For a comic ostensibly about an imaginary friend helping a man find a kidnapped child, “Happy!” has taken an awful long time getting to what you’d think is the meat of the story. But after several issues of Nick refusing to believe Happy is real, “Happy!” #4 finally rolls up its sleeves and showing the rescue.
Or at least, that’s what you’d assume, right?
What Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson present instead is another strangely paced issue, with the turning point that readers have waited for (and continually teased as having happened at the end of each of the three previous issues) held off for just a little bit longer. In doing so yet again, the issue ends up as a slightly unsatisfying comic the more you think about it.
By making the eventual rescue attempt happen so late into “Happy!” #4, what readers end up with is a strange almost-admission from Morrison that there wasn’t a lot of depth to that part of the story. By virtue of Morrison’s pacing, it’s not even worth an entire issue, and readers shouldn’t have looked forward to it that much. But with three and a half issues promising that it’s just around the corner, it feels almost like a cheat; doubly so when looking back at the earlier issues and realizing it’s mostly filler. Save for one small revelation in “Happy!” #3, it’s hard to keep from having a sneaking suspicion that the second and third issues could have been skipped entirely.
Part of the problem is that with “Happy!” having focused mostly on Nick’s refusal to believe in Happy, it means that the mini-series is really about Nick’s journey of discovery. But here’s the problem with that: it doesn’t quite succeed. The problem isn’t so much that Nick isn’t a terribly likable character (on some level this is also his redemption quest), but rather that it takes Nick so long to finally come on board that he ends up looking rather stupid. All “Happy!” #4 is missing at this point is a big flashing arrow coming down from the heavens to have yet another thing that Nick can ignore; it’s hard to cheer on someone whose unwillingness to believe what’s in front of him — over and over again — has ultimately dragged out a story that should’ve wrapped up quickly.
There are a few nice moments, but most of them have more to do with Robertson than Morrison. The arrival of the proverbial cavalry in the climax of “Happy!” #4 is a great splash page, one that almost makes up for how long it took us to get there. The different faces converging on that moment are well worth stopping and examining, and there’s a certain joy to that moment thanks to Robertson’s pencils. And while I’m still not entirely sure if there was a reason for Mr. Blue’s head to never be shown in its entirety, Robertson’s attempts to do so end up rather amusing.
With a stereotypical conclusion and a lackluster epilogue, “Happy!” #4 doesn’t even end on a strong note once we’ve finally reached the conclusion. Morrison and Robertson’s creator-owned project started out with a strong first chapter, but it’s unfortunately fallen prey to the world of diminishing returns, ones that are even harder to ignore due to the production delays (this issue was supposed to ship two months ago, making the Christmas imagery feel a little out of place now). Robertson’s contributions are ultimately the saving grace of “Happy!” and if you’re a fan of his art, you’ll be pleased. I love the idea of Morrison unleashing a horde of new creator-owned mini-series on the world, but future ones will need to be a bit more cohesive than this.