By Justin Wood
Mother Panic is okay. It isn't a dazzling new IP in the Batman world, but it's certainly the most admirable attempt at a fresh addition I've seen in a while in Gotham. Violet Paige is another take on the Batman story. Think Bruce, but with the mirror ever so slightly cracked so that what is reflected isn't a perfect replication. She too is a wealthy socialite by day, but of the crass rock star variety, flipping off the paparazzi and threatening reporters at parties. She has living blood relations instead of dead ones, but there is plenty of tragedy there to go around. Unlike the certainty Bruce approaches the world with, Paige hasn't decided what she is yet, other than angry, equipped, and hungry for revenge we don't understand the parameters of yet. Still, with this introductory episode, I am more than happy to wait and find out.
The weird part for me is why this is on the Young Animal label. Even when the comic was announced, it was the odd man out, sounding rather traditional in its set-up next to the candy-colored free association arthouse vibe the other books proudly announced themselves with. Having read it, it still doesn't make sense why this was associated with the brand, being a pretty straightforward modern superhero vigilante comic with an art culture gimmick antagonist and some distracting flourishes during one of the fight scenes that stood out awkwardly. This could be mainline DC, and it would be among the best things they are publishing right now, but instead it is presented as part of the Young Animal experiment, only logically serving as a gateway to the rest of the imprint for people less immediately intrigued by comics with titles like Cave Carson has a Cybernetic Eye.
It may seem like an irrelevant detail and not worth focusing on, but part of why my brain keeps turning this over in my head is because, immediately, Mother Panic isn't that exciting either. I was pleased to read something from DC that didn't leave me less happy than I was before reading it, but Mother Panic's introductory issue is a surprisingly low-key affair, loaded with some nice subtle character moments, a sleepy unrushed pace, and a plot that has yet to resolve into something genuinely intriguing yet. Mother Panic puts all of its chips in you finding the character of Violet Paige personally intriguing and engaging, and currently, I feel they mildly succeeded, but only by a faint thread. The comic feels like it ends many pages before when it should have to invest me (a page count padded by another of my increasingly despised backup stories, which I will only review in this sidenote as being forgettable) and despite the quality of the dialogue and prose, I wouldn't blame many people for not picking up the second issue. I'll be back, but the slow burn is a dangerous game in superhero comics.
The art, by established artist Tommy Lee Edwards, is probably my favorite sequential art of his that I've read. His style, thick rugged lines wrestled together to form a rough-hewn realism, hasn't always been my favorite in sequential work, a style I see in a lot of artists that tends to result for me in the limited expression for the sake of depicting people and environments in accordance with photographic references. However, here his style is particularly confident and rich, beautifully composed with cinematic weight while also feeling stylistically free. While I enjoy the writing, I think it helpfully drew strength from what Edwards did on the page.
We'll see what Mother Panic grows into, granting a healthy start but not a thrilling one. The central gimmick, with Violet's specific rage being aimed towards her fellow filthy rich Gothamites, isn't particularly well communicated here and certainly less clearly than another book with a similar, less subtle approach to the same idea Renato Jones: The ONE%. The book, as well as Violet herself, claims she's not just another Bat Fam member. This is fine to say but prove it. Besides getting to yell "fuck the Bat" uncensored on the comic page, we have yet to see anything that we can't, and haven't, gotten elsewhere. This isn't a robot man exploding out of a discarded gyro or a blond waif projecting a blue elephant into a hospital lobby. It's a woman in armor punching guys in an alley again. And I can't really complain thus far. But "fuck the Bat"? Prove it. Let's see something new. And if you come up with something, I'll be here waiting.
Mother Panic #1
Writer: Jody Houser
Artist: Tommy Lee Edwards
Publisher: DC's Young Animal