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
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Music

The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.

Music

'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.

Music

​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.

Music

Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.

Music

Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.

Music

Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.

Music

Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.

Music

Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.