There were many strange creatures stalking the pages of 2000AD in the year 1984. October would see Nemesis the Warlock confronting the Victorian-influenced alien oddities of the Gothic Empire, while readers had grown familiar with a whole host of aliens and weirdos while perusing the adventures of
Judge Dredd, Slaine and Rogue Trooper. But in Prog 376 in July 1984, they encountered the strangest creature of all: an actual human woman. She and others like her, appeared in a new story, The Ballad of Halo Jones.
The Galaxy’s Greatest Comic was seven years old by this point and had, of course, featured a number of female characters already, notably Judge Dredd’s sassy, psychic chum, Judge Cassandra Anderson, who was destined to get her own strip the following year. But Halo was undeniably something new: a female-centric strip, dominated by female characters.
We meet Halo as a teenager, one of a group of friends, plus Toby, a robot dog, who live on the Hoop, an artificial population centre constructed off Manhattan Island in the 50th century. Essentially, a dump for society’s unemployed, the Hoop is a breeding ground for crime, strange youth cults, racial/inter-species and sexual tensions and occasional outbreaks of violence. For Halo and her girlfriends (she is not yet a very distinctive character), even a simple shopping expedition has the feel of a military campaign.
Halo Jones was not, in fact, woman-born, but was the creation of Northampton based comic legend Alan Moore and artist Ian Gibson. Then in his early thirties, Moore was fast making a name for himself as a
writer thanks to stories like V For Vendetta and Marvelman (later Miracleman) in Warrior and had established himself in 2000AD with D.R and Quinch, Skizz and a host of Tharg’s Futureshocks. One of these, 1981’s ‘Grawks Bearing Gifts’ (in which some seemingly daft amiable aliens manage to enslave humanity) had seen him collaborate with Ian Gibson, best known as the illustrator of Sam Slade: Robohunter. Together, they would create Halo.
“I more or less decided that all the central characters would be female,” Moore said, admitting to being influenced by female-dominated US strip, Love & Rockets. There would be few captions or thought bubbles either. “I’d simply dump the reader right in the middle of a busy and bustling future world and leave them to figure it out for themselves.”
“Where did she go? OUT,” said Halo’s first 2000AD cover. “What did she do? EVERYTHING.” If the beginning of this (“Where did she go? OUT!”) sounded a bit like a chant released during a strike, this was not inappropriate. The story’s run was interrupted by a bout of industrial action which shut down 2000AD for a month. It was not, at first, a big hit. Lance Parkin in his biography of Alan Moore writes: “Now, Halo Jones is regularly cited as a high point of the magazine’s long history. Then, it was a different story. Every week, the magazine polled its readers on their favourite strips, and Halo Jones was notably unpopular during its first run.”
“A lot of readers just didn’t understand what we trying to do,” said Moore, speaking unintentionally in
rhyme, “which is something you always run the risk of when you try something new.”
Some thought the problem was that the characters were female. Others disliked the use of futuristic slang (“First we hop the updraft at fuller web/west 15th, and get up onto the overstrat…Then, assuming there aren’t too many dreck-netters, we…walk casually past the jackyards on West 24th”) although actually bearing in mind, the strip is set nearly three thousand years in the future, it’s surprising it’s as comprehensible as it is. Others pointed to a lack of “action”. Moore felt they meant a lack of “violence”. And he was probably right. Moore and Gibson were both unhappy to have to tone down the slang and slightly increase the level of …action…for Book 2 which ran in 1985. It might seem odd to hear this as for the most part, Halo Jones Book 2, which sees our heroine spending a year working aboard a galactic cruise liner, the Clara Pandy, is very good indeed. Both it and Book 3 itself and Moore and Gibson won a string of Eagle Awards.
A number of stand-alone episodes particularly stand out, notably the prologue set even further in the future which suggests Halo is destined to become a figure of some historical import. Another memorable episode features the sexually androgynous and wholly anonymous Glyph. The story also sees a final reckoning in Halo’s relationship with Toby the dog.
In Book 3, published over fifteen parts in 1986, Moore and Gibson achieved a level of excellence never seen before in 2000AD. A decade has passed and we meet an older more cynical Halo who is persuaded to join the army, by her friend, the soap opera-obsessed giantess, Toy Molto. This turns out to be a bad move. The two soon find themselves assigned to fight in a horrendous Vietnam-in-space style conflict in the Tarantula Nebula, a conflict alluded to occasionally since Book 1.
Again, individual episodes stand out. In one, Halo and her platoon (again, all female) attempt to assuage their guilt after they realise they have been involved in the death of a child soldier. She must have been older than she looked, they reason. “The sniper got older all the way home,” Halo recalls. “By the time we reached base she’d practically died of old age.” She also travels to Warzone One, the planet Moab, particularly leads to “the Crush” in which the incredibly strong gravity of the large planet leads time to be distorted. This leads the conflict to literally be appearing to pass either in slow motion or sometimes even
accelerated speed before the participants’ eyes.
By the late eighties, Halo had become something of a cult, inspiring stage plays and an album track by pop band Transvision Vamp. Editor Steve MacManus was desperate for more, as were readers excited by talk of a nine-volume saga. Artist Ian Gibson was also keen to continue the extensive plans he and Moore had made for the strip during a visit to Moore’s Northampton lair in the early Eighties. The artist had found Book 3 an especially emotional experience, one which, he argues, possibly contributed to the end of his marriage.
But it was the end of the road. By 1986, Moore (now producing The Watchmen) had become a keen champion of creator rights. He fell out dramatically with 2000AD over the issue. “I’d got plans to have her grow up and eventually end as an old woman,” Moore said in 2006. “But I got to the point where I’d said
to IPC, “Look, you know that you’ve ripped these characters off from us. If you were to give us the rights back, I would gladly write another three books of Halo Jones. Whereas if you don’t I will never write Halo Jones and you won’t get any money from the character. And they thought, ‘Yeah, let’s hang on to the character forever and you never get any rights to it and never write any again.’ So that’s where it is.”
Ian Gibson (now in his seventies) has occasionally attempted to revive the strip but has not spoken to Moore in thirty years. “I think he’s betrayed the audience with his attitude,” says Gibson of Moore. “But that’s purely between me and him.”
As it stands, the series will probably never return. But if 2000AD lasts a thousand years, it is doubtful anyone will ever forget The Ballad of Halo Jones.
Halo Jones is to be reprinted by Rebellion in January 2023 in an Omnibus Edition.
For an interview with Ian Gibson on Halo Jones pick up the History of Comics 1984 here