The concluding issue of Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson’s Happy! has finally made its way to the shelves, and has seemingly divided critics right down the middle. It’s perhaps no surprise to anyone who has seen my Happy earrings that I loved it, but let’s have a proper look…
Nick Sax is a bastard. A killer for hire, a waste of space, an ex-cop, an alcoholic mess, and as far from handsome as you care to throw him. Living in a city of paedophilic Santas, mafia hitmen, random sex killers in lobster costumes, and missing children, Nick’s world is every grim and gritty comic of the ’90s (and ever after) thrown at the page and left to coalesce in a swearing heap of blood and phlegm.
It’s no secret that Morrison tires of a world where the enthusiastic and creative are put down, mocked or torn apart, greeted with a collective “meh” for their troubles, and yet even when painting a world that is the worst version of our own, where everything bad that can happen does, and everyone that can be hurt is, the writer can’t resist spinning it around and pushing this beyond a knowing satire of the darkness that some creators revel in.
And so, this Christmas tale of redemption and hope in a particularly grotesque gutter of human life is wrenched from the familiar by the appearance of one Happy the Horse, a bright blue flying cartoon creation who bursts from the grim pages in an explosion of colour and puppy dog eyes. While Nick is blasted by guns, fists and knives, Happy flutters about, yelling encouragement and really believing that the sad git in front of him will rally himself and save the day. A small force of eternal optimism, found even in the darkest of places, determined to never give up. A representation perhaps of the smallest spark in all of us, carried over from even the most miserable of childhoods, often ignored but never quite stamped out if we just turn around and look.
We have then a classic buddy cop set up: the croaky old bastard and the enthusiastic young innocent. It’s no wonder that this was picked up as a film before the second issue had even hit the shelves, yet it’s slightly amusing that Morrison announced this upcoming movie development after the first issue of his grim and gritty creator owned comic – a step most removed from his usual style, and not at all deliberately echoing another writer there I’m sure. Ahem. The first page of issue one alone, dripping with swear words, is a shock to the system for any recent Morrison fan, immediately transporting you to Ennis-world with that very Scottish (and the similar Irish) manner of turning the air blue.
“It’s the most offensively sweary book I think I’ve ever written,” Morrison grins. “It gets to like, you’re just thinking, I cannot read the word fuck again. Please do not put the fucking word fuck back in this comic, and you’re only on page 3 and there’s twenty four pages. It’s actually exhausting!”
Interestingly, one of the most common criticisms I’ve seen of the mini-series thus far is the grammar of the swearing – on that I can at least argue that no, plenty of people do swear like that (“the fuck, you!”). It took me right back to my childhood playing stupid games on the PS1. Ah Driver, I knew you well.
So we have a comic as dark as can be, full of blood, guts, sex and violence (or “violente!” as Happy exclaims). Superbly brought to life by Robertson with slow close ups, fractured panels, and colour – importantly – used as our guide. Splurges of vibrant shades are used to illustrate danger, action and death; the lights on the ambulance, the flare of a gun, the killer about to pounce. All else is subdued, grimy and rather unclear. Until of course Happy bursts through into reality, fresh from the realm of imaginary friends. His bright blue is ridiculous to behold, fitting his absurdly cute appearance, and clashing with the grit of the real world.
In the third and fourth issues, with a change of colourist (from Richard P Clark to Tony Aviña), this difference is not quite as marked which actually works quite well at this stage. Nick, and the reader, is now used to the appearance of Happy, allowing his place in the real world. Aviña does however give Happy a real glow to his colour, which works particularly well in issue four, in scenes where the little critter has become a little more worldly wise and a whole lot more of a sassypants.
The ending is – without giving too much away – predictable. Because that’s kinda the point. It’s a Christmas story, and we expect certain twists and turns without quite knowing what those turns will be. The destination is known, but what happens there is not. I think this particular ending lost a lot of its impact due to delays resulting in it not shipping before Christmas. Artistic holdups are always a huge bummer, and the large gap robbed the story of some of its tension. I highly recommend reading all the issues in one go, even if you have already read #1-3.
The story could perhaps have done with being a tad longer, but only if you’re not that big on filling in some gaps yourselves. There is movement between issues and pages that are logical if you pay attention (watch the feathers!), and remember that Happy never gives up. My own love of Happy and curiosity about his imaginary realm means I’d have been delighted to see more, but a little goes a long way and after all, it’s a place we’re all familiar with.
This is of course Morrison’s first creator owned title since Joe the Barbarian (or possibly Dinosaurs vs Aliens), and his first outing at Image. It’s nice to see the writer spread his wings a little way from the superheroes that he loves, and it inspires hope that possibly, maybe, Seaguy 3 will come along post-Multiversity, as well as any number of new projects. Robertson too shines here, dabbling in the violent storytelling he does so well, but particularly in his embrace of the fantastical Happy.
We know that Morrison can do dark (The Filth) and we know that he can write a bloody big tearjerker (We3), but for all the anger and frustration that went into the ink of Happy!, that little horse has won my heart over. The blurring of realism and surrealism has me picturing Happy the Horse as the defender of comics with heart, bashing through into the world of comics that are miserable for misery’s sake, and spreading that tiny seed of cheer and happy endings. Nick leads Happy on, betrays him, abandons him – all while Happy tries desperately to save a little girl from the big bad world, and Nick from himself.
In the splash page of issue four, where Happy rallies the population of his own world to come to the rescue, I defy anyone not to grin like a big softie.
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Darick Roberston
Colourist: Richard P Clark, Tony Aviña
Cover Artist: Darick Robertson, Mike Allred, Cameron Stewart, Rian Hughes, Frank Quitely
Letters: Simon Bowland
If you like, try: Da Fug?! Seaguy of course!