HAPPY! by Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson
With a Syfy original series in the works, Image Comics has released HAPPY!, a Christmas story with all of the blood and gore one might need at this time of year. Sadly, it has little else. HAPPY! is a plot-heavy story that is best for action flick fans. However, its lack of characterization detracts from the overall experience.
64 %
Bloody Fun at First
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It is that time of year again, folks! The holidays are that special time of year where, for those of us living in colder climates, you have to worry about your car not starting in the morning. Or that snow has buried your front door. This might not be the favored viewpoint for Christmas, Hanukkah, and the myriad of other winter time holidays. No, this time of year signals joy and laughter. We all know RUDOLPH and FROSTY THE SNOWMAN, but maybe this year we need a new breed of Christmas story. If you’re in the mood for blood-soaked snow and a drunkard Santa, then prepare yourself for HAPPY!, a bloody yuletide romp from the mind of Grant Morrison.

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HAPPY! follows Nick Sax. Formerly a detective, Sax was forced to leave the force after having an affair with his police partner. Now a hired hitman, Sax particularly targets serial killers and members of the local mafia. After one of his hits goes south, Sax is badly wounded by a stray bullet. Bleeding out on the streets, an ambulance pulls him back to life. However, not all is as it was. A small, blue, cartoon horse named Happy has seemingly taken roost in Sax’s head. Happy claims to be a young girl’s imaginary friend, and that said girl and several others are in terrible danger. Now, Nick must pull himself from his Christmas-time funk and partner with the cartoon creature to save innocent lives. Just like every other holiday season.

Blood on the Snow

Courtesy of Image Comics

HAPPY! is an action movie lover’s dream. If you go to the cinema for films like FAST AND THE FURIOUS, DIE HARD, or XXX, films with a lot of explosions and bloody fight scenes, HAPPY! is for you. That’s strange though, considering one of the lead characters happens to be a cartoon horse. In all, the plot seems rather rudimentary at times, focused solely on a violent man with a one-track mind. However, that simple plot feels satisfying. From the first moment, you probably don’t like Nick Sax. In fact, by the end of the book, you most likely won’t even start to like him. However, you still are on his side as he cuts his way through Mob enforcers at every turn.

My issue with HAPPY! is also the reason I enjoyed my first read through it. Grant Morrison injects the story with so much unyielding intensity. Every fifth page at least has a fight scene. While overly violent in both events and dialogue, the story feels almost campy in execution. It is slightly ludicrous. Plot beats hit then slide away at lightning speed, leaving the reader breathless by the final page. As I said, I really enjoyed my first read. However, my second and third were far less satisfying. I don’t know if a knowledge of the story’s events lessened my continued enjoyment or if the campy action flick atmosphere got old, but I don’t feel like there is enough depth in the plot to warrant multiple reads.

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Filling Roles

Courtesy of Image Comics

Much of my lack of enjoyment in the plot, I suspect, stems from the absolute lack of characterization. While films like FAST AND THE FURIOUS and DIE HARD are known for their over-the-top set pieces, deep characters still take center stage. These franchises couldn’t exist without Dom Toretto or John McClane. While Nick Sax has an interesting back-story and his motivations for saving the day are clear, something just felt off. HAPPY! is a story focused on plot, and, for the most part, it held my interest. However, Nick Sax and the rest of the cast don’t take center stage enough for me to care.

In the end, HAPPY! is a story fixated on action movie, clichéd stereotypes, almost to the point of satire. I love Grant Morrison as a writer. He has written a number of stories for DC Comics that I have fallen in love with. However, his work here just doesn’t have his trademark voice. Don’t get me wrong, Happy himself is a fantastically interesting character. That little blue horse alone nearly saves this story. However, the true hero, Nick Sax, whom readers spend almost all of their time with, just feels as boring as his perpetual eczema. The only other characters outside of Happy that have any real personality are one-shot, brief villains. They have masterful and interesting voices, but they are typically gone in one or two pages.

Every Bit of Stubble

Courtesy of Image Comics

Darick Robertson mans the art for HAPPY!, and much like the silly cartoon mascot of the series, his art also makes this book worth your money. Robertson’s eye for gritty detail is amazing. In some of the bloodier fight scenes, Robertson manages to capture every visceral and feral detail of the blood spatter and physical pain. Though stylized, the realism in his art goes far beyond many others in the medium.

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Some readers, whether queasy or upset by gratuitous violence, won’t enjoy this art style nearly as much as I did. However, there is something truly amazing about an artist as unapologetic in his style as Robertson. Every page has a devotion to grittiness and detail. Every bit of stubble in Nick Sax’s unshaved face is visible. More than that, the pallid color scheme makes HAPPY! an incredibly striking spectacle.

Final Thoughts: HAPPY!

Despite my negative comments thus far, HAPPY! really is an enjoyable read. With its intense pacing and stellar art style, this book is definitely worth your read. However, it fails in respect to its characters. As a comic book reader, I don’t want to just read a cheesy action flick. Three distinctly unique characters do not a unique experience make! I would still recommend HAPPY! to readers, though. I think that for those wanting a quick, single-sitting read that doesn’t require a lot of thought, this is a fantastic example. Thankfully, the upcoming Syfy miniseries based on the series seems to be fixing a lot of these character mistakes.

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