When the name involved is as big as Morrison’s — and when the project in question is the first creator-owned endeavour in a while — the expectations for a new miniseries are bound to be high. And while what Morrison and Robertson put forth in “Happy!” may not suit all tastes, it’s certainly impressive, exhibiting Morrison’s trademark complexity while being visually interesting as well.
Written by Grant Morrison
Illustrated by Darick Robertson
Meet NICK SAX – a corrupt, intoxicated ex-cop turned hit-man, adrift in a stinking twilight world of casual murder, soulless sex, eczema and betrayal.
With a hit gone wrong, a bullet in his side, the cops and the mob on his tail, and a monstrous child killer in a Santa suit on the loose, Nick and his world will be changed forever this Christmas.
By a tiny blue horse called Happy…
A quick look at the solicit makes Sax, this issue’s main character, sound like a guy we’ve all read about before. The morally relativistic gun-for-hire, in it for himself in a heartless world — but then you read the actual issue, and there’s the part where one of his targets is, um, interestingly shaped, not to mention the part with the tiny blue horse, and it becomes obvious that while Sax isn’t the most original-sounding character, the plot sure is framing him in an interesting way.
To boil things down to the essential, Sax’s been contracted to kill the Fratelli brothers, a couple of guys who stand to inherit some serious mob money. Sax employs some deviousness along the way, but someone on either side of the confrontation gets shot. And that’s when things start to get even stranger than they already are….
Letting us get to know a couple of Sax’s targets before we start to get to know him, Morrison keeps the mood dark and dire from the get-go. We have no real reason to be on Sax’s side except the fact that we’re usually on the side of a character like this, and there’s nothing particularly horrible about his targets, at least nothing that’s been revealed to us as of yet. The dialogue, meanwhile, is replete with “fuck”s, to the point where they flatten and stylize the text and diminish the reader’s engagement with the story as your usual kind of story. In sum it seems like the “noir” world is being flattened down to make room for something else, and as the odd elements pile up, it’s clear there’s something subversive going on here.
It’s a densely put-together issue, with Sax’s plot motivating and pacing out the action nicely. While it’s hard to say exactly what kind of subversive we’ll be dealing with as of yet, it is obvious that Morrison is setting up a story that will require significant explanation and expansion. But if the other three issues are as compactly assembled as this one, the world of “Happy” is bound to be laid out for us in appreciable detail.
Robertson’s art, meanwhile, keeps things harsh and unforgiving, all dirty city streets and ragged heaps of snow. He’s a dab hand at drawing unnerving characters, with a drunken Santa Claus in the opening pages coming through all kinds of scuzzy, and the oddly-shaped fellow I mentioned before achieving a MiÃ©ville-esque level of weirdness. The shadows do take over a little strongly at times, making it difficult to see some characters’ faces and tell them apart. But the characterization of Sax is just right, all swagger and rough edges, almost too movie-starishly hitman-like to be a believable.
And as for Happy… Happy may give you nightmares.
Speaking of Happy, though: colourist Richard B. Clark neatly foreshadows the appearance of this (very blue) character by punctuating the comic’s monotonous look with blasts of Christmas hue. The cheerful reds and greens look utterly out of place amidst all the bleakness, and the effect is lovely and disconcerting. The scheme also has a nice thematic edge: the colour is shining through and subverting the greyness in exactly the way the odd story elements are making the noir ones seem superficial.
All things considered, “Happy!” may not be for everyone: it’s abrasive and it’s cold, going for shocks and jolts as well as a slower-burning sense of unease. That said, it’s doing interesting things with the abrasive coldness, setting up a neat duplicity between what it seems to be about and what it could, potentially, be about. And knowing Morrison, there’s a dense and multi-layered fable brewing here that’s definitely worth seeing through.Continued below
Final Verdict: 8.5 — Buy