There's no shortage of comic book adaptations on television. The Walking Dead pioneered the genre, and is currently carrying its pallid group of survivors into its eighth season. AMC followed suit with its cockeyed interpretation of the Garth Ennis classic Preacher, and Netflix is constantly papered with Marvel spin-offs. Despite that, it's rare to see a graphic novel make it to the small screen in an unadulterated form; the giddy blood-soaked chaos unique to the medium is often sanded down for a queasy mainstream audience. But if there's one thing clear about Happy!, it's that SyFy is not pulling any punches.
The Happy! graphic novel was authored by Grant Morrison, who is a first-ballot comic book Hall of Famer. The Scottish master got his start in the Eighties, penning a legendary, psychoactive take on the fringe D.C. character Animal Man, before moving into big names like Justice League of America, Batman and the hugely influential The Invisibles. Morrison's most famous work might be All-Star Superman, which rolled the Man of Steel back into his original ethos as a selfless, tender American role model — a lovable dork that saves the world, instead of the grim, color-drained alien chucking spaceships into the sun.
In the 2010s, Morrison has let his freak flag fly more than ever. Most recently he published Klaus, a story about a prowling, bloodthirsty Santa Claus, and 18 Days, which converts the winding Hindu mythic The Mahabharata to a gorgeous, sci-fi odyssey. But perhaps the favorite from his late-career run is Happy!, which remains one of the weirdest books in recent memory. In it, we follow Nick Sax, a deadbeat, alcoholic hitman who gets murked after a job gone wrong. He wakes up in a hospital with a hunk of lead in his side, and a nursery-rhyme cartoon horse floating over his head. His name is Happy, and he's the imaginary friend of a girl named Hailey who's just been kidnapped by a deranged child killer dressed in a Santa suit. Happy recruits Sax to rescue Hailey and execute the sicko, and what follows is classic Morrison: a bucktoothed looney tune and a salty gun-for-hire joining forces for about 90 pages of yuletide carnage.
It might sound ridiculous, and that's exactly the point. Morrison is at his best when he's exploring outer reaches of what's possible in a comic book narrative, and SyFy is bringing Happy!'s playful, sickly-sweet ultraviolence to life with remarkable attention to detail. Chris Meloni, best known as permanently buttoned-up Elliot Stabler on Law & Order: SVU, plays Sax, and describes the show as "A Christmas Carol meets Quentin Tarantino" in an exclusive interview with Revolver. "A superhero movie on testosterone and other drugs," he adds.
If you want more proof, look no further than the pilot episode, in which Sax blows his brains out in a hypnagogic dream sequence, only for his headless, blood-spurting corpse to join hands with a few entranced ravers under a disco ball in one of the most unsettling (and hilarious) moments ever documented for the small screen.
This will be the first time a Morrison book will be adapted to either the small screen or the big screen, which is a responsibility that director and co-writer Brian Taylor takes seriously. Taylor is best known for the hallucinogenic Crank films — where Jason Statham has to keep his heart rate up to keep the bomb in his chest from detonating. Morrison loved those movies, and took effort to reflect their black sense of humor in Happy!, which is something Taylor says he noticed from the start. "When you read Happy! you start seeing all these references to the Crank movies," he says. "You see this guy in a hospital gown getting chased by cops, covered in blood. I was like, 'Man, this seems familiar,' but it didn't register to me until we were on set shooting the scenes, and I was getting this sense of déjà vu."
Morrison himself is an Executive Producer on the show, which is necessary because in its original incarnation, Happy! was only a four-issue miniseries. In a lot of ways, Taylor's job is to flesh out the rest of the universe, and expand the mythology of the setting to fit a full first season. "Anyone who follows Grant's work knows he's completely insane. He lives up in Scotland in this castle full of cats. When you work with Grant Morrison it's like going into this dark cave full of perverts, cats and strange ideas," the director says. "It's awesome working with him. The graphic novel was basically a jumping off point. We invented new villains, new characters, new story arcs, all kinds of new stuff. It's a real trip sitting down and jamming with him."
Morrison feels the same way. "[It's been great] working with other people, because usually I just sit in a tower back in Scotland writing. My wife is downstairs and there's nothing else going on," he says. "To get out of the house, to collaborate with Brian, and getting to meet actors and see how they work. I found that really exciting."
The cast is rounded out by Patrick Fischler (best known for playing Jimmy Barrett on Mad Men, and the Dharma Initiative goon Phil on Lost,) who takes on the sadistic Mr. Smoothie, and Patton Oswalt who voices Happy. Oswalt is an avowed, lifelong comic book fan who's bringing CGI experience over from his starring role in Ratatouille, and Taylor found that writing for an imaginary character can be shockingly advantageous. "You're not bound by what's on set," he says. "You can react to things with a sense of hindsight that you never really get filming. A lot of times, three days later after filming something, you're like, 'Oh, I wish we could've done that.' Well, now you can," he enthuses. "Oswalt in the studio has his own sense of timing, his own improvisations — it's like you have another opportunity to make magic moments."
Happy! premieres on the SyFy channel at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, December 6th. We may be in the midst of a comic book renaissance, but with Morrison behind the wheel, trust us, you haven't seen anything yet.