Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Book Review: The Ballad of Halo Jones

Why is this acclaimed graphic novel worthy of such high distinction? Perhaps it’s because it is one of the few *true* science fiction epics in that form, which has a beginning, middle and an end? Perhaps it’s the crazy concepts, from the haunting tale of the person whose gender has been erased, to the “forever” time-altered charge into battle in the Crush (on a planet with dangerously high gravity levels). Perhaps it’s the satire about our lives that gets us, and the way writer Alan Moore has thought up a world with a ring of truth about it, down to the details of the way people gossip and use slang. Perhaps it’s due to the strong female protagonist, as it was unusual in 1984 for a comic book to have a female hero – and one whose heroism is highly relatable, as she tries to escape the structures and characters which hem her in and want her to “fit in” and degrade her. You see, this future “Ballad” is, like all ballads, about a journey – and the toil along the way.

The plot of the three books

The story starts in the Hoop – a hi-tech slum floating near Manhattan – where Halo Jones (pictured right) lives with her friend Rodice, and are caught up in poverty and unrest. The people seem enslaved either to the various gangs and factions in the Hoop or to a materialistic code of values, which fools them into accepting the way things are – in fact they have ways of altering themselves to forget and fit in (the “safest” way in the crime- ridden area). When disaster strikes, Halo confronts the world outside the hoop (at the end of book one), and boards a space cruiser. She now is working as a waitress for the rich to pay her way out of poverty and gain control of her life – and a measure of freedom seems in her grasp. But by the end of book two she finds herself battling some more everyday problems that threaten to enslave her: the dullness of unemployment and purposelessness – and alcoholism.

Looking for an adventure, Halo Jones then joins the army – and this final book shines the most for me. It is a scathing attack on the inequality of war, the evil of it and how it can brainwash the soldier, and make them unfit for normal life. In a few pages we can sweep the galaxy, or focus on the significance (or not) of one battleground and one fallen enemy. As we begin to respond to the ideas here, it evokes disturbing and uncomfortable images from today’s wars – what anguish should we feel over the need for our young men and women to go to war and to live that different kind of life – that “necessary evil”? Have we forgotten that these wars (necessary though they may be) have a devastating impact on the lives of the people of the countries where the fighting is going on? Finally (spoiler warning), the folly of war stares at us from the final pages, when it is deemed that the war was carried out in an illegal way. What was all the fighting for after all? It should never have been allowed. What does man fight man for anyway? What purpose does it serve?

Letting the book raise some questions

Told in short black-and-white chapters, this impressive tale starts slowly but ends up with some short episodes that say more than whole novels, in terms of the way they mimic the real world and confront us. How can we escape a mindset of materialism and avoid settling for the entertainment culture that surrounds us? Is that what life is really about? And can we really have control of our lives, in the final analysis, or are there limits we come up against?

Where do we look for real freedom, and the ability to live full lives of purpose and joy?

On that last one: I know to whom I am looking – the one who came to offer just this to us if we accept his verdict on our lives and turn to follow Him. Receiving what Jesus offers does not require being brainwashed, made to "fit in" to an oppressive system, or dragged through hell, or in fact any kind of work on our part. His gift to us of reconciliation with God is free, and simply must be accepted.

But knowing Him and all he's done changes us, and soon we will be unhappy with the way we have been living, we will be stretched mentally, emotionally and physically to live the kind of full life of joy and hard work and pain and love that Jesus lived. To live in community, doing the will of the one who rules this world and who actually does know best for us - and cared enough to come to die for us. Let's not throw our brains away and live passively following the world.  Let's engage with him and what he is really offering us. Let's go to the places Jesus wants us to go to.

1 comment:

sheepdan said...

Great review of a great book!

Thanks for bringing out the themes that tie it together. I read it a few years back, and should probably reread it!

I found Halo Jones walked excellently the difficult line all scifi walks between explaining everything in detail and being dull, and being so cyberpunk it's impossible to understand.

The artwork is also excellent, and the the tone is nice; dealing with big issues without being depressing, and maintaining a certain seriousness despite the absurdist humour of things like the crush.