You’ve read this book before. It may have been called Max Payne, or Man on Fire, or The Punisher, but you’ve seen everything that’s contained in these pages before. Okay, maybe not everything. A junkie pedophile Santa is pretty bizarre, but the plot and the way it unfolds isn’t anything that’s going to leave you marveling at the story telling after the conclusion of the Happy mini-series.
The final issue really does serve as a representation of the entire series – a severely underwhelming experience. It wasn’t bad, but worse – it’s forgettable, and for someone with as prolific of a name as Grant Morrison hopefully it gets forgotten. The problem is that it doesn’t feel like something that Morrison would write. This is the same guy who has written some of the most ambitious story arcs in recent comic book history. Happy feels like a cliché action movie. Just look at the protagonist, Nick Sax – a down and out ex-cop with a drug and alcohol problem who is given a chance to redeem himself. The only time it feels like Morrison is Happy the Horse, who is very reminiscent of Bat-Mite in Batman R.I.P.
I was weary coming into Happy #4 after the plot twist in the previous issue was more of a sarcastic, “Really?” and not a “Holy shit, oh my god!” reveal. The little girl that Happy the Horse is the imaginary friend of turns out to be Nick’s daughter. This of course serves as the catalyst for Nick to stop trying to get rid of Happy, and actually seek out his help. While it motivates Nick to get off of his ass and save the day, it doesn’t motivate me to care about his plight. I would be worried, and suddenly wanting the “good guy” to win, but it’s hard to get emotionally invested in a story that I’ve heard a thousand times before. There was a glimmer of a saving grace in that Grant Morrison is the kind of guy who would write a story like this and not give it a happy ending, but that didn’t happen either.
I find a little blue horse that tells Nick when and where things are happening to be more believable than the way that things just fall into place for him at the beginning of this issue. He just randomly goes to a church, where a priest just randomly happens to be a pedophile who is just randomly watching the live feed of where Nick’s daughter is being held. Then the issue lets Nick go wild with what he does best – shooting bad guys in the face and overusing the F-bomb.
The dialogue is another weak point for this issue, and really it has been for every issue. Throughout the whole mini-series the dialogue basically left me thinking, “Who actually talks like this?” I’m not bothered by excessive swearing at all, but it has to feel natural. In a story about a junkie ex-cop, Guido mobsters and a secret child pornography ring profanity isn’t all that shocking. The way that the it is written just feels clunky and uneven. The problem doesn’t necessarily become that so many characters are dropping the F-bomb, it becomes where. I believe that a well placed swear can dynamically enhance a sentence, but it’s much like switching a sentence from the passive to the active voice – it needs to improve the flow. The language in Happy is more of akin to driving down a road with a lot of potholes – distracting and annoying.
I’ve never found Nick to be a sympathetic character, because I’ve never found him to be an original character. In this day and age a protagonist certainly doesn’t have to be likeable to be interesting, but Nick is neither. Every aspect of him is cliché and uninspired. Along with the reveal that the kidnapped girl is actually his daughter we were previously given Nick’s origin, which was more of the same. The now overweight, addict enforcer was once a young, handsome and outstanding lawman. Yes, just like Max Payne. Yes, just like Frank Castle. In keeping with the theme that Nick screws up everything he ended up ruining his marriage, sabotaging his own career and setting his own fall from grace into motion.
Calling Happy “noir” would be too easy. Of course it has those elements, but it never feels like a truly noir experience. Instead, it feels like something that is trying to emulate modern works that were marketed as having noir aspects. I would consider the ending to be a happy one, but given the fate of some characters it might be seen otherwise. Like I said before, despite the cliche premise and storytelling Happy wasn’t exactly bad, but it never realized its full potential. This is the kind of story that is best suited for more than four issues.
This article was first posted on February 21, 2013