2000AD Prog 376: Where did she go? Out. What did she do? Everything. The Ballad of Halo Jones

We’ve had the starscan a few progs ago, now we get the Ian Gibson cover heralding the start of Alan Moore’s latest epic.

Tharg’s Nerve Centre’s features a letter from a reader in New Zealand, noting that they received their 4th of February cover-dated prog on 29th of April, meaning it was 85 days late. Tharg corrects the earthlet by saying it was only 84 days later. I guess nobody told Tharg that 1984 was a leap year on Earth – meaning it was 85 days later after all. Oh, and that KP Skips promotion gets another airing.

Strontium Dog: Outlaw Part 14 by Alan Grant and Carlos Ezquerra. Last blog post I said I remembered one scene from this episode but not the set-up or follow-up. Turns out I did remember one thing before that (it appears in the grailquote section). The bit I had remembered was when Johnny gets the dignitaries of the Jock’s Landing stilt-town to confirm that Johnny Alpha and Wulf Sternhammer committed five murders, before revealing that he is Johnny Alpha and the fact that none of them recognised him meant they were lying. A great scene and a perfect way of confronting the simple folk of a fishing village with how bad they are at lying, particularly when being intimidated into the act. Meanwhile the Stix get alerted to Alpha’s presence by a child whose parents are held hostage…

Judge Dredd Quiz Special! Fifteen questions and theoretically I should do really well at these as it’s essentially a test on the previous year’s worth of Dredd stories – which was the first year that I was reading 2000AD and so I must have read and re-read them many times (though admittedly only once recently). Depending on how stringent the quiz-master is (I guessed Cecil Lord rather than Cyril Lord Block for instance – probably because the cultural reference was before my time), I got twelve right (I forgot which of Bob, Carol, Ted and Ringo was killed before the other dinosaurs escaped in to the Cursed Earth, what Benghazi was arrested for and the exact length that James Fenemore Snork grew his nose to).

Judge Dredd: Many Unhappy Returns by T.B. Grover and Kim Raymond. Two decades in to the 21st century the opening of this story has an unintended semblance to the Grenfell Tower fire as a balloon above a penthouse party is shot at, the fabric setting fire to the top free floors of the block and looking (in the words of a mega-citizen watching from afar) “like a giant birthday candle”. Raymond’s image of the immediate aftermath, showing the soot-blackened block is hauntingly similar to Grenfell Tower. The five closest blocks come under immediate suspicion and Dredd orders lightning raids on those most likely residents in the blocks (citi-def members, hotheads, criminals). There’s a great sound effect, presumably placed there by Kim Raymond rather than lettering droid Tom Frame showing Dredd KERRASHH!ing into an apartment, the letters not unlike those in the Dredd series logo itself. Not finding anybody the search is intensified and a curfew placed on all five blocks. Running typical crime blitz tactics the judges make mass arrests on entirely unrelated topics until a couple comes forward to report that they heard a crack from the apartment next doors to theirs just before the balloon went down. True enough, the resident of the apartment did it, annoyed by how the balloon had been hanging around. They’re not quite victims, but Dredd pulls a variant of his signature move of arresting those around the perp by not letting the informants get away without investigating them as well. Turns out they’re habitual shoplifters and have a stash of stolen goods in their apartment, and were keen to halt the crime blitzes before it got to them. 173 dead, but 1.365 arrests made on a wide variety of crimes. Not bad for a day’s work from the judges.

Before I go in to the next one, I should point out I recorded a podcast about the next story (more details in my previous post). By me, technically I mean Eamonn recorded it, but I certainly said a whole lot.

Within the last year we’ve had Nemesis the Warlock, Rogue Trooper and the more commonly expected Judge Dredd on the colour centre pages. This prog it’s the turn of a new series and one which won’t be returning to that hallowed spot after the debut. It’s time to sing The Ballad of Halo Jones by Alan Moore and Ian Gibson (there’s no book number appended for the first series). I distinctly remember taking this prog to my nan’s house on a weekend visit and due to the month-long strike which delayed the publication of the second episode of this story it could have been any weekend in July 1984. I remember not really knowing what was going on, but also really liking whatever it was that was being shown to us. I’m not the only one who liked it, as Swifty Frisko (the ‘radio announcer’ who introduces us to the world of 50th century Manhattan) was the inspiration for a character in New-Who series three episode Gridlock – and I’m pretty sure a panel on the opening page also inspired the episode (the panel with layer upon layer of ozjammed hovering vehicles). The language used is densely packed and could be analysed for meaning and still land wide of the mark – as you’d expect from a further three thousand years of development of the English language. As examples from the opening spread (and leaving aside DJ stylistic gibberish): what and where is Pseudo-Portugal? Is it a futuristic version of 20th century Portugal? Is it somewhere else? Off-planet? What is the etymology of ozjams? Obviously future-speak for gridlock traffic jams and derived in part from logjams, what does the ‘oz’ part mean? Ozone? It’s in East-Am, so nothing to do with Australia as the rest of this episode and first book of Halo Jones takes place in The Hoop and Manhattan, East America. The etymology of ‘cloudniks’ would appear to derive from hovering vehicles (clouds) and their occupants (-niks, from the yiddish associative suffix – as seen in English words like beatnik and refusenik). The Clara Pandy is a ship due to be dissembled, the last of the Krupp-Corona ‘S’-series ships. The Krupp family business was a four-century dynasty which produced steel and armaments – to such an extent that it was the largest company in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century and supplied arms for a number of wars (including the Germans in both world wars, though sometimes supplying both sides of conflicts). Dragging things back to Manhattan – the Chrysler Building was topped with Krupp steel. I don’t know how much of this was intentional, but we’re talking Alan Moore, so maybe all of it. Corona is probably just used because it’s ‘spacey’ – though also a bit difficult to research other meanings in 2020 without turning up loads of COVID results. The Proximan community are reptilian aliens who probably hail from Proxima Centauri – the third star of a three-star system and closest extra-solar system to Earth. As I’d find out from a later starscan but wasn’t immediately obvious to me on first reading, the opening shot of this story pans past those East-Am ozjams, zooming through the towers of Manhattan and focusing on the Hoop – a housing development floating off of the coast of Manhattan – before honing in on Brinna’s domicile, which she shares with Halo and Rodice. Enough deep analysis of each panel – I’ll only note things that jump out at me from now on. Potentially confusingly, Brinna talks about Ludy as if she also lives there, but we don’t see her in the housing unit apart from memorably towards the end of the series. Toby is also introduced as being a protective robot in the shape of a dog. Back to world-building and, as the four characters we’ve met walk to watch the ship fly overhead on it’s way to the dissembler yards, Halo tells everyone that the Clara Pandy has travelled past the Magellanic Cloud, which is a dwarf galaxy orbiting the Milky Way – suggesting that humanity can travel the Milky Way but that to travel much further is considered an achievement. Something that will get a call-back in later books, Brinna met the real Clara Pandy that the ship was named after (I’ll grail-quote that as well). As the swan-like ship passes overhead a fight breaks out and they make a quick departure. Something jumping out at me is that Brinna (an old woman) uses language you might expect a teenager to use “This is getting extreme!“, highlighting that as old as she may look, she belongs to a generation millenia in our future. In the last panel I’m happy to report that (part of) Manhattan qualifies as a domed city – the first one we’ve seen in 2000AD for some time. I doubt I’ll be writing so much about future installments, though there will be a fair share of words, things and concepts which I was introduced to via this strip and shall probably mention as they crop up.

Tharg’s Future-Shocks: Bigger Game Hunters by Alan Hebden and Tony O’Donnell. Human hunters travel to an island world where each island is reserved for hunters from different planets. They’re dropped off and have great fun slaughtering defenceless animals until they find somebody shooting at them. Our protagonist realises that alien hunters are shooting them, but only just before he’s killed. Back at the spaceport the tourism company realises they’ve deposited the humans on the wrong island – the punchline being when they catch up with the hunting party – now wiped out – and commenting that “at least the aliens enjoyed themselves”. It’s a fair enough story but I think the last panel lacked punch.

Compeittion time, but not from 2000AD – merely an advert for a Bubblicious competition (find ten logos hidden in a very low resolution picture and provide an advertising slogan of 12 words or less) and an Action Force figure free with every copy of Eagle, Tiger and Battle Action Force (unless you live overseas – sorry, foreigners!)

1984 Readers Profiles share a page with the thrill-sucker reservation coupon. This batch has two 14-year-olds, a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old. The readers also get Battle Action Force, Buster, Bicycle Magazine, White Dwarf, Car Fix-It and the NME.

Rogue Trooper: Message from Milli-Com – 8: Summit’s Up! by Gerry Finley-Day and Cam Kennedy shows that Gerry is never afraid to approach a pun. After multiple episodes with the same cliff-hanger, things finally change up a gear for this episode. Rogue sneaks aboard the Summit Island while Coogan gains access to the generals (one of which would appear to be alien – the first alien we’ve seen who is actually a Souther, as opposed to merely living in a Souther city). Coogan reveals his hand by shooting dead one of the generals but is interrupted in killing others by the arrival of Rogue. Doing the antagonist monologue (alright, not strictly a monologue) the full plan is revealed. The young captains are upset at the way the older generals have botched the running of the war (fair enough) and once they take over will send Nu Earth in to a nova in a false flag operation, galvanising the Souther forces into fighting with renewed energy. Their plan to end the war wasn’t just wishful thinking (which isn’t to say that it would actually work). Forcing Coogan to retreat, news comes of a large force outside the Island, just as Coogan blows the power plant, deactivating the force shield. Time for the show-down with Nu Earth and all it’s forces at stake.

The inside back cover and time for that KP Skips promotion to get another airing, along with adverts for Eagle Comics Nemesis the Warlock (necro series No 1) and The Judge Child Quest (mini series No 2). Mean pops up before another ad for the G*1 board game and instructions on how to stick the two pages of a poster to a piece of card.

And what is that poster? It’s the D.R. & Quinch laser scan by Alan Davis, revealing just how the pair are doing so well in the match (they’re using grenades and have tactical – armed – support from Chryssie and a few members of the crowd). I have never before noticed that one of the non-armed audience is eating strawberries and cream… I probably have noticed that one of the tennis players looks rather like John McEnroe – this is the second time McEnroe has appeared – the first time was in another Moore creation, an Abelard Snazz story.

Grailpage: I love the Summit Island – made up of shuttles dropped in to the swamp from the air – but haven’t picked any pictures of it yet, so am getting the last page of this week’s Rogue Trooper by Cam Kennedy as the shield comes down. I also couldn’t not pick something from the first episode of Halo Jones and am so torn that I’m going to pick two pages – though the first is the centrespread so I’m really picking half of the entire episode. Introducing 50th century earth-space, Lux Roth Chop, ozjams, Manhattan, the Hoop, Swifty Frisko, Halo and Rodice with a closer-up portrait of the titular character and ending with a race through the artery tunnels, another portrait of Halo as she figuratively looks elsewhere (“out”) and the swan-like Clara Pandy heading into the sunset. Well done, Ian Gibson!

Grailquote: Alan Grant, Middenface McNulty: “Lang may yer breeks reek, lads!” Och II resident: “Aye – an’ may yer kilt never wilt!” Alan Moore, Brinna Childresse-Lao: “Halo, did I tell you that I met the real Clara Pandy once? She was eighty-five and I was nineteen.” purely because it’ll get a call-back in Book III. Also from the same story, Toby: “I think you should keep walking, friend.” ‘Friend’: “Uh… yeah… yeah, that’s what I think, too.”

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