If you’re scared of clowns, then this week’s Haha #1 may not be for you. Alternatively, it might be exactly for you!
As you might have expected, Haha is an anthology series by writer W. Maxwell Prince about clowns. It’s a pretty simple pitch on its surface, but it does allow Prince and his rotating team of artists the freedom to play around with the concept of a clown and how each type might occupy the world around them (Issue #3, for example, is apparently about a mime). Maxwell’s other Image series Ice Cream Man follows something of an anthology format, but each of Haha’s six issues will be truly singular and not utilize an overarching narrative. This first issue of the series follows Bartelby, a down-on-his-luck clown who experiences one very eventful day that will potentially have a profound effect on his life—for better or worse, maybe both.
Addressing the big clown in the room, Haha #1 is admittedly similar in vibe to 2019’s Joker, even down to some of the details (mugged on a bad day, fraught home lives, triggered into violence through psychological means). But whereas Joker takes itself uber-seriously, Haha has an element of playfulness and surreality in its approach that makes it a less grueling experience than the former. Choice examples of this include a bullet in the brain turning into something of a Looney Tunes moment and Bart viewing his family as balloon people after the incident that changes his outlook on life. Vanesa R. Del Rey’s art is responsible for selling both moments, and her work throughout is delightfully scuzzy; her dark and scratchy lines pair with Chris O’Halloran’s candy colors to great effect.
Prince’s script deserves credit for being as restrained as it is, prioritizing a mood over gratuitous violence (which there is some of) or a statement of “aren’t clowns creeeeeepy?” (YMMV) that you might expect from the material. It’s also less of an “origin” story, and we’re not meant to glean that Bart pivots into a life of crime because of what happens to him, regardless of what may or may not unfold after the final page. You could very easily see this story continuing as its own series, but I always respect when creators leave a little something to the imagination–suggesting to the reader that their subjects will continue existing whether or not we see what happens next.