Joe the Barbarian #1

Because a certain unfortunate review that I'm not even going to link has cast a big, lunkheaded shadow over Joe the Barbarian, any review since then, is going to be something of a defense for the comic.

This one won't be any different, however, it's important to note that the comic totally doesn't need to be defended. None of the accusations thrown against it really stick. Namely, the sense that it's written for the trade--is just well, bullshit. If this were a one-shot, it'd be perfect. Like the Morrison/Quitely Weird War Tales story from a bunch of years ago. A weird, deceptively simple, even careless story that opens wide and flips your shit at the end. The reason twist ending were invented.

But this isn't the only issue of Joe the Barbarian and as a first issue, it does everything it needs to do and much more. The problem with first issues, even good ones, even classic ones--especially the classic ones in a way--is that you can just sorta feel the gears turning.

You never feel the gears turning in Joe, even though they most certainly are. By the end of page three, you know that Joe's dad died in the Iraq War and that his Mom is having financial trouble. You're then treated to a deeply moving, very telling two-page spread of Joe at the cemetery where his dad's buried.

The next three pages link Joe's home life to Joe's life at school, which also sucks. It's presented as expected--though the use of "homo" as an insult is funny, and non-PC and very real--but you know, this coupled with just finding out that Joe's dad is dead adds some emotional weight to it all. As does a really touching, panel of a girl on the bus sending out a sympathetic eye Joe's way. It wouldn't surprise me if she factors into the story significantly later, but for now, it's the kind of gossamer, matters and doesn't, dash of sympathy that makes school suck less and suck more--it'd be easier to deal with if you just felt like everybody was against you. Same kind of buzzing, punky, but emotional sense that Morrison's Kill Your Boyfriend's got.

We then enter the apparently controversial sequences of images of Joe's walk home. Now, like the sympathetic girl, it's possible, no, it's more than likely, that these images all have an importance to be revealed later--as in, they'll be paralleled in Joe's make-believe world--but they work as just a stretched-out presentation of Joe's walk home. This isn't bad writing, this is great writing because the images are operating on at least, three levels.

The first, they just look wonderful. Sean Murphy's art is just beautiful and warm and just really moving. It's sensitive. Second, there's the "these'll be important later" factor, but that's not something I can speak on yet.

Third, and most importantly for now--they put you in Joe's head. The longest part of his day is this walk home because it's this crappy, rote, time between school (which sucks) and home (which sucks but can kinda rule). I can recall being Joe's age and as every bullshit part of my school day rattled around in my head, I'd feel like the walk from the bus to home was endless. Every house, mailbox, turn in the road could was palpable. I think that's what Murphy and Morrison are doing here. That it'll end up being a big plot point is like, an added bonus.

And then there's the final bunch of pages, where the plot or the conceit of the series kicks in. It's a cool one alright, a tried and true one--a kid escapes into a fantasy world and maybe it's not a fantasy world--but it too, is wrapped in something immediate and rarefied: Joe's toys. Especially this thing that's true of every person's childhood, but rarely makes it into media presenting childhood. The way that you know, your G.I Joes become say, the Joker's goons when you're playing Batman or that sometimes, your toys all just become some sort of other world, disconnected from their respective TV tie-ins and whatever else and you're just all inside your head.

You can read the first issue of Joe the Barbarian in five minutes or so. Probably less. But that doesn't mean it's slight or undercooked, just that it's the sort of pitch-perfect in every way comic that you don't even really read, but just sorta absorb by osmosis; a mix of archetypes, formalist plotting, and weird sideways memories from childhood, mixed around in twenty-something pages...for a buck. What's there to complain about?


samuel rules said...

it's a bummer that some people aren't "getting" this comic. they're so ready to jump at anything morrison does that the second it's not extremely straight forward, they scream "OH FUCK HERE HE GOES AGAIN".

i was basically this kid though, school sucked so i went home and got caught up in toys and video games and comics. all of my friends were this kid, because when you're fucking young and don't have a dad or some shit and people are mean to you at school you're just like "fuck it, i'm going to go home and listen to the misfits and play with my fucking ninja turtles, AND these dollar store wrestlers."

brandon said...

Is there more than just that one douchebag talking shit on the series? Additionally, most of Morrison's shit is straight-forward and simple and so, this is hardly unprecedented. It's this sorta blog backlash that happens randomly when critics pretend to be discerning.

samuel rules said...

its not that people are particularly talking shit on it, but people are acting as if it's something that's hard to understand. i never imagined it as something where dude is actually going to this other place, although i could be wrong in the end, we're talking about one issue.

people complain about things being written for the trade but it's like everyone is programmed to only enjoy the issue in connection with the whole sotry, not each episode of the larger picture. perfect comics are written so that each issue is fun to read on it's own, and as a whole, like frankencastle or those first madman issues.

Brandon Graham said...

I think it's interesting that the bad review sparked people talking about what they want out of an issue.

Personnaly I think the first issue is a pretty bad read.
Maybe my problem is more with the format than the creators--
It's really not dense enough for me.

A friend of mine who bought the book has renamed it Joe the coaster.