As a kid, I remember watching Blue Chips (My brother was a big fan of Shaquille O’Neal at the time). From the moment the credits rolled, loose lips slipped as cussing surprisingly took center stage. I decided to make a game of it; I’d count the number of cuss words that appeared in the film. I counted 60 expletives in 45 minutes. Never did I suspect I could be that stupefied until I read Happy #3, written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Darick Robertson. Produced by Image Comics, Happy is a Christmas-themed comic that follows the life of Nick Sax, an ex-cop turned hit-man, who is unwillingly paired up with a cheery-eyed, imaginary blue unicorn.
The first issue involves the aftermath of a mob shoot-out orchestrated by Nick to take out three of the Fratelli brothers, which it ultimately does. Alas, no evil deed goes unpunished; unbeknownst to him, there was a fourth bro with the element of surprise cocked and loaded. This hidden assailant enjoys temporary victory as he clips Nick’s side, but inevitably dies soon after. Chased by coppers and gangsters alike, a wounded Nick is easily apprehended by the latter and taken to a mob-infested hospital. He is held captive by Mr. Smoothie, a hooligan whose waterboarding skills rival Jack Bauer’s from 24. The lethal criminal demands Nick cough up the password to the Fratelli fortune (This was Nick’s reason for engineering the hit). During his time of affliction, Nick begins noticing a silly blue unicorn that’s only visible to him.
The small imaginary horse, known as Happy, starts talking to him and insists he rescue some kids from a pedophile garbed in a Santa suit. They escape the hospital; all the while, Nick denies Happy’s existence, wishing to be left alone. The third issue commences with Nick and Happy aboard a train. It appears Nick is trying to run away from his problems, but Happy’s not having it. The blue miniaturized unicorn persists that he help Hailey, one of the children imprisoned by the child-molesting Santa Claus (It’s hard to stomach such perversion, even with it being an adult-themed comic). Nick fights him with every cuss word on his tongue, even questioning why a “cartoon horse” would care if kids were being killed. Happy explains to him that Hailey’s death would trigger his own. He further adds, “If she stops believing in me—I die, Nick.”
Happy then wonders how Nick became such a deadbeat, leading to a backstory on the hit-man’s earlier days as a respected cop and newlywed. We see him take a gradual plunge into darkness; he deteriorates from the happily-married husband setting up tree decorations to the cheating spouse who sleeps with his partner (Nick confides in his co-worker about the violence of his work rather than his wife). I am in opposition with many things in this comic and this is up there. Even anti-heroes have some dignity; Venom hates Spider-Man, but considers himself a lethal protector of the innocent. Nick has no redeemable qualities. Having one of the main protagonists behave so immorally dishonors the code of respectability they’re supposed to embody.
I’ve mentioned before how I’m not fond of cussing in the comics I read. It tends to make the dialogue bland and one-dimensional. Like Pete Bell, Nick Nolte’s character in Blue Chips, nearly every word out of Nick’s mouth is an expletive. The swear jar has become a swear tub. This combined with an extramarital affair does not inspire heroism, a core component of most action/adventure comics. However, everyone has the right to their own opinion/analysis, including Morrison, who participated in a Q&A article for Comics Alliance that offers his stance on his latest creation. In it, he said he purposefully inserted swearing into his series to give it a Jersey feel. “I wanted the world to be really degraded when the comic began,” Morrison said. He insinuated that he chose to distort the gleeful characteristics associated with the classic Christmas setting, including Coca-Cola’s conception of Santa Claus.
Morrison alluded to Christmas being a representation of “American commercialism.” Evaluating this comic solely on an artistic basis, I can see the attraction of distorting the pagan tradition of the yuletide season. However, my own thoughts on what a comic should be are the polar opposite of his. Wrapping up on the plot, the third issue ends on a cliffhanger as it is revealed that Hailey is Nick’s daughter. Unaware he had a child, this stimulates a change of heart in the selfish, loathsome killer (Perhaps there is a touch of virtue in this comic after all, but only a smidge). Happy is Hailey’s imaginary unicorn and only he can navigate the prodigal father to his neglected offspring.
Robertson’s art conveys Morrison’s dark, corrupt world quite well. A blizzard descends on the cold, mean streets, symbolizing the heartlessness of the city and its inhabitants. Each character, even those unnamed, have a bitter countenance. With the exception of Happy, Robertson incorporates realism with his sketches; some guys are balding while others have a five o’ clock shadow. There are three forms of word expression. The typical word bubble with an arrow connoting the speaker is implemented, but there’s also times when there’s an absence of an arrow, leaving you to piece together the speaker’s identity. I suppose this is synonymous of the city’s universal corruption; the hostile, anger-fueled words could belong to anybody since none are inherently good. Finally, there are some phrases in red without a word bubble; left raw, they reflect the blunt chaos of Morrison’s fictional environment. These are used to voice the shouts and screams of the many angry citizens.
Morrison is clearly a respected visionary in the comic industry with a large following. Unfortunately, I’m in the opposing minority with this title. The bountiful cussing is a turn-off for me.