Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Martha Jones

She comes from a slum in the future, one of the very worst places on Earth. She is poor, and with no prospects, she joins the military. There, she becomes desensitised to the horror of war before rediscovering her own humanity. Eventually, she escapes into the stars, escaping the world in her own spaceship. Out, free and alive.

Her name is Martha Washington. And Halo Jones.

It's a good story, and has been well-told both times. Martha Washington was created by Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons, and in a series of blackly humorous mini-series published by Dark Horse, she refused to give in to the death around her, fought for the sake of fighting and killed for nothing. She eventually escaped into science fiction, blasting off into the universe with good friends and a purpose in life.

A few years earlier, The Ballad of Halo Jones premiered in 2000ad. Written by Alan Moore and brilliantly illustrated by Ian Gibson, the six-page strip was designed specifically to be as far away from the “tough guy with a gun” 2000ad formula as possible.

Gibson had been a mainstay of 2000ad since the early days, proving his talents on long-running series such as Robo-Hunter. Moore, who had created some of the most memorable six page sagas in the comic's history, was also the obvious choice. His first multi-part story for 2000ad managed to take a blatant imitation of ET, the most popular movie in the world at that time, and make it sing.

Skizz was a story of many dimensions, with the connection to the Spielberg movie only the most obvious one. Moore's socialist roots lie deep in his beard, and Skizz's story was about an alien stranded on Earth, while also telling the tale of the working class rising up against a fascist state in search of something miraculous and wonderful, showing that every man has his pride, some have a little style, and some of them are stars.

Moore's attention to character and setting detail also shined through on Halo Jones. Living on the Hoop, a vast enclosed area that houses the unemployed, vagrant aliens and the usual future-cults, Halo is a young woman who faces life-threatening adventures when she wants to go out and buy a cup of synthetic coffee. She has a loyal robot dog, a dumb best friend and a sweet old landlady who suffers a horrible fate. By the end of the first series, Halo is off into the universe, as a stewardess on the galaxy's greatest star liner. Spurned by several doses of tragedy, she is out.

It doesn't get all that much better for her from there. The second book opens with an incredibly well-done prologue, which shows the legend she becomes while reminding the reader of the events of first book. Moore and Gibson show that she ended up going further than anybody before her, striding across the universe as a legend, a myth that will never die, while reminding us all that anybody could have done it.

Back on board the star liner, and Halo is on the slow trip out between worlds. She cuts herself off from the past, uncovers a betrayal, ignores the most nothing person in the galaxy and saves a Rat King. It doesn't end very well, with Halo alone at the edge of the solar system, still trying to escape that prison that just keeps getting wider. Spurred on by the rest of existence, she is almost away, but still has a long road to travel.

Martha Washington doesn't have it much easier. In the first series by Miller and Gibbons, Give Me Liberty, she grows up in a cold, miserable social prison. The only ones to show her kindness and humanity die ugly deaths, so she's off to join the army, and sees all sorts of horror.

None of it punctures her indomitable will to live, and this skill sees her avoid certain death a remarkable number of times, her sheer bloody-mindedness turning her into the military's great secret weapon. She is sent into further danger, on special missions that have significant impact on ongoing conflicts. Occasionally reflective, she never ceases to be amazed at the stupidity of war, but still gets on with the job and does what needs to be done.

Halo isn't surprised by the futility of war. Joining the army after reaching dead ends across the galaxy, Halo is in a pretty low place when she signs up. The death of her oldest living friend almost pushes her over the line into complete madness, but she gains a thousand-mile stare and salvation in the old professionalism of the military.

The war she fights is nasty, battlefields of unimaginable gravity that time can't even escape, but it still ends, and she eats fruit on one of those deserted battlefield. An old decision has massive repercussions, and one last betrayal sees her take charge of her destiny. Seizing the moment and slamming another door on the past, she makes off with the greatest starship in the universe. Free.

Martha Washington's later series see her save the world, and ensure the peace. She comes through a few more close calls, and has to fight off the brainwashing of an artificial intelligence. It's a long, hard road, but she comes through okay, and ends up exploring the galaxy with a good crew on a strong ship. She raises herself up from the horror of her beginnings to set the way for us all and doesn't wait for us to catch up. Free.

Halo's story ends here. Although there were some vague indications she would go on to become a feared pirate queen of the spaceways, her later appearances were limited to pin-up pages and a scathing look at the way 2000ad treats its creators, disguised as a one page tribute to the Mighty Tharg in the landmark #500. This Gibson-illustrated page also marked Moore's last writing for the comic.

Martha got her ending, even it was generally regarded with a sneer and a yawn by the general comic community when it was first released in 2007. A 16-page epilogue, giving the character a good send-off, as her spark of life passes into infinity, the story might have been called Martha Washington Dies, but it was the only one that didn't live up to its title. Martha lives on, in the determination of those she leaves behind, and in the imaginations of those who followed her path.

Both women sailed off into futures they thoroughly deserved, and while it would always be a pleasure to see more stories featuring the characters, they have each earned a bit of peace and quiet.

And freedom.


Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work, Bob. It's important to know your first wank was an accident!

Suspect we'll do the blogroll linky thing

Bob Temuka said...

I didn't mean to do it. It just happened.

On the other hand, it has made me a much happier person ever since. Heres to wanking!

Anonymous said...


Bill Reed said...

I thought this post was going to be about Doctor Who.

Bob Temuka said...

Don't worry, Bill. Doctor Who is easily my favourite television programme ever, and I certainly will be blathering on about that slab of genius sometime in the near future....

Islington Comic Forum said...

Give Me Halo Jones.
Give Me Give Me Liberty. ("The presidents brain is missing!": one of my favourite panels ever)
The rest: (Objectivism allegories and all that?) no thanks - you can keep 'em.