Review: Joe the Barbarian #1

Grant Morrison’s newest Vertigo title, Joe the Barbarian, opens with one of the most relaxed first issues I’ve seen from notoriously energetic creator.  Joe Manson is a diabetic kid, an outcast in his class, being raised by a single mother and on the verge of losing their house after his father died in a war.  After an incident with some bullies deprives him of his candy, Joe returns home, low on blood sugar, and that’s when things get weird.  The first three quarters of the issue, in fact, play almost like a low-key domestic drama, but the narrative and visual detail they give fits together so well it’s easy to get sucked in.

Sean Murphy, whose work I’ve never read, proved to be the issue’s star.  With Morrison playing it so low-key for the opening issue, it was up to Murphy to construct a compelling, if mundane, world around Joe.  And from the Joe’s jacket to his lovely bedroom in the attic, from Joe’s sullen expression in the book’s opening pages to his confused, frightened one as it closes, Murphy nails it all.  I’m definitely excited to see Murphy handle the more action-oriented future issues, but he’s proven himself here to be capable of compelling, coherent design work.

Joe the Barbarian #1 is all set-up.  It’s extremely good set-up, of course – Morrison makes a solid, frightening transition from reality to fantasy, wonderfully illustrated by Murphy – but the fact is, very little actually happens.  Still, as ever, Vertigo is a line with a well-deserved reputation for quality, Morrison is a creator with a well-deserved reputation for creativity, and the opening issue only costs a dollar.  The book’s low-key beginning may mean some will appreciate it more once it is collected and some won’t appreciate it at all, but it is absolutely worth a shot.

Grade: B+

– Cal Cleary


2 thoughts on “Review: Joe the Barbarian #1

  1. Pingback: Review: Joe the Barbarian #2 « read/RANT!

  2. Pingback: Review: Joe the Barbarian #3 « read/RANT!

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