Grant Morrison & Sean Murphy Joe the Barbarian (2011)
Joe the Barbarian is in essence Grant Morrison's rewrite of Harold and the Purple Crayon - the tale of a diabetic teenage boy experiencing hallucinatory adventures whilst suffering a hypoglycemic episode, an epic fantasy adventure spread across the realm of his own distorted home populated by legions of warriors that were once action figures. It's pretty much your standard Neil Gaiman or Tim Burton fare, and so obviously in the real world our boy is bullied, artistically talented, lacking a father, and about to become homeless; and thus the mystic quest for the soda which will pull Joe back from the diabetic brink leads to a letter inexplicably hidden in the frame of an old photograph by which the deceased dad bequeaths the house to Joe and his mother. It's nice enough, and if you're into this sort of thing I'm sure it will fill you with joy, but...
I don't know.
I just don't know.
It seems unfortunate that I should read Joe the Barbarian immediately after Ubik which similarly occurs in an illusory realm brought on by the approach of death. Ubik is a very difficult act to follow, particularly with the genre into which this roughly settles. Sword and sorcery so often does just the one basic thing - which is what it does here - so it rarely feels as though any of it matters, or that actions have consequences, particularly as we are informed from the start that none of this is happening, and the narrative amounts to whether or not Joe manages to get his bottle of fizzy pop.
I mean, it's decent of its type, and there are some nice lines, and the art is fucking gorgeous throughout, but I can't help feel that Morrison has scored an own goal here. It's a fine if not terribly original premise for a story, although the genuine drama of the real world events seem almost reduced to an angle by which the Duncan Goodhew of Magick justifies yet another load of nebulous guff about heroes and archetypes. In fact, in places it all felt so bolted on as to bring to mind The Origin of Young Dan Pussey in which Dan Clowes' character is shown to be entirely unable to function or even communicate unless caped heroes are involved:
Why this story could only be told as emo Harry Potter I have no idea, and characters knowingly pointing out the cliché of their being engaged on a mystic quest does not in itself render said enterprise any less painful. Joe the Barbarian is fine, but it should have been better.