"We can do this without all the $@!&ing language."
So says Mikey Fratelli at the bottom of page two of Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson's Happy. It's a throwaway line, but I couldn't help but find myself agreeing as the book wore on. Written in the same Mark Millar-style of crass for the sake of being crass, there's so many F-bombs bandied throughout this book that the word quickly starts to lose all meaning. It ends up having more in common with a piece of punctuation than one of the more offensive words in the English language.
And that's not the worst kind of language you'll find in this book.
Granted, there are plenty of comics and other works that have fare more vulgar language than Happy, but the plethora of profanity that Morrison unleashes here is kind of annoying and is more than a little juvenile.
However, it must be said that that is part of Happy's goal. I think it's safe to say that the book's similiarity to Mark Millar's own over-the-top coarse and "gritty" comics is not accidental. Happy almost comes off as a draw by numbers version of that style, having nearly ever conceivable trope and cliche imaginable. Tough and crass gangster thugs, depraved sex stuff as far as the eye can see, crooked cops, predictable plot "twists", and a foul-mouthed protagonist who has no immediate redeemable qualities. If you can think of it, there's probably some permutation of it in these twenty-four pages.
But while Happy has all the elements of books like Kick-Ass or Nemesis, including a pedophilic Santa Claus and a hammer-wielding serial killer by the name of Jack the Hammer, dropping coarse language and throwing out edgy imagery is not the beginning and the end of things as it so often is in Millar's work. Thankfully, things take a clear turn for the strange about halfway through the book when the titular character makes his first appearance.
After barely surviving a shootout, Nick Sax (the aforementioned foul-mouthed protagonist) finds himself low on blood and being driven to the hospital in an ambulance. To make matters worse, he starts hearing voices and finds himself conversing with Happy, an absolutely ridiculous looking blue cartoon horse that claims to be an imaginary friend. Simply put, Happy doesn't fit in with the rest of the sick and depraved world that Morrison and Robertson build over the first half of the book. These two worlds have no place meeting each other, which is why their meeting makes Happy worth reading.
But all is not well for this stupid-looking horse, as he explains that his progenitor Hailey is in some bad trouble and Nick is the only person who can help him get her out of it. Suddenly, what was looking like a pretty humdrum, profanity-laden gangster story about violence and killing becomes this weird intersection that is both children's literature and adult mudercore. All the ugly, warped, and perverted things that populate this book become meaningful in contrast to the sunshine and lollipops of Happy's world.
In other words, things get way more interesting.
Verdict - Buy It. The book closes on Happy yelling at Nick to "Pay attention to the talking horse!", and I would give you the same advice. It's still too early to completely understand what's happening in Morrison and Robertson's Happy, but it's definitely looking to be something worthwhile. Like the best Morrison books, it has its fair share of action-packed scenes, but there's a lot more to Happy than mindless violence, which I'm thankful for.