Stephanie's Reviews > Joe the Barbarian

Joe the Barbarian by Grant Morrison
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's review
Jan 23, 12

bookshelves: fantasy, graphic-novels-and-comics, teen-ya
Read in January, 2012

(Review taken from personal blog at

Joe the Barbarian crosses children’s playtime with an epic fantasy of adult peril and consequences. When the boy Joe Mansion forgets his daily intake of glucose, his empty house becomes a gateway to a rabbit-hole realm that puts Wonderland to shame. His pet rat fights as a warrior, and each hypoglycemic step he takes in his house converts to miles in the land of Hypogea. As his imagination takes hold, casting him into a kingdom fraught with war and toy armies, one threat remains consistent in either reality: death.

Death himself shakes the foundations of Hearth Castle and the regions beyond, and Joe grows weaker as he stumbles downstairs and into the kitchen—an effort that stretches across the entire book’s length, as every staircase, room, and hallway brings new enemies and challenges. His quest for soda—a necessity that gains comedic effect as the comic goes on—leads him through the bloodied fields and towns of Hypogea, to cliffs on high and sewers down low. Each change in his house reflects back into the otherworld (eg., letting the bathwater run and overflow creates a waterfall in his hallucination), and as a perfect parallel to life, he makes new friends and learns to stand as tall as a giant. Grant Morrison bridges these two worlds with a lot of storytelling depth—each mountain and forest is aptly named, each person and legend translatable to Joe’s home dimension—and Sean Murphy builds it from the bottom up with awe and color and breathless wonder.

In one adventure, Joe must grow up—he’s the Dying Boy, fabled defeater of Death. But to save the kingdom means inching closer to his own mortality. The only thing more beautiful than the intricate, believable story is its ending: Readers watch as Joe matures from page to page, but it’s the last moments of the book that really cement his growth and identity. Joe the Barbarian not only comes full circle in small measurements; it comes full circle in a final, big way—the most important one of all for Joe and his widowed mother.
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