Friday, February 19, 2010

Chronic Review: Joe the Barbarian # 2

Joe the Barbarian # 2
DC Comics - Vertigo

Script: Grant Morrison

Pencils: Sean Murphy

Once upon a time Sam Raimi used to direct really quirky, fantastic horror films starring the quirky, fantastic Bruce Campbell. And then Mr. Raimi got offered a dream job: Spider-Man. Big budgets, big stars, glory, fame, and all of that rot. He would have been a fool to turn that down, and of course he did not. We can debate how successful those films were artistically, (I say Spider-Man 2 is one of the best films, not just comic book films, but best films I've ever seen) but economically and professionally, Raimi undeniably found himself in a whole new stratosphere.

And somewhere beneath that glitz and interference and strife and pressure, there still yet lay the heart of a quirky horror director. And after Spider-Man 3, Raimi said "You know what? Fuck it. I'm making a movie for ME, just because I can. No mega stars, no mega budget, just me and a camera doing what I WANT for a change." And so was born the creature known as "Drag me to Hell."

Some of you are now wondering what the hell this has to do with Joe the Barbarian. Well, only everything. Grant Morrison is an artist born who has excelled at telling quirky meta-textual tales starring D-List characters. For whatever reason, Morrison has spent the past couple of years taking on some prime time territory with the Batman book, and then went blockbuster mega-event with Final Crisis.

And we can debate the artistic merits of those books, but there is no denying that Morrison was tackling the biggest properties DC had to offer, on the biggest stage they could provide. That's a lot of pressure, and there was a lot of editorial nonsense and interference to navigate there.

And I don't have any great insight into the mind of Grant Morrison. But I think it's reasonable to suggest that maybe after stretching into that stratosphere, Morrison thought to himself: "Fuck it. I'm going to write some comics for ME, just because I can."

And that's why Joe the Barbarian comes as no surprise to me. It's a quirky, world-bending, "what's reality and what's fantasy and where does one end and the other begin?" kind of tale, using unknown characters outside of regular DC continuity. I see this as a "comfort" book for Morrison, a chance to curl up with everything he loves again with no pressure to push the DC Universe forward or challenge Marvel's market dominance.

Near as I can tell, the situation is thus: Joe is a young boy with diabetes, and he's having some blood sugar problems. His symptoms are presenting unusually though; he keeps zipping in and out of a fantasy world, albeit one that incorporates pieces of the "real" world.

His ordinary mouse Jack becomes a reluctant guide and fierce warrior named Chakk in the hypo-glycemic world. Action figures on the floor become defeated warriors, defeated by some nameless threat that reminds one probably too much of the "Nothing" from Neverending Story as you read it. One of them also reminds one of King Mob, which is to say Grant Morrison. And that sounds familiar, too.

There's some frivolity and action, again all too familiar. In fact, Morrison seems to poke fun at his own use of cliche in a speech by Lord Arc:

It's as if Morrison recognizes that much of this story is simply going through some well-tread motions, and he finds it too amusing to stop himself, but would rather point the finger at himself and laugh.

There are some enjoyable moments to be had, including this bit with the gun given to Joe by the King Mob/Morrison analog:

If I'm right about the connection, this is tantamount to Morrison making fun of the tools he's given his own poor creation to work with. And that sounds like a Morrison joke to me. Kinda fun, but ultimately who is this book for- the reader or the author?

I suppose that if you've never experienced anything self-referential, never read a Morrison comic, or god forbid never watched the Neverending Story (shame on you if that's the case) this will all read as fresh and fun, albeit slightly confusing. But since I have experienced all those things, this reads as Grant Morrison's post-Crisis therapy writing, and I'm not sure I want to spend good money on that. I'll wait for the next train and see what pops out of his brain when his mental palate is clear again!

- Ryan

No comments: