Review of The Ballad of Halo Jones (1984)

Sequential art with text

Ian Gibson (artist), Alan Moore (writer).

Read in 2023.

A woman in the 50th century repeatedly seeks to escape her circumstances, starting with her life in a crime-infested ghetto for the unemployed that’s floating near Manhattan.

There is an interesting idea underpinning Halo Jones: It’s science fiction about ordinary women.

The science fiction part is generic, except that it’s relatively peaceful. A scene with a rampaging robot that combines Westworld (1973) with Alien (1979) is the only major action sequence in the first two of the series’ three books. The last book has a war, which brings the action up to a level more typical of 2000 AD, the weekly magazine where Halo Jones was first published.

The focus on women of the working class is interesting mainly in relation to the standard of 2000 AD, and of mid-1980s SF in general. Moore and Gibson do a good job steering clear of a wide variety of sexist and objectifying tropes that were surging in the conservative backlash of the 1980s. In fact, they swing so far away from the typical roles of women in boys’ SF that there is no nudity, no sex, very little lust or romance, no marriage, and no pregnancy or child-rearing, but the creators do include some sterotypically feminine motifs like a trip to a shopping mall, a joke about menstrual pads that’s ahead of its time, and an interest in soap operas and deep personal connections.

The war in the last book has a tragic tone, similar to The Forever War (1974) and featuring vaguely similar time dilation, but the SF here is disappointingly soft. The first book, in particular, is crammed full of bad future-slang dialogue and pointless greebling. Both art and writing pick up in the second book, and get even better in the third, but there are no memorable SF thought experiments in the writing. Ultimately, the SF is secondary. The point is to humanize ordinary people, like Romanen om Olof (1934) but in a silly space-opera setting instead of a working-class biography. There are neat little touches throughout: Swedish-language signage alongside a more alien conlang, and beautiful nightmare sequences in the third book. I imagine that the planned continuation, where Jones would have continued to age, would have been interesting. The ending, as it stands, is unsatisfying.

References here: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), Time Trap (2017).

sequential art text fiction series