Happy Hour introduces readers to a world where everyone is bound by law to be as cheerful as possible, even in the face of absolute horror.
This makes for some unnerving sequences right off the bat. A mother learns that their child has died in an accident and is all-smiles, explaining why it’s okay. It’s a haunting visual that carries on throughout Michael Montenat’s illustrations. Everyone seems just slightly off, and their constant smiles pair perfectly with Milligan’s dialogue, which deftly walks the line between parody and dark satire.
Peter Milligan gives each of these characters their own distinct personality. It would be so easy to have them all be snotty and swearing at all times, but they have found their own strange comfort in misery. Some of the dialogue almost feels like it could have come from the mouth of Dave Gahan or Robert Smith; it’s so ludicrously morose that it loops back around to feeling triumphant.
Even the people who have been changed by the new world order have their own flavor. They’re not exactly automatons; they all have goals and wants and functions in society. However, these have all been skewed to fit this bizarre world. As such, there are no clear villains in the series, just yet. Even the characters tasked with hunting down and quelling dissent among the people are just fulfilling a function. As readers, all we really know is that the world is wrong and there has got to be a way out.
There’s also a clear sense that the people who have been sent to the Readjustment Centre aren’t there simply because they’re miserable, but because they’re finally allowed to see the world plainly. They have realistic reactions to trauma or disappointment, which is seen as an aberration in the society of Happy Hour. The fact that they are then beaten down and mistreated for being realistic is what then makes them miserable, feeding into a cycle that will never see them released from captivity.
On the downside, it does seem as though one of the characters is given short shrift in this first issue. It should be interesting to see if this latest round of “treatment” sticks, because it’s otherwise kind of odd to place so much importance on a character here, only to take them out of commission almost immediately. Hopefully there’s more to this storyline than meets the eye.
The creative team manages to sell some of the more cartoonish aspects of the book, like the newest method of reprogramming seen toward the end of the issue. I won’t spoil the Readjustment Centre’s latest plans, but the sequence plays like a feverish mash-up of Disney and A Clockwork Orange, and it definitely got a surprised chuckle out of me.
Meanwhile, there are sequences of torture that have some of the grimness taken out of them, thanks to the addition of an over-the-top shower of sparks and wild electrical currents. The moments of violence are especially interesting, allowing Michael Montenat to illustrate some truly bizarre images in which people are uncharacteristically gleeful during a bloody scene.
This carries throughout the book, with the antagonists being oddly all-smiles as they talk about their work and deal out pain to the people who are seen as abnormal. Milligan and Montenat fully sell the reader on a world where this has become the accepted way of things.
As with most of AHOY’s other books, this issue has a few backup prose stories. These are “Shopping Is Hard,” written by Matthew Sharpe and illustrated by Molly Stanard, “Your Fortune,” written by Martyn Pedler and illustrated by Daniel Schoeneck, and “Stiff Upper Lip,” written by Vasil Duka and illustrated by Ameilee Sullivan. All of these short stories have a darkly humorous bent to them, which helps them fit with the tone of Happy Hour.
Unfortunately, the only one of these stories that fully worked for me is “Your Fortune,” which brings its interesting concept full circle in a satisfying way. “Shopping Is Hard” is monumentally confusing, while “Stiff Upper Lip” is amusing but slight.
These last two stories feel like they don’t quite have the space to be fleshed out, while “Your Fortune” kind of flourishes in this format. Other readers may get something different out of these short stories than I did, though it must be mentioned that the illustrations that accompany each of these tales are quite striking.
Happy Hour has an intriguing premise and an entertaining cast of characters. I’ve never been so excited to see people feeling so miserable.
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