“I bet everyone here is fake happy too.”-Paramore
Writer Peter Milligan, artist Michael Montenat, and colorist Felipe Sobreiro create a high concept dystopian comic in Happy Hour #1. The book’s premise is that being unhappy is a crime and gets you thrown in A Clockwork Orange-style re-education camps (But with better food) where you’re basically tortured into having a Joker smile even when you feel pain, discomfort, or in a state of emotional distress or grief. For example, one of the main characters, Jerry, is thrown into a re-education camp by the Joy Police because he’s sad that his sister has passed away while his mind-screwed mom and the doctor are laughing and making jokes about her looks. This is bad, but one of his fellow inmates at the camp, a bit of a wildcard named Hamm, keeps talking about Landor Cohen, who has a “paradise” in Mexico where anyone can be as miserable as they want. However, in keeping with Happy Hour‘s cynical tone and Milligan’s self-aware writing style, this isn’t as it seems.
Michael Montenat’s mixture of caricature and photorealistic art a la Michael Gaydos (Alias, Pearl) is well-suited for the terrifying supporters of the Joy Police and the status quo with their rictus grins and laughs that look like those infamous stock photos of women laughing at salad instead of genuine merriment. Colorist Sobreiro adds a little juice to the line work during any of the torture or indoctrination scenes from regular electric shocks to a truly traumatizing treatment that is enacted on Hamm towards the end of the issue as the guards grow tired of him jabbering about Landor Cohen. He turns on the reds and then returns to skin tone and then reds again as Milligan and Montenat drop the issue ending cliffhanger.
Plotwise, Peter Milligan has really dug a hole for the characters we meet in Happy Hour #1, and I’m eager to see them try to dig out of it (Or get brainwashed while trying.) over this six issue miniseries. With the exception of Kim, who was an Olympic level athlete, he doesn’t endow Happy Hour‘s leads with a lot of practical smarts or skills to either pull off a prison break, much less any kind of revolution. Montenat draws Hamm like a chiseled, grizzled anti-hero, but he’s no Daredevil in a bar fight, and despite his charisma and machismo, he ends succumbing to the Joy Police easily. He talks a big game, but can’t perform when the chips are down.
Bouncing off this, the protagonists of Happy Hour are truly underdogs instead of badasses Hollywood-coded as underdogs. They’re self-described “miserable bastards”, who just want to rock a resting bitch face occasionally, feel a little pissed about getting a bronze medal, or in Jerry’s case, actually feel honest emotions about the loss of a loved one instead of being forced to smile and conform to a false reality. In the flashback sequences, Milligan and Montenat get in some quick satire about the American opioid and mental health crisis even though there seems to be a bit of a distance and reliance on well worn tropes instead of engaging with Americans’ complex relationship with pharmaceuticals and the pharmaceutical industry. They fare much better in the crafting of the main characters from the entertaining, yet very Philosophy 101 introduction to their shared experiences in the reeducation camp ranging from their dedication to being miserable to their begrudging acceptance of the gourmet meals provided.
With a genuinely rag tag group of characters, a touch of intellectual wit and real emotional honesty from Peter Milligan’s script, and some downright unsettling art from Michael Montenat, Happy Hour #1 is the perfect comic for folks who want to feel their feelings instead of embrace Stoic philosophy like the rest of the fake happy influencer crowd.
Story: Peter Milligan Art: Michael Montenat
Colors: Felipe Sobreiro Letters: Rob Steen
Story: 7.9 Art: 8.5 Overall: 8.2 Recommendation: Buy
Ahoy provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review