Grant Morrison can lay claim to having produced some of the most influential comics of the last thirty years, both with the ‘Big Two’ and in the creator-owned field, and it is to the latter realm he has returned with his new four issue series Happy! illustrated by Darick Robertson and published by Image Comics. With such a broad range of work under his belt there really is little chance in guessing what type of story Morrison will come up with from one book to the next. Those who prefer his more cosmic or overtly philosophical work may find the opening chapter of this latest tale a bit of a shock, initially at least, as Happy! is of the grittiest comics Morrison has penned in recent years, more in the tradition of hard-boiled, pitch-black noir than transcendental science fiction or multidimensional space opera.
As has been the case throughout his career, Morrison brings a flair to proceedings that isn’t simply the by-product of his lengthy service in the comics industry, but a testament to his commitment to the craft and rare understanding of the form. With its opening pages drenched in sex, violence and those bodily fluids associated with both, readers are introduced to the pitiless and brutal world of Nick Sax, a broken and seemingly hopeless man, whose remaining raison d’être ostensibly seems nothing more than murder and survival. He is cold, his actions are cold and even the world in which he resides is cold, as a cloak of dirty white snow covers its streets. This thin but bright visual element stands in stark contrast to the dark and grubby buildings in which much of the action takes place, and the art of Happy! remains rooted in shadows and gloom for much of the issue.
There is a distinct feeling across the first part that the creative team is deliberately placing barriers between the readers and the world they have created, for reasons that become clearer towards its conclusion. Alongside the liberal uses of sex, bloody violence and its murky art, the dialogue is riddled vicious foul language and feels designed to over emphasise the unpleasant nature of the characters, including Sax, to the point were they are difficult to like. However, being aware of Morrison’s previous experiments in the medium, coupled with a surprising and very strange occurrence late on, it feels as if the almost otherworldly nature of the chaos and viciousness witnessed in this first part is simply a building block of a broader narrative and context for future events.
Even without attempting to second guess the subtext or read into the future direction of the story Happy! is a high-end slice of fierce action, written by a scribe with a keen eye for both explosive set pieces and narrative flow. While the uncompromising nature of the activities early in the book may put off some, the revelations later in this issue will likely play right into the wheelhouse of those fans eager to see more of the atypical storytelling for which Morrison is rightly famed. In a crowded market place it can be hard for original work to stand out, but Morrison and Robertson have together brought out a fascinating new trinket, and one that teases the prospect of a strange and fascinating ride to come.