Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson take their vision of urban crime stories to Image Comics, where they can say "fuck" a lot.
Grant Morrison isn't necessarily a comic book writer one would associate with tough-guy gangster stories filled with gunplay and characters exhibiting street level swagger. Given to larger, mad ideas that take the reader on some kind of mind-bending trip and include at least a small dose of surrealism and future-cool science fiction, Morrison is best known for leaning towards the post-modern.
That alone may make Happy so interesting. In some ways, we're seeing the anti-Morrison in the first issue of his new limited series, published at Image. It's a straight up, no frills gangster story that's loud and in constant motion. Morrison revels in grossness, depravity, and profanity (that last one is applied very generously) while introducing us to Nick Sax, the ex-cop turned hired hitman who enacts a clever plan to kill off other hired hitmen before being taken in by other bad dudes. It isn't complicated, but the story moves at such a dizzying pace that it It's a dark, dynamic world where there doesn't seem to be any virtue or goodness to be found (even Santa Claus is a psycho). Morrison's story lives in this milieu while living up to the outsized exaggerations that classify the gangster genre. It's almost cartoonish in it's bleakness and bloodshed throughout, but never moreso than when an actual cartoon character, the titular talking blue horse (with wings) shows up.
Ultimately, the structure of the comic makes some sense. It feels as if Morrison is settling into the confines of the genre he's working in before getting on with the business he's really here to carry out. The first half of the issue is well-constructed but frankly boiler plate gangland thriller stuff. When Nick Sax is rushed to the hospital after getting shot, things start getting weird. This is when all the potential of the story rears its head. The brief appearance by Happy sets up a lot of latent expectation and brings forth that "gotta see what's next" feeling.
The real stars of the book are the art team of Darick Robertson and Richard P. Clark, who tell the story with such assured conviction that they make the urban decay of its setting look absolutely gorgeous. There's beauty in the juxtaposition of the snow-covered old-apartment architecture with the seediness of the run down neighborhood and the casual violence that takes place therein. Robertson imbues the story with appropriate grittiness and free flowing page design; this is some of the best work he's done since the earlier issues of The Boys. It's a story that's rendered largely through the physicality of its characters. Every gesture and pained facial expression is meticulously realized and the colors, lighting, and textures give the story a palpable sense of weight and immediacy that puts the reader right into the action. Robertson's narrative flourishes and attention to detail really make this story sing, and Clark is the perfect color artist for its mood and setting.
It isn't necessarily the most challenging comic out there, but Happy #1 represents something that we really haven't seen enough of in recent years: Grant Morrison stretching out a bit and trying out something new. Plunging himself into a new world partially of his own creation (especially with an artist like Darick Robertson) can only energize Morrison, and push him to give readers a new look at a well-worn genre. Happy #1 is a solid bit of genre fun and hopefully, it's the start of something truly bizarre and unique. So far, it's off to a good start.