Half Past Danger 2: Dead to Reichs #1 Advanced Review

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Action. Nazis. Dinosaurs. These ingredients formed the basis of Stephen Mooney’s Half Past Danger, a wartime pulp romp heavily inspired by the adventure serials of old with a bit of Michael Crichton thrown in for good measure. Up until that point Mooney had been mainly known for his work on licensed tie-in comics, but it was through the adventures of Sergeant Tommy ‘Irish’ Flynn that the former Eclectic Mick began to achieve widespread notoriety and earned himself a spot on the New York Times bestsellers list. Four years on and an increasingly impressive body of work behind him, Mooney returns to his passion project with Half Past Danger 2: Dead to Reichs (a title worthy of praise of itself). Does this watch still keep time?

What was it about Half Past Danger that endeared itself with the community to begin with? Some would argue it was the clarity of character that Mooney’s displayed in his writing. It certainly helped, but that doesn’t fully explain it. It was an incredibly witty book, but so are many others. It had some truly dynamic, inspired action scenes, but again those alone do not a great comic make. If you were to hone in on one factor that separated Mooney and Half Past Danger from the plethora of comics on the racks, it would have to be the unfiltered devotion that Mooney showed during its creation. Hearing him talk about the project and its influences at a comic art exhibition in Cork City last year, it became immediately clear that this is a man who knows the tropes of pulp fiction inside and out. There was always the risk that he might steer too heavily into those familiar elements, but instead he created a book that both played into and subverted expectations. You may have seen pulp adventures before, but you’ve never seen Mooney’s take on the genre. Happily, Half Past Danger 2 continues this tradition.

Comics are the pinnacle form of collaborative storytelling. Any creator will tell you how much is gained through that inherent back and forth, but Half Past Danger 2 is a reminder of the brilliance that can come from a singular vision fueling the creative process. While some of that give and take is lost, it often results in bold choices that allow a work to standout. The machine that is Stephen Mooney once again handles the writing, illustrating, and lettering duties with Tríona Farrell taking over as colourist from Jordie Bellaire. The two had previously worked on another pulp throwback in the form of The Phantom: Scarlet Sapphire, and their synergy remains impressive. Whereas the first volume’s colours were flat at times, the detailed rendering really allows the artwork to shine.

Picking up a few months after their first adventure, Irish and Captain John Noble attempt to track down any traces of the stolen Nazi research data that Agent Huntington-Moss made off with at the end of the last story-arc. High-octane hilarity ensues. Unbeknownst to our heroes, the resident femme fatale is about to re-enter their lives and shake it up in ways they never thought possible. This issue is very much focused on getting the band back together and figuring out what exactly that might mean given the revelations of the previous volume. It is safe to say that if you haven’t read the first volume of Half Past Danger, you may be a bit lost. While the book features a summary of the events of the original, it is no substitute to reading it for yourself, something any lover of comics owes it to themselves to do.

Half Past Danger has always excelled in its character dynamics and this issue is no exception. Irish optimises everything that we love about “the Chancer” archetype, the good-hearted mischief maker often pushing those around him just a little bit too far. He’s quick-witted, sarcastic, providing and being the butt of many of the series’ best jokes. Irish is that friend we all have, the bad influence. The one who gets us into trouble and who you often carry home from the pub, but you can’t stay mad at for long. Plus, how can we not relate to a man who loves Jameson as much as he does? For a man who based Irish’s appearance off himself, Mooney really does enjoy having him take beating in ever more creative and hilarious ways. Captain John, noble by name and nature, is your classic principled super-hero who packs a mean punch as many the Nazi is sure to tell you. John and Irish’s friendship, built up slowly over the first volume, is represented wonderfully here. There is a real sense that they’ve been through a lot off-screen, cementing their bond, and this adds to their ability to play off each other so well. John still has an air of naivety about him and Irish is still more than willing to use his super-soldier friend if it means he might get a date out of it, but you feel that they would do anything for each other. There are very protective of each other, even if they spend half the time slagging each other, but their verbal joasting is as entertaining as any fight scene. Without delving into spoilers, it’s a friendship that’s sure to be tested in the coming issues and the implications that presents are fascinating.

Mooney’s dialogue remains as sharp as ever; Irish is never caught for a one-liner or bitter jab. It’s rhythmical and often feels like we’re listening to a song that leads into a dance as it transitions into action scenes. That’s one of his great strengths as a comic creator, imbuing his dialogue with purpose. Some creators will often throw dialogue into their fight scenes out of a fear of silence. Mooney isn’t afraid of taking advantage of quiet moments when called for, but knows the value of using mid-action dialogue to add to and flesh out his characters in meaningful ways. In that sense, it owes as much to Joss Whedon as it does to Indiana Jones. It is in these fights that Farrell’s colours really pop, extenuating each and every blow. The reader really feels each impact as it lands. There’s a painterly quality to her work that few colourists manage to capture and the book is all the better for it.

On a whole, it’s fair to say that Mooney’s interior artwork has come on leaps and bounds since the first volume of Half Past Danger. It has always been stunning, but there is confidence in the entire product, from writing to art, that only comes with experience. Gone is the artist taking on his first creator-owned work and in his place, a more well-rounded author with an established pedigree. Half Past Danger 2 benefits from everything that Mooney learned during the original and since, as a result it is perhaps the best version of his original vision. Gorgeous establishing shots bring us to new, imposing Nazi strongholds featured alongside ones that directly call back to the setting of the previous volume. Each leaves the reader breathless, helped by Farrell’s colours in transporting us to these various locales. As deft as he is at placing out characters in epic settings and filling them with life, Mooney equally loves adding in  cartoonish, reactionary visual gags. These caricature moments never outstay their welcome and showcase a number of animated personalities. And that’s Mooney art in a nutshell, it practically oozes with character.

Whether it’s the simple pleasures of hearing someone use the phrase “on your bike” in a comic or the joys of watching a ninja and his pet dinosaur tear into the Axis forces, Half Past Danger 2 is a much welcome revisit to Mooney’s rich world. There is no other book quite like it on the shelves, reveling in its place in pulp history. It’s a book that reminds us of the sheer joy that this medium is capable of instilling in its readers. If ever there was a time to rejoice in Nazis getting punched, it’s now and this is the comic to read. Yes folks, it’s that time again. It’s Half Past Danger and not a moment too soon.

A review copy was kindly provided by the writer. 

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Some would say that he is a mine of information, too bad most of it is useless. You can read his own comic work over on garymoloney.tumblr.com. Follow him on Twitter @m_gearoid.

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