Posted on 27 February 2010.
Book: Joe The Barbarian #2
Author: Grant Morrison
Art: Sean Murphy
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Todd Klein
Cover: Sean Murphy
Verdict: Even better than Issue 1; be sure to grab this
Let me tell you this, right off from the start: this one’s even better than the last one.
Last month, we found Joe, diabetic kid with a room full of toys, suddenly confronted by those very same toys — army men, superheroes, transformers — on the last page. Joe’s life had gotten VERY strange.
Issue two picks up right where the last one left off. A bald man with a crutch, ranting about scriptures and prophecies pronounces Joe to be “The Stranger On The Road To The Edge of Endless Night,” as well as “The Dying Boy.” Handing Joe a ray gun and holster right out of a 30s pulp serial, the man, dressed in a Jean Luc Picard-style jacket and outfit, missing a leg (as many action figures are wont to do), kneels to Joe and tells him the fate of the land he finds himself in.
But is this really where Joe is? With stunning hallucinatory switches in perspective, Morrison and Murphy show us the world from our young protagonist’s perspective as well as from what we might consider “reality.” Namely, Joe is in what appears to be a diabetic fugue state, in which the toys in his attic room are larger than life-size, in a land he can walk along through. The scenery is vast, detailed and suggestive. The colors are stark, cool, and hot at varying times, supporting the heightened intensity of mood in each particular scene.
Joe stumbles his way further into the urban scene of his room, noticing a lone warrior rat samurai figure in a cage. Joe calls him Jack, the name of his pet rat back in the “realtime.” Jack asks for release from his imprisonment, just seconds before the ghostly mist-wraith-esque enemies (Ulrik’s Deathcoats, we learn later) approach, making the high pitched SKRIIII sound they obviously have to. Jack rescues Joe from their foul attack, then puts Jo on his shoulder, rushing away from the terrifying enemies as fast as his rat body can carry them. Opposite each section is a panel that shows Joe’s “real” life: opening his rat’s cage, putting the rat on his own shoulder, falling through the trapdoor, rather than into the meadow in his fantasy.
Halfway through the book, a giant orange burning face appears and spouts prophetic and dire prose. This is Lord Arc, a powerful spirit looking to restore his throne of light. This interesting vision within a vision is unsettling at best, as it will take a read through or two to truly understand who or what Lord Arc is. Coming to, Joe is helped to his feet by warrior Jack (Chakk, he corrects), who is on his way, saying, “Anyway, thanks for getting me out of that cage back there. Good luck with your visions.”
Joe pleads with Chakk to stay, and shows him the ray gun from the first scene. Chakk takes pity on the boy with the pathetic weapon of light and sound and promises to help him get to safety with King Draka and his Pirates before leaving Joe to go his own way. In the real world, Joe is in the bathroom, vomiting into the toilet and resting on the bathtub. The book ends with the great warrior Chakk gearing up for battle wiht the wriaths, who have begun to swirl about in earnest.
Throughout the book, Joe keeps reality-testing, telling his new found friend about a need for glucose, praying for a soda, repeating to himself that none of this is real. Wondering when his mom will come home. It’s a bleak picture of a young man in physical need, enriched and heightened with a visual splendor of the fantasy world he’s fallen into. We come to empathize with this boy, to hope only the best for him, all the while realizing, foreshadowing or not, that the journey will not end with Joe unscathed.