Review: Haha #1 Offers a Dark Set of Tales Starring Clowns

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W. Maxwell Prince, co-creator of Ice Cream Man, helms a new Image Comics series providing twisted tales involving clowns.

After years of delivering vanilla-flavored dread in the acclaimed horror comic book series Ice Cream Man, Eisner Award-nominated writer W. Maxwell Prince is back with a new anthology comic series published by Image Comics, Haha, that has a much more unsettling focus: Clowns. Working with a new artist on each of the miniseries’ planned six issues, Prince is bringing a different kind of subversive examination of daily life gone wrong with a set of stories decidedly not for coulrophobics. And judging by the opening issue, this miniseries is off to a strong start.

Working with Vanesa Del Rey (Redlands), Prince’s longtime collaborator colorist Chris O’Halloran and letterer Good Old Neon, the opening issue of Haha has a down on his luck clown that is unappreciated by his wife and children, facing financial ruin at his job as a clown at a rundown amusement park as he struggles to put on a happy face during what is very likely the worst day of his life. And just as with most of Prince’s previous work, things aren’t quite what they seem as this clown’s day in the life quickly goes from bad to much, much worse.

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Prince has captivated comic book fans for years by subverting common, seemingly innocuous elements of Americana, usually in picturesque visions of suburbia, including libraries and ice-cream salesmen. Prince goes a bit more macro: This miniseries doesn’t so much as subvert clown tropes as place them in instances of familiar domestic ennui. Future issues look to experiment with the style not unlike Ice Cream Man while keeping the linking narrative device of sad clowns plumbing the depths of human misery. And like most of Prince’s work, not everything going on in the story should be taken at face value as he gradually shows his hand.

Del Rey and O’Halloran really lean into the inherent melancholy of the miniseries’ premise, delivering the sad story of a family man just trying to provide for his home and always look on the bright side of life, even when things are unrelentingly bleak. Del Rey has expertly crafted haunting artwork before, instilling a creeping sense of dread as one clown keeps getting pushed to his mind’s edge. O’Halloran’s color palette has a muted quality that makes the proceedings feel a little more than explicitly in present-day; this could be just as easily be a story set in the ’70s as it is today. Del Rey’s pencils and inks make for a somber vision of the American Dream gone wrong, just as Ice Cream Man bloodily picks up different parts of the American experience, Haha is shaping up to do this more subtly from a painted, red-nosed perspective.

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While Haha treads deeply into clown-fueled misery, Prince and his rotating creative teams know how to keep the proceedings from becoming overly off-putting or unsavory. Cover-to-cover this is a comic of broken dreams with sinister undertones all behind a veneer of cheap make-up; that narrative spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. From a tight, deliberately paced script written by Prince to atmospheric, evocative artwork by Del Rey and O’Halloran, the opening issue of Haha showcases a creative team will working very much at the height of their powers. And with more daring, standalone tales set to unroll over the miniseries’ next five issues, what may seem like a one-note premise is poised to delve into new depths of melancholic Americana.

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