By Jody Houser, Jim Krueger, Shawn Crystal, Phil Hester, Ande Parks, Jean-Francois Beaulieu & Trish Mulvihill
From the beginning, Mother Panic has had an identity problem. The first issue of the Young Animal series opened in a compelling manner by introducing readers to the jet legged, jet set heiress Violet Paige. Writer Jody Houser gave Violet an intriguing voice, which engaged the reader despite the many overly familiar elements of her backstory. Still, there was potential to the character. Unfortunately the following two issues almost entirely ignored Violet in favor of her costumed vigilante alter ego, Mother Panic. As a crime fighter, Mother Panic was effective but lacked the personality of Violet. Houser corrects this imbalance in the current issue which goes a long way to reconciling the dueling halves of Violet Paige.
Violet is first seen in #4 being interviewed for what appears to be a late night talk show. Throughout the discussion, Violet affects the blasé façade of a bored socialite. While this technique is boilerplate Bruce Wayne, Violet is more savage in her willingness to be disliked. Bruce might play the fool at times, but there is nothing mean-spirited about it. Violet is different. She is nasty in her dismissal of an ex’s public complaints. She treats her host as if he is barely worth her acknowledgement. She makes outrageous comments sure to make large segments of the population believe that she is an entitled dunce. Indeed she is dismissed from the stage with a crass comment from the host and a hearty round of boos from the audience. Yet, there is plenty of applause as well. Where Bruce Wayne was a benign suit occasionally dabbling in charitable causes, Violet is gleefully vicious. It is an interesting twist on an old comic book trope, updating it for the age of social media. Being nice does not buy her privacy in the way cruelty does. Give the people what they want: another rich bitch who reinforces their stereotypes about inherited wealth. At the same time, make her so unappealing that no one could be motivated to dig any deeper.
Readers naturally know that there is more to Violet than a superficial luxe life. She has deep pools of angst which flow from a childhood marked with tragedy. At the center of this trauma is her mother, Rebecca, who suffers from dementia. The mother lives with her adult daughter in a greenhouse type environment overflowing in flowers. This relationship between mother and daughter is the most tender of the series and goes a long way to tempering the harder edges of Violet’s personality.
With #4 Houser adds a new element to Violet’s backstory: an unhappy stretch in boarding school. While Houser keeps the details scant, the experience clearly left its mark on the young girl. More importantly, it suggests how the identities of Mother Panic and Violet Paige overlap. The antagonist of the first three issues was rather impersonal, which, in turn, lent the same feeling to Mother Panic’s quest for justice. That shifts in this installment, as Violet gains information which she can use as Mother Panic to avenge the traumas she and other young girls experienced. Suddenly there is something more at stake than abstract ideas of justice. It is, as they say, personal now. Just as readers can connect to Batman’s humanity through the scars of his youth, Mother Panic is shaping into a more well-rounded character.
Shawn Crystal fills in this month for regular artist Tommy Lee Edwards. At first, Crystal’s art may feel like a departure; Edwards has a much more detailed, fine line. Crystal’s work is looser with more cartoonish elements. This is highlighted by Jean-Francois Beaulieu’s bright colors popping off the page in contrast to Edwards’ more subtle shading. Despite these different approaches, the artists achieve the same effect as each captures the oversaturated air of Violet and the shadowy rooftops of Mother Panic. Visually these two aspects find some solace in the gardens of Rebecca, which are the closet Violet/Mother has to a safe space.
Also continuing in this issue is a backup serial, Gotham Radio. Written by Jim Krueger it is set in a Gotham City radio station which is replacing a murdered on-air personality with a brash internet provocateur whose main rallying cry is the immorality of Batman. (This thread bleeds into the main feature when Violet is asked what her opinion of Batman might be). The narrative is driven by a woman who works for the station and has rather conflicted opinions about managements’ current priorities as well as guilt over the death of her colleague. Krueger is spinning a nice character driven tale, which the latest chapter hints might take some unexpected superhero turns. The art is handled by Phil Hester who does a good job conveying the emotions of the piece. With only a few pages at their disposal, Krueger and Hester keep the reader engaged in their gradually unfolding mystery.
Overall this was the strongest issue of Mother Panic since its debut. If Houser can continue filling out Violet/Panic’s personality and be paired with suitable artistic collaborators, the series should be able to achieve its full potential.