Misery Loves Company in Ahoy's Happy Hour

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Happy Hour #1 from Ahoy Comics

In the world of Peter Milligan's HAPPY HOUR, the government has all but eliminated societies ills and unrest by treating the root cause of unhappiness -- unhappiness itself. A surgical procedure, performed on everyone, makes the brain incapable of feeling sadness, which gives everyone a peppy, optimistic outlook on everything, including terminal cancer.

But when Jerry suffers a head injury in an automobile accident, he awakens to a room of smiling doctors and nurses who tell him his sister is dead. When Jerry is outraged by their lack of appropriate reactions, they realize Jerry's injuries have worked against his surgery -- he's sad about his sister's death, and something has to be done about that.

Since the surgery cannot be performed a second time, Jerry is institutionalized into a mental health facility -- a "readjustment center" -- to help him back to his normal, happy self though aversion therapies, like "funny sticks" (cattle prods) and painful stimulations to other body parts at the exhibition of sadness. While there, he makes the acquaintance of Kim, who reacquired her unhappiness through a sports accident. They also run into Hamm, a bit of an idol among those who embrace their unhappiness and wish to keep it. Hamm claims to have met the heroic Landor Cohen, who runs a commune in Mexico where people can be as miserable as they wish to be.

Milligan's satire is intriguing, even Swiftian in places. But there's a logical leap that isn't just glossed over, but ignored entirely: how did the entire country get brain surgery and nobody know they had it? One would think that people would not only know they had to have the surgery, but would also be informed to get the surgery by a certain age to continue the ongoing ersatz joy. Jerry and Kim seem to have no memory of having submitted for the surgery, and the story doesn't contain any images of children to gauge whether they have their original capacity for emotion or have been altered early on (the image of a crying orphan notwithstanding, as the image is used for a control in the aversion therapy groups).

It's a fun thought experiment in graphic format, with some excellent art from co-creator Michael Montenat. But I'm not sure the idea is a powerful enough of an engine to push this story very far along.

3.5 / 5.0