Saturday, April 20, 2013

More Moore part 15: The Ballad of Halo Jones Book III

The Ballad of Halo Jones Book III (1986)

With the dawn of 1986, Alan Moore and Ian Gibson began work on the third installment of The Ballad of Halo Jones, their saga of 50th century everygirl Halo Jones and her adventures on Earth and beyond. Book III comes as a shock to those who had read the first two Books; it picks up ten years after the conclusion of Book II. In that time, Halo has left her job aboard starliner The Clara Pandy and become a drunk on some off-beaten world, while General Luiz Cannibal still battles the inhabitants of the Tarantula Nebula in the name of Earth. After the first two Books being filled with entertaining fluff, the sudden stylistic turn comes as a tremendous shock: Book III of Halo Jones is exceedingly dark, and once Halo is picked up to join the army it gets the feeling of a Vietnam War throwback. But I honestly don't have too much negative to say about the Book- especially after Book II's benign dullity, Book III comes across as a much more interesting read, one that displays some thought-provoking moments, and even has a return to the snappy dialogue from Book I.

The entirety of Book III is about Halo's military service, sent down to various worlds in the Tarantula Nebula to quell the resistance to Earth imperialism. Not only is this a positive because Halo is, you know, doing SOMETHING, but her interactions with her platoon bring us that realistic, intelligent dialogue that was sorely missing from Book II. Everyone in Halo's bunk comes across as three-dimensional and interesting, and watching them go through hell together in the undergrowth of these unknown planets as a real treat. Halo is put into an uncomfortable position, there's no question that what Earth is doing in Tarantula is unethical, but as she says several times during the course of the Book, it's a job where none existed before. These uncomfortable monologues give Halo some much-needed depth and show that she is, in fact, a thinking, feeling character and not just a flat teenage caricature.

Since the story takes place in a war zone, the action is considerably more despondent and violent than before, with members of Halo's platoon being blown up and smashed by crushing gravity several times throughout the story. It's a testament to Moore's writing that the reader feels for these deaths, even though most of them were just introduced in this Book. But everyone is fleshed out, from the 'lucky' girl who survives the war without a scratch to the butch sergeant who is killed in a time dialation. Toy, Halo's roomie from Book II, ends up as part of her platoon, and there is a series of pages of dialogue between the two of them, Toy wounded and both stranded in the middle of the jungle, that really made me feel for characters that I didn't give a damn about just a few chapters before.

War is hell, even in the 50th century, and Moore hits the gut with his depictions of the Tarantulan rebels as a band of young girls fighting for their way of life. When the war ends in a cease-fire, Halo finds herself romantically involved with the massive General Cannibal, and by the last few pages of the Book it becomes clear that he commanded endless atrocities on the Tarantulans, not the least of which was lighting up an entire planet in a firestorm. That such a morally grey, nuanced story can come from the pages of a novel which prior had a bunch of teenagers going to the mall as a main plot point is pretty impressive.

The Ballad of Halo Jones Book III is far from the best of Moore's stories so far. Halo herself is still too inactive to be of much use, and Ian Gibson's art is still rather bland. Perhaps the worst thing about the Book is that it feels like too little, too late: Book I still isn't anything special, and Book II is downright bad. Book III is leagues beyond either of these, but The Ballad of Halo Jones still comes across as 2/3 of an uninteresting hiccup in Moore's career. The fact that he was doing Swamp Thing and Watchmen at the same time only hammers this point home, and shows that Moore had his thoughts elsewhere. The Ballad of Halo Jones is worth reading once, and perhaps you'll find you're one of the novel's many defenders, but in 1986 we had better things to read.


Best quote: "The tribe were descendents of Lot. Lot was some guy whose wife turned into a pillar of salt because she looked back at something or other./I guess everybody has to believe something."


Up next: “We're all puppets, Laurie. I'm just a puppet who can see the strings.”

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