Comics

Joe the Barbarian #1

Grant Morrison tells the psychologically rich tale of an inner imaginative life in its death throes as protagonist Joe matures away from childhood.


Publisher: DC Vertigo
Publication: 2010-02
Contributors: Sean Murphy (artist)
Comics: Joe the Barbarian #1
Price: $1.00
Writer: Grant Morrison
Length: 22 pages

Joe the Barbarian, the psychologically engaging limited series written by Grant Morrison with art by Sean Murphy, is a tale of fractured geographies. This magical realist tale of a boy confronting the destruction of his Playtown, is littered with the exchange of locations both 'real' and 'imagined' in the fictional work presented to readers. For early teen protagonist Joe, each location bleeds into the next. Playtown itself becomes as substantial and fully fleshed-out a series of locations as Joe's 'reality' of home, family and school. But Morrison and Murphy to do not offer up a congenial transition from one world to the next, as with J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series or C. S. Lewis' Narnia books. For Joe, both his homeworld and Playtown are geographies in a state of severe rupture. Joe's two worlds are about to be destroyed, rejuvenated, reconstituted, merged, unveiled. Nothing is safe and wonder is everywhere. Joe the Barbarian plays out in a psychological time period before Columbine, before roles have properly been determined and teens become actors on a stage of sadly foreseeable consequences.

Murphy writes in "On the Ledge", the weekly Vertigo editorial, about his personal sense of immersion in Joe's world, and his wanting to add '70s and '80s accents (accents from Murphy's own childhood) into the visual mix. Murphy writes: 'A fantasy that's Lord of the Rings meets Home Alone. My favorite part of the first issue is the interior of Joe's house: dated '70s furniture, faux wood paneling on the walls, and shag carpeting. Instead of modern toys like a PS3 and Xbox, Joe owns an Atari and a Nintendo. All his toys are classic '80s action figures that each one of us grew up with. There's even an electric train circling his bedroom'.

As a visual storyteller, Murphy recognizes the core of Joe the Barbarian: its ability to convey psychology through setting. Joe the Barbarian is of the same genre as the classic 'haunted house' mystery. What is interesting about the characters themselves is their guarded, jaded, poignant responses to their environment. Will Joe balk at having to confront his own Playtown's destruction? Will he willingly take up the challenge in defending it? Or join in an adult life and simply destroy his childhood world?

Morrison's characterization is a clear and uncompromising grappling with an issue that hits at the heart of the modern comics market -- the role and value of an imaginative inner life in the transition from childhood to adulthood. 'Of what practical use can a Playtown be?', Morrison seems to ask. The question is perhaps no different than what the role of comics purchases should be in an adult life.

Like comics aficionados, Morrison argues passionately for the innate value of an imaginative life. In an almost throwaway comment early in the issue, Joe recognizes both his bullies, and himself as stereotypes. 'They're just jealous and insecure', a friendly character says of Joe's bullies. To which Joe retorts, 'More like predictable. Every town has them, every school has them. Stereotypes. What do I look like?'.

Morrison's incredible skill as storyteller (Murphy's use, in "On the Ledge" of the epithet 'master' when discussing Morrison is truly well-deserved), becomes abundantly clear with his ability to connect Joe's worlds. Joe's incisive nature comes from his approach to shaping the world of Playtown. Joe's toys do not take the form of a preparation for adult life (dolls and Easy Bake ovens for girls who become mothers, toy soldiers and medical kits for boys who become soldiers and doctors, as Roland Barthes argues in his book Mythologies), instead they play a far more positive role. In Joe's inner world, his toys become the tools of storytelling. Moreover Joe himself becomes a demiurge, continually tapping a creative spirit that becomes central to his psychological development.

Priced at just $1.00, DC Vertigo taps into that creativity that stems from easy access to psychological complexity. The joy and the danger of childhood, resurrected by an elegant marketing strategy. Joe the Barbarian comes with an incredibly high recommendation, and equally high expectations of the seven issues remaining in the series. This is a book that deserves to be read.

9

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image