Happy! - Grant Morrison, Darick Robertson Originally posted at The BiblioSanctum:

Someone needs to point me at a Grant Morrison book that proves the hype. Yes, I have read Batman: Arkham Asylum and agree that it was pretty good. Had I not read it before, I would have learned about how awesome it was when I struggled through Supergods, where Morrison repeatedly pointed out that fact. Then there was his run on New X-Men where one of my all time favourite X-stories ripped out of the pages of Classic X-Men #27, but with all of the subtlety and perfection of the original ending replaced by a drama-induced splash page that completely misses the point.

Happy! has done very little to raise my opinion on the worthiness of the hype.

What? Me? Bitter?

Happy! begins with some men summarizing the main character, Nick Sax, in a single word of four-letters. No, not that four-letter word. THAT four-letter word. If you’re offended by gratuitous use of four-letter words, then this book is not for you. It starts off with very, very gratuitous swearing; an intended commentary by Morrison, who says “It’s the most offensively sweary book I think I’ve ever written. 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!”

This is Morrison’s first time with Image Comics with this creator-owned book. I love what Image is doing in the industry by publishing so many creator-owned projects. It’s refreshing and fascinating to see the creativity unleashed when these writers and artists are liberated from the iconic characters of DC, Marvel and Image. Most of the books I’ve read so far have been fantastic, but Happy!, considering that quote above, comes off as a teenager finally getting the keys to dad’s sports car.

Anyway, I’m not offended by contextual swearing. Once the joke settles in after a few pages, the story is able to move on to the introduction of Nick Sax. Sax is a former cop who, through some convenient corrupt cop tropes that we learn about later, is now a hitman. He is an unhealthy, curmudgeonly man who spends his money on vices and eczema cream. In a display of graphic blood and violence, he takes out his targets at the beginning, as well as the nephew of a big mob boss, who tries to trade a password to mob riches for his life. Remember the password as it fuels the secondary plot that allows Sax to be hunted by the mob, carefully padding out the too short story.

Sax is seriously wounded and hospitalized and this is where the book’s saving grace appears in the form of the titular character.

How can you not look at Happy and not, well, be happy? Unless you’re Sax who is doped up and in pain and convinced that this cheery blue horse is a hallucination. Happy helps Sax escape the clutches of the evil henchmen looking for the password, because Happy needs Sax's help. Happy's little girl, Hailey, has been kidnapped by a nasty, evil, disgusting Santa. (This is a Christmas tale, after all).

Happy is definitely the highlight in the book. He's annoyingly cheerful, but not obnoxiously so and he isn't all sunshine and rainbows once he realizes what Sax is about. Initially, Happy has no idea why he's appeared to Sax, but the connection is made later. This connection serves to finally motivate Sax to do the right thing and save Hailey, but there was not nearly enough character development in Sax to convince me that the connection given was enough to make him give a damn.

On the other hand, Happy realizes that he can do much more than just nag at Sax and, in a glorious splash page, takes care of business. I would have loved if the book gave me far more of Happy's transformation and far less of Sax's (not that there was much to Sax in the first place.)

Other than Happy's moment of glory, the ending was predictable, with Sax supposedly redeeming himself. But again, there is so little evidence in his character development to convince me that he truly earned or even cared about this redemption.

The artwork deserves some attention because it really makes up for what the story and characters lack. Robertson captures the gritty, dirty, ugly feel of the characters and environment.