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Joe The Barbarian s/c

Joe The Barbarian s/c

Joe The Barbarian s/c back

Grant Morrison & Sean Murphy


Page 45 Review by Stephen

"You heard all that, right? Make sure you eat your candy."
"Wish me luck. And say hi to your father for me. If it wasn't for him, none of this would be happening."

In the Veteran's Cemetery, where his father lies buried:

"Hey, Dad. You suck."

Joe's Mum is on her way to see if they can somehow keep the house. Joe is drawing in his sketchbook. The Veteran's Cemetery is the location of the school field trip, and the double-page spread from Sean Murphy – with its senescent, desiccated leaves swept across the stormy sky, over the regimented rows of simple white crosses between the white Palladian monuments – will have you tucking your scarf back in. I love what he does in several scenic panels with the autumn trees themselves, the leaves all jagged and crinkled and brittle.

Sean Murphy (HELLBLAZER: CITY OF DEMONS) was a revelation. I’ve compared him to Chris Bachalo circa mid-SHADE or DEATH: THE HIGH COST OF LIVING, but here he proves to be entirely his own man when Morrison grants him as much space as he could want to delineate in uncluttered detail Joe's well-appointed attic bedroom reached through a rope ladder, then the deluge outside, and those tell-tale beads of sweat on the sleepy boy who emphatically didn't eat his candy. What follows is a delirium which anyone who's woken to a disconcerting semi-consciousness will be able to relate to; when you're not sure how much you dreamed is your current condition. Is Jack shifting between reality and a dimension populated by his toys made animate? Or is it just his hypoglycaemia kicking in?

Sean Murphy switches effortlessly between young Joe's flight from danger in his fevered imagination, and his real plight alone at home as he stumbles from his attic bedroom in order to find the fridge, to find something, anything with glucose in it. It’s deliberately, excruciatingly slow: by the end of the second chapter he's only made it as far as the bathroom. On his back is the white mouse he let out of its cage; in his less lucid moments it's a battle-clad, anthropomorphic warrior he's freed from his dangling prison and who's engaged in a war between Joe's toys made animate. Anyway, he’s running his head under a bath tap. The bath is filling up, and it's having a knock-on effect on the battle within…

Dave Stewart brings bright dashes of colour to Murphy's beautiful silver birches. The fantasy landscapes are dotted with the white crosses from the real-world cemetery, and if you look closely at the buildings, they're made out of Lego bricks! Also, half the fun is spotting exactly which toys are being referenced and I did laugh when he received a Star Trek phaser (possibly a centimetre in real-life length) for protection. The final few pages are beltingly well orchestrated, the worlds merging on the page for one final moment of pure serendipity.

There are scripts in the back, sketchpad ideas, character designs, and Sean Murphy takes you on a guided tour of the house, what he designed, how he drew it and why. For me, the architecture itself was the star of the show and well worth the price of admission; for any aspiring artist those notes are golden.
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