Sunday, March 05, 2006

and whilst we're on the subject of Alan Moore...

V for Vendetta.

From Hell.

Tom Strong.

The League of Extraordinay Gentlemen.

Big Numbers

Skizz.

Marvelman (Miracleman)

The Killing Joke.

D.R and Quinch.

Watchmen.

Whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

Swamp Thing.

But to my mind, Alan Moore's greatest work was The Ballad of Halo Jones. And this isn't so much because it's a great piece of writing and story telling, it most certainly is it. But because of the medium in which Halo Jones appeared.

But I'm getting slightly ahead of myself.

Back when Star Wars was shiney and new and not sullied by teddy bear allegory for Vietnam or badly acted metaphors of America's current War on Terror smokescreen there was a void in the UK weekly comic magazine market. Until that was with the dawning of 1978 and introduction of 2000AD, a galaxy busting weekly thrill that threw it's predominately young male readership into future scenarios of East Vs West war, Fascist societies with laws enforced by a ruling class of Judges and Dan Dare - whom never seemed entirely at home, cut off as he was from his Eagle.

And over the years the stories developed and the bare boned clich├ęd scenarios started to take on a speck of sophistication; Judge Dredd, a horrific creature of unbending loyalty to the rules and the iron fist of law and order started to make some sense. In an ultra violent society of mass unemployment and over crowded living conditions, you needed Dredd to keep control.

Meanwhile A blue skinned genetically created soldier roamed the chemically polluted battlefields of a far of planet fought over by corporations in the guise of Norts and Southers. Not entirely alone, this Rogue Trooper looked to avenge the deaths of his kin with 3 of his closest comrades personalities in electronically encoded into computer chips which following their deaths at the Quartz Zone massacre he cut from their heads and placed into his equipment.

For comedy relief there was Sam Slade, a hunter of errant robots, he too had a couple of sidekicks, however they were far less helpful than Rogues. Stoogie, a robotic cigar obsessively advised Slade that he should cut down his intake of nicotine, least he damage himself which often occurred party due to his other assistant, Hoagy, a robot who was by no means of a Hal level of intellect. Hoagy had apprenticed himself to Sam despite Sam's insistence that he not.

And a long long time before Joss Whedon came up with a Space Western, there was Strontium Dog. Johnny Alpha, a mutant, thus an outcast from our society which has always and will always find an underclass to demonise and sideline.

Alpha, who had a long and torturous history, along with his loyal business partner/ fellow Stont Wulf Sternhammer (despite actually being a Viking and not a mutant) were bounty hunters, tracking down the scum of the universe for cash. A horrible job which frequently had Alpha and co finding and killing fellow mutants; was in fact the only job Mutants were legally allowed to do.

Strontium Dog, despite being very Sci-fantasy was in fact a western played out throughout the Galaxy and often throughout time and was it seems now based on the best works of Hellman, Leone and Sturges.

The one Strontium Dog story that sticks most resolutely in the mind now, some 20 years after it was first published was called ‘Rage’, and followed Alpha's attempt to track down the men that killed his friend Wulf. The story lasted some 26ish parts, and considering this was a story in which each part was only 6 or 7 pages long and was a weekly instalment it was quite an epic event - 6 months of Alphas hatred for the Max Bubba gang, growing weekly to it's epic conclusion in which Alpha shots Max down.

Except he does not. Alpha inextricably makes a mistake and Max survives. Max, ever the crook robs the hospital that has saved his life and heads out in to the street to enjoy this unexpected chance of more life. But whom does he find waiting for him? Johnny Alpha of course.

"Why are you doing this Alpha?" Max cries out, "Why are you torturing me?"

"Because I hate you" Alpha replies coldly and he guns him down, this time for good.

2000AD was a phenomenon. Yes the comics abroad were good, great even, but they seemed to my young eyes to be predominantly Superhero comics and consequently somewhat childish (although writers that include Moore and Frank Miller did much to change that). 2000AD was all about uncompromising men that fight and kill and always come out on top but always, ALWAYS damaged by the experience in some way.

And then came along Halo Jones in 1984.

Halo Jones was an unemployed teenage girl that lived in a mass housing project called the Hoop who dreamed of getting away from her life of 'increased leisure'. She talked about celebrities with her housemates, went shopping and ended up being the most radical story published in 2000AD.

For a start the only other females to grace the cheap grey newsprint paper of 2000AD up to that point had been female colleagues of Judge Dredd (in the form of Judges Anderson, Hershey and Chief Judge McGruder). Jones was a revelation. And you just knew that Moore knew exactly what he was doing.

Jones did not have a gun, or a political opinion or even a reason to be, she was just like us, an every person trying to do something with her life when the odds are you won't and you can't.

The first 'book' of Halo Jones sees Halo finally escaping the Hoop on a luxury Liner that cruises space called the Clara Pandy.

Is she the captain? or an the chief engineer, or even a guest? No, she is a waitress.

Not to say that Halo Jones was dull or uninvolved, the stories still featured violent acts, mystery characters and killer robotic dogs (or Dog in the form of Toby), it was just that Jones wasn't a super strong super resourceful character - she was quite normal, and we the readers called not only relate to this, we loved it.

We still loved Rogue and Joe Dredd and Sam and Johnny and Slaine and The VC's and Ace Trucking Co, D.R and Quinch (another great more creation about a couple of badly behaved teenage aliens, just out for a good time) it was just that Halo gave the comic class, elevating from trash literature to... erm, well literature I suppose.

Ultimately Halo was dragged into a future war, but it was war as we've seen in Full Metal Jacket, and All Quiet on the Western Front. A pointless generation destroying event that seems to serve no purpose other than that decided by the politicians. Halo soon becomes a pawn in this war, fighting on the incredibly heavy gravity planet Moab, where time is distorted on the battlefield making a 5-minute skirmish last weeks. The characters are further detached and dehumanised by this, and Halo comments that it's hard to get upset by the death of a comrade who died before your eyes moments earlier, who in actuality died months previous.

By the end of the third 'book' Halo steals a space ship and just 'escapes' into space. On her own.

More books were planned but never appeared. Perhaps they would have been as fantastic as the three we got, perhaps not. Doesn't matter cause what we got was so good.

Alan Moore was, is and will always be a terrific writer. Maybe next time I'll talk a bit about how he turned Swamp Thing from a (literally) bog standard man-monster seeks cure comic into a genre bending hit or Marvelman which after a hiatus of 20 years went from pulp 50's nonsense to the herald of modern superhero comics (and more so).

Then of course, as always when anyone speaks of Alan Moore there is Watchmen.


14 comments:

Sniffy said...

You know, I love it when you come out with this sort of thing.

The subject matter may not be something that I've ever really been in to, but it's just great for to share your enthusiasm and knowledge with us.

edwaado said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ship Creak said...

Every day is a school day. I'm genuinely disappointed that I missed out on all this, and to go back and backtrack now seems lame, like I'd be chasing something that's already been.

Obviously I'm personally not qualified to comment on all this, as a comic nonficianado, so I'll shut up.

garfer said...

I was into the Marvell stuff. Small format and all colour.

Dredd was too monochrome for me, still I was 12.

DrMax said...

Herge, I was a comic book addict in my teens. Remember riding my 10-speed bike to the Kwik Trip store to get the new Marvel editions that came out on Tuesdays. Then one day I stopped at an actual comic book shop in Madison WI and saw what a real collection looked like..it made my few boxes look pathetic. After that I lost interest. Picked up Watchmen, and some of Miller's stuff but I found I just couldn't get into comic books/graphic novels anymore. However I do miss that passion I had in my youth that made opening a new King Size Edition of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu such a thrill.

MHN for short said...

The hubby had a close friend growing up that was into the same genre comics that you are writing about(I wish that i could remember that blasted name!). He read the Crow. It was prettty good, I must say.

Steve Dix said...

Shame on you for forgetting Axel Pressbutton, which, not only did he write, but also originally drew, giving way to Steve Dillon.

Holy Zont! Plants!

Herge Smith said...

That was Steve Moore, Mr Dix, not Alan, although it did of course appear in Warrior magazine.

Dirk the Feeble said...

I liked Dredd, that was good people.

Spirit Of Owl said...

I have two ancient crisp boxes that are filled with the first 380 episodes of 2000AD.

That is all.

Steve Dix said...

Axel Pressbutton was actually a co-creation of Steve Moore and Alan Moore (working under the pseudonym "Curt Vile") and the character predated Warrior by a number of years.

weenie said...

The Ballad of Halo Jones is my favourite 2000AD story - I have read it many times and have never bored of it. Personally, I think it surpasses Moore's Watchmen.

MHN for short said...

It's time for you to get riled up again...

paulhd said...

Halo Jones is genius and still my favourite Moore story (a couple of his Time Twister's (esp. the one where the guy needs to invent a time machine to get back with his wife *sob*) are up there too)