As long as I’m rereading Alan Moore, I thought I’d look again at the Ballad of Halo Jones. I first read it a few years ago, and really liked it. And I still like it a lot on rereading. I like Ian Gibson’s art better than that of many Moore artists, I think — he’s not a super-tight illustrator or anything, but the he’s got a range from cartoony to more naturalistic which works for the varying moods, and the layouts are nicely varied. I just opened up to a very deft sequence where Halo tries to grab a rat, which gives her a withering look and then darts off-panel, its tale quivering behind it. You get the sense that Moore hadn’t necessarily taken over every aspect of panel movement and layout at this point; the art seems more spontaneous and freer than in some of the later projects; everythings not mapped out to within an inch of its life.
I like the writing a lot too. It’s nice to see Moore working in a pulp idiom that doesn’t involve super-heroes; all the pseudo-Nietzsche overman-savior stuff which is so important to a lot of his later writing just isn’t here. Halo’s not a mover and shaker; she’s one of the moved and shook, and while there is an epic sci-fi story of sorts going on here, Halo’s more or less at the periphery of it; just one random person bobbing along as events wash over her. It’s not a new concept exactly (Joe Haldeman’s “Forever War” is a probable influence, for example). But it’s handled very deftly.
And, again, the lack of artistic control is refreshing. In his ABC titles, Moore went again for a more breezy, seat-of-the-pants, lighter tone, but it always felt a little bit like he was slumming — the lack of deliberation just seemed awfully deliberate, and the sense of fun a little forced. Halo Jones seems much more natural; you can feel him discovering what he’s going to do on the fly, building up the world as he goes. There’s a lot of humor (one of the early episodes focuses on a shopping expedition; a zenade that bombs you into oneness with the universe….) but, right from the beginning, it’s also surprisingly dark, and the combination is both unsettling and very affecting. The whole story is structured like a movie in which the comic-relief-best-friend gets killed — over, and over, and over. The last book is a quite effective war story, and Halo comes out of it recognizably older and more bitter than the young girl we started with. The story’s end is haunting, and not exactly paraphraseable without introducing a big fat spoiler, but basically Halo realizes that in her youth she wasn’t nearly as innocent as she thought, after which she murders the last person in the book who she cares about.
So, yeah, I know it’s not generally supposed to be, but I think it’s one of his best (way better than V or Lost Girls, for example, and maybe up there with From Hell, though very different, obviously.) Makes me wish he’d try a straight science-fiction story again….