In sharp contrast to the leisurely paced, deceptively simple first issue of Joe the Barbarian, #2 is an extended action sequence--like if you remade that brilliant single-take war scene from Children of Men with your He-Man toys. The only thing that breaks the on-the-fly chaos of the issue are quick shifts back into "real-life", where it's just Joe and his pet rat Jack, and not, Joe, a confused prophet, and Chakk, a hard-ass samurai rat, racing through a war-torn sci-fi fantasy landscape.
If it weren't for these tumbles back-to-"reality", the second issue of Joe would almost feel like a different comic book...like some weird, never-completed series, post-TMNT/B & W comics boom, in which a bunch of stuff is jammed together, made kinda dystopian, and cartoony and weird. That's a good thing though and really, the brief returns back to real-life, though they take you out of the action, ratchet up the level of intensity and remind you that something's at stake. Namely, Joe's weird hallucinations are brought on by his lack of insulin.
And so, the emotions of this issue are closely tied to touchable things: Joe's fantasy-world sense of "What the hell is going on, here?" and real-world worry of "When's my mom get home from work, I might be dying." This is Morrison taking full advantage of the two-worlds conceit of the comic. A trick in a lot of action movies are these quick ways to make the big, epic violence feel personal, so a character will hit his shin or step on something amongst explosions and gunfire--this is what say, Die Hard or even, Home Alone, perhaps a perfect filmic counterpart to Joe is all about. What Morrison does is just have this like other thing going on, that's very real, not banal but everyday, and runs it alongside the action.There's a real sense of dread to the (purposefully) rote but still very awesome fantasy-action story.
At the same time, Morrison, with the help of Sean Murphy's just amazing artwork, injects the story with a bigger-than-our-world feeling of apocalypse. That double-page spread on pages four and five is like Playmobil Bosch or something. Night & Fog meets Pink Floyd's The Wall. A lego man running away in terror. Everything on fire. A TV showing endless images of cross-shaped graves. And most horrifying: a clothesline of hanged samurai rats. Like his whole run on Doom Patrol or, the parts of Final Crisis and "Batman R.I.P" that didn't make sense but at least felt right, this is Morrison doing sick-to-the-stomach, end-of-the-world stuff like nobody else.
The raised stakes put a clever spin on the simple story of outcast kid gets lost in his dreamworld because the dreamworld is not only a nightmare, but one in which Joe has (for the time being at least) no control over. Though the issue starts with the standard outsider/prophecy-fulfilled jazz, it helps that Captain Picard is the one doing the talking, and that Joe just kinda wanders away from it because he's half in the real-world and just trying to get to the bathroom in his mom's house. Once he meets up with Chakk, he's an annoying tag-along--none of the tenderness he has for Jack in the real-world translates over to Chakk in the fantasy world. There's no wish fulfillment in Joe the Barbarian, just two parallel worlds that are both sort of terrifying.