As “Joe the Barbarian” approaches its conclusion, two different confrontations begin to take shape, one in each of the worlds that Joe inhabits at the same time. In the fantasy world, Joe leads the forces of Playtown against those of King Death, while, in the real world, Joe approaches the basement, completing his journey from the attic throughout the house. It’s not so easily divided or separate, but the nearing of each climax gives this issue a strong focus and drives it forward. At the same time, the battle between King Death’s zombie army and the Playtown toys is a chance for Sean Murphy to wow with his art.
With much of this issue concerned with action as the Playtown toys fight for their lives, the space of the comic opens up to accommodate Murphy with numerous two-page spreads and layouts. His detailed art creates the epic feel to both the journey to the battle and the battle itself, while also communicating the absurdity of the concept. King Death’s soldiers are what you expect to see in a fantasy world like this, while the Playtown troops consist of regular knights, but also toys like Captain Picard, Superman, Lobo, Transformers, and army men. It’s such a funny mishmash that it can’t help but be somewhat funny, while it’s also touching because these are familiar ‘characters’ being slaughtered because their toy weapons aren’t meant to kill.
Murphy’s angular line work produces an uneasy feeling, a sense that something isn’t right, especially as Joe shifts between the two worlds, approaching the basement. The dark shading sets the mood well and also acts as foreshadowing for some characters like Sir Adamark. Throughout the issue, he’s always shown in dark, heavy shadows until the panel where he’s hit with an arrow. Murphy’s art definitely helps to elevate the book.
Morrison’s writing also kicks into high gear here with him drawing upon his ability to build tension through pacing and juxtaposition. Morrison knows how to build up anticipation throughout a story, especially leading into the ending. Joe having to choose what to do next, his holding a can of pop in his hands that could balance out his blood sugar, and his entering the basement all work to make this issue a compelling read, a ‘have to know what happens next’ read.
This issue pays off the build-up of Joe winning the support of the enemies of King Death and leading them against the dark master, while also finally reaching the bottom of the house. The final page delivers a strong cliffhanger, mixing the two worlds in an interesting way. “Joe the Barbarian” #7 is an entertaining and engaging read, because Morrison and Murphy work in concert so well together, kicking things off with some stunning action before hitting us with the heart of the story. I can’t wait for the finale.