Book: Joe The Barbarian #1
Author: Grant Morrison
Art: Sean Murphy
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Todd Klein
Cover: Sean Murphy
Verdict: Worth every cent; storytelling with depth
I’ve been a fan of Grant Morrison since The Invisibles. I bought the entire run of 52 in trade paperback due to his being on the title. Sadly it wasn’t enough to save that series from a big fat “meh.” I’ve been a fan of Vertigo since way the hell back when Neil Gaiman wrote the Books of Magic series, through the Hellblazer by Ennis, and then Ennis’ Preacher series.
So it was with great joy I read that Morrison was writing an 8 issue miniseries called Joe The Barbarian, about a young man who, well, I didn’t know who. Which is part of the joy.
So, for a dollar, I grabbed this book at the shop today, to check it out. The pdf preview up at Vertigo had intrigued me, especially with Sean Murphy’s On The Ledge column about how he had furnished this kid’s room with retro cool stuff like Atari, even though it’s set in the modern world. And, being a fan of MR. Morrison, I figured it would be a wham-bam crazy-fest bursting out of the front cover like a lost psillocybin weekend.
Fascinatingly, this first issue is a slow burn full of set up and what I can only assume to be foreshadowing and visual hints at the story to come. The big comics-style Morrison wackiness happens late in the book, and is similarly paced at what I can only describe as a stretched out speed. The book begins with a glimpse into Joe Manson’s life: he draws comic-book looking robots, he’s a nerd being bullied by the jocks at school; the stereotypical surprisingly good looking girl who sees through her social conditioning is interested in him. His mom is really busy at work, but loves him, reminding him to eat his candy bar — which is then stolen from him by the aforementioned jocks, possibly setting up the story of hypoglycemic Joe, I figure. We learn, indirectly and gently, that Joe’s dad is dead and buried at the VA cemetery. We learn that they’re having to move out of the house they’re in now, and that Joe’s pretty bummed out.
There’s a back and forth between reality and not-reality that I found to be extremely compelling. I felt that there was a kinship with some of the better Philip K. Dick short stories, though it’s more me as reader that has to figure out what’s going on, as well as the character of Joe himself. Not knowing what’s happening definitely brings another level of depth to the read-through: every image and background detail could mean something tremendous.
This is some brilliantly drawn and colored art. The muted tones of the coloring job, along with the crunchy, sketchy look of the pencils and inks, really bring a tone of sadness to the whole book. Honestly, I get the sense of the whole team working at the top of their game – art and words working together as a whole to tell the story. I might even feel comfortable in using the word, “immersive,” for this book. Time and future issues will tell, of course, and we’ll be bringing you the reviews as the books are released right here on Comics Are Evil.