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Again, be wary all ye who enter. This title is for mature readers only, with an emphasis on mature. It takes place during Christmas, there's a church, a pedophile and a lot of cursing: a cornucopia of material that some people can find sensitive. So with the standard warning out of the way, cover your kids' eyes and delve into a realm that isn't very happy.
So, after a third issue which was a major turn around for the four issue mini-series, how well does the finale of Happy finish off the series? Let's just say, it's not a happy New Year.
Nick Sax is a hired gun with a personality as charming as the Grinch. However, he has finally seen the error of his – or at least others – ways and has to save his daughter, who has been kidnapped and is going to be in a Christmas porn film if he doesn't find Happy, the imaginary blue horse who's been annoying him since Happy #1.
This issue was, unfortunately, very predictable. Nick's "transformation," his talks with Happy, and his final confrontation, all felt pretty stock with one grim twist on the Christmas tale towards the end. After everything was said and done and we see the final, crappy epilogue, I really wish we got to see a flash forward into the future or at least had more closure with our gruff protagonist.
I do actually care about Nick. Happy #3 assured that. The outcome of his character by the end of this story also doesn't fall into the trap of a cliché and isn't as sad as it should be. Nick's satisfied face in one panel did bring out a smile on mine. Unfortunately, this sentimentality means little when looking at all the other negative factors that plague Happy #4.
Other than Nick, none of the characters are memorable or enjoyable and there are surprisingly a lot of them. First we have the stereotypical pedophile priest (guess what happens to him). Then there's a guy named Smoothie who is nowhere near as memorable as the soft drink he's named after. But of course you can't forget, Santa also makes his appearance in this issue – no, not the real one, but a doped up pedophile porn star who has less lines than anyone else and most of those eyes are incoherent so... moving on.
Hailey, Nick's daughter, is given a few lines but earns brownie points for being pivotal to the plot and the source of Nick's Christmas Carol transformation. The other prominent female is a female detective, whose part was just so fascinating that I can't even remember her name and can't be bothered to look in the past issue. I could give her brownie points like Hailey for being pivotal to this issue, but she is also responsible for the terrible final page that ends this mini-series with a sour feeling in your mouth.
Of course, you can't forget about the little blue horse Happy, but I'm actually really disappointed his origins are so simplified. Originally all of my interest in this mini-series stemmed from Happy's mysterious history but by the end of this issue he hasn't "wowed" me. But I will say, most of the moments he shared with Nick were... "magical."
Finally, we have the stock villain whose very existence I forgot about: Mr. Blue. And that's all there really is to say about his character.
Mr. Blue's name is only one example of the overkill in blue symbolism writer Grant Morrison and colorist Richard P. Clark seem to think is more clever than it actually is. If you drank every time you saw something and read something that involved the color blue, you would be deader than Saint Nicholas. Every panel has a blue overtone, Happy's primary color is blue as are his wings and feathers, and there's that stock villain's name. I actually liked the blue overtones in every page because it was a more subtle choice that is associated with the cold, an association which mirrors the glum mood of the story and the Christmas-time weather.
The ending also isn't a good resolution. There are still a lot of questions unanswered, like how "Santa" is able to see Happy. Are we just supposed to believe the dope Santa was high on gives him Happy-the-horse vision? The "cavalry" Happy gets to help Nick is also unexplained followed by a confusing ending. And what was that password? Most of these questions readers won't care about, and they really shouldn't, but they can be answered in one line. There are also some discrepancies, like the ending fight which I won't spoil, but Happy should have been much more observant.
Darick Robertson's art was really enjoyable this issue, but a couple moments were more "guilty pleasure" than "genuinely good artwork." These were the panels with characters wearing overly dramatic, cartoony expressions that seem disconnected from the rest of the gritty artwork... but they are so entertaining it is completely worth it. We get Nick's evil grin and Hailey's distraught face which really shouldn't be as funny as it is. There are some genuinely heartwarming expressions, however, like the contented look on Nick's face which I just loved looking at.
Robertson drew Nick's character well throughout the issue, making him look like his normally unkempt self which only helped to reinforce his personality. That can't be said for that female detective whose name I continue to not care to remember. Sometimes Robertson makes her look alright, but she is juxtaposed between two pages and her bone structure goes from awkward on one page to fine on the other.
A lot of the artistic problems come from the layout of the panels. There are often too many on one page to the point where panels are cramped onto the page.
The scenery was standard but if Robertson was given more room I think he could've done a lot more with the backgrounds. There were several small panels that felt cramped at the bottom of one page which slowly scanned back from rooftops. Robertson did manage to pull off one page with a falling Christmas hat very well. My favorite part of Robertson's artwork was a one-and-a-half page spread of Santa and a barrage of demonic toys. But given more room, all of these pages might have been more effective. The only other problems are the occasional over lining and overshadowing of images.
Santa's frightened, doped up expression on that page: priceless.
This series has sold very well and has been received well critically, so it's likely Grant Morrison will be writing for Image Comics again, which I don't object to. When the man is on his game, he can produce gems like Batman and Robin. Let's just hope in his next Image title, Morrison indulges in less curses and answers more questions. Until then, this has been a very unhappy, but entertaining, Christmas story.