This article contains minor spoilers for Happy, 2013 Image Comic series, and new show on SyFy premiering December 6th.
‘Tis the season to be jolly, in Grant Morrison’s 2013 tale of Yuletide redemption. Happy! stars disgraced former detective, possible vagrant, and chronic sufferer of Eczema, Nick Sax as he tackles life, one vice at a time. Seemingly lifted from the Pulp comics and detective stories of the 40’s and 50’s, Sax is far more Mark Millar than Mickey Spillane, with a mouth that would make Garth Ennis proud. Though he clearly isn’t the hero his city needs, it’ll take a man of Nick’s ilk to save the season when a child killer in a Santa suit stalks the night. A hit gone awry leaves Sax battered, bloodied, with a bullet in his chest to boot. It takes two, and only with the help of his new partner, a tiny blue horse called “Happy,” can the holiday have a joyous conclusion – too bad no one else but Nick can see him.
Snow falls about the city, as densely packed as the dead skin cells of our hero’s face, while Darick Robertson’s artwork beautifully encompasses the grim world that colors Nick’s worldview. Readers are taken through an Urban expanse, evoking scenes of public drunkenness, Methadone clinics, and run-down tenements, while a serial murderer dressed as a cockroach prepares to claim another victim. Besides the aforementioned psychotic Santa, very little by way of the book’s art belies a holiday theme. The snow here feels almost “too white” against the setting crafted by Morrison, and illustrated by Robertson. It would have certainly been thematically apropos, had the colorist chosen an off-white, or something on the grey scale for the precipitation. Just a few pages in, and in traveling the streets of this unnamed city, it becomes pretty apparent that this is a place where dreams go to die, whether addled by drugs or riddled with bullets. Yes, there will be bullets.
Happy as a character works perfectly against such a set piece, being about the only point of jollity throughout the story. The titular character is hope manifest, as he’s positively bull-headed in his quest to enlist the aid of Nick Sax in saving a group of kidnapped children. The tiny blue horse is the Yin, to this entre world’s Yang, being a beacon of Hope, Compassion, and Perseverance, that could only come from the mind of a child. Though he truly doesn’t have any dark ulterior motives, Happy has as much at stake as the children, seeing as how he’s the imaginary friend of one of them. Being a thoughtform bred through Symbiosis, safety of his creator would of course be paramount. Happy also reluctantly plays Jiminy Cricket to a perennially defeated Nick Sax, in this modern take on the Dickensian narrative wrapped in a syphilitic shell. The remaining support characters appear to also be tainted by the locale’s toxicity! Officer McCarthy, our only law enforcement representative is under the thumb of a local mob boss, while even the Clergy aren’t left unscathed, due to a development near the tale’s end.
Darick Robertson’s pictures may tell words on their own, but it’s Grant Morrison’s that drive the tale. Happy! was initially published as a 4-part story by Image Comics, and surprisingly one that isn’t subject to the convoluted meta-narratives the Scottish scribe is known for. A revelation at the story’s mid-point could be considered referential to the potential hereditary nature of Mental Illness, but I also may be reading too much into it. (It’s Grant Morrison, you’d almost have to excuse me for diving too deep.) While the story may lack in complexity, it certainly makes up in colorful language. Out of 108 pages, only 26 don’t contain some variation of “fuck.” In one instance, the word isn’t even uttered, yet featured prominently on a Christmas card in one of the darker scenes of this, or any other book. Some of the writer’s favorite words also happen to start with “C,” though you’ll find that out by page two. Though nothing truly egregious is stated by any of the characters, Sax does let fly more than one racial epithet during a poker game. Again, nothing horribly damning or even noteworthy, though fans of previously mentioned contemporaries, Garth Ennis, or Mark Millar would find themselves right at home.
Throughout the series’ four issues, we’re given little expository nuggets of info, pertaining to Nick Sax’ backstory. Readers are given first glimpses as other characters describe Sax, though we are later given a full origin, when Happy makes further attempts to understand Nick as a person. As a side note, Happy isn’t entirely sure why Nick can see him either. Though the story is enjoyable from the very beginning, and at times laugh out loud hilarious, things tend to become a bit too predictable by the end. Revealing Nick’s backstory, before the present-day epiphany of his own role in the series events, reveals the paint-by-numbers narrative stashed within. At a certain point, you know how the story’s going to turn out, but then again, some astute readers claim to have always known since they first glimpsed the tiny blue horse.
Soon-to-be a mini-series on the SyFy Network, starring Christopher Meloni and Patton Oswalt, Happy! is certainly worth the time if one were on the fence. Regardless of some of the formulaic storytelling elements, I’m curious as to how some of the novels’ more colorful scenes are edited for television. At the heart of Morrison’s story, lies a tale of love, redemption, and just what it truly means to be happy. Just don’t expect to look at salami the same way when you’re done…
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