Thursday, October 25, 2012

Review: Joe the Barbarian

Joe the Barbarian is all about Joe, a 15 year old diabetic boy that suffers a diabetic shock while home alone. To survive Joe has to journey from his room to the kitchen in search of a soda to fix his blood sugar. In the way Joe finds himself in the middle of a war between the Kingdom and King Death.

The Kingdom is generated by Joe's hallucination and is populated by all the toys, pets and all sort of aspects of Joe's daily life. Its a rich environment with a geography that mimics Joe's house and is filled with all sort of perils and a vast array of inhabitants.

Its a fantasy story with more to it than it seems at first glance.

How good is it?

Grant Morrison is a great writer, but some of his work drink from the metaphysical pool a bit too much. As such many readers have gained antibodies to his writing. Luckily this in Joe the Barbarian Morrison brought his A game. The story is very straight forward, of course there are still some metaphysical aspects for the reader to explore, but all very simple to follow.

Joe is a diabetic 15 year old boy that suffers a diabetic shock and tries to make his way to the kitchen in order to drink a soda and fix his blood sugar. That's it. The narrative is born from that and grows into an epic quest  to stop King Death and bring light back to the Kingdom. While this is a obvious metaphor for Joe's situation you'll find out that its much more than that.

Morrison explores many aspects of Joe's life, such as his relationship with is dead father, the family life after the death of his father or the isolation and Joe feels. He does this very well, never feeling forced or hammered in, but natural and fluid. The best part of Morrison's approach to Joe the Barbarian is that the hallucination is just that. Joe has a strong hallucination because he suffers a diabetic shock. The enjoyment the reader takes is of the journey Joe has to undertake and what it means for himself and for his family.

Talking about that will spoil the story, but one thing is sure, you wont get a cliche ending of the kind "this was all a dream", and it is very rewarding. What is not a spoiler is that you'll get a good journey story, some medieval type action and great dialogue between Joe and his pet mouse.
On a side note, Joe the Barbarian is not Joe the main character. Its actually a very sweet little note Morrison throws in the story.

The writing is very good indeed, but where this book excels is in the department. Its hard to put to words how much Sean Murphy's art adds to Joe's story. The dynamic of the panels, the detailed character and backgrounds design, the two universes (regular and hallucination) and most of all, the clarity of the art itself.

In highly details artwork its common for it to become gorgeous as a still image but difficult to look at as sequential art but Sean Murphy does have a masterful control of his craft and offers the reader a truly rewarding visual experience. In other words, awesome eye-candy.

Everyone to Joe's rescue
The mightiest of Pets

Would I recommend it?

This is a great book. Sure its is by Morrison and as such is a bit insane at times, but he keeps it under tight restraints. The art is just phenomenal. The story is simple, but every time you read it you get something extra from it.
Joe the Barbarian is a must have for any comic book reader. I highly recommend it.

Publisher: Vertigo
Year: 2011
Pages: 224
Authors: Grant Morrison, Sean Murphy


  1. What can I say? I love metaphysical elements!
    I definitely agree with you about the art. Sean Murphy is beyond awesome in this miniseries. When Joe the Barbarian came out I had never seen Murphy's art but I became a huge fan.

    A must have. Definitely.

    1. I told you before, I think this is just up your alley.
      The art is awesome and the writing, being Morrison and all, has all the twisted elements you enjoy but maintains a approachable quality that lets us mere mortal enjoy this.

      5 star book indeed.