Mother Panic #1

by Nick Liu on November 09, 2016

Mother Panic #1
Writer: Jody Houser
Artist: Tommy Lee Edwards
Publisher: DC Comics

In theory, Gotham City is this dark, terrifying place where the worst of humanity slithers among the masses in the streets and alleyways.  What would Gotham look like if there wasn’t a constant moral imperative to sieve the city through a filter, removing with absolute efficiency the darker parts of humanity that manifest themselves regularly in our world?  Would having a messier, grimier, more ethically indeterminate Gotham for Batman to try and save be better than the gloomy, but ultimately hopeful, escapist medium that is the current status quo?

Jody Houser’s Mother Panic is the fourth member of DC’s Young Animal imprint, and issue #1 starts the series off by attempting its own answer to this ages-old question.  Mother Panic tells the story of Violet Paige, a young, wealthy Gotham socialite who has a dangerous habit of donning a frightful costume to exact vigilante justice on the scum of the city.  Sound familiar?  Unlike the relatively family-friendly Bruce Wayne, however, Violet is the kind of woman who likes her Scotch peaty and neat, who harbors a potent disdain for everyone else around her, and who gives resounding middle fingers to the paparazzi in public.  All of this is presented in a way that doesn’t feel disrespectful towards the tattered tapestry of what’s come before for Gotham, but rather takes the medium into a newer, darker playing field that honesty feels a little refreshing.

Mother Panic #1 begins to unravel the mystery that is our eponymous main character.  The thing about Violet though, is that she remains a mystery even after the last page.  There are a few hints scattered here and there, hints of substance abuse, childhood hunting trips, but at the end of the day there’s not enough for us to really get a full understanding of the character.  Because of this, it’s likely that Mother Panic is going to draw out Violet’s origin story at least through the first few issues.  On the one hand I’m excited to see that this is going to be an event, but on the other it’s a little hard to sympathize with a character who comes off being so terse and impersonal.

Tommy Lee Edwards’ artwork is one of the highlights of this issue.  Edwards, a one-man rock band on pencil, ink and colors, draws Mother Panic in a way that feels just a little off (in a good way) by giving us a more muted palette on top of his usual thick, uneven line work.  I love the way Edwards highlights each character in his panels by drawing them in lighter shades of gray and canary while framing them in solid backgrounds of green, orange, blue or pink.  Violet Paige’s Gotham City is drawn using tones of orange and yellow for both daytime and night, makes the city feel viscous and oppressive, almost monstrous.  It almost feels like someone took an early 90’s Tarantino film and genetically spliced it with Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.  It’s a little campy and weird, but also bloody and unsettling. One scene in particular really struck me: a brilliant flash of blue-and-white lighting crashing into a leafless tree while Mother Panic callously snaps a man’s arm in two.

Art itself is a theme that comes up often throughout the pages of Mother Panic #1.  Near the end of the issue we get our very first villain reveal, and I can tell already that this character is going to be very fun to watch develop over the next few months.  There’s something intrinsically appealing about a sharply-dressed woman flaying a man alive over a painter’s canvas.  Plus, polka dot skirts with matching torture chambers will never go out of fashion.

Mother Panic #1 is a bold attempt to take bits and pieces of the weirder, sleeker, more experimental Young Animal imprint and splice them into DC’s venerable Batman DNA to produce a piece of art that is as strange and magnificent as it is erudite.  Violet Paige, our main protagonist, might come off as harsh and standoffish, but I’m curious to learn what exactly is driving her to take on her crusade.  Add to that this issue’s beautiful, thought-provoking artwork, and Mother Panic is looking to be one of the most solid and interesting introductions to a new character we’ve seen this year.  Highly recommended!

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