Joe the Barbarian #3 feels like the third issue/part/whatever of nearly every Morrison book since All-Star Superman (or really, We3 or something, real talk: When's the last time you thought about or returned to All-Star Superman?), which means it starts to feel half-assed and rickety and a little nonsensical. Namely, Morrison sucks all the emotion out of a story that more than anything, has a lot of emotion and just leaves the meta high-concept conceit and a bunch of genre signifiers. My guess is a lot of other people will consider this the best issue of Joe.
Issue #2 raised the stakes by lowering them: Jagged shifts back to Joe's house made the intense, not-Joe's house scenes of war that much more alarming. In issue #3, the shifts back to "reality" just feel kinda perfunctory and the actual narrative just rolls out explaining a lot, and setting up some big stuff for later issues and nothing more. It's jam-packed with set-ups and exposition like the first issue, but you totally know it. It doesn't yield its own rarefied awards. You can hear the gears turning and the result is a big "meh" feeling. When something approaching an explanation for the whole "Joe's some kind of savior" is revealed with a very cool, single-page, world-less panel and it's just whatever, something is wrong.
And because the issue's not very good, some of the weirder stuff from the previous two issues feels just confusing instead of willfully odd or challenging. A couple of times in #2, Morrison did these really jarring compressions of time. It trimmed the fat and it added a level of like "you're getting a weird fractured version of reality here, stuff's a little off or out of order" to the whole thing. Here, it feels just lazy and pragmatic. The really limp undersea monster chase just kinda farts out--and artist Sean Murphy's trying really hard to sell the action with his art--and then the Pirate dude lets out a "Ya harrr!" and there's a big, beautiful single-page panel of a town. Some time's conflated there, not much, but we go from the sighting of the town to the submarine fully docked. It comes off as "clever" or capital-I interesting because it doesn't seem tied to any kind of meaning and it lacks the intended punch.
Or the just plain "huh?" transition from the dinner/food fight with the fat kid (again, whatever, none of this is interesting) to Joe and Chakk on a cool-looking mountain, Chakk building a memorial for his dead comrades. That scene works on its own as does the impending dread and awesomely Doom Patrol-like of the scene with this weird dudes watching Joe on a screen, but none of it comes together. #3 isn't a terrible issue or a bad comic, and it's not even disappointing enough to write the series off or nothing, it's just kinda whatever...which may be worse than it just turning to shit. Mediocre Morrison--who needs that?