Review by Frank Plowright
The first two volumes of Authorised Happiness showed six linked stories of a state taking far greater control over people’s lives, and what happened to those who rebelled against the system. Authorised Happiness 3 begins with a ten page conversation between a lawyer and a police inspector that could be another vignette. However, the policeman has a photograph showing the characters spotlighted in Authorised Happiness 1 and 2. We meet them all again over this full length finale.
An enjoyably world-weary cynicism about the temptations of bureaucratic power has characterised Jean Van Hamme’s plots all the way through, and that’s elevated for the finale. Anyone who considered the previous volumes depressing extrapolations may find it a step too far. However, it’s not intended as comfort reading, and only Van Hamme knows how much he intended as a warning against complacency. In 1989 he was dealing in exaggerations, but readers might find much that actually reflects what society has become since he completed the series. A case of ministers finding it more convenient to adhere to an utterly wrong-minded computer generated solution in preference to admitting the system’s fallibility has echoes of the way people running British sub-post offices were persecuted for years.
For the most part these pages showcase Griffo’s confident depiction of people and places, but there’s a considerable drop in standards for pages 30-33. These look as if a Griffo impersonator has been drafted in and can manage the overall style, but draws oddly angled, flat faces and isn’t capable of having the heads sit on the shoulders correctly. Thankfully, by page 35 Griffo’s back on track, and the remainder of the art is the polished storytelling that’s defined the series from the start.
Eventually Authorised Happiness becomes too cynical and pointed for its own good, and while the final pages are certainly consistent with everything shown leading up to them, they’re also a kick in the teeth. Ultimately it’s an imaginative feeding of online conspiracy theorists, but we seem to have taken several steps closer to Van Hamme’s creation, which surely gives him no solace.