When faced with the idea of a Grant Morrison-penned Christmas comic, the first images that probably come to mind for those familiar with his work is something involving a quantum-physics powered cyborg Santa Claus who frequently quotes Soren Kierkegaard fighting a dimension-hopping Grinch trained in the art of murder by former Spetnaz commandos in the basement of a Prague fetish bar. Given his body of work contains such mindbending worksas “Animal Man”, “Arkham Asylum” and “The Filth”, the expectation has arisen for any book by Morrison to contain enough high-concept, drug induced madness/brilliance to fill a few Terry Gilliam movies. Which is why it comes as something of a shock that “Happy”, his first book with Image Comics, now available in Trade Paperback form is a tad more sedate in its barrage of crazy ideas cooked up at four in the morning during a binge of the finest Glaswegian hallucinogens.
Not to say it’s bad, heavens no, “Happy” continues Morrisons usual standard of excellence in comics, and indeed may be one of his better recent works solely on the basis that it isn’t constantly threatening to collapse under the weight of its own metric ton of manic ideas and plot devices ala “Final Crisis”.
The story follows Nick Sax, a former cop and current mob hitman who, after a botched job finds himself hounded by the agents of mob kingpin Mr. Blue, and more disturbingly, followed around by a pint sized blue flying unicorn named Happy, who claims to be the imaginary friend of a kidnapped little girl. Only Nick can see Happy, and evidence mounts that he isn’t just out of his mind since Happy does seem to know things Nick doesn’t. Happy wants Nick to use his detective skills to find and save Hailey, but Nick is more interested in getting out of town so Mr. Blue’s agent Mr. Smoothie doesn’t catch him and perform a lovely wedding ceremony between Nick’s genitals and a car battery, and an awful lot of the book is Nick telling Happy exactly this.
So aside from the creatively brutal violence and the occasional dash of perversion, “Happy” is built more or less on just one premise: hard-bitten, cynical, wreck of a human being meets a character straight out of a Disney film, and violence and juxtaposition ensues. As far as premises go its not bad. The book seems determined to shock us with the brutality and depravity of the world and then shock us some more by reminding us there’s a tiny blue unicorn floating around, which definitely works in creating that air of the surreal we’ve come to expect from Morrison but without us having to do at least a couple Google searches to figure out what the heck’s going on. It feels like there’s just enough insanity and weirdness to keep the reader interested, but a bit more focus than usual on characterization. Nick is….well, he’s a miserable bastard, but you do find yourself kind of rooting for him, despite or maybe because of the miserable bastard-ness.
The art, courtesy of Darick Robertson of “Transmetropolitan” fame (and one of the only artists on the planet who can draw Wolverine properly), does an excellent job visually reinforcing the idea that the comic takes place in an incredibly miserable environment, and his skill for cartoony exaggeration, used mostly on Happy himself, makes that juxtaposition work even more. Richard P. Clark and Tony Avina’s colors help this along well, being mostly muted and subdued in just the right places.
While it isn’t rife with the kind of creative-overload insanity that often characterizes Morrison’s work, “Happy” is still an excellent comic. It has just enough creativity to rope the reader in, but keeps them there with solid characterization and terrific art. It may also depress the hell out of you, but them’s the breaks.