Saturday, 3 June 2017

The Ballad Of Halo Jones: Book 3 (2000AD #451-466)

"I run on into the madness, with woman on my boots" - Halo Jones

Well after the epic that was DMZ I'm doing a UK comics month although I deserve a holiday I feel, so posts will be a bit sporadic, but I hope you enjoy what we've got. The final parts of The Ballad of Halo Jones and Zenith as well as wrapping up the first multi-book series of Devlin Waugh as well as the ongoing adventures of the V.C.s and Megacity Undercover.  There should be something there for everyone I hope. Kicking us off is the final volume of Halo Jones, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Ian Gibson for mid eighties 2000AD.  Halo Jones is a young woman who grew up in the poverty and low expectations of a place on Earth where societies flotsam was kept.  After escaping that enviroment and striking out into deep space as a hostess on the starship The Clara Pandy, we left her on a sad note as her friend who promised to meet her in one years time had decided to stay on Earth.  Downcast but firm, Halo Jones told her she was never coming back to The Hoop and that brought Book 2 to an end.  We join her now after a ten year jump and life it seems has worn her down further.  As her thirties are reached we rejoin her, unable to think of anything better to do than join the army and fight in an incredibly sci-fi war.

The prologue finds Halo getting drunk in a bar on a planet called "Pwuc" a place where people didn't go to but ended up at. After quitting her job on the Clara Pandy she wandered the inner systems looking for work to get further to the stars. Elsewhere a war in the Tarantula dragged into its second decade and the galactic economy was on the verge of collapse, "few jobs paid even enough to live on". And none paid enough for interstellar travel.

Halo perservered drifting from job to job, one day back on Earth there was a slaughter on the Hoop, after that she managed three days on a job cutting down sentient treats.   Records on what she did that are spotty but, "she was a woman with no money... she'd escaped the Hoop to find a bigger prison waiting outside".   Turning twenty-nine she finally realised it was inescapable.  So she spent her days gatting drunk, "on Pwuc the Catsblood never ran dry... only the dreams".
Rock bottom.
We join Halo waking from a nightmare, a lizard alien calls her saying a "glory barge" has arrived with possible jobs.   It's a military recruiter, he shows off a very tall female soldier to encourage the women to join.  It's Toy, Halo's fellow hostess from the Clara Pandy.   They go off together to have a drink, after a few glasses they chat a bit about what it's like in the service.

Toy asks Halo why she doesn't join up, which Halo laughs off.  Toy says it's good pay with travel to other galaxys.  It's mainly peace keeping work, "they told me there was practically no chance we'd get to Tarantula" says Toy.   Halo remembers her nightmare of being caught in giant spider webs, Toy invites her back to her cabin to rest and Jalo decides to join up, "I mean... what have I got to lose?"

Now a soldier she reflects that she was told it was supposed to be "a great big happy slappy family of caring sharing people" and we see two women wrestling over one having stolen the rations of another.   She's been assigned to "Beta Platoon" which turns out to be the place where soldiers with defects are placed. 

Then we cut to them on exercises, both she and Toy get "killed" so have a chat, Toy moans she always ends up dead. Then we see them in a lecture hall being told about degenerate savages on a planet elsewhere. Toy is ignoring the lecturer and listening to her favourite soap opera on her satellite implant. She end up getting a bit too into it and interrupts the lecture.
Joined the army.
We then join them in the mess hall as Halo flirts with and optical specialist, "today I learned to blind people with my thumbs" says Halo to him and he scarpers.  We then see them suited up as Halo complains to Toy:

Halo: "Toy this leaflet is a joke!  I never should have let you talk me into enlisting!"

They've also been sent to a warzone, much sooner than they should have been, as they jump out of the ship the sergeant says they might get lucky and be one of the sixty percent whose chutes actually open.

They have been posted to an occupied world called "Lobis Lovo" by the natives and "warzone 18" by the military.  Halo hates it there, hates having to search old people and kids in case they are terrorists, "I hate the way they look at me" she thinks.  But at least it's a job.  There camp is on the edge of a petrified jungle where the guerillas are hiding.

There are no recreation facilities so Beta platoon make there own entertainment.   Toy relays what she is listening to for their amusement.  Halo is getting to know the other women better, Mona is the nicest although she is terribly nervous.  There is also one called "Life Sentence" who refused to leave when her time was up.  She's re-enlisted eleven times and doesn't speak.

Next day they are given a pep talk by  general "Luiz Cannibal" a huge man with tusks.  Mona faints, he is chill about it and asks Halo if she finds him terrifying.    She says no and he says that pleases him.   She tell them they need to intensify their slash and burn within the petrified jungle. He tells them this is their training grond before they move onto more dangerous warzones. He then leaves as Halo reflects how warm his hand were when he cupped her chin.
Luiz Cannibal.
Later Halo plucks up the courage to speak to Life Sentence who tells her not to call her that, "it's not a life sentence, it's just my job okay?"  Halo apologises and asks her about jungle fighting, the woman tells her a story that three hundred women went into a thicket and never came out.  Halo asks what happened next, Life Sentence says nothing, if Halo doesn't understand she'll probably die. Halo asks her about the necklace of what she thinks is figs round her neck, but actually its made of ears.

Next day Beta platoon drives out on patrol into the petrified forest. They come under fire and the vehicle crashes. They take cover behind it.  Toy and Halo flank the tree where the sniper is:

Halo: "It hardly seemed real.  Something kept taking bites from the gravel at my feet.   And above the gunfire I could hear a woman screaming 'Anwo koyok ga!'  The bullets were all the translation I needed".

As Toy and Halo move they argue about if this constitutes combat or combat experience.   Toy says if they are still alive at the end it's experience.

They thow a "trembler" grenade at the tree and it knocks the sniper out of the tree, "...and then Bekti shot her in the back".  Bekti celebrates, but when they check the body they realise she is a child proably not more that eleven.  But they refuse to accept that and Halo thinks, "the sniper got older all the way home... and by the time we reached the base she practically died of old age"

We then jump to Beta platoon on their first night reconnaissance, the blackbox recorder of sergeant  Verna Krause who says he thought they were ready.  He narrates the rest of the chapter, they went out together, the sergeant and six privates including Halo Jones.  Everything was going fine until they ran over a "mole mine" and it blew up their vehicle.
Disaster on patrol.
One died, the rest were trown clear, but they came under heavy fire and Bekti was gunned down.  One of them threw a grenade and two guerillas caught fire.  There was an exchange of fire, more were gunned down and he was mortally wounded.  His recording falters then ends.  Halo picks it up and appears to be the only one left alive.  "Oh sweet Matthew, Marx, Luke and Jung... what am I going to do?" says Halo to herself.  But then Toy is also alive, albeit badly wounded on her foot.  She can't walk so Halo looks for something she can drag Toy back to base on.

Halo, supporting Toy start walking through the forest.   Toy is in too much pain to walk though so Halo decides to construct a stretcher for her as they have no proper first aid avaliable to them.  Halo patches Toy up the best she can and builds something for her to lie on out of the petrified wood and cloth from her uniform.  Toy is in thoughtful mood.

Toy: "This feels funny being laid up like this.  I feel... I dunno. I feel like there's stuff I should be saying. Stuff you don't talk about except when you're like this."

She admits to Halo that she is big and loud and has a hard time expressing her feelings, "I... I really like you Halo" she says.  Obliviously Halo says she likes Toy too, she's her best friend.  Toy sadly replies, "best friends. That's what I meant."

Halo drags Toy back to where they had crashed on their reconniassance mission, it's been grafittied on and the corpses stripped of gear.  Toy is becoming delirious and starts reliving when the robot dog Toby attacked them on the Clara Pandy.   Halo tries to figure out which is the right way out of the forest but starts suffering delayed shock.
Halo has a breakdown.
She keeps dragging Toy who has stopped responding to her as Halo rambles on saying she feels distant, she's always been afraid something like this would happen but now here she is coping with it.   She keeps talking to herself until she bumps into Mona and some of the others who'd come out to look for them.  One of the medics attends to Toy but drops the bombshell, "how long ago did she die?"  Halo completely freaks out, and the combat report says she had to be sedated and Toys belongings were signed over to her.

She wakes from a dream where she is dancing on the Clara Pandy with Toy and Rodice, "and then I wake up.  And Toy is still dead.  And I cry my guts out" thinks Halo.  She signed her release papers to leave the army, Luiz Cannibal came in and asked her to stay but she shook her head.  The person processing her papers said Halo would be back, maybe in six weeks or six months but she'll be back.

The tranquilizers finally wore off and she found herself on a street corner of the planet "Hispus" with no home and no job.  She queues up for a job, when she says what she is experienced in the person she's applying through suggests the army.  She gets a place to live but there is no work.  One say she hacks off all her hair:

Halo: "I just feel like doing something ugly and painful and stupid".

She wonders if they sell the Catsblood alchohol there.  She goes out and buys a second hand gun that she tells herself is for self defence.  She takes it apart and reassembles it several times.  She sits in her window and aims down the sights at the people outside.  Then she realises what she is doing is crazy and she needs to get out of there.
Can't readjust to civilian life.
"But there's only one place I can go" she realises. She returns to the woman who processed her release papers and signs up again.  The woman tells her that ninety percent of people who leave prematurely come back.  She tells Halo to run along and get her uniform and as she rips up Halo's release papers, Halo says "where else have I got to go?"

She's put back in beta Platoon, their new sergeant is a woman called "Juno Myrmidon" taking the late Krause's place.  Mona tells them they are beig moved to the planet Moab and this one has a combat rating of "warzone one". Life Sentence is and official member of Bata Platoon.  in the ness hall some of the women try to bully halo over going crazy, scaling herself and being a disgrace to the uniform.  Life Sentence throws hot liquid in their faces and tell everyone to leave Halo alone. She whispers to Halo:

Life Sentence: "Don't worry.  Gonna take care of ya. You re-enlisted.  You're like me 'Life Sentence' right? Huh huh huh huh.  Two of a kind now you understand what I'm saying?"

Next they are shown a film about Moab, it has enormous gravity whicg requires the wearing of tortoise-like suits.   But it also has an effect on time too, but Halo stops listening then.
Next stop Moab.
Two days later they all start learning to walk in the gravity suits.  It has one weakness, the valve on the front.  It opens and the suit will collapse and crush the person inside flat as a pancake.   Tommorrow they are being moved to Moab, Luiz Cannibal appears and asks Halo why she cut her hair, she says she wanted to look ugly.  He asks why, "you're the one with implanted tusks.  You tell me!" He roars with laughter then says he'll tell her one day, but for now, see you on Moab.

Halo: "I don't know why I said it and can't understand why he didn't fry me.  Maybe he file a complaint later, but I don't care.  I mean how's going to punish me?  Send me to Moab?"

They land on Moab and meet some of the friendly Moabites, "they are sort of pear shaped.  As if their body fat has settled" notes Halo.
Arrival on Moab.
In the barracks, the nervy Mona is having people want to stick close to her as they think she is naturally lucky.  Then someone says there are men there  and rush off to see them leaving Mana and Halo behind. As they follow the others Halo muses that Moab is the key planet in the war, if it falls so does the whole Tarantula nebula.   They can then exploit mineral wealth and get the galactic economy back on track.

The men turn out to be "slabs", special labour auxiliary bio-engineered.   She doesn't care for them nor the cheese they have to eat. She is offered fried eggs but refuses, grossed by them.   Suddenly the eggs hatch and the gravity shields start failing. They all rush for the mess hall exit, bumping  into Mona who had just limped there. A woman inside realises she can't make it and the room gets sealed off and the gravity seal ruptured completely. Moan is declared lucky again for missing it all and Halo helps her back to barracks.

Next we find them on patrol, the tunnel a shield so they don't need the heavy suits.  They are looking for the "Free Moabite Army".  They split up, Mona going one way with the one whose declared her a lucky mascot.  Halo goes with Life Sentence, she's ready for a fight, wondering what sort of ears they have.  Patrol comes to an ignominous halt when one of them shoots Mona in the foot and the all have to return to base.

Two weeks on Moab and they are in the heavy gravity suits, training in the relative safety of a tunnel.  Halo says she feels funny, "everything seems weird and slow and unreal."  Sarge says it's the "time dilation effect" and they'll get used to it.  She then tells them, "and as for this place being weird... just you you wait till you've been in the Crush".

Week Three and they are on reconnaissance outside in the gravity suits. Mona tells them about the Moab religion,  if you're good you float up into the sky, if you're  bad you sink down to a terrible place underground as they inspect a hole in the ground.

Week Four and they are attending orientation.  They are told that there more than two dozen heavy gravity zones on Moab and the nearest one is the worst, "we call it the crush".   It crushes time as well.  In the crush, time fractures completely which is why the native Moab terrorists have chosen to make their stand there.   She tells them if they cann't imagine in, next week they're going in for real.
War in the Crush.
Week Five, external combat.  Halo is keen to get some fighting done and they walk out of the door and into fire.

Halo: "In through the shield doors, stumbling over each other, we enter the crush.   All screaming to ourselves I our sound proof helmets. Ahead violent lights crackling, flashing: enemy beam weapons that can liquify rock. I advance towards them...there's no running away.  Not in a G-suit".

Things distort and slow around them, the fire the are under is relentless, taking several of them out.  They see some frozen figures and walk to them as they are in a different time scale.  As they walk towards them they begin to move. One woman's suit is breached and she is turned into a smear of blood they stand in. They work their way to the artillery position but it's dead.  "Should be pumping out two thousand pulses a second" says the sarge they joined up with.  They have to notify the cyberneticists back at base.

They manage to get back to base, piling in through the doors.  Halo is then informed she's now a coporal.  She got promoted a week after she went into the Crush. They have a new sergeant replacing Myrmidon who fell ten days ago.  All in all they were in the Crush for two months, "but don't get any big ideas. You only get paid for five minutes" says the new sarge.

Halo spends more time fighting in the crush and is saddened to realise she missed her thirtieth birthday, by two weeks. "I'm thirty but I don't remember it happening" she ruminates.

Halo: "I've been fighting in the crush for two days now. I've been fighting in the crush for six months... I'm not crazy... but I'm working on it".

One day out in the crush, Mona falls over.  Halo and private Exxon roll her back down to the doorway and Exxon is hit and is crushed into a wet smear as Mona and Halo make it back inside.  Mona is celebrated as the first person to fall over in the crush and not die. She been sick in her suit.

Later they are shown some "hologanda" from Earth to raise morale.  The main item is the marriage of Lux Roth Chop aged twenty-three.  Halo remembers dancing with him when he was eleven, "was that really me who did that?  Yes. Yes that was me... this isn't"
Day five and she turns thirty-two and they are told Earth is winning.  Day ten and she's promoted to sergeant and turns thirty-three.  Leuitenant Wo tells them victory is only days away.  "Do the their days or ours?" she thinks.  Her team raise a globe on a stick and suddenly the shooting at them stops.   Then they walk back to the base, completely free of enemy fire.
And the war is over.
They go inside and find the place deserted apart from a woman running a cleaner over the floor. They are told the war is over, it happened weeks ago when Earth's economy collapsed.  The Ceteceans stepped in and negociated a ceasefire with the Tarantulan colonists.  Life Sentence grabs the cleaner in a rage saying "YOU GIVE US BACK OUR WAR!"

Halo is tasked with finding the other platoons out on Moab's surface, but when she finds them they won't believe the war is over.  Halo thinks:

Halo: "They won't listen.  They could be at home with their men, their children. But they've somehow got stuck in a war that doesn't exist anymore.  Some of them will be out their for years.  How do we clean up that kind of mess?  How do we clean up the mess in people's heads, in people's lives, all that loss and pain?"

A Cetecean comes to inspect them. Halo shows them the Moabites living on little food and amongst the ruined icons of their faith.  The Ceteceans feel strongly and says, "what have we done?  What have we done to them?  What have we done to ourselves?"  Halo wants to rush up and cry or apologise, "but I couldn't meet her eyes".  The Cetecean moves on leaving Halo thinking how if you could give a "conscience a shape it would look like a dolphin".

Later she discovers Life Sentence having slit her wrists.  She says war was like a mother to her, and now her mother is dead, "what's the point of me?"  And she dies smiling in Halo's arm.

Halo: "'What's the point of me?' I really hope that's isn't the thought I take with me into eternity."

She reflects that she's cold and lonely and all her friends are now gone. Luiz Cannibal appears and notes she writing and that only one person in a thousand still writes. He then bluntly asks if she has a lover and as they listen to the sirens she finds he's taken her hand.

He sends for her to come to breakfast in one of the more desolate areas of Moab.   As she thinks about the shattered fragments of her life she eats the most delicious meal of her life.  He tries to make small talk, but Halo cuts straight to the point, that he's attracted to her.  She says she is attracted to him as well, because he scares her and he has nice hands:

Halo: "I know you're going to be bad news.   And I want to be with you anyway.  You think that means I've got an unhealthy attitude?"

He says he thinks it means they understand each other.  Then he takes her to the western hangers and shows her a beautiful spaceship.  It is capable of visiting the far systems, they could go anywhere in it.  With the war finished he wants to leave soon and take her with him.
Luiz Cannibal's ship.
He says the Ceteceans are making things difficult for those who managed the war, "we face hearings.  Investigations".  Halo joins him as he faces one now, afterwards his career "may mean little".  He performs magnificently at the hearing.  He is particularly asked about how come  why in warzone five was the planet Charzon razed by atomic fire. He says there was an accident with a nuclear waste dump.  Halo notes that question had "drawn blood".

That night they sleep together and after they have sex she sleeps and dreams again of being entangled in spider webs, "in my dreams the passageways are filled with cobwebs and corpses".  She knows what there is to worry about and what she has to lose, but when she wakes up she can only remember the terror.
Luiz and Halo get intimate.
She keeps dreaming of spiders as times comes closer for her and Luiz to leave. The trials are war crime ones, Halo wonders why they won't believe him, he responds "because they are blinkered, self righteous fools.  No matter.  At least you believe me. At least I have you".
That afternoon they keep pressing Luiz about the devastated warzone.  Aparently before it was burned there were reports of cholera and bubonic plague.  They accuse Luiz of infecting the planet and killing it that way befor covering it up with nuclear firestorm. "You're talking about ratwar" frowns Luiz.  The inquisitor says yes they are.

Halo thinks about ratwar,  millions of diseased rats controlled by one man flowiing across a world carrying disease, plague, madness and death.  Luiz says do they have proof he had a Rat King?  They don't, but Halo remembers helping the Rat King on the Clara Pandy in the previous volume.   Luiz stalks away from the hearing saying he's offended they'd accuse him without proof while Halo realises she saved the Rat King, it was all her fault, "Oh Luiz.  Luiz you lied."

Halo: "You killed  a planet and you dragged me into it.  Even before I met you.  That's the worst thing: I thought I was innocent then."

He climbs into a heavy suit saying to Halo he has some valuables to collect.  She kisses him and unseen by him as she does so she sabotages the seal of the suit.  He walks away, smug, "within minutes he'll be a puddle of jelly.  He doesn't know it yet but he's dead."  She contemplates her future, her past dead to her.  She goes to the western hanger and tells the guard she has permission to take the ship on a test drive.

Halo: "It's night and there are so many stars up there. Gradually the cruiser gathers speed... the nose lifts as I prepare to tear free of Moab's gravity. It feels like a web, straining against me, growing taut, finally snapping strand by strand... and then I'm out... just out".
Finally a way to the far distant stars.
And that brings Halo Jones's story to a premature end.  The planned nine book series truncated to three after Moore ended his relationship with 2000AD over not being granted the rights to his creation.  Apparently he still is interested in finishing the story if he and Ian Gibson are given the rights.  That's not going to happen so we end on the somewhat melancholy yet hopeful note as Halo breaks free from everything holding her back and bringing her down and striking out on her own.  Unlike the first two books which I read back in the eighties when I was a teenager, I didn't read this volume until round about my fortieth birthday.  Her situation in this book struck several chords with me. After I escaped a stifling small town upbringing and moved to the city, mental health issues meant I drifted from temp job to temp job until things got so bad I couldn't work anymore.  I wound up turning thirty at the very pits of my life which took several years to drag myself out of, and part of that was learning to let go of the parts of the past that were holding me back. I didn't drink but did engage in self destructive behaviour.  Which makes Halo one of the comic book characters I identify with and relate to the most.  The whole story here is fantastic, the war taking place in periods of very slow time is a brilliant idea and I hadn't realised how much this story (and other 2000AD strips) influenced the writers of the Virgin Doctor Who New Adventures. Also kudos for subtly including a lesbian character with Toy's confession of love for Halo. Ian Gibson's art is fantastic as ever, handling all the different characters beautifully as well as giving us striking renderings of things like the heavy G-suits and the imposing Luiz Cannibal.  It truly is a pity that we didn't get Halo's full story, and I am not sure I'd want it now as the Moore of now is not the Moore of the nineteen eighties.  Maybe better to imagine closure to her story than have it spelt out.


  1. Ooh I'm so overwhelmed with nostalgia now. This is classic 'golden age' 2000AD for me. When I thought the comic was literally the nest literature on the planet (or even in the galaxy of course). I still think HJ is the best comic series ever written.

    It's interesting what you say about identifying with this particular book. Now I read this at the time of release, and quite a few times since. First time round though I must have been early possibly mid teens (what year is this from?). Now obviously I wasn't a 30 year old woman (still aren't) but I think this may have had more of an effect on me than I consciously realised. I was lucky at school in that I had lots of friends who were girls, but this strip was almost like an insider guide to women. That's probably a big daft as it's produced by a notorious boys club. But having said that I know loads of women who really love this (even ones who generally aren't into comics) so maybe they got something right?

    Hmm, I'll have to self analyse a little further.

    I do remember spotting a menstruation reference in there though, and even at the time I recognised this story was something special. 'Adult' before that meant catering to the masterbatery fantasies of 14 year old edgelords. I was both intrigued and a little bit intimidated by Halo. It was like, I still very much felt like a snot nosed naive kid, but I hoped when I grew up I'd get to know women like that. I'll think further on that.

    But I still remember this like it was yesterday, and it's nearly 25 years since I last read it. I'm really glad you quoted all my favourite lines. I don't know if that means we share identical tastes, or whether it's just an objective thing.

    But Halo is such a complex character. Bright, under utilised, ambitious and a bit fucked up. Hmm, I'm now compiling a mental list of old girlfriends. Heh, oh dear, this may have been more influential than I realised :-)

  2. The series started in 1984 and I think this book must have been 1985 just before I started reading the comic regularly. Now if there is one thing Moore has always had the knack for is creating relatable "normal" women who nevertheless do extraordinary things, without them becoming Mary Sues. Abby in his Swamp Thing run remains my favourite female character in all of comics but Halo runs a close second.

    And it does have a lot of women fans, it's something of a good "gateway drug" to comics for women. Hook them with Halo Jones and Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman" and you might be able to get them on the harder stuff.

    One of the things I love about Moore in this period is he is an ideas fountain. The war in this volume that sees time pass in minutes for the fighters while years pass in normal space could have sustained an entire series of its own but here it just fills a couple of chapters and then we move on. I know I give Moore a lot of crap for his more recent stuff (volume one of Providence the prequel/sequel to the detested Neonomicom is sat on my fridge daring me to read it) but that's only because I hold him to such high standards still!

  3. Hi. Sorry for the tardy reply. But that thing finally completed on Friday (at five o'clock). Yey. Also another thing that's been a bit of a worry was temporarily sorted. And yesterday we had a big bonfire of loads of old files. That was for practical reasons but it was also weirdly cathartic. So I'm in that strange position where there's currently nothing to worry about. It's oddly disconcerting. Just so used to having that constant nagging at the back of my mind, especially when I go to bed. Now it's not there it's really confusing. Like something's a bit off.

    But anyway, back to Halo. I was thinking about the timing thing. The three books came out during my transition from sixth form to finding my way in the big bad world. So I think that's why it resonated a bit. It's basically a tale of young people making that journey. I didn’t run away on a spaceship and encounter aliens, but I was working for bands, so it's much the same thing. But I've been reminiscing quite a bit. We had quite the 2000AD fan club going in our circle. That included the girls. This was the first story though that had gender overtones. And you did get the impression there was a bit of 'finally!'. Only a bit though. Halo was more identifiable in some ways, but having said that everyone also enjoyed the completely unrelatable characters too. We all looked like we'd be at home in mega city one anyway.

    You're so right about this being the era of peak-idea. That seemed to be across comics generally too. I don't know if it's just Seinfeld isn't funny syndrome, or if creators these days just aren't as innovative. I've mentioned before that I remember the exact moment when 2000AD 'jumped the shark' (although that's not the exact trope I mean, it'll have to do though) in pushing the comics are not for kids thing. That's when a character appeared in full dominatrix mode. Funnily enough it was the girls who were more openly tittilated by that. You're the gender studies expert so I'll leave you to explain that one.

    I should also mention the artwork. Gibson had a real talent for that 'twisty' look. And that really added to creating a truly 'alien' mis en scene. But it still managed to look convincing and relatable. The spaceships were like nothing previously seen, but also plausible. Like comparing a model t ford to a 1950s cadillac. You could envisage the evolutionary path. And even the clothing. It was out there, but you could see people wearing that. It wasn't the 'space clothes' thing. And now of course people even have tooth modification. That's sub culture at the moment. But we're already in a time when royal princesses have tattoos. So give it time and maybe generals will be be popping down the body art parlour.

    The story is very much like you say of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, but you still very much get the vibe that they're normal (even boring) people who just happen to live in a world that's fantastic to us, but dull as ditchwater to them. Like how a Victorian might be perplexed that we kill time in an airport by wondering around tie rack and w h smiths.

  4. Glad you've got your thing sorted out and have nothing to worry about. I'm sure you'll get used to it. Living free of worry is my goal, considering I can be sent into a panic attack by literally nothing at all, I don't do well when I actually have real stuff to worry about.

    You have my envy at having a 2000AD fan club at school. As I have moaned about before, being at an all girls school where I was seen as the freaky one who glowered in the corner reading her latest issue I only had an old (male) friend from the previous town I lived in to share it with and then he decided he was too mature for comics and gave me a huge stack of 2000AD's from prior to when I started reading.

    I think there is a lot of imagination still slopping around in comicdom these days. But you have to look to the indies now. The Marvel and DC comic properties very much feel like content generators for their respective cinematic universes now. Plus there is only so much you can do with superheroes after 80 odd years. But Image have the likes of Lazarus, Saga and Prophet etc while the DC imprint Vertigo carries stuff like DMZ, Scalped, Fables, Lucifer, Sandman, Clean Room etc and there are many more non-superhero titles out there I should probably cover more.

    In fact mentioning Saga, I feel like that's a bit of a spiritual successor to Halo Jones. Set in this fantastic sci-fi universe but at its heart it's about relationships and people just getting on with it.

  5. Oh, there'll be plenty to panic about next week, but I'm enjoying the hiatus. I've always been really lucky though in that I don't get stressed. And I very much appreciate that is luck, you have all my sympathies. Funnily it's often considered a flaw. I remember one person, who thought I wasn't treating a crisis with the appropriate seriousness, yelling at me "You'd better be fucking panicking on the inside!". You ever read Marcus Aurelius 'Meditations'? That's pretty much my guide to life. I'm not suggesting for a second that people should force themselves into stoicism, that often causes more problems down the line than it temporarily masks. I do have a bit of a "Ah well, shit happens" mentality though. I think that feeds into my Taoism a bit. I reiterate though, that I appreciate that's a luck thing, I am going through life in easy mode.

    I thought at the time Saga felt so much like Halo. I like crappy clichéd sci-fi, but the best examples are ultimately about people. Even Star Wars is just (deliberately) the classic hero's journey thing. Do you ever apply the 'can you name the characters?' test to films? It's an interesting exercise. Try it with say Aliens versus Prometheus

    I really wish you'd been in our gang. You'd have really fitted in. Funnily enough I remember the exact moment I found out, a little bit to my surprise, that girls also liked comics. I can even picture the scene. I was at junior school sitting on the grass hill when a girl called Caroline (still in touch with) was laughing her head off about the fatties in Dredd and their belly wheels. She thought that sounded wonderful. Heh, I suppose she was a proto body positivist too.

  6. Oddly enough I have found stoicism to be helpful. When I was in A&E with no clue how serious my breathing problems were I did some meditating and didn't panic at all. Generally though I deal with stress is a bizarre way. I sleep. A lot. Considering I usually have heinous insomnia this is usually how I figure out I am feeling bad.

    Actually I have the next volume of Saga to be written up in July, I'll tuck it in around Sword of Sorrows. I must say I do have a little bit of a hate relationship with the Heroes Journey, once it was defined every bugger started using the template and it got so movies for me, a media studies student became very predictable. Probably why I spent most of the last 17 years watching non-western films, they do have their cliches but they tend to be a bit more imaginative with structure and character.

    You know what is sad and also not sad? I found out that girls also love comics because my little sisters read all my Swamp Thing, Watchmen, V for Vendetta etc books. Chloe still enjoys the odd comic, but Freya is a real fan and her boyfriend is one too. Great thing is, all three of us like different stuff but we totally lend each other stuff too. I can thank Freya and Charlie for helping getting me into Marvel. I also have a very good friend who keeps me up to date with whats good from 2000AD and I have written about a lot she has loaned and given me. So I'm not totally without female comic fan friends now :)

  7. If you're really a fan of Batman, name three of his albums?! Heh, sorry found a reddit thing devoted to examples of 'gatekeeping'. Full of stuff like that.

    You've got me thinking now though. I suppose there's two pressures on girls when it comes to comics. You've got the 'fake geek girl' thing from one direction, but also, it sounds, 'comics aren't for girls' coming from girls themselves. Must confess I've never encountered either in my life. I don't think that's 'priviledge blindness' (see me learning the lingo). It's just it was never an issue in my circles. I've got some half formed theories as to why that might be. But I'd never even thought about this issue (or known it existed) until very recently so it's probably something I'd need to think about further.

    There's an interesting and semi relevant bit on that 2000AD documentary. The old school writers are quite candid that they were a boys club and knew nothing about writing female characters. There's also interviews with some of the later women creators. Interestingly they said that the first strips that women wrote were pretty terrible, and seemed to be really sexist, or at least full of stereotypes. They thought that's because they were trying too hard to mark things as 'female' whereas the old writers just wrote a character as they would if it was a bloke, but then gave them a woman's name. Bit like how the Alien screenplay was completely gender neutral maybe?

    I'm mulling on how that applies to Halo. It's clearly a story about women. But it doesn't feel that it's exclusively a story *for* women. I can see why girls liked it, but I never felt I was a 'periphery demographic'. That make sense? Mind you, I loved Misty and Jinty, so what do I know?

    (Lots about donkeys is one thing I guess)

  8. You've reminded me of something Dame Helen Mirren said about when male writers wrote episodes of Prime Suspect. They wrote her as "Strong Woman" and it ended up being incredibly generic. La Plante actually wrote her as a "Human" with weaknesses and foibles that made her triumphs all the sweeter. For some reason Moore appears to be one of those few men who can write women as human beings and not generic strong woman. I mean it's well meant by the writers but does get boring. Which is probably why Halo appealed to both sexes.

    Gail Simone is a great one for filling her books with many female characters and they are all different from each other, strong women some of them, but not Strong Women if you see what I mean. And she writes in a way that appeals to male readers too. It's my one black mark against Garth Ennis that he doesn't write women enough, because when he does, eg Starlight in The Boys, he does it really well!

    I fortunately have never been considered a fake geek girl/woman. The two comics shops I frequent are both managed by women so the atmosphere is friendly and no gatekeeping on display.

  9. The portrayal of women (and other groups) in media is a fascinating topic. Be a great subject for a blog. But yeah, inclusivity versus tokenism seems to be a hard thing to get right. It's probably even harder when it's an 'invisible' characteristic. How do you write an identifiable gay character for instance without resorting to clichés? If you just have a throwaway reference (like I'm trying to achieve) might that come across as demographic box ticking, or even titillation? I've been catching up on some of the latest Dr Who episodes. The new companion is a lesbian. But it seems a lot more nuanced than Clara's 'i kissed a girl' thing. That did seem forced. Bill's thing is much better presented I think, and funnier. (There's a great bit where she's got a girlfriend stopping over. Her landlady is relieved. "You know I have a rule about men spending the night"; "Me too")

  10. Well Gail Simone's mantra for prospective writers is "Research, research, research". She reaches out to people of all genders and identities. In The Movement the girl who was in a wheelchair was based on a friend of hers for example. I really think that's the key, if you want to know how to depict people ask them, hell even lurking in Mammoth could give you a million ideas for portraying women, genderqueer, transfolk and so on. I know there is always a worry when you show two women kissing that it will titilate the men, but don't forget, it titilates the lesbian/bi/queer reader as well. Trying to be all PC about it denies the fact we have our lusts too and the fact they often crossover with straightmen shouldn't be problematic.

  11. You're quite correct of course. I can just have the girls in my school idea facing the same problems as everybody else. Like forgetting your PE kit so you have to wear vest and pants. And then getting into a fight about who spilt all that custard in the gym.

    (It says something about how cold it's suddenly got here that my only thought typing that was 'Mmm custard')

    Toy was a great character in HJ. It was both very sweet when she bonded with the returning Halo, but also poignant that she was so absorbed by the military life she couldn't envisage any relationships outside that. And also how she was a warning of what Halo could so easily become.

    I so wonder whether Moore was consciously referencing Heinlein's Space Cadet. Some very similar themes. Especially the idea that people inevitably quit for a bit, but then return. That's almost stroke for stroke the same in both works.

    This was also, I think, an early example of Moore introducing little bits of background info that at first seem just like snippets of world building, but then become quite integral to the plot later. His detailed planning really shows here.

    I so hope one day we at least find out what ultimately happens to Halo. Those few people in the know act like they got to see inside the ark of the covenant. I note your comments about other female characters he's done. I wonder whether he recycled some future Halo ideas in them.

  12. Yeah I liked how the world building of Book 2 with the rats paid off in this book and it was great how he casually built up a galaxy at war with off hand references. Still I am ambivalent about Moore returning to Halo, I just worry she'd end up raped. But I also do want to know what happened next. Ah well, Rebellion will never give Moore and Gibson the rights so it's a moot point sadly.

    I liked how Moore slipped in a lesbian with Toy and her deathbed confession that she loved Halo, even if she didn't quite say that. I wonder if that was due to his polyamomorus relationship at the time.

  13. When did Moore get into his rape as drama vibe? Was that when he signed to more 'adult' titles? Just wondering if it's something he'd always had lurking. Be surprised if he'd write a rape story (even an implied one) for 2000AD. Can't think of any examples, especially from that era, where such a thing was even hinted at. So Halo might have been the one that got away.

    Speaking of polyamorous, was chatting with someone last night about sexuality labels versus just lifestyle choices. After discussing mine and my friends relationships it was decided that our 'identity' was 'STI Vector'. Heh, charming :-)

    One thing I'd like to have seen developed was the framing device of those far future lectures. I wonder if they'd have been kept entirely separate or if there'd transpire to be a link eventually. Hmm, and now thinking about it, which came first, HJ or Handmaids Tale?

  14. The first time I am aware he used rape in one of his works was Swamp Thing, when Abby is raped by the spirit of her dead evil uncle who took over the body of her husband. Leads to a harrowing image when she realises of her curled up naked in the foetal position missing patches of skin where she tried to scrape herself clean with potato wire brushes. Then her uncle kills her and damns her to hell. Luckily Swamp Thing is a true hero, he deals with the evil uncle and travels to hell and rescues her. Interestingly that storyline began the slow death of the comics code in the US. The said "this is unacceptable" DC said "we're publishing it anyway" and paved the way for future awesome imprint Vertigo as well. He was writing early Swamp Thing around the same time he was writing Halo Jones so it's always been part of his work sadly, just sometimes he handled it better than he does now.

    Those far future framing devices remind me of a Star Trek Voyager episode called "Living Witness" where it's revealed at the end that the whole thing was a historical lecture about times long past.

  15. I'm a big fan of the 'past imperfect' trope. When that's done well it's very funny, and sometimes can really make a point.

    That swamp thing story sounds pretty good. It's a fine line with rape revenge tales. Can be brilliant, can be highly exploitative. Can be hard to decide sometimes. The notorious 'i spit on your grave' for instance. Is it the ultimate in women in peril titillation or is it a feminist polemic? Would it make a difference had they stuck with the original title 'day of the woman'?

    At least it's better than the women in fridge motivation in that it's the woman acting for herself.

    Hmm, now trying to think if there's any distaff examples. Run Lola Run maybe?

  16. Really I'd recommend all of Moores Swamp Thing run for a myriad of reasons, not just starting off "The British Invasion" of US comics but contentwise it was seminal stuff. Abby in particular goes from a fairly one-dimensional supporting character under the prvious writers to a full rounded woman who happened to fall in love with a heap of sentient weeds. By the final arc she's as much a main character as Swampy is. When Swampy is killed in front of her (he managed to escape into space but took a while to get back) we get a whole issue entirely devoted to her grief, an episode where she reunites briefly with the monster her dad had been turned into by her evil uncle and then she rescues a former friend whose been a victim of one of the worst examples of gaslighting ever seen in fiction. If you ever wonder why I get so hard on Moore sometimes, it's because I maybe unfairly hold him to very, very high standards!

    Kim Newman pointed out the problem with "I Spit On You Grave" is that the rape is so prolonged (over 45 mins) and the revenge so perfunctory that it's hard to read it as a feminist text. But then I read a feminist saying the rape was portrayed so grimly and unerotically it did work as a feminist text. So I'm... confused lol.

  17. The same criticism was made of The Accused, and that's definitely a feminist film. Also one of the best explanations of the legal doctrine of Joint Enterprise. Seen the remake of I Spit. Maybe they took the comments on board. That definitely comes across as untittilating.

    It's interesting about revenge dramas. We cheer on the avenging hero(ine) but aren't supposed to approve in real life. Like torture I guess. Be interesting to see a film where the protagonist has some bad guy who would normally get leaned on, but doesn't do it. What would happen then? Presumably the baddies get away with their plan. Hmm, so all stories, regardless of what the protagonist does, would essentially be pro torture. Or would the audience leave saying 'well, all the kids got killed, but at least the hero did the right thing, I approve'.

    The best example of non torture working is in a film called something like code of valour or similar. They got a real interrogator to play the scene and it's a textbook example of, well, the interrogation textbook. And you can see how it works. I've got the interrogation manual as a pdf somewhere. If you're interested I can dig it out for you (or you could just Google 'scharff technique')

    Oh, saw that It Follows. Yup, you've proved your trustworthiness in recommendations. Really liked how the monster was invisible to the non targetted. Added a real layer of spookiness and drama. I've always wanted to see that in a film. There's an old sci-fi novel I like. The aliens can mentally project a false image. There's a great scene where there's two people in a restaurant. One guy can see the aliens as they really are, the other just sees hot girls approaching. It's amazingly tense. It Follows sort of captured that.

  18. I guess the problem is that no matter how carefully you shoot/write/draw a scene of sexual assault someone out there is going to be titillated by it. Now Moore is pretty good at non titillating rape (apart from Voodoo which I had fun eviscerating) but he still relies on it to inject drama waaay to much, hence my introduction of the Sin Bin for him :D

    Oooh glad you like It Follows. Destined to be a cult classic and a very original take on the hoary old sex=death cliche in horror movies. There's something about the Implacable Foe that is very creepy especially as it ends with the acceptance by the two that they will die sooner rather than later. rather sweet in a way.

    I can't recall if you recommended it to me or Mammoth did, but Absentia scared me rigid. And that was paid for via Kickstarter. And if you fancy a terrifying Japanese film, I highly recommend loads, but Noroi was the one that made me scared to get out of bed when it finished.

    Actually I am playing a sort of horror game right now, only I'm the Horror. I'm a vampire negotiating my way through the various clan rivalries, sucking on necks and kicking ass. It's good fun.

  19. I sometimes make up little fantasies to scare myself when I'm out and about. Sort of "What if..." affairs. One I like doing if I'm driving late at night is to imagine there's some implacable foe following me so when I stop for diesel I have to be really quick.

    I'm not familiar with absentia so I'm guessing it wasn't me. Althoug maybe alternative Alan did it whilst I'm asleep. That's another one of my fantasies, I ripped it off from The Gods Themselves. You ever read that? Contains one of the few genuine 'wham lines' that I've encountered. One of those you keep re-living just to get the 'wow/shudder' again. Such a clever twist. Manages that 'I never saw that coming, but of course!' thing. Also very interesting take on sex and gender roles.

    Glad you're enjoying vamping. I tend to identify more with Werewolves. Wonder how that would work as a veggie? Guess I'd have to add 'full moon' to my ever expanding list of exceptions.

  20. Watch Absentia, immediately. It's truly a testement to what a small budget, big imagination and the power of suggestion can achieve.

    I haven't read The Gods Themselves, I am way bad at reading prose fiction books now (still read lots of non-fiction though), drives my more literary mum mad. She's nagging me to read American Gods, but I just want to watch the TV show. I am awful.

    Actually in the game I am sort of the It Follows. You have to keep your blood metre topped so you can use magic spells and so on. But you can't feed indiscriminately, you have to keep up "The Masquerade". So you can only feed on someone when no one else is in eyesight, so I find myself stalking the npcs as they wander the streets hoping they'll turn down an alleyway so I can suck neck (you mustn't kill innocents either you leave them with a little life left and they just stand looking dazed as you run off), makes you feel quite... mmm like a predator. That said there are werewolves in the game but so damn powerful you only take one on by running like hell and luring it into a trap because no matter how high your stats when you confront it, it will wipe the floor with you. That said, I wish the game had been more of a success at the time because the tabletop rpg it is based on has werewolf characters and so on. Would have been fun to play a videogame werewolf in the same sort of way.

  21. Right, I will. I shall go to one of Perranporth's many stockists of Japanese minority interest movies and grab a copy straight away. Actually I will try and see it. You are pretty good on recommendations. Just not from here. There's eight places you can buy surfboards; no one sells socks (I don't need any socks, it's just the principle)

    There was a great video store in Hoxton. You'd have loved it. Really hip. Loads of arty and foreign films. And they arranged special events. It was called Today is Boring. Wonder if it's still there. That's where I first got Battle Royale. Funny, I watched it and didn't even notice it didn't have subtitles. Just that good. Seen it since with subtitles. Didn't actually add that much really. Of course, with your Japanese skills you'd have understood it on a deeper level. Apparently that's another film that's got a gazillion episode manga behind it.

    BR was possibly my first experience of annoying Internet trolls. I really enjoyed it but I got very annoyed when I was on IMDB checking something about the Hunger Games (which I also quite enjoyed) and the bulletin boards were crawling with them. Found it hard to believe people got so tediously gatekeeperish about a film. Especially as the concept is as old as the hills. Even quatermass had government sanctioned fights to the death for kids. If anything H Games reminded me of a mash up between The Lottery and Tunnel in the Sky.

    One film you might enjoy if you've not seen it is Bully. Not the American one about the useless murder kids. This is a Brit film. Imagine Grange Hill but with a killer from beyond the grave. Manages to be both funny but also pretty clever. Come to think of it, with your school experiences you might revel in it a bit. Lots of amusingly comeuppance revenge deaths. It's got a bit of a Casualty vibe too, guessing what the 'accident' will be. "Those pencils are going up her nose aren't they? Yup, told you."

  22. Actually you should have an easier time finding Absentia, it's an American film. Noroi was my Japanese recommendation and for that your going to have to hem hem pray to the internet fairy ;)

    Battle Royale is amazing. I have a boxset release with the remastered version, the directors cut, a mini comic and art cards which was in incredibly short supply and I felt was a steal at twenty quid replacing my crappy Tartan video version with the burnt in subs. And yeah people did get tedious about the Hunger Games "ripping" it off, as you say it's not a completely original subject and politically from what I know about the source book versus The Hunger Games wider story, about totally different things. I have considered the manga, but I need to make sure it's a new translation, the original translation was done by humourous US comic book write Keith Giffen, who basically appraoched it like Eric Thompson approached doing The Magic Roundabout as he wasn't given much of a clue as to what was happening in it and turned in a "gag sub".

    Bully sounds interesting, will have a look for it. Sounds like my kid of jam. There is a videogame called Bully that kicked up a fuss back in the mid-noughties. You don't in fact play a bully, rather a good hearted slacker kid making his way through life at a boarding school he never wanted to attend. I'd pick it up but for some reason it goes for over £30 now. Le gasp!