I picked up the first issue of Joe the Barbarian, Grant Morrison’s latest series from Vertigo Comics this week. The story follows Joe, a diabetic teenager, who in the midst of a seizure has a hallucinatory adventure through his house.
In the first establishing issue we follow Joe as he makes his way home from a school trip to a veteran’s memorial, catches a bus, gets home, moves through the house, climbs a set of stairs and climbs a ladder to his teenage wet-dream of an attic bedroom. Beautifully illustrated by Sean Murphy, it is a slice of life sequence right up until the last few pages where, having neglected to take his insulin, he begins hallucinating, the room warping around him and is greeted by his toys brought to life seemingly battle weary refugees from some war in the distance.
Where I think it becomes interesting is that the next seven issues of the eight issue series will document parallel journeys through the house. One where we follow Joe descending through the house from the attic to the basement (where I am assuming his medication is?) and the other where he follows a a Narnian/Wizard of Oz like adventure populated by his toys and the contents of the house.
The domestic as landscape for epic adventure.
The idea that there will be timelines operating simultaneously in one space; the long drawn out battle to save a fantasy world, and the short trip from one end of the house to the other, is intriguing and I look forward to watching it play out. It reminds me a little of the haunted house tale The House of Leaves, where the internal measurements of rooms don’t quite add up and the basement leads into an infinite darkness. Morrison describes this transformation of familiar ground to arduous terrain:
So like I said, it’s really quite grounded, because it’s all about this journey down from the attic to the basement of the house. And I think we can all relate to that, because man of us will have had those moments when we were sick or feverish and had to venture down to the kitchen to get something that would make us better. And we all know how difficult it can be to cross familiar ground if you’re weak or injured or delirious. The terrain of an ordinary home can easily become larger than life and apocalyptically meaningful.
In any case, being Grant Morrison—and Grant Morrison in Flex Mentallo mode at that—I am fairly certain that there will be intricacies to the tale that will play out as the series progresses (for instance, Morrison has indicated that the landing where Joe leaves his satchel will be of importance later in the series) so we will check back in at the conclusion of the series to see if it lives up to its promise.