After several years of writing Batman and Superman comics for DC, Grant Morrison returns to the grimy, dark side of comics with Happy!, his first swear-filled, gory, and truly unpleasant comic since The Filth – and who better to join him than Darick Robertson, artist extraordinaire of the cheerfully vulgar Transmetropolitan and ultra-violent The Boys?
Set at that most corporate of holidays, Christmas, the family-centric festivities are subverted in this comic that portrays Santa as a junkie paedophile who’s been kidnapping and murdering children without getting caught. Meanwhile down-and-out cop-turned-hitman and all-round human wreck Nick Sax (Saint Nick?) is the unlikely hero who must stop him. Except, bah humbug!, he doesn’t care. So instead of being visited by three ghosts, a small blue goofy-looking unicorn called Happy shows up, the imaginary friend of one of the kidnapped children that only Nick can see. But can the upbeat and determined Happy convince the jaded, worn out Nick that not only is he real but so is the danger his friend faces – and can Nick save them in time from psycho Santa?
Morrison wrote in his 2011 book Supergods, “Things don’t have to be real to be true” and it’s a phrase that applies to a lot of what he’s written in the last few years. In Joe the Barbarian, Joe is a diabetic kid home alone who enters a fantastical realm featuring items from his house – but is it real or is he experiencing an insulin-deprived hallucination that will kill him? Similarly in Happy!, Nick doesn’t “see” Happy the unicorn until he’s pumped full of morphine in the ambulance – so, the reader wonders, is Happy real or a vision brought on by drugs? Morrison keeps things deliberately unclear and the reader guessing to the end.
The story hangs on Nick and Happy’s relationship and Morrison gives them some excellent back and forths with Nick becoming meaner the more Happy tries to buck him up giving them some great scenes. Through Happy’s insistence on most peoples’ innate sense of goodness and Nick’s cynicism declaring the opposite, we see Nick’s story of a once proud and, yes, happy man brought down by the horrors man wreaks upon his fellow man as seen through the unfettered eyes of a homicide cop.
This is the redemption-at-Christmas-storyline popularised by Dickens and told in the unique way Morrison has of telling a story with heart while dressing it up in dirt. It’s a potent combination and by turns the book is funny, depressing, and cynical though by the time you close the book and think about it, it’s a strangely upbeat tale. Nick may not be Batman or Superman but he is equal to them in his own non-superpowered way – there’s a moral code lurking somewhere inside that battered body – and it’s what makes him an ultimately likeable character despite his many attempts to make us think otherwise.
The book might put some people off especially in the opening few pages when the gangster dialogue basically uses the f word as punctuation and feels immediately excessive. And if you’re familiar with Darick Robertson, you’ll know the guy draws violence very viscerally – the pages are filled with blood and violence of all kinds. So it’s safe to say this is definitely not a kids’ comic! Some might even say this story has been done before – the Christmas Carol angle, the tough guy on a mission – but I think Morrison and Robertson have done more than enough to set Happy! apart from any comparisons to other festive favourites (not least because of the adult themes and the blue unicorn!) and the Punisher, Marv from The Hard Goodbye and other stories of that sort.
Morrison’s written this story is a fairly straightforward and accessible way – his famous proclivities for warped storytelling that incorporates avant-garde literary devices are largely absent and the book is an accessible read, though he works in enough ideas and an interesting ending for you to still be thinking about the comic after you’ve finished it.
Robertson’s art is as gorgeous as ever, from the wintry, snowy urban settings to the bloody action-filled finale, he captures it all perfectly on the page. His design for Happy is brilliant and is a departure for Robertson who’s shied away from cutesy cartoonish stuff for most of his career (bar a few memorable sequences in Transmetropolitan) – it’s really fun to see him pull it off so effortlessly and merge it with his very adult style for the rest of the comic. It’d be great to see him get a job drawing a My Little Pony comic off the back of this!
Happy! is a hugely enjoyable 4-issue miniseries that’s for anyone who wants to read a great action story with a twist. Morrison supplies the imaginative storytelling and great dialogue while Robertson brings it all to life on the page with his magnificent art – Happy! is a welcome return to non-superhero comics for Morrison who proves he can still write a compelling story without a superhuman as the main character, instead featuring an overweight guy with no special powers and no interest in tights. It’s definitely worth picking up – just tell them a little unicorn sent you!
Happy! by Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson is out on 30 April in paperback at your local comics shop and online at Comixology. The single issues are available now.
This article was first posted on April 17, 2013