Happy

Collects Happy #1-4

Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: Darick Robertson

Image Comics, $12.99, color, 96 pages

Maybe I expect too much of Grant Morrison, but after reading this I wondered why it was written.

Here's the description from the back of the book: "Nick Sax is a corrupt, intoxicated ex-cop turned hitman, adrift in a stinking twilight world of casual murder, soulless sex, eczema and betrayal. With a hit gone wrong, a bullet in his side, the cops and the mob on his tail, and a monstrous child-killer in a Santa suit on the loose, Nick and his world will be changed forever this Christmas. By a tiny blue horse named Happy ..."

The tiny blue horse, which only Nick can see, may or may not be a hallucination. (Morrison plays it both ways.) That's the central mystery, I suppose, but it's off to the side as Nick and other pondscum exchange insults and bullets for four issues. To be honest, it was a really dreary read.

Oh, I get it that I'm not supposed to like anyone in this story, and that everybody's untrustworthy. It's crime noir. That's par for the course.

But honestly, I wanted everyone in this book dead the minute I met them (including and especially the protagonist). Morrison couldn't kill his cast off fast enough to suit me. And afterward, I wanted to take a shower.

Maybe that was the intent, I don't know. But usually in the most dismal of crime noirs I'm intrigued by the intrigue and thrilled by the double-crosses. Here, I just wanted it to be over.

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This didn't feel too Morrisony to me. It may have been partially the Darick Robertson art, but it felt like it was Morrison-as-Ennis to me.

I have this sitting on my shelf but haven't gotten the chance to read it yet.

I read it and liked it okay. Just very average really.

Wandering Sensei: Emeritus said:

This didn't feel too Morrisony to me. It may have been partially the Darick Robertson art, but it felt like it was Morrison-as-Ennis to me.

 

This hits the nail on the head. Rather than Morrison doing Crime Noir ...mmm.. per se..., he's doing an Ennis comic to the  best of his ability, and with his own little twist.  Morrison really admires Ennis (as I mentioned in my notes to Ennis' DC One Million contribution) and here, we see Morrison trying to write in that mode, as an exercise.  He even gets one fo Ennis' favourite collaborators on board for art, which I don't think is an accident.  (Tarantino is another Godfather of this unlovely child.)

 

I think it's great for a writer to try to stretch their abilities in this way and to try to learn from writers who do things that they generally don't do, but do them very well.  This is a sign of someone still interested in learning and growing as a writer.  Superhero writers - successful ones in particular - can fall into an awful rut.  Claremont probably being the saddest example of a fine writer thinking that they've learned all they need at some point and stopping there.  If Geoff Johns was ever likely to produce really fine comics on a level with Morrison's or Ennis' best work, that likelihood looks to have been scuppered by his enormous success.

 

Yeah, Happy's not the greatest thing Morrison has ever done.  Like the best of Ennis' black comedic work, it is utterly tasteless.  The awful paedophile Santa is Morrison trying to out-Ennis Ennis for sheer offensiveness. 

 

As well as that, I read Ennis' Jennifer Blood not long after finishing this, and it was magnificent, for what it was, and Morrison's effort paled in comparison: the comedy, the viciousness of the villains, Ennis' encyclopaedic knowledge of ridiculous stuff like gun calibres and his convincing handle on criminal psychology.  Ennis doesn't have to look over his shoulder and worry about Morrison superceding him on his own turf anytime soon, but you've got to give Morrison props for giving it a go.  There's a conviction that Ennis brings to these things - even a throwaway black comic entertainment like Jennifer Blood - that Morrison's Happy doesn't have.  Ultimately Morrison takes very little of this seriously.  The imaginary horse, representing imagination and optimism, comes across as the most convincing element of the story, in terms of the writer's heart being in it, which is weird.

 

In Happy, Morrison is again poking fun at the idea that 'realism' = prostitution, drug-dealers and gangland hits, (which critique is a longstanding element of his work) and his tongue is in his cheek for most of this, which probably comes across to the reader as a lack of conviction.

 

Happy has its place in Morrison's longer career.  When I divided up his whole body of work*, it was clear that he devoted years at a stretch to particular long projects (Doom Patrol in one phase, JLA and Invisibles in the next, and recently the long DC Universe tale that started with Seven Soldiers of Victory and ended with his final Batman Inc issue).  He usually releases shorter 'palette cleansers' between those long stretches.  Happy is just such a minor work, and there is a healthiness in a 50-something superstar writer pushing out of his comfort zone for a bit.  No doubt what he learned here will make it into some of his later work in a good way.

 

*Congratulations Cap!  After 5 years you've become a contributor to our celebrated Morrison Readthrough project!

I finally bought a budget bin copy of this at HeroesCon last weekend, after giving up all hope of a local library (including my own) getting it. It's a fairly high-profile Grant Morrison project, after all, and no more controversial in content than lots of other GNs in those collections. I lost track of just how long the collection has been out, so I thought I'd resurrect this thread instead of doing a review of my own.

I enjoyed it, but I would agree that it's a slight piece of work. Morrison seems to have had fun getting out of his usual zone. Robertson did his usual fine job on the art, and as always there are lots of little details at the edges and backgrounds of his panels. The last panel on the first page has a guy on the street puking while being peed on by a dog which felt like Transmetropolitan (which I associate him with most strongly, having not read any of the many projects done with Ennis). I thought Nick Sax was interesting enough as a flawed crime noir detective to hold my attention, and even to root for, especially after his somewhat tragic history is revealed.

One thing I noticed about the possibly imaginary Happy the Horse. The fantasy/reality dichotomy Morrison plays with recalled Joe The Barbarian for me. Although Happy is played for laughs, ultimately he serves a serious purpose, because in the end the story is about Nick setting aside his selfish needs to rescue the children from the mob and the perverted Santa Claus.

The ending's not clear to me. Detective Maireadh has shot Blue, which was a move against the mob and their hold on the police. She visits what appears to be a mob-controlled business, and says the Don sends the message "the blue feather" (which she says in Italian). She also shows him a blue feather, which is another argument in favor of Happy's reality. But what does it mean? Is the blue feather a symbol of freedom from mob influence? And is there any significance that the mobster was called Blue, the color of Happy?

I'm trying to avoid a content-less BUMP, but I really would like to discuss this a bit, even though I'm late to the party. Does anyone have anything to say about the ending?

Those different uses of Blue/blue feather at the end sounds interesting.  I'd have to go look at it again.  I'd thought on first reading that everything wrapped up without much ambiguity, but that wouldn't be like our pal Grant.

Are you suggesting that Happy might be difficult to get hold of within your library system because of it's content?  What was that guy dressed up as again when he had the hammer and the prostitute?

We have something here in Queensland called the Courier-Mail test, which anyone working for a publically accountable body has to think about.  ie How would it look on the front page of the local red-top?  Maybe purvaying the contents of Happy to teeneagers wouldn't pass the Courier-Mail test, or your local equivalent?

Morrison would be very happy if some institution actually banned his book, because I don't think even Ennis has managed that.  (Or am I wrong?)

Maybe I'm over-thinking it, but I'm really not sure what the deal is with the blue feather at the end. Right up to the final page it is pretty unambiguous.

I really don't understand why none of the nearby libraries (including mine) have Happy!. A detailed review might have given pause, but often graphic novels are selected without reviews, on the basis of the creators' reputations. And that test would have come out aces. I know I'm a selector where I work, and I requested it; but I don't get any feedback about what gets purchased and why. We don't have a test like you describe. U.S. courts have gone with "local standards" when defining obscenity, which is a pretty slippery slope here in the Bible Belt.

I don't know of any Ennis banning, but I can practically guarantee he's been challenged. Libraries try to keep it as quiet as possible when they do remove something from the shelves after a challenge (like my director did with Neonomicon). <sarcasm on> Kind of tarnishes our whole "defenders of the right to read" image. <sarcasm off>

The 'Courier-Mail Test' is very informal and Ad-Hoc.  People just have a general idea of the kind of things that gets that (Murdoch) paper's attention and that they make a big deal about.  Sometimes there are bizarre moral crusades that might flare up about things like libraries, but usually, to the paper's credit, it does pick up little corruption cases and put them on the front page, so that is the context of the warnings that were given to stooges in quasi-public institutions like myself.  Don't do it if it would look bad on the front page of the C-M!

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