Artist: Darick Robertson
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: April 17, 2013
I’m a huge Grant Morrison fan, but I was ready to quit Happy! halfway through the first issue. I know Morrison’s oeuvre runs deeper than the earnest superhero hagiography he’s best known for (I got on this train when Doom Patrol and Animal Man were still chugging along every month), but the first few pages of Happy! are among the most intentionally sordid and unpleasant Morrison’s ever written. They’re also dull and generic. Sure, he’s obviously working within a specific genre here, but that knowledge doesn’t make Happy! any less of a listless, personality-free drag to read in its early chapters. It feels like the sort of cynicism and misanthropy I expect from some of Morrison’s fellow countrymen. There’s a reason I don’t read Mark Millar or The Boys.
Happy! perks up when the titular character shows up. No, Happy’s not the guy with the gun on the cover—he’s the tiny blue, winged unicorn who only that guy with the gun can see. Happy is the imaginary friend of a young girl who’s been kidnapped by a sexual predator in a Santa suit, and for some reason, pathetic ex-detective Nick Sax, our gun-toting cover boy, is the only person who can save her. The banter and contentious relationship between the imaginary equine and alcoholic antihero are the story’s highlight.
Morrison never adequately explains how Happy exists, or why Nick can see him. A few of the plot twists are obvious from issues away. A Catholic priest shows up in the most tired and stereotypical context. The particular speech patterns that Morrison has used with increasing frequency don’t always work with these characters — epic declarative statements of purpose make sense with superheroes, but not with cops and mobsters (even if one of the bad guys has the inexplicable supervillainous name Mr. Smoothie). The climax has a brief scene that strongly recalls Morrison’s superior Joe the Barbarian, but the moment feels unearned and underexplored.
Happy! isn’t a disaster. The plot is tight and paced well enough that it makes me want to see Morrison try a straight-up hardboiled crime story a la Ed Brubaker. Sax becomes a believable and sympathetic hero, with a secret origin that’s depressingly mundane and all too real (and revealed in the wonderfully succinct style of All-Star Superman). Darick Robertson nicely juggles the dirt and grit of the disgusting city and the cartoony cuteness of Happy.
Despite its series of small misfires, Morrison’s voice is unmistakable throughout Happy!. Its central message is even as optimistic as All-Star Superman’s, but Morrison drags us through the most grotesque episode of SVU on the way there. It makes sense that Morrison would want to dig into darker stuff after a decade of working almost exclusively in mainstream superheroes, but Happy! tilts too far toward the losing side in its battle of the pure and the profane. This book is about as minor as Morrison gets.