Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Glory Book 2: War Torn (#29-34)

"I'm not giving up now.  Not after so much was sacrificed.  I need to see this through" - Glory

War Torn continues the story begun in the previous volume, with Glory and her friends leaving to find Glory's little sister to aid in their fight against Glory's father.  Before we crack on with the plot, I need to fill you in on the "Extreme" Universe.  I wrote about the set-up at Image comics under my review of the Dave Sim penned issue of Spawn.  To briefly recap, each of the founders had their own studio which came under the overall Image banner.  Rob Leifeld's studio was called "Extreme" (oh dear, and when he left Image and formed a new studio he called it "Awesome".  How old was he again?).  Each studio had their characters as part of a shared universe, so for example events in Youngblood would be referred to in Supreme and so on, with frequent guest appearences and crossovers.  Less frequently their might be a reference to an event taking place in the Extremeverse in a comic under the Wildstorm banner.  But generally most characters kept to their own universes and in this volume of Glory we'll be meeting pretty much every character from the Extremeverse, including Supreme, Youngblood and Bloodstrike as well as assorted other characters from those comics.  Rob Liefeld rarely does much in the way of art stuff now, but he did draw a variant cover for the first issue of Glory (the fantastic one that had her standing on a pile of defeated monsters).  Sadly it's just rather dull and generic, and not as mockable the picture of her and Avengelyne I put in my review of book 1.  Certainly wouldn't entice me to buy the comic at any rate.
Why Liefeld!Glory I find your blandness.. ennervating
Now the characters have been introduced and the backstory done with, Joe Keatinge's writing becomes a lot more enjoyable.  With lots of dialogue heavy scenes that affirm the warm relationship Glory's merry little band have with each other and the people they meet, and it's funny and tragic when it needs to be, creating an emotional investment in the characters on the part of the audience, all helped along by Ross Campbell's amazingly good art, he's also an artist not afraid to render women's bodies in different shapes and sizes, which is so refreshing to see in the days of cookie cutter "babe" characters in most comics now.  There are also some guest artists in a couple of issues, rendering flashbacks and small scenes in different styles which are also very good.

The book begins with a flashback of Glory leaving Thule - so her Mum and Dad decide to have another half Demon/Amazon child to act as a peace symbol between their people and Nanaja is born.  Back in the present Glory, Gloria, Riley and Henry are packing up to leave and go find Nanaja. Another flashback shows Glory visiting Nanaja as a young child and Glory says she'll always be there for her even when she is away.  The flashback jumps forward and now Nanaja is a hot-headed teenager and angry at the responsibilities being laid upon her.  A demon tells her she is Glory's "bloodshadow".
Demon: "It means 'sibling outshone by the others greatness.'"

This makes Nanaja angrier and wanting to attack and crush humanity to spite Glory.

Glory and her gang fly to another French town called Buc (Gloria, Riley and Henry on the back of Belesava).  There they meet another old friend of Glory's called Jim.  They make plans to head into Paris where Nanaja is to be found. While the final flashback to the past shows Nanaja leaving for Earth via a teleportation portal.

In the present, Jim and Glory chat as they drive to Paris.  Jim is concerned that Glory will get Riley killed and Glory can't assure him otherwise.  They arrive at the house and Glory tells Gloria that her and Jim will be sharing a bed.  The action then cuts to them both naked and post-coitally sharing a bottle of wine.

Jim: "We have had some times haven't we? The places we've been, the things we've seen.  The lovers we've shared.  Some things never change do they?"
Nanaja and her bedtime companions
The action then moves to Nanaja, also sharing a bed with five (!) men and women.  She is restless and goes to look out of the window, saying to herself:

Nanaja: Come on big sister.  Find me.  Challenge me. Bring whatever you got. Try to take me down.  After all, it's long past time for some ultra-violence."

The second issue starts with a styalised flashback detailing how Glory and Ernest Hemmingway teamed up to take down a bad guy. Back in the present, Riley is impressed.

Riley: "Oh my God! Did they date?"

Jim: "No, no.  She was with another at the time.  For a long time.  I never knew of a more committed couple."

Gloria: "Really?  I didn't know that Glory was with anyone back then."

Riley: " I didn't know Glory was with anyone ever! Dish!"

Jim: "Everyone has their secrets.  I suppose this is one of Glory's"

(We will find out who this mystery person is in the last issue, never fear)

The action then moves to Riley and Gloria in a strip club, running up a large bill.  They start a verbal fight with the bouncer over it and Nanaja comes out to see what the fuss is about.  And Glory bursts through the wall and punches her.  They have a spectacular fight, both getting more demonic as they go, until finally the knock each other out.
Just your normal sibling rivalry
Back at the house, Jim says they were quite tame this time around.  Henry appears saying he's patched them up but they both have some healing to do.  Glory and Nanaja both bandaged and lying down have a chat.  Glory says she needs her because their father has attacked Earth.

Nanaja: "****, if I knew this was about Dad we could have skipped the usual fight.  You should have told me.  I'm always down to **** up that *******."

Glory: "That's it?"

Nanaja: "Count me in."

Back with Glory and Nanaja's parents they worry about their daughters teaming up, that they don't have Riley and have no contingency plans and finally what will Glory and Nanaja do when they find out they have another sister?
Back with the gang who are on an aeroplane, Riley wakes from a dream where she is killed by Glory.  Glory and Nanaja have recovered and they all plan to fly/parachute out of the plane onto Lord Silverfall's house and surprise attack him.  They do so and bust down the door to his living room, only to find no opposition and Silverfall himself clad only in a robe and casually making breakfast.

Silverfall: "Gloriana.  Nanaja.  I figured that explosion was you.  However I must apologise. I don't believe I have enough eggs for everyone.  Would you settle for some waffles?"

Nanaja: "**** yeah.  I'll have some waffles."

Glory: "You have to be kidding me"

Silverfall: "I assure you I am quite serious.  We have an abundance of waffle mix."
Lord Silverfall
While they eat waffles, Silverfall explains his situation, why he has no soldiers and why he isn't fighting Glory. All the soldiers he had left he sent to Mont St. Michel and Glory killed them all.  The reason he had so few soldiers left was linked to the reason why Glory was so beat up at the start of this storyline.

During the war between the Amazons and Demons, just after Glory attacked her father for supposedly killing her mother, a huge monster appeared with a mass horde of followers.  Glory attacked it headlong and was blasted out of the sky.  Somehow she managed to escape back to Earth but with no memory of the beast in question.
The Knight Of Thule
Glory's parents were both still alive and managed to also escape to Earth with the few followers they had left after the monster - identified as a supposedly mythical "Knight Of Thule" - wiped out pretty much the entire population of their planet.  After Silverfall finished his tale, Glory realises that her mother must be alive, and Lady Demeter walks in saying they have a lot of catching up to do.  Glory then punches her jaw clean off in a rage.

Later Glory goes to speak with her mother who's jaw has been reattached.   Glory is pissed at her.

Glory: "I killed so many people for you.  I was ready to kill so many more.  Now I find out it's all based on a lie."
Soz about the jaw Mum
It is explained that the Kinghts of Thule were/are creator Gods for the denizens of Thule, giving them both life and an afterlife.  Silverfall tells Riley and Gloria that he is not sure why this Knight is acting alone.  RIley wonders if it conquered the other Knights.  Silverfall agrees that this might be a possibility and once the Knight finds a rift big enough it will arrive on Earth, they have maybe an hour at most now.  Riley says if they are going to die shouldn't they use this time to say goodbye to loved ones.

Riley speaks with her best friend John and can't bring herself to say farewell. On the beach nearby Henry gives one of his precious cameras to a little girl playing there.  Gloria is approached by a faceless man who gives her a horn called the "summoner" which is specficially designed to kill Glory.  Nanaja bonds with her baby sister.  Demeter and Silverfall make love.  Finally Glory is back outside drinking wine by the bottle.  When Gloria criticises her for wasting her last hour like this Glory responds:

Glory: "I didn't just sit around and drink.  I made a few calls."

Gloria: "Oh really? To who?"

Glory: "Everyone"

And out of a rift in the sky comes pretty much every superpowered character from the shared Extreme/Awesome Universe, with the notable exception of Prophet.
The cavalry arrives
Over scenes of preparation for battle, Glory gives a rousing speech to the assembled heroes.

Glory: "I should be clear.  Today we fight for existence.  We fight for civilisations we'll never know.  We fight for the stars snuffed out in previous battles' wake.  Our enemies purpose full purpose is unknown save apocalypse.  This gives us but one objective.  Today we slaughter a God!"

Silverfall tells her the Knight has emerged from a rift in Tokyo and the use a rift of their own to travel there quickly, finding a scene of devastation.  It's minions are conquered Thulians, the Knight generates parasites that attach themseleves to those it conquers and forces them to fight for it.  Before Glory goes to take it on Riley says goodbye to her in case they don't make it.
Riley and Glory about to go into battle
Glory and the strongest of the heroes go to attack the Knight head on in the sky, while the rest fight the army down below.  Nanaja gets attacked by parasites, and Badrock and Supreme goe to help her, but Badrock get's attacked by them as well.  Supreme says Glory's plan was doomed and that he should take over leading the army.  He attacks her and Beleszava goes to help her but gets killed by the Knight, as does Henry when he attacks it as well.

Supreme breaks Glory's arm to make her yield control to him, but she rips his arm off in return, just as Riley dreamt about in Book 1. Glory then mutates into a monsterious, bestial, one-eyed being, and attacks the Knight, ripping it apart.   Riley realises this is all happening as her dreams predicted and she says the following over images of Glory raging out of control:
Riley: "I know the force Glory has become. I know she has no control over what will follow.  I know the devastation she will bring. I know the sacrifice she will make. I know she can't be stopped now.  Fighting her at this point would be futile.  I've seen what happens when we try.  I know I don't blame her.  I know this is all for the best.  I know what I am supposed to do now... Just know that in the end, I forgive you. I know this prevents something even more terrible. And more than anything... I will always love you."

And Glory rips her in half.
This horrifying act snaps Glory out of her madness, and while a devastated Gloria kneels by Rileys bisected corpse, Glory can only mumble Riley's name in shock and sadness at what she has done.

The final issue starts with a flashabck to 1913 with Glory meeting a girl called Emilie who turns out to be the secret lover of Glory who was her constant companion during the early and mid twentieth century.  Back in the present we see a miserable and literally diminished Glory, minus an arm and with a shaved head.  Her father says he has arranged it with the freed Knights of Thule that she can make one trip to the afterlife, but this is a one time thing and when she dies for real, she'll be confined to the black void instead.  Glory doesn't care - "When do I leave?"
This heaven looks pretty cool
Charon rows her to the fields of the afterlife and she jumps out of the boat and goes running across to where Riley, Henry, Beleszava, Jim and Fabrice all are (Jim having died of a heart attack not long after Glory left) and she has an emotional reunion with them.  Glory wants to take them all away with her out of the afterlife and back to the world of the living.   But Riley assures her that while they appreciate her doing this:

Riley: "Your actions - all our actions - have consequences. In this case they're permanent. We're dead.  Like dead, dead... There is nothing to fix anymore. There's no reset button for anybody.  Even you."

Riley comforts Glory as she cries in her lap and says one day she'll find out that being dead is wonderful. Glory tells her that after the buried her, Gloria left and she doesn't know where she is.   Nanaja and Glory are getting along, and staying with their parents.  The new baby has been named "Riley" much to Riley's delight. Then Jim says that "she" is here.  Glory isn't sure if she should see her. Glory tells them that Emilie killed herself after she couldn't bear growing any older while Glory stayed the same.  And that was one of the reasons Glory became more unhinged, without Emilie to keep her in line.

Glory: "Who know's what she'll think of me now. What she'll think when she sees.."

Emilie: "G-Gloriana?"
Glory and Emile kiss as Henry, Riley, Jim, Fabrice and Beleszava look on

After their reunion, Glory realises she has to leave and she doesn't tell them she won't be able to return to the afterlife.  The story ends with Glory looking more like her old self, with a new arm, and the whole family, Glory, Nanaja, baby Riley and their parents pile into a flying, rocket powered van to adventures new.  How sweet.

It's not quite the end.  Tacked on are two final pages where two faceless men discuss the destruction of the Summoner and how the battle of Tokyo would have been an ideal debut for what they are planning.  They have a long time to plan and one day someone will "pull the trigger" for the "coming of Prophet".  And we see lots of cryogenic storage tubes as this is said.  These pages have literally nothing to do with Glory's storyline, but do have a lot to do with the series that was running concurrently called Prophet, and which is still running to this day.  I've only read the first three trades of Prophet and how events in them link back to these two pages hasn't been covered yet in them.

As for Glory, it seems these twelve issues are all there has been of this new look reboot.  I've checked out my local comic shop and haven't found any more issues on the shelves, and searching online hasn't yielded any useful information.  It's a great pity because Glory is a fantastic character and it was refreshing to have an unconventional looking main character in a storyline that prioritised female relationships in a way few comic books ever do even now in space year 2014.  I have to wonder what Rob Liefeld thought of the decision to make Glory bisexual.  When the X-man he created called Shatterstar was made bisexual and given a male lover he got pissed and very outspokenly said he'd undo it if he ever got the chance (not that him writing for one of Marvel's biggest cash cow franchises is ever going to happen in this day and age).  But female homosexuality is generally less contentious to homophobes, so he probably didn't care.
Glory and Emilie while still alive.
Glory Book 2 overall is a fantastic read.  It pays off plotlines laid in the first book satisfactorily, gives everyone a happy ending (of sorts) and sets it up nicely so if anyone else wants to pick up the series, there is room for a relatively fresh start to be made.  The characterisation is much better in this book with the writing improving by leaps and bounds, and it's genuinely upsetting when Riley is killed as you really care about her by then.  Nanaja is a lot of fun, as a being who doesn't take life as seriously as the straight-laced Glory and seeing the Extremeverse characters in action is pure 90's fanservice of the non-rude kind. Glory really feels like a character with history and totally shucks any last vestige of being a Wonder Woman rip-off to stand on her own two mighty feet. Ending with a plot reveal for a different book is a little odd, but if anything the Prophet reboot is even better than the Glory one and so encouraging people to check that series out can only be a good thing. I wish this Glory was an ongoing series, but these twelve issues across two books tell a self contained, greatly enjoyable story, with strong female protagonists and wonderful, wonderful artwork.  Great stuff.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Glory Book 1: The Once And Future Destroyer (#23-28)

 "Stop it.  He's dead.  In fact they're all dead. There's nobody left.  It's over" - Gloria

There is an old saying in the north of England where I live that goes "where there's muck, there's brass".  Basically this means if you mess about with something shitty long enough, something good and worthwhile will emerge as a result.  This is a perfect way to sum up how the reboots of the old Rob Liefeld comics Prophet and Glory have taken some incredibly unpromising material and turned them into something completely awesome.  The twelve issue series, Glory is the first one I am going to be looking at, which has been split into two trade paperbacks, both of which I shall be covering.  The early Image characters all tended to be knock-off's of popular DC and Marvel characters and Glory was no exception, being the Extreme (Rob Liefeld's studio under the Image banner) universe's version of Wonder Woman.  She was a half Amazonian princess and half demon, raised by her Amazonian mother as a warrior, yet struggled with her demonic heritage, she travelled to Earth to fight for the Allies in World War II.  Her full name was Gloriana Demeter. After twenty-two issues the title was left languishing in limbo.  An attempt was made to restart the comic under Alan Moore, with a couple of issues published showing Glory had taken on human form under the name Gloria West, but Moore left to work on his own characters under the ABC imprint and Glory had to wait until 2012, when writer Joe Keatinge and and artist Ross Campbell took over and fully retooled Glory's look.  Making her look more like the badass a half Amazon/half demon would look like and less like the sad sexist joke Rob Liefeld had drawn her as.
Glory is the one at the back.  Don't look at her vajayjay! Too late.  You can't unsee now can you?
So I think you can see from the cover of the trade at the top of the page that Glory has undergone something of a makeover.  From being the ridiculous Ms.Cameltoe and her pointless tutu, who can't even hold a sword properly, she's now someone who looks like she could punch a train unconcious.  Which is what you'd expect from a half-demon, half-Amazon who's trained for war over hundreds of years.  The cover of the first issue of the comics new run accentuates this fact.  Interestingly the choice was taken to not start the comics numbering at #1, but continue on from when the 90's series left off.  A somewhat baffling decision considering the Rob Liefeld Glory's will be reprinted never and that a potted history of the Glory is provided in the first reboot issue bringing everyone up to speed anyway.
And you will know me by the trail of the dead.
In all honesty, it's the art that impresses me most about this comic. Keatinge's plotting is good, but his pacing and dialogue are merely adequate.  However I can't praise Ross Campbell's art highly enough.  The bright, colourful lines and strong character and monster designs make it a joy to look at, even when it's at it's most massively gory.  Glory's design has her hugely muscled and she "hulks out" further when her blood lust is at its highest (which is a major plot element later in the story).  But she's also drawn with a delicate, feminine face by contrast which helps make her stay appealing even when she is engaging in the old ultra-violence.

Glory during WW2
The story begins with a quick recap of Glory's origins.  How the leader of the demons and Amazons came together to have a child who would be symbolic of peace between them.  Glory grows up and decides to leave for Earth which has always fascinated her.

Glory: "I do have a purpose. One I've trained for how long? Almost five hundred years.  You've prepared me to lead in times of peace or fight in a war which may never come. Day in, Day out, it's past the time for something new."

We then cut to her helping Allied troops in WW2. She says she is fighting not for a country but for what's right.  We are then introduced to a new character, a young woman called Riley who has been having dreams of Glory's adventures all her life, until the new dreams stopped and the old dreams just looped over and over.  Riley decides to go looking for Glory.

Back in the past, Glory is talking with Supreme.  Supreme was Rob Liefeld's rip-off of Superman, and so the most powerful in his company, Extreme's line up of superheroes (Glory of course being his knock-off Wonder Woman).  Supreme's USP was that he was something of a dick and didn't hesitate in killing bad guys.  Alan Moore, during his time at Image was allowed to reboot Supreme as a Silver Age Superman tribute act, but it seems that Supreme in this comic has gone back to his cynical, Liefeldian roots.  He calls Glory "reckless" and says he doesn't trust her.  Glory points out that she is the off-spring of two races human's would call God's and how she doesn't actually give a damn what Supreme thinks of her.
That told you, dick Superman
Over a recap of more prior adventures of Glory, we get Riley talking about how her search is going, finally ending up in a French town called Mont St. Michel.  There a friend old man called Fabrice introduces her to another American called Gloria.

Gloria: "I know why you're here Riley.  We've been expecting you."

Gloria says she planted every rumour about Glory's whereabouts to lead Riley here. She tells her that one day, Glory decided to try out being human and that she picked Gloria, then a waitress to link with, into a fusion of both of them.

Gloria:  While I still led my regular life, with Glory in my subconcious, she would often take over and well I can't describe how great it was to live as her."

And if you are an Alan Moore fan, you might be thing that it sounds like a rip-off of Promethea.  However, this was Alan Moore's idea for Glory when he was chosen to take over the title.  But before more than a couple of issues were written he defected to ABC comics, and decided that the whole "female warrior Goddess linked to a normal human" was too good an idea not to re-use.

Anyway, one day Glory disappeared for Gloria as well, who also came looking for her and ended up in St.Michel.  She opens a door and shows Glory, badly injured and sleeping.

Gloria: "Some one did something really, really bad to her.  And I think they are coming back."
Gloria, Riley and Glory
Gloria continues that she is not sure what happened to Glory, only that she left Earth because of a promise. We see Glory amongst a pile of monster corpses and then her finding her demon father holding the presumed dead body of her Amazon mother.  She beats the piss out of him.

Then we cut back to Riley and Gloria beside the sleeping Glory.  They both head off for bed, but Glory gets up and and speaks to Riley saying she was beginning to think she wouldn't show.  Then Glory flies Riley to a nearby island where she keeps her arsenal of weapons.  She tells Riley what happened to her, that her people went to war and she began her life as a weapon.
Lord Silverfall versus Glory
Glory: "I was born and bred solely to be an instrument of destruction.  So I fulfilled my purpose.  We won."

Riley: "you don't look like someone who won."

Glory: "I don't feel like it either. The war wasn't without its casualties, including me.  Things didn't go the way I hoped.  That's why your here.  I'm going to war one more time.  The way I want to, not the way I was trained.  I have wrongs to right.  Ones that will change our world for the better."

Riley: "Are you recruiting me?"

Glory: "I am.  You're being recuited into an army.  My army. Wartime is upon us."

The action then turns to Lord Silverfall, the demon king father of Glory.  Pondering what Riley's arrival means.  Then suddenly Glory's mother appears and asks if Glory knows that she is still alive.

The next chapter is mostly made up of a dream Riley has.  Five hundred years later, we see Riley as a very old woman on a spaceship about to land on Mars.  She hires a hoverbike and heads out into the wilderness.  She finally comes across a mutated Glory and they sit together and talk by a fire.  Riley tells her bitterly that the Earth is still the same after she tore it apart during her "war".  We get a flashback to Supreme telling Glory not to continue fighting, and breaking her arm in an effort to get her to stop, she tears his arms off while Riley talks to Glory in the present over this flashback:
Riley's dream of the future
Riley: "You know, it's not just that you ruined out lives for your cause.  It's that you made sure we were left with nothing when you we done.  You abandoned humanity and made sure no one else could save us.  See things never got any better, they only got worse.  Much, much worse."

Riley goes on to say that the demons Glory was protecting them from, gave them technology to help rebuild the shattered Earth. And in the end all Riley accomplished was growing old.

Riley: "You know why I'm here don't you?"

Glory: "Yes. Yes I do.  I'm so sorry."

Then she breaks Riley's neck, killing her.  Then she burns her body while flashing back to the first time they met.  Then Riley wakes up and frantically goes to Gloria telling her she had dreamed of the future.

Riley: "I get it now I know why I am here"

Gloria: "Then you know I didn't bring you here to help Glory.  You're here to stop her."
The civilised Mr. Henry
We cut to the next day and Glory is trying to train Riley to fight.  When they return to the house they meet a strange but polite creature from Thule (Glory's home) called Henry, making a pot of tea.  They chat for a bit then Fabrice turns up saying he is concerned about an elderly couple who have missed a couple of deliveries and that there is blood outside their front door.  Glory and Gloria go to investigate and find the couple have been killed by a demon who states to Glory:

Demon: "You have no idea how long we've been tracking you.  No idea how hopeless your cause.  I suggest you surrender.  You are weak, Godling. Put up a fight if you wish, it is over now."

Glory and Gloria kill it, then search the house, finding a green sphere which sends a blast of light into the air before Glory smashes it. Glory rushes out saying they are all in danger and need to leave the town.  Meanwhile Henry tells Riley that Glory's father has succeded in tracking her down as they also go to make their escape.  As a huge object materialises in the sky, Henry tells Riley that:

Henry: "The war has come early.  Her father's army is already here.  I can't promise you much.  But I can promise you this.  We won't win."
The demon ship arrives
We get another flashabck to Glory's childhood where she is fighting over a toy with a fully Amazon child.  As she gets angry, her demon side manifests itself and it looks like she will kill the other child until her Mum comes and breaks it up, calming Glory down into her normal state.  Back in the present Glory and Gloria fly to the island to get some weapons. Henry and Riley have their escape blocked by more demons and Henry tells Riley she see a side of him she won't like and he transforms into a huge monster while telling her to run.

She gets caught pretty quickly, but Fabrice, who was a sniper in WW2 and served alongside Glory, blows the demon's head off.  Riley makes it over to him, while Glory and Gloria battle a large quantity of monsters.  Finally Glory's demon side takes over, and she loses control in the process.
You won't like me when I'm angry etc.
Gloria defeats the flying monster holding her and drops, but is caught by a back to normal Henry.  They both watch Glory carving her way through the demons, slaughtering everything in a blind rage.

Gloria:  "She's going to end up killing us isn't she?"

Henry: "Of course she is.  That's what she does."

Back with Riley and Fabrice, they are escaping across the island beach in a moterbike and sidecar.  Fabrice fights off demons until he runs out of bullets and the demon chasing them rips him apart.  The demon advances on a tearful Riley and grabs her.

Demon: "You don't get what's happening her do you?  Gloriana Demeter is one of the most dangerous beings in all existence.  She is a weapon long overdue for de-commissioning. A threat to both our worlds.  You're the opposite.  You're something the world needs to survive,  Something she'll destroy. So no, we're not here to kill you.  We're here to save you.  This is a rescue mission."
Who needs clothes when there are demons to pwn.
Riley is resistant to this idea, saying they didn't need to tear up the town and kill people she cared about in the process.  The demon makes to take her away, but is suddenly blown to pieces by a giant, winged cat shooting lasers out of it's eyes (it looks awesome, but it's a two page spread and I couldn't fit it on my scanner).  It gently licks Riley, showing it to be a friend.  Then Gloria and Henry arrive, Gloria tells her the cat is called "Belesava" and she protects the island for Glory. Back with Glory she has bulked up so much that all her clothes have ripped off and she strides about the demons ship killing everything she comes across. She returns to the island and tells everyone to suit up and grab a weapon.

Glory: "This has gone on long enough. They can't retreat.  We can't let them survive.  We have but one mission now.  Kill those sons of bitches."

They all pile into battle against a new wave of demons.  Riley somewhat reluctantly.  A demon grabs her and tells her he is going to kill her by "accident".  Riley buries both of her blades in his head, killing him.

"I killed him.. But.. I don't even.. This isn't what I wanted... I'm so sorry."
Riley starts to feel out of her depth
Finally they finish off all the demon hordes on the island.  Glory says more will return and that she needs to recruit more soldiers.  Over a sequence of panels depicting an unseen monster killing what look like a gang of ninjas, Glory states the following:

Glory: "I've fought wars on Thule and Earth...I've seen warriors even more savage than me.  We need that kind of immense power.  That kind of relentless force.  Anything less is not an option. We need to go after the strongest I have ever known. The most savage of them all.  We need my little sister."
I can see the slight family resemblance..
End of book 1.  Glory: The One and Future Destroyer is an excellent book, with fantastic and striking art and a fine collection of female characters.  When Glory ends up naked while fighting there is no pointless titilation here.  Instead it's the very essence of female empowerment in some respects.  She's confident enough in her own skin and in her abilities to not even care that she is nude while she kicks demon butt.  Plotlines that will pay off in book 2 are being laid here, with mysterys as to why and how Glory's mother ended up alive and back with Glory's demon father as well as just how the meek and mild Riley is going to stop a being as powerful as Glory from destroying everything.  Whether the demons are telling the truth about Riley's fate and the worry hanging over the whole book as to just when Glory will lose control and never get it back again, ruining the world in the process as Riley's dream of the future foretold. You have to hang on until Book 2: War Torn to find out where and what this is all leading to...

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The New Statesmen (Crisis #1-14, #28)

Cover from a US reprint
Dalton: "...I've been thinking... this isn't much of a 'happy ever after' is it?"

Burgess: "No. No it isn't".

In 1988 the UK comics industry was in rude health, and the publishers of much loved sci-fi comic 2000AD decided to bring out another fortnightly anthology comic called Crisis, aimed at adult readers.  It ran for sixty-odd issues and was most notable for it's distinctly left-wing slant most obvious in one of the two debut strips - Third World War.  It's the other strip that ran in the first fourteen issues that we're talking about today though.  The New Statemen, written by John Smith and mostly illustrated by the fantastic Jim Baikie (both credited as co-creators), with a few issues done by Duncan Fegredo and Sean Phillips.  It's a complex tale of artificially created superheroes called Optimen, each one assigned to a US state, in the year 2048 that also sees England (and England alone) as the 51st US state (a common left wing nightmare scenario at the time). 

Frankly the story is so crammed full of detail it becomes somewhat inchoherent and is somewhat undisciplined structurewise making it hard to follow in places, squeezing too much detail in too few pages. In the following summary I've simply concentrated on the storyline following the three main characters, Dalton, Burgess and Meridian, stripping out all the side-plots and characters that only appear for a couple of pages overall. I know at the time, I was fourteen and mostly enjoyed the strip for Jim Baikie's art which I tried so hard to emulate and my interest dropped quite dramatically when he wasn't doing an issue as the writing didn't particularly draw me in back then.  The story really needed more space to expand, to understand it fully you had to read the densely wrtten text articles that began each issues story.  These provided historical background in the same way the text parts of Watchmen did.  Unlike Watchmen you really did need to read them to understand what was going on, rather than them being an optional extra.
Each strip opened with a text piece
What's interesting about the strip is it's yet another example of the suspicion British writers have for the concept of the superhuman.  Like Watchmen before it, and Marshall Law right up to The Boys after it, it gives us superhumans that can only operate legally as tools of the government or military-industrial complex.  The story begins with the introduction of five Optimen called the Halcyons, made up of Cleve (Ohio), Dalton (Georgia),  Meridian (Mississippi), Vegas (Nevada) and Burgess (England).  Burgess is alone in his room having flashbacks to torture they were undertaking under orders from the government.  The flashback continues to them taking on the ELA (English Liberation Army) at a place called Tariq Alley (a little in-joke, Tariq Ali is a well know left wing firebrand in the UK).  Burgess's powers went out of control and many innocent lives were also lost that day leaving him somewhat depressed and withdrawn.
Burgess, wracked with guilt
Meanwhile, Dalton has gone to a gay bathhouse to pick up a man but it is bombed by fundamentalist Christians with him the only survivor, he wreaks hell on them.  Meridian has to come downtown and psychically calm him down.  An assassin fires a bullet at her which doesn't hurt her and she psychically kills him.  Later The Halcyons are back in their rooms, and Dalton is super pleased when he sees a banner outside on an opposite building saying "Dalton We Love You".  On TV is an Optiman called Phoenix who is running for President and is a fundamentalist Christian (and is also the villain). He gives a speech ending with:

Phoenix: "Look in your hearts and you'll see a vision we all share.  The vision of a united America, where we have pride, where we have meaning...where our children have a future.  Where there are no more charlatans...where there are no more radicals... where there are no more liberals.. or liars.. or subversives...or revolutionaries.  We have had enough.  The future of this country is on your hands."
Later the Halcyons are on a boat, meeting a man called Irwin who they know from the past.  They are told Phoenix has Congress running scared as he has the support of all the churches, neo-cons and the Christian right.  After this the team are split up.  Meridian and Vegas go to investigate the gangs that seem connected to the Christian League. Dalton and Burgess are off talking to ex-League members.  They chat outside and Dalton confessess:

Dalton: "..You're the perfect Englishman.  Quiet, reserved, self effacing.  You've even got the funny accent.  And just between you and me, you're a lot better looking than Vegas."

He grabs Burgess's hand and his words peter out as they gazes significantly at each other.

Meridian, meanwhile goes to the dead body of the asasssin and reads whats left of his mind and discovers someone intefered with it to turn him into a killer.  She and Vegas break into a gang house and get the address of The Mission.  Waiting there are many more gang memebers.  Vegas kills them all, while Meridian finds the priest, who begs for his life saying they had no cboice about being affiliated with a gang and they didn't push their drugs to kids.  Meridian leaves Vegas to deal with him.
Vegas in action
Later Burgess "reads" some blood left inside the Mission and finds it was of a man connected with something called The Catrill Affair.  The League had tried to cover his existence up, but they are still engaged in dodgy shenanigans.  They blackmail the Governer to support Phoenix in his Presidental bid and Phoenix uses his psychic powers to kill a man called Ray who he consdered a traitor over the phone.  The Halcyons find a man trying to wipe some computers of records on the Catrill Affair and kill him.  The records are leaked to the press and implicate Phoenix in the prescribing of dangerous, performance enhancing drugs to soldiers active in South America.  This doesn't stop Phoenix carrying on his presidential bid.
Meridian composing a poem
Back with Meridian, she ponders how she doesn't understand how normal people work anymore and she has written a poem, that is unintentionally prophetic:

"I think I know
I think I am
I think I saw
The Burning Man
And in the night
And cross the sea
I think the Burning Man
Saw me."

At the Optimen reunion, Burgess drunkenly laments how he was chosen to fight the ELA and how the Royalists sold his country down the river.  Later we get a subtle look at Dalton and Burgess's growing relationship with a frame showing Dalton tenderly kissing Burgess's hand and telling him he's always cared about him.  Meanwhile Meridian is having a premonition that something is coming and it's going to kill Cleve.  She carries on probing and has a terrifying visions of a burning skeleton asking who she is.  After a flashback through her life, she goes to Dalton's room and finds him in bed with Burgess.
The Dalton/Burgess/Meridian love triangle
After the reunion, thugs and protestors in San Francisco start rioting and committing bombings and atrocities, throwing the whole city into chaos. Irwin and two other scientists discuss using something called "The Abort" on him, but decide not to after a case when it was used on an Optiman called Atlanta and he went berserk.  They call in an assassin called Burbank instead.  Burbank flies to the middle of the disaster area, where Phoenix is holding the dog of a murdered child.  He tells Phoenix he is going to kill him and Phoenix rather anti-climatically makes his head explode.
BOOM. Headshot.  Phoenix takes out Burbank
The Halcyons are sent in, and Burgess and Meridian wait together.  Meridian, reading Burgess's mind says he is being unfair about her and they both should stay away from Dalton until the love triangle is resolved. Meridian tries to find Phoenix using the special connection they had when she and him tried to sleep together but he couldn't perform.  He is throwing out too much "psychic chaff" though.  Phoenix finds Vegas eating in a diner, he is completely insane by this point.

Phoenix: "I've been chewing the innards of this city. Imagine that.  Before today only a handful could boast that they'd lived through such an atrocity.  Now everyone will have their story to tell."

He says that the Halcyons exposing his involvement in South American atrociites "set him free".   After beating down Vegas, Phoenix is attacked by Dalton, who then tries to escape, but Phoenix is wating for him.  After he is beaten up, Burgess and Meridian arrive.  Meridian cradles Daltons battered but still living body.  Burgess attacks Phoenix, but stops when Phoenix says he can make Dalton love Burgess.  Burgess stands back and allows Phoenix to smack Meridian and goes to Dalton, who mumbles for Meridian.
Bad luck Burgess
Phoenix: "Oh dear.  What's this? No pleas? No forgiveness? No breathless declarations of love? No happy-ever-after? He doesn't want you Burgess.  Now you know what that's like."

Phoenix and Burgess then fight in the water, while Meridian tries to get Dalton to a safe place.  Recovering a bit they return and join minds, attacking Phoenix together and frying him, turning him into the Burning Man Meridian had a premonition of.  And this ends the main storyline, though there is a two issue epilogue.
Meridian with help from Dalton kills Phoenix
Cleve is at Blanch's place, ruminating on how he'll never see another day, due to an internal cut-off all Optimen seem to have.  He goes to a gun shop and shoots himself in the mouth, but this doesn't kill him.  He travels north and winds up in a snowy landscape on a frozen pond.  He tries to break the ice but can't and is found dead the next day.

In the final issue it is revealed that Vegas is still alive, though on life support.  The rest of the Halcyons are at Cleve's funeral and the love triangle has been resolved.

Dalton: "I never got any of this crap from Burgess."

Meridian: "Go back to him then if you want someone who'll fawn over you, see if he'll have you back. Burgess might be a little screwed up, but I'll think you'll find even he's got more self-respect than that."

In the garden of the building the wake is being held in, Meridian encounters the strange white-faced, eyeless man Cleve saw before he died.

Meridian:  "I want to know what happened to Cleve."

Man: "They crucified him.  I'm what he died for. I'm what he became.  I'm the little piece of machinery that keeps all you States people goin' an' when you die, all the pieces fit together to make me.  I am the Angelus... I am the future, and the future is me.  And the future is red with my blood."
The Mystery Man
The storyline finally ends with the announcement of the Optimen III. "I've no doubt it'll be worth it in the long run."  And that was it for The New Statemen.  It feels like plotlines were being laid in for a second series, but that never happened.  Critically, it has to be said there are massive flaws in the story.  We never really get much in the way of characterisation especially of anyone who isn't in the Meridian/Burgess/Dalton love triangle.  Phoenix suddenly turning evil after a minor political setback doesn't make much sense either.  While we get some fantastic artwork of riots and devastation and superbeings punching each other, the reasons why are flimsy and ill explored.  But there are good points to the series as well. 

Most notably, the respectful treatment of male homosexuality.  First though, lets check out what was going on with the depiction of gay men in mainstream US comics.  In 1988 DC introduced the shortlived comicbook The New Guardians.  One of them was a gay man called Extraño.  And he was a walking gay sterotype, and not just one gay stereotype, he was all gay stereotypes rolled into one. He was a deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love.  And he was also fucking HIV postive.  So, not a great step forward for representations of gay men in comics.  Now there is nothing wrong with being a flamboyant gay man.  Indeed John Smith himself would go on to write the very camp Devlin Waugh.  It was more the fact that the first mainstream comicbook representation of gay male sexuality was so crammed full of all the worst gay signifiers that it resulted in the most homophobic gay character ever created by people who genuinely had good intentions.
Pictured: Gayness, apparently
Marvel wasn't much better.  Their first gay male character was Northstar, who "came out" a few years after Extraño, by basically stating "I am gay!" in the middle of a battle then going back into the closet for a number of years.  And bisexual characters were non existant.  So it's somewhat pleasing that The New Statemen, also published in 1988 took such a bold and unvarnished look at gay male characters without falling back into screaming queen charicatures or closet cases.  Burgess, the Stateman for England is homosexual and while Dalton is shown to have physical homosexual leanings - the first scene showing the raw power of a Statemen is when the gay bath-house Dalton is flirting with a man in is blown up - he is also having a relationship with the black female Statemen Meridian, making him another rarity in comics, a bisexual man.

Crisis wasn't some top shelf adult comic you had to go to a specialist comic book store to buy like The New Guardians.  Nor was it plastered with "For Mature Readers" labels either.  I bought all my copies of Crisis from my local newsagent where it was filed alongside 2000AD and the various other anthology comics out at the time.  The best thing about Burgess was he was as normal as a superpowered metahuman could be.  He was thoughtful, handsome and sensitive and refused to partake in a lot of the most dubious activities the Statesmen undertook and felt overwhelming guilt about his part in an atrocity while other Statemen don't seem to care about normal people as collateral damage.  He's definitely the one who has the audiences sympathy in the early parts of the comic, coming the closest to a viewpoint character the strip has.  Showing him and Dalton in bed together either about to have sex or having just had it is something I doubt you'd see even today in a mainstream comic book, the same goes for Dalton trolling for casual gay sex in a bath-house.
There are no euphemisms, this is clearly stated to be a gay bath-house
So, The New Statemen is one I'd recommend with reservations.  A trade paperback of the strip was collected in 1990 and a five issue prestige format repackaging for the US market as well.  I don't know if that book contained the extra background articles the original comics had which might make the story even more confusing for some.  It's definitely the work of a young, untested writer with a lot to say and not enough room to say it all properly.  Yet again though I must praise the inclusion and depiction of gay male characters (Burbank is heavily implied to be gay as well) that weren't awful stereotypes and making the gay character the most likeable of a pretty unpleasant bunch was a good decision as well as having a powerful black female as a main character is another point in it's favour. The subject matter is pretty dark and somewhat prefigured the ascent of the "asshole" hero that was to infest US comics in the early 90's. Still it's worth a read for anyone interested in the late 80's period of UK comics and it's something of a shame it didn't get a sequel that ironed out some of the structural problems of the run and fleshed out the characters to a greater degree.

[ADDENDUM:  There was actually an epilogue to the series I missed first time I posted this as I hadn't read the rest of my CRISIS collection yet.  In issue #28 we get a look at the world seventeen years on from this which seems to have lapsed into chaos linked to the third generation of Optimen being created and only seven of the ones left at the conclusion of the main series still alive.  Most notably it covered the history of the creation of the Optimen including a couple of things that would crop up in later superhero stories such as a normal woman being killed by carrying superpowered babies (The Boys) and whales being used to carry the foetuses to term instead (Batman Incorporated).  It feels a bit like several ideas for planned sequel series were crushed down into one single chapter and coming over a year after the series reached a natural conclusion, feels a bit superflous.  Still lovely Jim Baikie art and that's always good to see]

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Happy! (#1-4)

 "Christmas came early" - McCarthy

Time to discuss the first offering on this blog written by Alan Moore's arch enemy, fellow Chaos Mage and proud Scot - Grant Morrison.  This is one of Morrison's creator owned series, created jointly with artist Darrick Robertson and published by Image comics.  I have to admit, it was Robertson's artwork that drew me to this four issue mini-series released in 2012 more than Morrison's name on the cover as I hadn't started rediscovering Morrison's work when I bought it.  Robertson was the main artist on Garth Ennis's The Boys, which I was reading at the time and is in my opinion up there with Frank Quitely and John Cassaday as one of the best artists working in comics today.  He especially excels at drawing the seedy, and sleazy aspects of life, and so was the perfect choice to illustrate this comic, with it's grizzled hitmen, corrupt cops, violent mob goons and drug addicted paedo Santa Claus's.

Morrison is well known for his often spawling amd confusing narratives, but Happy! sees him restricting himself to telling a full story with economy and discipline and he nails it.  Happy! is a tremendously enjoyable work, which see's Morrison taking on the trope of an odd-couple "buddy" narrative and having a lot of fun with who the pair in question are - an ex-cop turned hitman called Nick teaming up with a small, blue imaginary horse called Happy.  The initial setting is so bleak and dystopic and the protagonist so miserable and cynical that it feels like Morrison wants to rub humanity's face in it's own vomit and force it to look in the mirror.  And yet by the end it becomes a lesson in hope and redemption much more in line with Morrison's usual attitude and Happy the Horse is his agent in bringing light to a dark world. Morrison has made no secret of the fact that he regarded the turn towards extreme violence, grit and misery of the post-Watchmen, post-Dark Knight Returns era of US comics to have been something of a wrong step for the industry, so the extreme grimdarkness setting of Happy! reads almost certainly as having parodic elements, as well as making the extreme cuteness of Happy the Horse so amusing by contrast.
It's Chriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiistmaaaaaaaaaaaaaas!
The story begins at Christmas with two mob hitman discussing their target, Nick Sax, who apparently is a complete son-of-a-bitch.  After the pass a creepy looking Santa, the action cuts to a man in an insect suit being given a blow job by a hooker.  He's about to kill her with a hammer when Nick arrives and shoots him dead.  He asks the prostitite to do him a favour, then the action cuts back to the hitmen, now in a house and they discover two of their brothers dead, tied up with Christmas lights and a note pinned to them saying "answer the fucking phone".  So one of them does and it's Nick who tells him to look out the window, where the hooker is holding a sign saying "behind you".  Nick then appears and blows his brains out, but is confused by the fourth man being there.  They shoot at each other, with Nick getting winged in the arm.  The fourth man tries to bargain with him saying he knows the password that will access large amounts of cash, but Nick shoots him and then staggers outside and collapses in the snow.
Our "hero"
The police and ambulance arrive and take away Nick and the final Fratelli Brother, Mike, who he hadn't quite killedMike mumbles over the phone to a shadowy figure that he needs to ask Nick, that "Sax knows..."   And this is taken to mean the password.  The female cop, Maidreadh McCarthy seems to be in debt to this shadowy figure as well. The shadowy figure tells his colleague "Mr. Smoothie" to go and sort this out.  While in the ambulance, Nick is stablised and sees blue feathers falling on him from the sky and a shadowy blue thing telling him to "hang on in there".  Mr. Smoothie is waiting at the hospital, planning to torture the password out of Nick, who awakes with Maidreadh McCarthy by his bed.

 Macarthy: "Officers.  This tragic, paranoid husk of a man used to be the best detective in the whole department.  Medals. Citations. A beautiful wife and a golden career.  Behold the man."

He snaps at her to go away and suddenly he sees... a small blue horse sitting on his chest.
Nick meet Happy, Happy meet Nick
Bewildered he accuses the doctors of making him see things. Macarthy whispers in his ear about giving her the password so she can claim the cash for the city, but merely earns a "fuck you" for her trouble and she angrily leaves.  The horse gets his attention again and tells Nick he's the only person able to see him and they need to go and save a girl called Hailey who's imaginary friend he is.  He introduces himself as Happy The Horse and tells Nick that the only way he'll escape the mob hospital is working together and the first issue ends after comprehensively establishing a grotty, down at heel atmospehre and cynical, murderous anti-hero and leavened it with an adorable cartoon horse.  Thanks to Darick Robertson's fine art the whole issue drips atmosphere and Happy looks both a part of athe world and yet strangely hyperreal on top of it at the same time.  So he can both interact with Nick and yet stay fantastical at the same time.

The second issue begins with Nick and Happy making a daring escape from the hospital.  Nick armed only with a drip stand and Happy's ability to warn him of ambushes.  They manage to get outside and MaCarthy confronts them saying all the mobsters want is the password.  Nick says "there is no fucking password" and she should jus shoot him and get it over with.  But she lets them go and Nick and Happy make their getaway in a car.  An angry Mr. Smoothie who had his teeth knocked out by Nick, phones the Shadowy Man who reiterates he wants that password.
The odd couple.
Meanwhile, Nick has found some clothes and keeps telling Happy to fuck off and that he doesn't care about saving the girl.  Happy tells him he only has a limited time to save Hailey, but Nick ignores him and tries to sleep Happy off.  But he awakes to Happy still floating there, telling him he has only thrity-five hours now to save the girl.  Nick has an idea, to use Happy to win some money in a poker game.

So they sit down with some very shady thugs, and Happy tells Nick what cards everyone has.  After some trash talk Nick goes for a final raise and Happy disappears.  Sweating with anxiety, Nick almost wills Happy back, who reappears and says he'll only help if Nick agree's to help Hailey.  Nick says yes, Happy tells him to call it, and Nick cleans up.  Unfortunately his oppnents are somewhat sore losers and Nick ends up shooting all of them.  Then he goes to the train station to get out of town and Happy is upset Nick went back on his word.
Who needs a poker face when you have Happy?
Nick: "Fuck you, and fuck Hailey. He probably fucked and strangled her by now.  So Hailey's never gonna grow up a bitch and make some poor slob's life hell.  Boo-fucking-Hoo."

Happy keeps up the pressure, saying he "knows there's a hero inside of you".  But Nick just gives him the finger.  The final page of the issue cuts to the creepy Santa in a room with several kids bound and gagged on the floor.  Taking the storyline to it's darkest point.  It might seem almost too bleak to carry on right now.  The only likeable characters are Happy and Detective McCarthy.  Nick is so far down the anti-hero road he's pratically a villain protagonist.  But after taking us to the very pits of despair by this halfway mark, things slowly start to get more optimistic and the contrast of the darkness and the light makes the eventual triumph of good far more satisfying.

Issue three starts with the police interviewing a man who overheard Nicks "strangling" comment.  Now the police think he might be the kiddie snatcher as well.  Nick is trying to sleep on the train while Happy begs him to help. He finally goes to the toilet so he can talk to Happy privately.

Nick: "What is it to you if one more kid dies? What the fuck does a cartoon horse know about  life and death and fucking pain?"

Happy: "If Hailey dies, I die too.  If Hailey stops believing in me, I die Nick.  But you... how do you get to be you Nick?"

Now follows a six page flashback, using a technique of single frames with large time skips between them and floating text bubbles to convey the sped up passage of time.  He was happily married and transferred to homicide to work with McCarthy.  The grind of day-to-day death alienated him from his wife, until one day he tells McCarthy:

Nick: "I can't talk to her about any of this shit.  She... she has a hard time with depression.  How am I supposed to tell her the whole world is just...It's all just... just gift wrapping on a fucking skull."
Happier times for Nick
He has an affair with McCarthy and then the mobsters try and blackmail him over it.  He tells them to fuck themselves.  He gets fired and one day gets his first hiring as a contract killer.  Happy agrees that it's a sad story but then in one of those meta touches Morrison loves so much, says:

Happy: "How about turning this into the heartwarming tale of redemption it's supposed to be?"

The train stops and a man tries to  ambush Nick on the loo, getting gutshot for his trouble.  Then Nick tells Happy that everyone on the train is a miserable asshole and why should he care about them?  And indeed we hear snippets of dialogue from angry, bitter people, cursing and frowning away.  This practically breaks Happy, reducing him to a forlorn looking specimen, with most of his colour leached away.  Nick rages about why he doesn't care about Hailey and Happy quietly responds:

Happy: "Well.. see that newspaper? I think I just figured out why you of all people in the city can see me Nick.  Hailey's your daughter."
Aww, poor Happy
Then Happy disappears, leaving a dumbstruck Nick, looking at the photo of Hailey in the paper and realising it's true.  As he makes his way to the front of the train, the previously angry people are all making up and telling each other they love each other.  Getting off the train Nick yells for Happy to come back or at least give him a sign, and he finds a blue feather.  Meanwhile back with the imprisoned kids and paedo Santa, a mysterious man says that people over the net are into "some sick fucking shit".  End issue.

The final issue sees McCarthy sneering at the shadowy man over the phone, now called Mr. Blue. Who is displeased with her, telling her she can start looking for a new job. Meanwhile, following the sign from Happy, Nick finds himself in a church and asks the priest if he knows anything about angels appearing as blue horses.  The priest is flustered and starts fiddling with his PC.  Nick sees he is looking at live footage of the kids under a Christmas tree, he sees a blue light over one of them and grins.  Happy pops out of the PC still mad at him, Nick half apologises and uses his detective skills to narrow down where the room must be by the flashing barsign outside it's window.  The priest tries to get away, and Nick dispenses his own brand of absolution.
Tough break, pervert.
As the rush to the kid's location, Nick falls to his knees with heart problems.  Meanwhile, McCarthy decides to dispatch a squad to Mr. Blue's cellphone location - "this one's for you Nicky Sax".  At the building with the kids in it, Nick asks Happy to scout ahead, and we see paedo Santa shooting up.  Nick bursts in but gets stabbed in the belly.  He shoots his assailent and takes out two more before heart problems bring him to his knees again. Mr. Blue scolds him for ruining his kiddie porn set-up, Nick also states that Mr.Blue hired him to kill the Fratelli Brothers at the start of the book.  Mr. Blue asks for the password, but Nick spits in his face.  Then Santa attacks Nick from behind with a garotte.  Things look bad, but then Happy arrives with the cavalry.  Every imaginary friend he could find, totally breaking the grimness of the setting with a dash of pure, unadulterated, feel-good fantasy. How the power of imagination can beat out dull reality and save the day. Paedo Santa is distracted long enough for Nick to fling him out of the window.
Note Superman in the top left corner.
Tenderly he goes over to the kids, and tells Hailey it's going to be alright now.  But as they hug, Mr. Blue shoots Nick in the back.  Nick, somehow still standing says he'll trade the password for the kids.

Mr. Blue: "It's cunts like me who rule the world." [gunshot, blood spurts out of his chest]

McCarthy: "And cunts like me shoot cunts like you in the back.  It all evens in the end."
A short-lived reunion
Nick is finally slumped on the floor dying.  Nick makes McCarthy promise to look after his wife and Hailey, as the kids are led away to safety.  Happy returns to Nick and lets him die at peace, symbolised by the blue feather.  Which also seems to symbolise the password as on the final page it's heavily implied McCarthy has the password and has claimed the money.

Oh, all of my feels.
Despite being a much darker setting, Happy! ends up having a lot in common with the end of Morrisons run on Animal Man.  After putting Buddy Baker through hell, by killing off his wife, kids and pets, Buddy actually meets Morrison in the final issue.  After decrying the then current audiences demand for darker stories, Morrison states what could be his mantra "maybe we could just try being kind", before returning Buddy's family back to life.  Happy the Horse is Morrison's "kindness" given adorable form, railing against the misery of the backdrop and "saving" Nick's soul in the process.  With the final part of the story being the only bit that takes place in daylight (bright, golden, almost unreal daylight too) and the McCarthy who is as genuinely good person a person the setting will allow being able to claim the cash that was driving the other plot of the story, it seems Happy the Horse was able to change more than just Nick, and even just for a short while there is hope and light again.  Tightly written, with fantastic artwork, Happy! feels like a real labour of love for both Morrison and Robertson and if you can tolerate the spiral into darkness of the first half of the comic you'll appreciate the clamber out of the pit in the second half all the more.

And they all lived happily ever after (I hope)