Review: Joe the Barbarian #2

If Joe the Barbarian‘s first issue started a bit slow, its second makes up for it and then some.  As Joe ventures even deeper into the bizarre fantasy-land in his head, he teams up with Jack, his pet rat/master swordsman to defy an evil empire hellbent on destruction.  The issue has a couple killer action segments, gorgeous scenery and bizarre, epic world-building like only Grant Morrison can do.  There is an undeniably tragic undercurrent, though – after all, the book appears to be about a young man mythologizing his own rapid, needless death.  I do not know whether Joe will survive or not, but panels like the one where he falls from the attic are almost viscerally painful, and it’s these brief, infrequent reminders from Morrison that give the book it’s quickly-breaking heart.

Murphy continues to turn in extraordinarily impressive work, as does colorist Dave Stewart – an under-appreciated talent, especially notable in gorgeous panels like the first firing of the ray gun – and the pair together make the issue extremely memorable.  The two of them have crafted an extraordinarily lived-in fantasy world.  With Morrison’s script and Murphy and Stewart on art, Joe the Barbarian has already grown into a first-rate adventure, one that perfectly captures the bizarre melancholy and boundless creativity of childhood.

Grade: A

– Cal Cleary

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Joe the Barbarian #1

Review: Superman #689

Superman

I don’t envy James Robinson or Greg Rucka – placed on two of DC’s premier titles, Superman and Action Comics, the titles were stripped of Superman and left with C-listers like The Guardian, Mon-El, Nightwing and Flamebird.  That couldn’t be an easy sell to audiences, and not every change has worked across the board… but Superman #689 continues to maintain the relatively high standard of Robinson’s recent issues.

The bulk of the issue follows Mon-El as he travels around the world.  In it, he meets a wide range of heroes and villains, and we get a page on each of his world-spanning adventure as he teams up with the Rocket Reds to defend Moscow on one page before helping Dr. Light (Kimiyo Hoshi) fight Robo-Octo-Ape in Tokyo.  We meet a dozen or more characters briefly and Robinson leaves plenty of fascinating fodder for future issues while building a character and a history for the slowly-dying Mon-El.

It isn’t hard to imagine a 6 issue or more arc detailing these adventures, especially in today’s writing climate.  But there’s something charming about hearing simple snippets of Mon-El’s adventures.  That’s not to mention how successfully it keeps the story moving along at a brisk pace without reflecting too heavily on Mon-El’s slow death.  We finally find out more about the mysterious man with whom John Henry Irons is speaking, Jim Harper speaks out publicly in Mon-El’s favor, we learn a little more about the alien freed in the last issue, and even more.

All this is accompanied by stellar art from Renato Guedes, whose style is clear and recognizable and oh-so-lovely.  He isn’t a flashy artist, but this issue does a great job of highlighting his talents as he gets to illustrate a ton of new characters in a number of interesting locales.  Guedes is just a great overall fit for this book.

Robinson isn’t trying to rewrite all the rules with Superman.  What he is doing, however, is introducing a bevy of interesting supporting characters in loosely connected situations that seem to be hovering on the edge of explosion.  And I can’t wait for more.  Superman can take his time coming back to Earth.

Grade: A-

– Cal Cleary

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