smith are.

    But back to the adventures of Halo. Had it been completed I think it would have been the best comic story ever written, but even in its inchoate state it's still amazing. I can't remember who it was but someone once said about how the best Sci fi works let you know 'there's a world outside the window'. Not everything needs to be explained but there are reference to things. I'm not explaining myself very well. But it's that ability to create a real world that goes beyond the scope of the story and just makes the setting part of a wider universe. Perhaps it's better just to give examples.

    So lines like "I met the original Clara Pandy once". We know nothing about who she may have been, other than that she was someone worth naming a ship after, but it's just that little bit of dialogue that makes both the society they live in more real and indeed the characters. It's just so naturalistic. I loved how Moore avoids the 'as you know' thing. We don't hear anything more about Clara because it would be like someone saying 'i met princess Diana once. She was the woman who married Prince Charles the current heir to the throne'. But that's all too common in fiction.

    Same with the brilliantly named Lux Roth Chop. Is he a kid? How did he become so powerful? We never find out but even at the time I just loved the little reveal and I never felt unsatisfed that that was all we were going to know (it may be there would have been revelations later but it wouldn't have mattered if not)

    Moore does have a real gift for getting the balance right between chekhov's ratking (all the background chitchat about the tarantula war that becomes relevant later) but not making every extraneous detail into the subject of its own blooming epic (a bugbear of mine, especially in expanded universe stuff)

    The brilliant thing about HJ is whether you're an invisible person, a tusked war criminal or a homicidal robot dog, you're completely convincing as a real person. The weird thing is that considering the setting there's never a feeling of having to suspend disbelief. Everything is completely plausible because the characters behave like real people.

  12. Yes the world building is done beautifully, you feel the backstory develop naturally and as you say avoids the clumsiness of "As you know" style exposition.

    I think I rate Halo Jones as tied with the superhero/cop series Top Ten as my second favourite Moore work. His Swamp Thing run being always the top of my personal pops. All share that elusive trait of creating compelling drama out of fine character work something pretty much all my fave writers excel at (well Grant Morrison notsomuch, but he has other appeals) rather than turning characters into just plot ciphers.

  13. HJ was an almost perfect blend of wonderful characters in a fantastic (in both senses) world. In a way it was quite light on plot. There was no overall adversary to overcome or dilemma to resolve, no ultimate goal. Just people dealing with a series of episodes in life. It was almost a soap opera in a way.

    I won't jump ahead though (albeit I love her stint in the army) so sticking with the Clara Pandy stuff. I liked Toy. It would have been so easy though just to have her as supertough warrior chick. But she was a rounded character. I loved that she liked getting her glad rags on every now and then. But again it seemed real. It's all too common for writers to artificially add a quirk to an otherwise stereotype to create a faux sense of depth of personality.

    Having said that it can sometimes work. Roger Moore played a character called ffolkes in a rather excellent film called North Sea Hijack. He was trying to get away from the James Bond thing so although ffolkes is a sort of special forces action hero he likes kittens and needlepoint. With any other actor it might have been naff and contrived, but he really makes it work.

    But a lot of the time writers really fail at making characters well rounded. At best they'll be allowed one affectation or outside interest, but that's it, or they'll be allowed to be a member of a single subculture but not anything beyond that.

    Perhaps one of the reasons Halo is such a great character is she doesn't really have an identity (hence the motivation to head out and find herself) so she's more able to react and absorb all the stuff that happens to her. She's a blank slate.

    Hmm, now I've written that I wonder if there was more to having Glyph in there than I initially thought. Maybe they're an echo of what could have been Halo's future had she not made certain decisions.

  14. Yeah, I mean the plot of the first book boiled down to them going out shopping, Prime Moore had the ability to turn the mundanities of everyday life into something completely gripping. I also like how the book stresses she was no one "special". She didn't hear some call to adventure and a destiny that needed her to fulfil it. She did her own thing for her own reasons and that was enough.

    One of the reasons I rate Garth Ennis so highly is he's a great character writer. Both he and Moore have moved me to tears on a regular basis which I judge as the ultimate comment on my affection for the characters involved in their stories.

  15. There was an early Future Shock that featured some body armoured figure fighting their way through an apocalyptic landscape. Then they arrive home to take off their helmet to reveal a bowler hatted middle aged clerk type figure whose wife asks "How was your day at the office dear?"

    I wonder if that was a Moore piece? It's the same sort of vibe.

  16. I need to pick up the collection that has all of his Future Shocks and Time Twisters in one volume although the tale you recount sounds like a Moore I think quite a few writers had the same approach to sci-fi, ie: taking all the glamour out of it. Moore just took it to a new level.

  17. I loved Future Shocks. And there's a brilliant Time Twister that plays very nicely on the grandfather paradox. It's the one where there are so many overlapping temporal encounters the protagonists hide behind a plant pot at one stage just to avoid meeting themselves yet again.

    Was a good start for a lit of the main writers too.

    That Hap Hazard story had a nice take on deglamorising Sci fi. The hero lived on a world discovered by famous explorer Frederick Starblazer; 'Fred's Planet'

    We've gone full circle a bit on deconstruction. The Tom Strong and related stuff that's basically the great pulp 1930s heroes like Doc Savage. Of course being a chisel jawed clean cut sort of guy myself I love all that.

  18. I've got a very interesting biography of Moore, which although it concentrates on his more well known stuff and rather skips past all the work he did to put food on the table during the 90's, has a very interesting chapter on his time at 2000AD and how he used the discipline he learned in constructing his short stories in making work such as Watchmen so meticulous, right down to counting the number of words in each thought balloon. It's called "Magic Words: The Extraordinary World of Alan Moore" by Lance Parkin (yes, the Doctor Who EU writer) and is a great read, especially all the stuff about his early underground stuff and his later "Mage" era work.

  19. Meticulous is a good word. Moore is interesting in that he manages to avoid a common writing problem which is to have too many ideas in a story. Supposedly one way of learning to avoid that is to practice with short stories.

    It's a hard discipline. Related in a way to that adage of "always be prepared to cut your favourite scene"

    But although Moore's stuff can be densely plotted with lots of nice details like we've been discussing, fundamentally the plots are pretty straightforward.

    Watchmen is just 'architects of fear'. V is count of monte christo. There's great characters, interesting use of genre tropes and some nice set pieces, but the stories themselves are very simple. You can explain them in a sentence or two.

    Saga is a bit like that. Theres a lot of depth to it but basically it's just pyramus and thisbe.

    There's not necessarily anything wrong with complexity when it's done well, but a lot of writers fall into the trap of confusing complexity with convolution. I love a story that you can dwell on for ages afterwards but not ones where you're going "Eh? WTF, was that all about?"

  20. It's interesting that Moore has tended to work on "limited" series, ie: series with a clear, defined end point in sight. One of the few times he didn't, with Swamp Thing, he rebooted the character with an issue that is seen as the ur-text for character reinvention in comics now - "The Anatomy Lesson" - and finished out his 40+ issue run with no loose ends and a clean slate for the next writer to take in his own direction.

    Interestingly one writer I think who does "WTF was that all about" well is Grant Morrison. There's just enough there on a first reading to really make me knuckle down and reread until I understand it properly. But it's a fine line between that and stuff that makes you give up in annoyance.

  21. Yeah, it was good when people stuck to beginning middle and end. To use an example from TV contrast Babylon 5 and Lost. Mind you, the Galactica reboot was made up as they went along and that was ok. That might be because it was a well acted character piece. It's the soap opera thing again.

    My fave comic stories though tended to be self contained like bad company or vcs. Good characters can carry an ongoing series, especially if they age like Dredd. But all too often things run out of ideas. Especially if effectively everything resets every story and there are no permanent consequences to any actions. That might be a marketing thing though. I get through impression modern readers don't stick with comics like we used to. So every few years there's a new intake as the old one drifts away. So you can't have things dependant on knowing all the backstory and the danger of wrapping things up is people then leave. So just keep introducing new mysteries and cliffhangers to keep people on board maybe?

  22. I think that's the reason we get regular reboots now and the reason why Marvel has opted for it's "seasonal" approach too. Also to be cynical, the more Issue #1's you put out, the bigger your sales because they are considered attractive to collectors. Unfortunately that also means more series get cancelled to make room, usually a series I am thoroughly enjoying. I'm not bitter, honest.

  23. I sympathise with the comics cancellation. I went through a phase that whenever I found a new musician I liked they'd pop their clogs shortly afterwards. People stopped making recommendations (or suggested I get into Coldplay)

    But yeah it's all about the market these days. Seems to be the same with films. But I wonder how successful it is? Ive given up on a lot of franchise movie because I'm just confused now. What's a sequel; what's a reboot? Spiderman, Superman, Batman, Hulk, X Men. I genuinely have no idea what's going on so I don't bother. Still, so long as loads of people in China buy tickets it probably works out.

    But to get sort of on topic, I did like the Dredd film. I think it was a huge mistake to spend the money on 3D, and it was unfortunate it came out at the same time as the Raid, but it was great.

    I know they went for a very different look to the comics, but it worked. It was a bit like the I Robot film. People complained about that departing from the source material but if you are familiar with the source material it's like "No, they totally get it". I do have a soft spot for the 90s Dredd film. It has its faults but the visuals are amazing and they did get a lot of the underlying themes right. Yes it was silly but so was comic strip a lot of the time. The way Dredd can be serious (America) or daft is one of the strengths of the series.

    Now that you've got companies like Amazon and Netflix making their own output it wouldn't surprise me if they adapted HJ (subject to sorting all the IP issues out).

    Oh, emailed you a pic

  24. Hah I went through the same phase with bands back in the early 90's, felt like I was cursing them. I think with comics it's because I tend to prefer stuff on the peripheries which are always living dangerously when the cancelhammer comes to call.

    I find the Avengers and related movies so hard to follow now, but I do enjoy the X-Men ones. I think because the X-Men movies have their own continuity are that keeps them easier have a handle on.

    I haven't seen the more recent Dredd movie, but if it gets a thumbs up from you I may need to check it out. I'd love to see more 2000AD stuff serialised, been watching some of the Netflix adaptations of things like Jessica Jones and they are great, but space opera is a bit more expensive and the story in incomplete so it probably won't happen. Bah.

  25. There is serious talk of continuing the new Dredd franchise as a Netflix serial. That might work. The film itself was relatively low budget. They really turned that to their advantage though. Effectively Mega City One in the film might as well be the present day. They just filmed on location in south Africa, the vehicles are just contemporary ones and people just dress in everyday clothing. But that just makes it more real. It could be a contemporary gritty cop drama. What few Sci fi elements there are are just extrapolations of stuff today. If there was a report on the news about them for instance you wouldn't be going 'wow, what a world we live in'

    So that means it's just a brilliant character piece. The acting is superb. One problem the writer and director acknowledged was that you couldn't have any character development with Dredd. He's just who he is. So it's a very basic 'training day' plot. Dredd is conducting an exam on recruit Anderson. And it's her development that drives the film.

    Some great women characters for you. Anderson herself obviously. But also the big bad. Now there is a rape as backstory element, but I'd love to hear your take on it. It seems handled very differently to the normal clichés.

    Basically the whole film is like 'it just happens that...'

    By which I mean there are lots of interesting elements but they don't make a big deal about them. And that really suits the 'its just a normal day' vibe of the film. You know, the nearest analogue I can think of is early episodes of The Bill. That might sound daft but think you'll see what I mean. Remember how that was full of stories about petty crime on the Jasmine Allen estate? That's basically what this is, just in the big meg instead, so turned up to 11.

    That's a casual 'routineness' to it. Hopefully not spoiling but at the end (after 90 minutes that's essentially The Raid) the chief judge casually asked Dredd what happened

    "Drug bust"

    "Looked like you've been through it"

    "Perps were, uncooperative"

    And she's barely paying attention. But that's perfect for the vibe of the film.

    The film is a labour of love by people who clearly got the source material and that really comes across.

    Ironically the budget limitations that made the film so good (and don't get me wrong, the visuals are amazing) will make it perfect for a series.

  26. Hmm does sound fascinating, I'll definitely pick it up when next I see it in CEX and will provide an opinion. I used to love the early Bill, like early Casualty before they became soap operas. Rape as back story does tend to make me sigh a bit but if it's well handled I'm not going to hold that against it.

  27. Well my perspective might not be the best one of course, but I think why it doesn't jar is that it's so (unfortunately) plausible. At the risk of spoiling, the villain is a woman called Madeliene ('Ma-Ma') Madrigal. Her backstory (alluded to in the film and actually detailed in the Megazine) is that she was a young girl from a poor background whose drug-dealer 'boyfriend' began pimping her out. That's such a common real world scenario and the way it develops is pretty much exactly as we see in actuality (starts off nice, then it's do a few 'favours' for his friends and goes on from there).

    After one rape and beating too many she kills him and takes over his drug business. It's grim, but completely authentic. Oftentimes you wonder how villains actually keep their gangs together, but not here. You don't think for one second that it's implausible that she should be in charge.

    It's a bit similar with the chief judge. She's a black woman but nothing is made of that and they avoid the common black lady police chief tropes (to the extent that you wonder if they deliberately set out to do so). In fact you could replace the actor with anyone else (white guy or anyone) who was suitably believable and you wouldn't have to change a line of dialogue (she's actually addressed as 'sir' anyway).

    Nothing is 'in your face'; it's all very subtle, but it is like they were well aware of all the pitfalls they could have fallen into in this sort of film and they've made sure they didn't.

  28. Well I have bought the dvd for the princely sum of two quid, so next time I am in the mood for a movie it's top of the list :)