Lucid dreaming and hypoglycemia form a strong chemical bond in Joe The Barbarian #8. In this final installment of the groundbreaking series, Joe is tasked with saving worlds both real and imaginary. Help The Dying Boy save the day by taking the jump.

Title: Joe The Barbarian #8
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Sean Murphy
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Todd Klein
Associate Editor: Pornsak Pichetshote
Editor: Karen Berger
Price: $3.99
Publisher: Vertigo, a Division of DC Comics

Previously: Joe continues to suffer the effects of hypoglycemia, causing him to hallucinate while he struggles to conclude his life-harrowing journeys within two distinct realms.  Fantasy and reality have a go at one another as Joe, The Nearly Dying Boy tries desperately to decode clues from his life-changing journey.

Not For The Passively Inclined

Joe The Barbarian dropped off of my radar several months ago. The series had been suffering from delays, an all too common occurrence for Morrison-penned comics projects. Last week we were delivered from our forced abstinence when Vertigo finally released the final installment of Joe The Barbarian #8, allowing for sweet consummation with this reader.

Like any work from writer Grant Morrison, you have to work at deciphering the reading experience. Morrison does not generally offer passive entertainment to his readership. Instead, you will need to spend some time playing with descriptions and nouns, which, on the surface appear to be nonsensical ramblings of a glucose-deprived young boy.

All I Wanted Was a Pepsi

Before we go any further, it’s probably a good idea to establish Joe’s primary ailment; hypoglycemia.  The human body, especially the brain and nervous system, requires glucose in order to operate efficiently. In most people, the natural process of food digestion releases the glucose into the bloodstream and allows the body’s machinery to function properly. Hypoglycemia occurs when the individual’s blood sugar dips below safe levels, causing a variety of symptoms. If not properly treated, the results could be potentially disastrous.

Joe’s condition is introduced to us early in the first few pages of issue #1 and it ends up being the catalyst that sends Joe on a rather amazing journey through his imagination.

Other facts shared early on include his father has recently died at war and Joe’s mother is driving him to an off-site school event at the local graveyard. The graveyard happens to be where his father is buried. She questions the morbidity of such an exercise, but Joe is determined to go. His mother calls a loan officer to inform them of her delay and she ends the conversation by telling them that she has no intention of losing the house.

And So It Begins

While at the graveyard, while he’s visiting his father, he’s accosted by some bullies who scatter his notebook drawings and take his uneaten candy bar. The candy bar was his back-up provision to combat experiencing an episode of low blood sugar. A young female classmate happens upon the scene, helps gather up his drawings and tries to be friendly. Joe has had quite enough of the world and its mockery so he elects to disregard her overtures at friendship and he trots away angrily, intent on being alone.

By the time Joe gets home from school, he enters his house, leaving the front door completely open. He mechanically goes through the motions of heading through the mini labyrinth of his home, eventually settling into his bedroom located in a large, sprawling loft. Mom’s not home yet and as some time passes, he realizes he’s not feeling quite himself. This is when he first enters into the world of darkness on the other side of his reality.

Morrison & artist Sean Murphy do an amazing job of giving real-world clues and using them as breadcrumbs throughout Joe’s adventure. As Joe struggles through corridors of his imaginary world, his mind continues to struggle with moments of lucidity. He knows he needs a soda to overcome his hypoglycemic attack. He knows that the darkness can be burnt away if he can reach the circuit box in the basement. So begins his journey.

Look For The Many Clues

Joe has a terribly active imagination and Murphy does a fantastic job of brining his toys to life. In order for this story to work, the reader must be fed enough ‘reality’ so that we can remain grounded during times of obvious fantasy. Without Murphy’s adept pencils, the reading experience would be less impactful.

Sharing in this wonderful adventure is his pet mouse, Jack. Other people from Joe’s ‘real life’ appear throughout these 8 issues and it’s clear that this lucent dreaming experience is the personification of his dreams, forcing him to deal with his thoughts and feelings regarding his dead father and the impact it’s had on his life.

As Joe sorts through the material of his hallucinatory state, he’s gaining clarity and is actually deciphering deeper meaning though each challenge he faces. Just as Morrison asks the reader to delve in and decode layers of the story, he’s given us a main character that is forced to take the same journey.

As you would expect, issue #8 is the culmination of events that have taken 7 issues to build towards. For that reason, some of the final pieces of the puzzle will not be revealed in this review. However, I will tell you that the story has a very satisfying conclusion, including the revelation of the title’s origin.

BOTTOM LINE: BUY if you enjoy deep reading experiences with metaphor and subtext.

Morrison and Murphy have created a wonderful book. After 3 readings I know that there’s a final 20% of deeper thematic value that will require at least one future browsing to decipher. I’m pretty sure there is a Frank Zappa theme present, but I may just be digging too deep. Joe’s Garage is the name of one of Frank Zappa’s best-known albums. The term ‘Mother of Invention’ is used many times throughout the series, which is also the name of Zappa’s band. He even has a song that references a barbarian. Add to that Zappa’s surrealistic, non-conformist stylings, perhaps Morrison feels a kinship with the underground cult musician.  Regardless, I will be purchasing the collected Hardcover when it’s released in September of this year. Joe The Barbarian #8 earns 5 out of 5 Stars.

Rating: ★★★★★

The Author

Mike McLarty

Mike McLarty

A San Diego native, Mike has comics in his blood and has attended the San Diego Comic Con every year since 1982. His comic interests are as varied as his crimes against humanity, but he tends to lean heavily towards things rooted in dystopian themes. His favorite comic series is Warren Ellis’ and Darick Robertson’s Transmetropolitan. Spider Jerusalem is the best character ever devised. Mike realizes those statements will alienate a good portion of his potential audience, but those are the facts. You are unlikely to find a single collector with a better Transmetropolitan art portfolio than the one he has in his possession. He is an Assistant Editor for the upcoming Transmetropolitan Charity Book.

He also occasionally freelances for various other comics websites, which he promotes through his homepage (, Twitter and other inherently intrusive forms of social media. Mike firmly believes that the best writers come from the UK. This could be because he’s of Irish descent; not so much based on physical geography as the fact that the Irish like to drink heavily.

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1 Comment

  1. Damascus
    April 25, 2011 at 3:51 am — Reply

    “In order for this story to work, the reader must be fed enough ‘reality’ so that we can remain grounded during times of obvious fantasy.”

    That’s one of the things I felt was lacking in the movie Sucker Punch. I know it’s not really related, just liked the way you worded it.

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