Joe The Barbarian #1 Leaves Plenty to the Imagination

Sometimes you just can't go wrong with something that's only a buck, saying "Wow, that only cost me a dollar!" Other times you say "I spent a whole dollar on that?!" when the experience proves to be less than impressive. I had a feeling somewhere in the middle of those two extremes after finishing the newest venture from star writer Grant Morrison, the cleverly titled Joe the Barbarian, published under DC Comics' Vertigo imprint. Just like the two ends of the spectrum mentioned above, the first issue branches off into distinct directions as well, with Joe's character and circumstances wonderfully established but with the nature of the book slightly (read a bit) frustratingly vague. Our young (would-be?) hero appears quite content in the first few pages to doodle away as his mother absent-mindedly drives him to his destination for a class field trip: a veterans' cemetery. The picture painted at the cemetery and the relevance of it comes screaming to the forefront, as this is where Joe's father is buried. What makes the two-page scene soar are Sean Murphy's illustrations and Dave Stewart's distinct coloring. The magnitude of the field of the fallen versus Joe's tiny presence gives us more understanding than words could. The first fifteen pages give us so much visually about Joe that we don't really miss the lack of dialogue. Stewart's colors, predominately shades of brown with various grays and burnt oranges, and Murphy's simple and effective art communicate Joe's isolation, his place amongst his peers and the way he chooses to spend his free time, with his pet mouse James thrown in for good measure! Morrison has communicated his character wonderfully via the artistic duo, but after we get a feel for Joe, the issue begins to wander into the realm of mystery, for Joe and the reader alike. Joe begins to see things, visions, that appear to come in the midst of sleep. Or do they? The many assorted action figures scattered around Joe's floor seem to have minds of their own, and just what is going on in that room of his? The worlds begin to warp a bit, Joe's mind is confused, and the reader is left with one heck of a stopping point before the second issue of this eight-issue series. While I will say that my interest in the second issue is piqued, mainly because I am sort of interested in seeing where the strange ending of this premiere takes me, but I'm not sure it's something I want to invest in, mainly given some of my misgivings about the clues given to us in issue one. For one dollar, it's an interesting focus on an average young man in an average existence who seems to be headed in a decidedly anything but average direction. The imagination of the series appears to be there, but issue one doesn't give us much in the way of seeding the plot, and unless you find an intense liking for Joe, this one may be a pass overall. The first issue could be a buck well spent, if only for the study of an "average Joe" and the visually stark and real world he lives in. Perhaps issue two, if I choose to pick it up, will give us a lift in the right direction! And hey, it's only a dollar, whether you love it, hate it or are in the middle like me!