Friday, March 19, 2010

I don't care if you say you don't read comic books you should read THIS

Joe the Barbarian is an eight issue mini-series from Grant Morrison and it is, in a word, awesome.

A couple of things about Grant Morrison... one is that he's Scottish, so occasionally there is a little British slang that creeps into his dialogue. Don't panic, it's only a little bit and you won't even notice if you don't get it.

Second, Morrison is quite possibly bat-guano crazy. And it's a GOOD thing. Trust me.

But for now... Joe the Barbarian....

Joe is just a little kid and like a lot of kids he's stuck dealing with a lot of familiar stuff -- like bullies and a lack of fitting in. He's also dealing with the fact that his workaholic mother is planning on selling their house and moving... something Joe does not want to do. There's the fact that his soldier-father is dead and on top of everything else Joe is diabetic and really has to watch his blood sugar.

Then an otherwise ordinary day turns into something extraordinary for Joe. Forgetting to watch his blood sugar, Joe goes into shock and starts to hallucinate just about the time a big thunderstorm breaks. Joe, alone in the house, must make his way to the kitchen to find something with sugar in it to restore his system or else thing will go very badly for him. In his present state, though, what would be a short trip of only a minute or so now becomes an epic battle... figuratively and literally...

You see, Joe's hallucinations warp familiar aspects of the real world into this strange, fantastic place -- a kingdom under seige with himself appearing to be a prophesied savior called "The Dying Boy". Joined on his epic quest by Chakk the warrior rat, Smoot the giant Dwarf, and more to come, Joe fights to keep his head on straight because, this is still all a hallucination.... or is it?

One of the great things about Grant Morrison's writing is that a 'happy ending' is not always guaranteed. Usually, the killing of little kids in comic books is something of a taboo so, automatically readers might assume Joe's life is not really in any doubt. But Morrison tends to play by his own rules and that allows readers to buy into the narrative tension. Like I said, a 'happy ending' is not a guarantee here and, even should Joe end up 'living' there is no assurance it will be 'life' as we tend to think of it, or that he will not come away from this experience as the same person he was when he entered.

Most of all, between the art and the writing we are treated to a clever and inventive new world that springboards off the familiar and turns it into something completely alien. For example, the house's hallway becomes the Forest City of Yalway in Joe's imaginative world. Joe's pet rat Jack becomes the giant warrior rat Chakk, and more.

The story is compelling, the characters are fun and inventive -- deliberately playing on traditional quest motifs and characters -- and Morrison proves that he can craft this deeply involved story which, ultimately, takes place within the physical confines of one suburban house and at the same time within the limitless space of the human imagination... and shows that both can become alien places when things go just a little bit askew.

So go, trust me, seek out this comic -- the third issue just came out this past Wednesday, it's not too late to get caught up and enter the world of Joe... the barbarian.

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