By Jody Houser, Jim Krueger, Tommy Lee Edwards, Phil Hester & Trish Mulvihill
After three reboots of pre-existing concepts, Gerard Way’s new Young Animal imprint unveils its first original character: Mother Panic. The debut issue of her adventures is an intriguing hybrid which mixes new ideas with familiar tropes. Protagonist Violet Paige is introduced lounging on her private jet as it approaches Gotham City’s airport. She downs a glass of wine as an unidentified companion warns Violet of overexerting herself. The context is vague, leaving the reader unclear what sort of destructive tendencies the aide is referring. Violet immediately conveys the spoiled apathy of the privileged, flipping off the paparazzi greeting her at the airport with questions about the latest gossip. Internally, Violet muses about this corrupt city to which she keeps returning. Perhaps she should simply burn it to the ground and be done with it all. Still, for all that cynicism, she remains capable of brightening a stranger’s day. When she glimpses two fans timing their selfie for the moment Violet will pass in the background, Violet offers a sly grin for their camera. In the course of these initial two pages, writer Jody Houser successfully introduces these multiple aspects to Violet’s personality, immediately drawing the reader into Violet’s story.
Though a child of privilege, Violet’s background is filled with mystery and tragedy. Her mother, Rebecca, had already slipped into dementia when Violet was child, while her father died suspiciously during a hunting trip. Thus, at a young age, she was sent off to boarding school and forgotten about until she returned to Gotham, tabloid antics in tow. However, this decadent posture is only one aspect of her character. Violet remains dedicated to her mother; indeed the most poignant scenes in the issue involve the interactions between Violet and Rebecca. There is a tenderness here which speaks clearly of who Violet is beneath masks literal or otherwise.
Speaking of masks, Violet is also the newest vigilante to hunt Gotham’s streets. Her current case involves investigating murders with an otherworldly tinge to them. The reader will be forgiven if, at this point, Mother Panic begins to remind them of Batwoman. (Houser’s script heavily implies that, like Kate Kane, Violet is queer). Houser is too good of a writer for Violet to come off as a complete Kate clone, yet there is a feeling of “seen this before” which dogs the comic. Also, there is the question of why Gotham city needed to be the setting for series, when it would be easier for Violet to stand out in other urban locales. Hopefully as the narrative unfolds, Violet will avoid spending too much time in the Bat-Family orbit and fulfill her potential to be her own person.
Tommy Lee Edwards provides the art for Mother Panic. He has a sketchy style which mirrors Violet reckless public persona. This sense of dissolution is carried over to both high society gatherings and criminal activities. Edwards’ coloring emphases such ambiances with muted hues. At the same time, his action sequence conveys a sudden jolt of energy. A two page spread alternates panels of Mother Panic beating criminals with panels given over to engramic images. A tree bursts into purplish flame, a cake oozes melting candle wax (or is it blood?) and a snake graphically gorges itself on a rat. Are these images stylistic flourishes or a clue for something more mystical about Mother Panic herself? This hint of the supernatural is carried over to a reveal regarding the woman behind the recent string of murders. In such a way, Edwards demonstrates that he is equally at home with grounded street action and surreal visuals.
Overall, Houser and Edwards have crafted an intriguing debut issue. While it does not quite match the heights of House’s excellent Faith for Valiant, it does have much promise to it. There is also a backup story from Jim Krueger and Phil Hester. “Gotham Radio” focuses on Danny Ruby, a radio personality musing, on the night before Thanksgiving, about the subject of gratitude. The strongest aspect of this brief chapter is Hester’s art, in which the pages are laid out in a grid format and each panel is occupied by a different resident of Gotham. Some of these faces, such as Alfred’s, are familiar, while others are more everyday citizens. With each page, Hester increases the number of panels, suggesting that as the story grows so do the number of people effected by it. It is a compelling device, well executed by Hester’s loose style which has similarities to Edwards’ while also illustrating Hester’s own voice. Like the main feature, it is a tease which leaves the reader curious to see how the next installment unfolds.