My first exposure to Stephen Mooney’s work was through Rob Curley’s Freakshow title that has become something of an Irish comic book equivalent of SNL. It has also helped start the careers of among others Steve Thompson (Die Hard: Year One), Bob Byrne (2000AD) and Declan Shalvey, currently the artist on the wonderful Deadpool run. It was here that the noir style, that is so prominent in Mooney’s current book Half Past Danger, is first visible. Although undoubtedly raw, Mooney’s artwork is laced with potential and ambition seldom seen in new artists who have a tendency to either draw within themselves thinking like a smaller comic, or go the other way and try to throw every idea they had at the page. Mooney realizes that pens and pencils are not constrained by budget, only imagination.
Based on his work on Freakshow, Mooney would make the move to IDW in 2006 and would start work as the artist on a number of comic spin offs like CSI, The A-Team and The Mummy. The underrated Mummy series showed flashes of Mooney’s bombastic action style that is currently used to such great effect on “Half Past Danger”. With only one pre-existing character to worry about, Mooney was at last able to put his own stamp on things. The fight scenes in the series were laced with an energy and invention of an artist finally being let off his leash. Having begged Chris Ryall of IDW to have a crack at the spinoff of his favorite show, he would then be paired with Brian Lynch for the excellent Angel “After the Fall” that takes place directly after the memorable series finale. Mooney’s work on this title was the first sign that he was beginning to transform from raw potential into a noteworthy talent, even earning praise from Joss Whedon himself. However, there were signs that Mooney was becoming frustrated working within the confines of pre-existing properties and rumors surfaced that William Petersen demanded an issue of CSI to be completely redrawn as he was unhappy with how he looked.
He would then work on a comic for the MTV series Teen Wolf, but perhaps the weariness of finding himself working on a comic based on a TV adaptation of a movie was one step too far for Mooney. His short-lived run on the title contained none of the passion and verve that was so prominent in his previous work. This seemed to be the final straw for Mooney as he sought to shake free the “gun for hire” constraint that now found himself in. So in 2012 he made the bold announcement that he was in the process of creating his own title, however, not only would he be the artist for this title but would also make his writing debut. The book was launched in May at “The Big Bang” comic store in Dublin and a huge crowd (including myself) were eager to see what exactly a world of “Dames, Dinosaurs and Nazis” would look like.
From the opening page I was completely hooked. Mooney had tapped into a mix of Sunday afternoon serials laced with shades of everything from Indiana Jones to The Thin Red Line. On paper the story is almost impossible to describe with a straight face (Drunken Irish guy, Ninjas and Dinosaurs but ya know…for adults) and each character reads like a cliché – a quipy anti-hero, a ninja, an indestructible Captain America clone and a shady beautiful woman. Mooney somehow manages to side step any such pit falls by layering the book with surprising levels of subtlety and humanity for a book that boasts a decapitated T-Rex. Every inch of the page is used to its full effect with “blink and you will miss it” moments peppered throughout. In fact some of the stories best moments are genuinely touching moments with seemingly indestructible characters sharing their fears and regrets. This book demands concentration and his readers are thoroughly rewarded for their efforts. He has shown as much confidence in his writing as his artwork and is not afraid to swap spectacle for storyline.
Mooney’s work evokes everything from Dave Stevens with the Rocketeer to Hitchcock, all the while able to put his own distinct spin on things. The Irish comic scene has exploded in recent years with Mooney joining the likes of Will Sliney, Declan Shalvey, Nick Roche and Darrin O’Toole in their rise to prominence. Refreshingly, rather than trying to scramble over each other to get ahead in what can be a cut throat industry, the group have become a close knit group of colleagues who seem more interested in helping each other reach the next level than trying to stand alone at the summit. Half Past Danger has been a huge success both domestically and abroad with issues selling out on both sides of the Atlantic. There is even talk of a German release which, given the subject matter, would be very interesting. With the series drawing to a close this month Mooney will be faced with a difficult decision to either stick with the freedom of creating his own words or twist and have to play in a bigger, albeit more constrained, environment. With Marvel Senior VP of Creative & Creator Development C.B. Cebulski confessing on a recent episode of the award winning “Irish Pubcast” that he was a fan of Mooney’s work, it’s a very real possibility that Mooney could find himself putting his own spin on some of comic’s biggest icons. The question is, will this be as an artist or a writer as due to pre-determined deadlines the big two don’t tend to let their talent do both. Whatever path he chooses to go down I am sure he will bring his unique blend of heartbreak and humor to it and I will become one of those annoying people trying to convince anyone who will listen “I was a fan before you”!