Anyone who knows anything about me will know that I’m likely to give any book with Grant Morrison’s name on it a go. Morrison is probably my favourite writer, and so the thought of him working on an Image title was very exciting for me, particularly with the roll Image has been on lately. All it took was that teaser poster for Happy!, with the single blue feather, and the names of Grant Morrison and Transmetropolitan artist Darick Robertson, for the series to instantly become one of my most anticipated upcoming comics. That poster gave very little away, and so at first I didn’t know what to expect from this 4-part miniseries. But whatever it was I expected, it probably wasn’t this.
Though Morrison has certainly shown diversity in his output, there are certain expectations one might have coming into a Grant Morrison comic: psychadelia, big, bold ideas, something mind-blowing and larger than life. Instead, Happy! starts off as something quite different. We’re introduced to a drab, murky world, one filled with gangsters, corrupt cops and busty prostitutes, where everyone swears liberally and people regularly get shot in face-splattering style. At first, it all seems quite heavy-handed and ridiculously, something pushing DARK and EDGY and GRITTY to a laughable extreme.
Only, it becomes clear that this is exactly what Morrison is doing. This is the output of Mark Millar or latter day Garth Ennis amped up to the nth degree: shocking so much and so quickly that all the violence and nudity and flying body fluids and horrible people all becomes numbing. It’s as if Morrison is asking us, “Is this really entertainment?” It’s a potent deflation of grim-and-gritty, ably realised by the artwork of Robertson. It helps that, with his work on The Boys, Robertson’s style is quickly associated with that “Oooooh, look how SHOCKING I am!” breed of storytelling, and he plays that up by building a world that feels very ugly. This sense is assisted by Richard P. Clark’s colours, so washed out that everything is just set in an off-putting malaise.
Then along comes Happy the Horse, and everything is turned on its head.
With the arrival of the cheerful, chirpy imaginary friend that only our anti-hero Nick Sax can see, things take a more recognisably Morrison twist, that recurring motif of ideas made real by us thinking them. Interestingly, though, while Morrison has often chosen to leave such things more open-ended, here Happy tells Nick Sax that he’s free to just think he’s a hallucination, a product of his morphine-addled mind. But conversely, this makes me more inclined to think the opposite true, and that Happy is – as he says – the imaginary friend of a missing child. And Happy, as a character, is wonderfully realised by Robertson and Clark, bright blue in stark contrast to the muted tones everywhere else, and drawn in a style jarringly distinct from everything else in the comic.
So, over the course of Happy! #1, I found myself shifting from not really liking what I was reading, to being won over once I realised what Morrison was doing, and by the end my impression was that I’d liked the comic. I’m certainly keen enough to come back for #2, but whether or not I go beyond that depends on where the story goes from here. This cleverly established the conceit of a miserable, Millarish world being hijacked by Morrison, donning the fiction suit of Happy the Horse. But where do you take the story once you’ve staged this reversal? It’ll be interesting to see how much is made of the dichotomy between Happy and the grim world he now inhabits, as that to me seems like the richest thread available to further explore. With Morrison’s name involved, I’m willing to wait and see.
Happy! #1 is out now in all quality comic book shops.