Happy! #1

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Darick Robertson
32 pages, color
Published by Image Comics

Grant Morrison recently announced the end dates for his two ongoing work-for-hire titles for DC Comics (Action Comics and Batman Incorporated), and while he still has a handful of company-owned projects still in the pipeline (Multiversity and Wonder Woman Year One for starters), he’s going to start concentrating more on some new creator-owned titles. The first of those is Happy!, a four-issue limited series with co-creator Darick Robertson. Reading the first issue, I have to say that this is a distinct change for Morrison. If I hadn’t known better, I’d have thought it was written by an entirely different big-name-creator.

Happy! #1 introduces us to Nick Sax, a former policeman who these days kills people for money. He’s hardly a shining example of society. When Happy! #1 opens he’s in the process of being hunted by the Fratelli brothers, members of the local mob. Then things go a bit off schedule, and not only is Nick injured, but he’s being hunted by the mob over  piece of information that he doesn’t actually possess. His only chance of escape? A little girl’s imaginary friend that he can now see, a winged blue unicorn the size of a fist named Happy.

If I didn’t know better I’d have assumed Garth Ennis wrote Happy! #1. It’s got a rough, foul-mouthed exterior that hasn’t been present in Morrison’s comics for a long time. So much of the first half of Happy! #1 in particular feels like an Ennis; low-class language, the seedy underside of a city, a prostitute about to be killed even as she’s blowing her john. I’m not saying that Morrison can’t write this way too, but rather that it’s quite a surprise to be encountering a book from him that revels in its own filth. Here’s the thing, though: I love that he’s taking this opportunity to veer off in a different direction than we’re used to. Perhaps we’re getting Morrison trying a little too hard in places but it’s still a refreshing change. And by the end of the first issue of Happy!, I feel like we’re on slightly more familiar ground with him. A deranged spirit guide feels more in line with Morrison’s other comics, but I’m still eager to see where this darker and dirtier version of the story is willing to go.

Robertson’s art, on the other hand, feels quite familiar; in many ways it’s like being reunited with an old friend. He and colorist Richard P. Clark are doing a great job here; the dizzying glimpse of the city from up above as snow falls down is a great image, for example, and the dead bodies wrapped up in Christmas lights is a perfect set piece. The idea may be Morrison’s, but I feel like Robertson and Clark are the ones who sell it; the crude sign propped up in a way that it’s off to one side instead of blatantly staring at the audience, or the gentle glow of the lights themselves. It’s cozy and awful at the same time, and that juxtaposition in the art is something that Robertson is great at bringing to life. Even the page layouts are nice; they’re not crazy or strange, but occasionally surprised me by doing something fun like having all the borders radiate out of the side of the page like bicycle spokes. Add in some of the driest expressions you’ll see in comics—the looks of disdain are just fantastic—and it’s a reminder of how Robertson’s career launched into high gear once Transmetropolitan began back in the day.

Happy! #1 wasn’t at all what I was expecting from this comic, but it was a pleasant surprise. It bodes well for Morrison’s other upcoming creator-owned projects; if he keeps stretching himself and branching into different genres and tones, we’re in for a wild ride. In the meantime, though, I’ll be content to just see how the remaining three issues of Happy! play out. All in all, a fun debut.

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