Review: ‘Authorised Happiness’ Volumes 2 & 3 – Wrapping Up A Trilogy For A Terrifyingly Possible Future

by Richard Bruton


Jean Van Hamme and Griffo continue and conclude their three-part exploration of a potentially all-too close to possible dystopian future where bureaucracy and control through government systems proves far too rigid and far too effective at eroding the simple freedoms we’ve all come to take for granted. With really effective and stylish art from Griffo, Van Hamme asks the important question – how far would you let things go before you took action?

It’s two and three-quarter volumes of excellence, tight storytelling, asking important questions in each of the short vignettes that Van Hamme uses to really effectively give us a picture of a potential future. But then, surprisingly and ever so unfortunate, he just manages to blow the ending, relying far too heavily on the old clichés we’ve seen far too many times already.


The near-future sci-fi saga from one of the modern greats of Euro comic thrillers, Jean Van Hamme (XIII, Largo Winch) and artist Griffo continues and concludes, bringing us a horrifyingly possible world of dystopian bureaucracy and control worthy of both Gilliam and Kafka.

I reviewed Authorised Happiness volume 1 back in 2020, describing it like this:

All three tales, just 15 pages each, work so very well, with just the right mix of ridiculousness and dread at what might be. And through it all the artwork of Griffo (real name Werner Goelen) is rather perfect for the tone of the stories.

That first volume was a great thing, Van Hamme and Griffo spinning three 15-page vignettes showing us a very near-future world, speculating on what might become – and all of it seemed scarily possible, the government turning from nanny state to Big Brother, the idea of the title reflected in everyday life, bureaucratic absurdity, corporate secrecy, excessive healthcare concerns, and government-controlled holidays all covered. Effectively pondering on how easily all those freedoms that we take for granted can be eroded, a far more insidious threat than a government stripping them away.

Volume 2 is exactly the same, another three short tales, this time beginning with ‘Public Safety, where we deal with the introduction of a mandatory ‘Universal Card’ – something wrapping up all your records in one place, a simple solution to many but something that turns into a nightmare for one government private secretary when his card and records get hacked… but by whom? Well, that’s something that comes together in the third volume of Authorised Happiness, pulling everything we’ve seen in the vignettes into one final, longer tale.

The second tale, ‘Family Planning, is a story about the illegals in the system, those kids born illegally after the government introduced its limits on children, as the President gets a late-night visit from one of those illegals, looking for answers as to why he helped enact the overpopulation laws. Again, all of it adding to the overall worldview and then introducing the idea of an illegal underground population, the waifs and strays cast out by the system – something that Van Hamme will return to in Volume 3.

Finally, in ‘Protected Profession, Van Hamme tackles the ideas of creativity and the freedoms to publish, taking the idea of writing being one of the professions needing authorisation from the State and asking what happens to true creativity when the authorities take a hand in approving just what gets published. It goes exactly the way you expect by this stage in the book.

Which then brings us to the wrap-up for Authorised Happiness, where a photograph of a birthday party finds its way into the hands of Superintendent Carelli, just a few months from retirement. That photograph, with so many familiar faces, to both Carelli and to us, all those people who no longer exist in the system, the ones who rebelled and disappeared, the ones we’ve been reading about here, sets Carelli and his old lawyer friend on an investigation that has the potential to shake the foundations of the system.

But, as you’ll find out, this system might fall in the revolution but what of the system that replaces it? Or the one that replaces that one, or the next, or the next? Who really pulls the strings?

And that’s where ‘Authorised Happiness has been heading all along. The concepts of what true freedom means, how it’s all too easy to accept those small freedoms being eroded as life seemingly gets easier and what it would actually mean for us to go to the logical conclusion to a system where every aspect of your life is controlled. It’s something Van Hamme plays with particularly well in volumes 1 and 2, along with some glorious artwork from Griffo, a Euro-style of crisp lines and colours that also has a rawness to it at times, evoking something of the likes of Jordi Bernet at times for me, that rougher, realistic look rather than a pure clean Euro line. And it’s something that manages to really make Authorised Happiness work all the way through, great expressive artwork with grand style.

However, it’s really unfortunate that, despite building it all up so incredibly well, giving us those perfect little vignettes of life in a system gone wrong, I just think Van Hamme did everything so well and then basically fluffed the ending. I’m not going to go into it plot-wise because that’s just spoiling it for no reason, but from about the 3/4 point, everything just fell into a familiar pattern, one seen so many times before, as the seeming rebellion was shown up to be something less, something that this world of Authorised Happiness and anyone who’s read or seen any dystopian sci-fi will be all too familiar with. It’s such a shame that a book that delivered things so well for the majority of its three volumes really did rather fall at the final hurdle.

Yes, it’s good, the first two volumes and the overall concept are really great, the artwork shines, Van Hamme’s writing for most of it really does a great job of asking the questions to put us in the position of questioning where our freedoms could go – but then to end it in such a clichéd fashion just reduces the impact of what you’ll have read up to that point. And that’s a shame – a really good book that could have been great if Van Hamme would have just nailed the ending in some different fashion.

Authorised Happiness Book 2 & 3 – Script by Jean Van Hamme, art by Griffo, published by Cinebook.

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