Morrison is well known for his often spawling amd confusing narratives, but Happy! sees him restricting himself to telling a full story with economy and discipline and he nails it. Happy! is a tremendously enjoyable work, which see's Morrison taking on the trope of an odd-couple "buddy" narrative and having a lot of fun with who the pair in question are - an ex-cop turned hitman called Nick teaming up with a small, blue imaginary horse called Happy. The initial setting is so bleak and dystopic and the protagonist so miserable and cynical that it feels like Morrison wants to rub humanity's face in it's own vomit and force it to look in the mirror. And yet by the end it becomes a lesson in hope and redemption much more in line with Morrison's usual attitude and Happy the Horse is his agent in bringing light to a dark world. Morrison has made no secret of the fact that he regarded the turn towards extreme violence, grit and misery of the post-Watchmen, post-Dark Knight Returns era of US comics to have been something of a wrong step for the industry, so the extreme grimdarkness setting of Happy! reads almost certainly as having parodic elements, as well as making the extreme cuteness of Happy the Horse so amusing by contrast.
Macarthy: "Officers. This tragic, paranoid husk of a man used to be the best detective in the whole department. Medals. Citations. A beautiful wife and a golden career. Behold the man."
He snaps at her to go away and suddenly he sees... a small blue horse sitting on his chest.
|Nick meet Happy, Happy meet Nick|
The second issue begins with Nick and Happy making a daring escape from the hospital. Nick armed only with a drip stand and Happy's ability to warn him of ambushes. They manage to get outside and MaCarthy confronts them saying all the mobsters want is the password. Nick says "there is no fucking password" and she should jus shoot him and get it over with. But she lets them go and Nick and Happy make their getaway in a car. An angry Mr. Smoothie who had his teeth knocked out by Nick, phones the Shadowy Man who reiterates he wants that password.
|The odd couple.|
So they sit down with some very shady thugs, and Happy tells Nick what cards everyone has. After some trash talk Nick goes for a final raise and Happy disappears. Sweating with anxiety, Nick almost wills Happy back, who reappears and says he'll only help if Nick agree's to help Hailey. Nick says yes, Happy tells him to call it, and Nick cleans up. Unfortunately his oppnents are somewhat sore losers and Nick ends up shooting all of them. Then he goes to the train station to get out of town and Happy is upset Nick went back on his word.
|Who needs a poker face when you have Happy?|
Happy keeps up the pressure, saying he "knows there's a hero inside of you". But Nick just gives him the finger. The final page of the issue cuts to the creepy Santa in a room with several kids bound and gagged on the floor. Taking the storyline to it's darkest point. It might seem almost too bleak to carry on right now. The only likeable characters are Happy and Detective McCarthy. Nick is so far down the anti-hero road he's pratically a villain protagonist. But after taking us to the very pits of despair by this halfway mark, things slowly start to get more optimistic and the contrast of the darkness and the light makes the eventual triumph of good far more satisfying.
Issue three starts with the police interviewing a man who overheard Nicks "strangling" comment. Now the police think he might be the kiddie snatcher as well. Nick is trying to sleep on the train while Happy begs him to help. He finally goes to the toilet so he can talk to Happy privately.
Nick: "What is it to you if one more kid dies? What the fuck does a cartoon horse know about life and death and fucking pain?"
Happy: "If Hailey dies, I die too. If Hailey stops believing in me, I die Nick. But you... how do you get to be you Nick?"
Now follows a six page flashback, using a technique of single frames with large time skips between them and floating text bubbles to convey the sped up passage of time. He was happily married and transferred to homicide to work with McCarthy. The grind of day-to-day death alienated him from his wife, until one day he tells McCarthy:
Nick: "I can't talk to her about any of this shit. She... she has a hard time with depression. How am I supposed to tell her the whole world is just...It's all just... just gift wrapping on a fucking skull."
|Happier times for Nick|
Happy: "How about turning this into the heartwarming tale of redemption it's supposed to be?"
The train stops and a man tries to ambush Nick on the loo, getting gutshot for his trouble. Then Nick tells Happy that everyone on the train is a miserable asshole and why should he care about them? And indeed we hear snippets of dialogue from angry, bitter people, cursing and frowning away. This practically breaks Happy, reducing him to a forlorn looking specimen, with most of his colour leached away. Nick rages about why he doesn't care about Hailey and Happy quietly responds:
Happy: "Well.. see that newspaper? I think I just figured out why you of all people in the city can see me Nick. Hailey's your daughter."
|Aww, poor Happy|
The final issue sees McCarthy sneering at the shadowy man over the phone, now called Mr. Blue. Who is displeased with her, telling her she can start looking for a new job. Meanwhile, following the sign from Happy, Nick finds himself in a church and asks the priest if he knows anything about angels appearing as blue horses. The priest is flustered and starts fiddling with his PC. Nick sees he is looking at live footage of the kids under a Christmas tree, he sees a blue light over one of them and grins. Happy pops out of the PC still mad at him, Nick half apologises and uses his detective skills to narrow down where the room must be by the flashing barsign outside it's window. The priest tries to get away, and Nick dispenses his own brand of absolution.
|Tough break, pervert.|
|Note Superman in the top left corner.|
Mr. Blue: "It's cunts like me who rule the world." [gunshot, blood spurts out of his chest]
McCarthy: "And cunts like me shoot cunts like you in the back. It all evens in the end."
|A short-lived reunion|
|Oh, all of my feels.|
|And they all lived happily ever after (I hope)|