My earliest exposure to comic books came through the pages of the British weekly, 2000 AD, an imported publication which I began to read around the age of eight or nine. The comic was difficult to find in Ireland outside of the major book and magazine stores, none of which were in walking or cycling distance of my home. I remember going straight from school to my local seafront newsagent every Friday afternoon in the hopes of buying the latest issue. More often than not the handful of available copies had already been sold or were never delivered in the first place. Eventually my mother agreed to pay for what I now realise was a quite costly annual subscription, though even that didn’t guarantee a regular supply from the UK. Fortunately it did curtail my trips to the terraced shop, whose owner was later rumoured to have had what was euphemistically known back then as a “liking” for young boys. I still drive pass the former business every now and again, long since sold off and converted into a family home, though the outside retains its distinct terraced character.
My favourite adventures from that “golden age” of 2000 AD stories included some that are now regarded as cult classics: Sláine (which I love), Nemesis the Warlock, Rogue Trooper, Robo-Hunter and The VCs. However, without doubt, the tale which made the greatest impression on me was the short-lived Ballad of Halo Jones. Working from a suggestion by the artist Ian Gibson, legendary writer Alan Moore co-created a 50th century every-girl saga as a feminist challenge to the testosterone-fuelled big boots an’ big guns adventures which dominated the comics’ scene during that time. Eschewing panel-splashing violence for something more subtle, the original intent was to chronicle the heroine’s entire life, from her teenage years to old age. Unfortunately editorial in-fighting over intellectual property rights among the notoriously fractious staff at the comic led to only three series of the biographical story being published.
The first of these, known as “Book One”, presented the eponymous Halo Jones as a young woman living in a floating ring-shaped conurbation called “The Hoop”, moored off the eastern coast of North America. The initial story took place over one day and followed the teenager’s tragi-comic misadventures on a shopping trip through her home city, ending with the murder of her best friend and the loss of another to a brain-washing (or in this case, -numbing) cult. These tragedies persuaded Halo to emigrate from the Earth, accompanied by her sentient robot dog Toby, vowing never to return. Book Two depicted the girl’s life as a stewardess on a year-long voyage through deep space, where she discovered that her robotic companion had killed her friend out of jealousy. This story also contained a clever prologue, revealing that Halo was destined to become a legendary historical figure, studied by future students and admirers. This explicit foreshadowing of the plot was, of course, copied with little acknowledgement by the American writer-producer J. Michael Straczynski for an episode of the Babylon 5 television show titled “The Deconstruction of Falling Stars“. Book Three of the Ballad was set ten years after the second, where Halo Jones had become a soldier reluctantly fighting in a seemingly pointless interstellar conflict against an insurgent enemy while being courted by a famous general, Luiz Cannibal. This downbeat story-arc ended with a cessation of hostilities, after which the violence-weary character commandeered a spaceship and deserted into unknown space, determined to take charge of her own fate.
Halo Jones was without doubt the earliest, fully-rounded feminist hero to have featured in mainstream anglophone comics and remains a fan favourite to the present day. The influence of the Alan Moore and Ian Gibson creation can be seen in many subsequent genre figures, though few have equalled her angst-ridden tone. Or indeed the beautifully realised dialogue and artwork that shaped her fictional world. The website ECB2000AD has a published a 2007 interview by Seán Twomey with Gibson that is well worth a read if you are interested in learning more about this seminal figure in the comic book scene.