Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Let’s Talk About Sax

Posted by Don MacPherson on September 30th, 2012

Variant coverHappy! #1
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Darick Robertson
Colors: Richard P. Clark
Letters: Simon Bowland
Cover artists: Robertson (regular)/Michael Allred (variant)
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US

I’m always up for a new Grant Morrison project, and it’s nice to see him return to creator-owned projects after such a long stay in the DC Universe. That he opted to offer new, original work through Image Comics goes a long way to solidify the publisher as the home of new, unconventional and strong creator-owned work. The core premise of this new series — the juxtaposition of the hard-boiled crime genre and a cartoony fantasy element — is fairly simple and on the surface, seemingly clever. But the two disparate sides of Happy! just don’t seem to mesh well. Furthermore, the gory, unrelenting scenes of underworld violence — even before the opposite element comes into play — turned me off. Morrison plunges us in the middle of a situation in which a group of awful people do awful things to one another, and what’s left out is a reason for the reader to care about any of them.

Nick Sax is reviled by criminals and authorities alike, probably because wherever he goes, he leaves a trail of blood and bodies in his wake. The ambitious son of a major mobster tags along on a hit on Sax, and the added presence of another participant throws a wrench into the works. It’s nothing Sax and his gun can’t handle, but it does slow him down enough to land him in hot water. Sax’s time as a free man may be at an end… if it’s not for the timely assistance of an unseen and impossible guardian angel.

When one considers the two previous projects for which artist Darick Robertson is best known — Transmetropolitan and The Boys — his involvement in this story of uber-violence and crime makes a lot of sense. He’s certainly carved out a niche for himself, and it’s easy to see why he’s succeeded in that regard. The detail he brings to the gritty and grey world of debauchery and death is vivid and brings the almost alien concepts to life. He coveys the violence crisp and unflinchingly with convincing gore. He’s clearly meticulous in his approach to the craft, and despite the ugliness of the story elements, there’s no denying his artistry. Unfortunately, either I’ve had my fill of such fare (having stopped reading The Boys some time ago after tiring of the non-stop mutilations and massacres) or I just wasn’t in the mood for it when I sat down to read this particular comic book.

I do like how the design and color of the out-of-place character at the end of the issue really pops against the haggard world of Nick Sax, and its look put me in mind of Gene Colan’s work on Howard the Duck in the 1970s. But overall, while I appreciated the skill Robertson demonstrates here, the nature of the visuals kept me at bay rather than drawing me into the story.

Happy! appears to be akin to the classic film Harvey had it been envisioned and directed by Quentin Tarantino. It seems like a solid hook, and honestly, I didn’t even need a solid hook to check it out. The creative team alone was enough to get my attention (as was the case for most readers, I would imagine). About 20-30 years ago, this would have been avant garde, the kind of edgy comics that would get people talking and open some eyes about the possibilities of the medium. But in the second decade of the 21st century, this feels too harsh. Morrison’s gone too far in immersing the story in the hard-boiled crime genre. The violence and profanity eclipse the ideas, and that’s unfortunate.

Given Robertson’s involvement with the project and the hyper-violence that helps to define this property make comparisons to The Boys unavoidable. The first issue of that super-hero satire (and in every subsequent issue) was made palatable by one key character: Wee Hughie. He’s a regular guy drawn into an ugly world by a tragic circumstance. His abhorrence was the reader’s, and it helped the reader’s transition into horrible circumstances while allowing him/her to keep one foot planted in reason. Nick Sax’s world of mobsters, serial killers and hard-boiled cops doesn’t offer that, and the dark and harsh elements overwhelm the wonder and fantasy that turns up in the concluding cliffhanger scene. 5/10

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3 Responses to “Let’s Talk About Sax”

  1. Simon DelMonte Says:

    Further proof that Morrison needs editors to restrain him, I think. And further evidence of why Image just isn’t for me. Writers left to their own devices these days go to extremes that I personally find offensive. There is something to be said for old school restraint as enforced by a corporate firm.

  2. Don MacPherson Says:

    Simon wrote:
    Further proof that Morrison needs editors to restrain him, I think. And further evidence of why Image just isn’t for me.

    I don’t think Morrison necessarily needs to be reined in. The concept just didn’t click for me.

    As for Image, I wouldn’t write the publisher off. Far from it. It’s finally become what it should’ve been from Day 1 — a home for creator-owned, non-super-hero work. Saga, Mind the Gap, Manhattan Projects, Fatale, Revival, Who Is Jake Ellis?… Image is hitting all the right notes these days. There are bound to be some duds, but Image’s track record has improved tremendously.

  3. Simon DelMonte Says:

    I’m not writing it off. But with the exception of Nick Spencer’s work, I tend to be put off by the content of the books. I just don’t go for the R-rated comics, which is entirely my preference.