Double special of Grant Morrison comics: reviews of We3 and Joe the Barbarian

For those of you who like graphic novels, I read two by Grant Morrison recently. My general stance on Grant Morrison? I love and hate the crazy bastard, but he’s one of the most inventive writers in comics now. When he does a comic right, he does it really right.

We3 by Grant Morrison (writer) and Frank Quitely (artist)

We3 is a surprisingly short comic book, but not by accident. I enjoyed the story so much that I tried to imagine ways it could be expanded into an ongoing series, but each scenario my brain cooked up resembled a goofy sitcom. Don’t let that fool you into thinking We3 is a work of humor. It most certainly is a work of anger and activism and love. Morrison takes three lost pets, turns them into man-killing machines, and makes you want to adopt them.

Why? Because their murder sprees are a result of human intervention. Always, always human intervention—in this case the military, funding yet another project to put them ahead in warfare. When the scientist who’s worked most closely with the animals (a dog, a cat, and a rabbit) learns the experiment is not only being shut down, but terminated, she frees the dangerous and capable test subjects and surrenders herself to the consequences. The rest of the book is about seeing who wins: man or man’s Frankenstein creations.

It’s hard to imagine such a violent comic like this one causing the reader to tear up, but I did. In a brief span of pages, you come to love these animals as though they were still helpless pets. They were taught to work together, and in their fealty they remind us of how innocent they are under all that wire and machinery. They’re bred killers, trained to massacre, but they show more compassion than the people trying to restrain them.

Like the pets so many of us have under our care (I have three babies, myself), these animals think of home, friendship, and basic needs such as food. That’s what makes We3 such a shocking and meaningful comic—it teeters on the brink between sweetness and violence but balances both so well.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Joe the Barbarian: Deluxe Edition by Grant Morrison (writer) and Sean Murphy (artist)

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.

Rating: 5 out of 5

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