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Joe the Barbarian #2

Posted: Monday, March 1, 2010
By: David Wallace

Grant Morrison
Sean Murphy, Dave Stewart (c)
Vertigo / DC
“Cloud Quay to Feather Forest Falls”

Issue #2 of Joe the Barbarian sees the title character begin the fantastical, hallucinatory journey that will help him to prevent himself from falling into a diabetic coma in the real world, joined in his imaginary quest by his swashbuckling pet rat, Jack.

As with the first issue, it’s the artwork that really impressed me here. Unlike the first issue, however, Sean Murphy is called upon to illustrate all manner of imaginative concepts, creating a rich fantasy world that’s populated by hordes of characters that all feel vaguely familiar from childhood. I love his stylised character designs, which capture the idea that the majority of the book’s characters are based on Joe’s toys whilst also making all of them feel like living, breathing beings. Whilst the fast-moving nature of the story means that Murphy is for the most part confined to dynamic, action-packed sequential art (such as the wonderful sequence in which Jack makes his bid for freedom), he occasionally gets to cut loose with more luxurious images such as the dense yet beautiful double-splashpage that gives us one of our first glimpses of Joe’s fantasy world.

There’s also a clever visual juxtaposition of Joe’s hallucinations with what’s happening to the character in the real world, as we see Joe make slow progress through his house as he works his way through the landscape of his imagination (with many elements crossing over from the real world to the fantasy world such as the bathroom taps that become a rushing water-pipe in Joe’s mindscape). It’s here that the importance of clearly establishing the layout of Joe’s house in issue #1 becomes clear,and I’m sure that I’ll find myself referring back to the long silent sequence from that first issue as the series progresses, in order to work out how much progress Joe has made.

Morrison’s writing is also entertaining, with an amusing acknowledgment from “Lord Arc” that the writer is drawing on some well-worn conventions of the fantasy genre for his hero quest story. It’s perhaps for this reason that the book feels rather timeless, despite the period details that we’ve seen in the story so far such as the Transformers, Lego models, and Star Wars posters. Regardless of the familiar feeling elements, Morrison is managing to make this a distinctive and compelling story, and I’m sure that many elements of the series have surely yet to reveal their true significance (such as the raygun that Joe acquires in this issue).

I seem to remember that this series was originally mooted as a 3 issue mini-series, which makes me wonder whether the creators will be able to sustain their tale for the full 8 issues that are now promised by the cover. For the moment, however, I’m finding Joe The Barbarian to be imaginative, entertaining and very well illustrated, and I look forward to seeing how Joe’s quest progresses.



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