Nothing “witty” I may say will be any zanier than this comic, so let’s cut to the review.
Written by Grant Morrison
Illustrated by Darick Robertson
With a day left until Christmas, and time running out for Santa’s innocent victims, Happy the Horse learns what turned Nick Sax from golden cop to broken-down hitman. But can he convince Nick to do the right thing or is it Happy’s turn to face some uncomfortable home truths?
Structurally, if not tonally, this issue is pretty much what one might expect from the third quarter of a story this size: after some kind of resistance that delays the climax and resolution of the primary conflict — in this case, that of the reluctant hero himself — information comes to light that dissolves that conflict and sets us up for the finale — in this case… but that would be telling. This isn’t a criticism, though — in fact, it’s perfectly fine. Grant Morrison is known by many fans to be a comic writer who, above all, has Ideas (with a capital I). The problem is, though, that these ideas (back to lower case), as interesting as they might be, are not always as well executed as readers might hope, though the frequency of how often this happens changes depending on who you ask. With “Happy,” Morrison is already dealing with a bizarre concept, so perhaps it is for the best that the overall story structure is relatively plain. When a hitman is talking to a tiny, flying, blue horse, we need all the grounding we can get.
Interestingly enough, the middle third of this issue is about as grounded in reality as Morrison gets, as he gives us Sax’s “secret origin.” There are no flying blue horses, or any of whatever hue you choose — instead, we get a dark tale of what turns a bright young police officer into a man like Nick Sax, as well as throwing in a bit of foreshadowing for the issue’s final twist. It is a very human story that conveys a massive amount of emotion for such a small amount of pages. As Sax’s point is, this isn’t a fairy tale, it’s real life, and real life is a very un-happy place. Morrison picks just the right beats of Sax’s life, just the right bits of dialogue, in order to chart his gradual decline in a way that is both realistic and tragic. Morrison’s name is one that tends to be synonymous with the wild and offbeat, but somehow, in the middle of one of his strangest stories yet, he displays that this isn’t because he cannot do “normal” — he orchestrates human emotions just as well he does the collapsing of multiverses.
(Okay, maybe not the best comparison, considering the divisive nature of “Final Crisis,” but I digress)
Darick Robertson won my heart when he worked with Warren Ellis on “Transmetropolitan,” and while I was not a fan of “The Boys” (not because of his art, mind you), I was thrilled to hear he would be working with another one of my favorite writers. I know, objectivity and all that, but just take a look at this issue. Robertson’s art is in a style similar to Steve Dillon’s, and much like Dillon, he is a tour de force of smooth, clear storytelling. Robertson’s level of detail is unparalleled, though, particularly when it comes to environment. The city of “Happy” is a dark and dirty place, and every panel of this comic drives that point home by emphasizing the amount of grime and filth that litters the city’s street and seems to blanket every object. Besides the flying horse, though, and some other odds and ends, Happy is in “the real world,” and because of this Robertson doesn’t go so overboard that it is ridiculous. This is a place you could drive to and see for yourself — though you wouldn’t want to live there.
The bleak nature of New York isn’t just on a physical level, though; this city is emotionally dismal, and Robertson evokes this by using citizens as scenery — the folks of “Happy” are anything but, and it shows. This same nuanced control over emotions truly is what sells the aforementioned origin story. Morrison’s plotting and dialogue certainly helps, but it is Robertson who shows us Sax’s spiritual deflation, as he eventually becomes as dark and dismal as the rest of the people in town. There seems to be nothing Robertson can’t do well: his sense of facial expression and body language are top-notch, his scenery is enthralling, and his handle on sequential motion rivals some of the very best.
While “Happy” has been just as weird as everyone thought it would be, this issue gives it some solid footing before launching it into its sure to be outrageous finale. Morrison and Robertson work together very well, and it is a shame that they will be parting after only one more issue. Both creators clearly have at least one foot firmly planted in the real world — which is what makes the rest of the comic that much crazier. For a re-entrance into creator-owned comics, Morrison could not have picked a better partner.
Final Verdict: 9.0 – Buy It!