Archive for January, 2013

Hanging with Halo Jones

So, the blog that has been brewing for some time finally comes to life. Where do I begin? I think I shall start be discussing that much maligned genre: sci-fi. Now sci-fi never had the street cred of its cooler older brother Horror or the sullen insouciance of the Gothic, sci-fi truly belonged and still belongs in the realm of the nerd. Add in the term comic book and we are firmly in the world of loners and losers. People that read comic books are a by-word for virgins and funny weirdoes (see Comic Book Guy or The Big Bang Theory).  Now and then, academia and society at large bestows a comic book title with its blessing, indeed my own Alma Mater now studies Maus, the work deemed serious and weighty enough to rest on the shelf alongside such worthy titles such as Pamela and The Wild Irish Girl, what lofty company indeed. Of course, Maus is not a sci-fi title and as such presents little or no serious threat in the hallowed halls of universities. Watchmen, another heralded title, is a different matter, populated as it is by costumed vigilantes and a naked blue superhero by the name of Dr Manhattan, it deals with, among other things, meta-narrative, the epistolary form and the way we would react if real people started running about in superhero costumes. In other words it should be perfect fodder for academics but isn’t, I cannot say for certain why it is ignored but I do think it is because it is sci-fi. I could enter into a rant about this but I won’t and the reason why is two-fold: firstly, I think it is enough to say I enjoy sci-fi and comics and secondly, this piece is not about hate but my attempt at a love letter.

The aforementioned Watchmen is the work of the famous Alan Moore. Moore is also known for V for Vendetta (a meditation on Anarchy), From Hell, which looks at the Whitechapel murders, Promethea, a truly magnificent piece on literature, magic and religion and the Victorian romp that is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Great works all but to a certain few among us his greatest work is his unfinished epic: The Ballad of Halo Jones which was created with the equally talented artist Ian Gibson. How do I begin to describe it? How do I begin to describe her?  Well first of all it is a bildungsroman built around the titular character of Halo Jones. Halo began life in that fantastic British title: 2000AD and the remit for Moore and Gibson was a simple one: create a female character. Why? Well 2000AD had very few female characters in its pages at the time. I am sure the editor expected a female superhero type character but Moore, not bound by expectation, created a character that was sympathetic, realistic and above all normal. Gibson’s artwork is sublime (as it always was) his rendering of the future and the characters that inhabit these worlds are fantastical but never totally unrealistic. There is a lived in feeling to the drawings and it is in black and white which is my personal favourite style of comic book art.

Halo, Brinna and Rodice.

Halo, Brinna and Rodice.

Halo (in the foreground) and Rodice

Halo (in the foreground) and Rodice

Book one deals with the theme of isolation, the effects of long-term unemployment and the desire to escape the confines of a claustrophobic world. Reading it in 1989-1990 (three to four years after it was first published)as a twelve year old growing up in Ireland I could relate to Halo, as Ireland still had a touch of the Joycean labyrinth so famously mentioned in that other Bildungsroman The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. Halo, lives in a very literal labyrinth a giant structure built off the coast of America called The Hoop which is the home for masses of the unemployed, the ‘increased leisure citizens’ that exist in 50th century Earth. Moore, as ever, is unafraid to introduce big themes in his work, this is a feminist story, one about an everywoman and begins, in the best classical tradition in media res. Halo is surrounded by women, from her flatmate Brinna, her best friend Rodice and the tragic Ludy (she also has a talking robotic dog called Toby, who becomes a very important character). Halo herself has a dignity, a quiet anger and humour that I love, she was the first comic book character I read that I felt was three dimensional.

portrait

Halo escapes the mundanity and horror of her life on The Hoop after being pushed to the edge by the murder of Brinna and the loss of Ludy to a cult called ‘ The Different Drummers’. Book Two sees Halo becoming a stewardess aboard the space liner the Clara Pandy but not before we find out, in a framing device at the beginning that Halo became a famous historical figure. Again, Moore gives us a believable story as our protagonist escapes, not in a heroic but rather in a very normal way. Book Two also introduces us to new characters none so sad as ‘The Glyph’ a character that has changed sex (on a number of occasions) and ultimately ends up invisible (a comment on how we view people that are different and don’t fit in to our perceived view of reality?).

Book Three expands on a war that has been mentioned in the previous book. It is the darkest of the three and we find out that Halo has become a soldier. She meets General Luiz Cannibal, a man that looks like he could be the ‘love interest’ but I won’t ruin the story for those who want to read it. It culminates with Halo leaving after the war ends, that was that and so we waited for book four. We wanted to see where she would go next? Who would she meet? Why did she become a historical figure? Alas, we are still waiting, as book four never came. In many ways I think it is fitting that Halo Jones ended as it did. There was no cosy resolution and no happy ending for our heroine. She was always normal and in that very normal way there was to be no epic ending. She just rode out into her future unsure of what was to happen next.

In my weaker moments I sometimes wish that Halo Jones would return (it is rumoured that there were meant to be nine parts to the story) but then I remember the Star Wars prologues and think: best left alone. Halo is like an old friend, I come back to her again and again. Like all good stories I find new things within the pages, it grows as I grow. It offered me hope all those years ago: hope that I could get out of the script that my community had written for me and hope that there was a wider world waiting just around the corner. What more can you ask from a great work of fiction?

Getting out

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