Publisher: Ahoy Comics
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artwork: Michael Montenat
Colours: Felipe Sobreiro
Letters: Rob Steen
Release Date: 4th November 2020
Imagine a world where happiness is mandated. No more grumbles or cathartic moans about your work, family, or, heaven forbid, politics. Well that’s what we have here in Happy Hour as the duly elected government of the United States has outlawed anything other than smiley, passive society. As the song states, the beatings will continue until morale improves…
I can already hear the cries of ‘Keep politics out of yadda yadda.’ It’s not so much the elephant in the room any more as the rampaging herd crashing through any conversation. As I read this and write the review, I’m acutely aware, even as a Brit, of the fervour of the approaching election result in the States. The timing of release here, whilst perhaps fortuitous regarding the subject matter, could maybe be a little too on the nose for some.
Although the concept is perhaps a little hackneyed, with a new dystopian government enacting broad social reforms, this still feels pretty fresh. A non-specific government has, through means of both direct and indirect controls, created a would-be utopia where individuals only experience positive emotions. Human nature being what it is though, there are those who can’t help but rebel with a desire to wallow in misery. Following an accident, our protagonist Jerry, who will lead us through this brave and decidedly happy new world, awakens in hospital feeling a bit less than chipper. The emotional pain and feelings of unhappiness he’s experiencing means it’s time for a trip to the re-education centres. There we find ourselves drawn into a shadowy underground movement desiring a return to ‘normality’.
There’s some fantastically unnerving moments in here such as the family laughing and hollering during a conversation about grandmother’s metastasised stomach cancer which, although ludicrous, does ring alarm bells about how quickly new topics or sentiments can become acceptable, even without legal enforcement. These moments are helped immeasurably by the art of Montenat and Sobreiro. I’m not normally too much of a fan of actor cameos in comic art but here it gives a strong Scanner Darkly vibe. As such, I managed to get on board and found choices like a grimacing doctor bearing more than a passing resemblance to Clooney all the more absurd yet engaging.
Writer Peter Milligan, aided by Steen’s letters, delivers an easy and disquieting read. There’s maybe not a lot of ground-breaking material in this first issue with a lot of ideas riffing on previously established works. That said, certain moments and creative choices, such as the tortuous conditioning played somewhat for laughs, definitely lingered with this reader.
I should also mention that this issue of Happy hour not only delivers the main story but also three one-page pieces of illustrated prose from six different artists and authors. Each of these are self-contained short stories of weird horror which are well delivered and perfect for elongating that coffee break read. I’m a big fan of this kind of inclusion and it’s a great way to get a bit of exposure to a variety of creators.
Maybe the timing is perfect for this, chiming with the current zeitgeist. To say that’s the only reason I found this enjoyable however would be a disservice to the team. If you aren’t all politicked out then you certainly won’t be doing yourself a disservice by picking this up.
[PREVIEW ARTWORK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
The writer of this piece was: Adam Brown
Adam Tweets from @brother_rooster