The Ballad of Halo Jones

I have a strange relationship with the comic 2000AD.

It’s an amazing publication, published every couple of weeks for about thirty years, starting when the space race was still in the news and everyone thought the end of the century would be full of hyperdrives and rayguns. Much of the comic’s universe revolves around a future USA – the Megacities of Judge Dredd, the Hoop of Manhattan – but the comic itself is British, with a very different vibe to DC or Marvel. 200AD was never about heroes. Its characters are human beings, flawed and fallible: Johnny Alpha, Nikolai Dante. And Halo Jones.

200AD was politically-aware years before Sterling and Gibson hacked ‘cyberpunk’ out of the English language – before, even, the first writers that inspired them, Walter Jon Williams and a few others. (For my money, David Brin’s ‘The Shockwave Rider’ remains the ultimate novel of society’s relationship with technology.) As Gibson himself remarks, the future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed. There are no utopias in 2000AD. There are teleports and starships, but most people can’t afford them. Poverty and unemployment are huge problems. Racial tensions (between humans and nonhumans) are rife. And political systems generally lean towards fascism.

That said, I’ve never really read the comic.

I was given annuals every year as a kid. I’ve bought perhaps six copies of the comic, ever. Yet somehow the comic and its characters have been a big influence on me, even those I’ve never read. And sometimes – like yesterday – I pick up a compilation (‘trade paperback’) and start reading, and find it utterly unputdownable. Like this one, the complete ‘Ballad of Halo Jones’. It’s brilliant beyond words.

2000AD’s art is dense, with a hell of a lot going on in each frame. Many episodes aren’t particularly storyful; you’re in there exploring the world of the Hoop, not necessarily fully focussed on the characters. The girls (Halo’s a young woman who decides to get offplanet) are in there, but you keep looking around them: the robot bartenders, the swooping lanes of traffic in the sky, the incredible vocabulary (we can all guess what ‘She’s gone scritzy!’ or ‘caught up in a drangsturm’ means.)

2000AD can’t be compared to much outside its own genre. Maybe to that brand of thoughtful, ‘European’ science fiction, like Fifth Element, Starship Troopers, perhaps Gattaca. Stories about characters rather than plot, where the violence is shocking and pointless – as in real life – rather than twists driving the story along.

It must exist on an absolute shoestring; readership can’t be above a few thousands and art costs serious money. Yet it’s been the spawning ground for dozens of amazing artists (Alan Moore et al) and put British illustration and scripting front and centre, everywhere. Wherever you go from here, 2000AD, good luck.

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