Joe the Barbarian by Grant Morrison & Sean Murphy

Joe the Barbarian
by Grant Morrison & Sean Murphy
Vertigo, 2011

Clever, but overly calculated. Bright 13-year-old Joe’s father has died fighting in Iraq, and he and his mother face eviction unless they can promptly locate the deeds to the family house. After another dreadful school day bullied by jocks, Joe retreats to his attic bedroom and has a hypoglycemic fit, finding himself in an enchanted kingdom where the geography and characters are loosely related to the contents of his house – his rat Jack has become a mighty warrior, an overflowing bath becomes a waterfall.

He is assigned a quest – to descend into the underworld of Hypogea, battle King Death and restore the throne of light – or, in other words, get down to the basement and fix the fuses, and find a soda so he doesn’t fall into a diabetic coma. He knows it’s all a hallucination, but realizes the only way to survive is to play along with the analogies. The quest is long and extremely detailed, with a baffling array of new characters appearing every few pages (like Game of Thrones with teddy bears and rayguns), and lots of set pieces, explosions and life-lessons learnt. Because it’s a Vertigo title, there’s also amusing cameos from Batman and Superman.

It’s all very rich and imaginative, but nothing new if you’ve read or watched The Neverending Story or Time Bandits, and despite the imaginative setup, the story arc is so predictable and the ending so heart-warming that it’s obvious it’s going to be turned into a film.

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