Meet Violet Page. She’s rich. She’s punk. She’s part of the Gotham elite. And she’s a vigilante. As much as this might sound familiar, it probably won’t feel familiar. The only familiarity a general comic reader might connect with this title is Gotham City and Batman. Everything else about Mother Panic is odd, offbeat, dark, artistic, and intense. And yet, it strangely doesn’t try too hard to be any of those things, nor does it feel like cheap pandering for shock value.
I’m not going to go so far as to say that Mother Panic is new in any way. A few pages into this debut, I was immediately reminded of Joey Cavalieri’s The Huntress (after the CCA was abolished),
Chuck Dixon’s Huntress, or more recently, Mark Andreyko’s Manhunter. This book features a female vigilante that’s violent, and the narrative touches on morally challenging themes. For me, that’s a very good thing. I’ve openly shared my preference for dark, intense stories, and that is exactly where Mother Panic lives. To put it lightly, this book is bleak. There isn’t anything redeeming in the story or its characters, and Houser doesn’t hold back from throwing readers into a world that so many of us try to pretend doesn’t exist. Mother Panic isn’t for everyone, and it especially isn’t for children. If you thought that Brenden Fletcher’s transition of Batgirl was a move in the right direction, then this book probably isn’t for you. If you have issues with vulgarity and explicit content, then this book isn’t for you. And honestly, if you’re extremely religious, this book probably isn’t for you. I mean, if the following panel offends you, then know that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
When I sat down to read Mother Panic, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t read any interviews or previews for the title, and I’m behind with my reading in general, so I haven’t had the opportunity to read any other Young Animal titles yet. So, with an open mind, I sat down, started reading, encountered a range of emotions, and before I knew it, I was on the last page… And I loved it… And then I grew a little nervous. All I could think was, “What in the hell am I going to write for this? People are going to read my review, read the book, then think, ‘I know he said he liked dark stories, but this is weird. If he likes this, then there’s something wrong with him.’” I pondered and brainstormed the best way to discuss Mother Panic before deciding that I would just have to own it… I sometimes find twisted things fascinating.
As I mentioned earlier, Violate Page is a celebutant – though we’re not exactly sure what made her famous. She’s not your ritzy, glamorous type of celebrity. She’s more like your Samantha Ronson type in terms of appearance, and it wouldn’t be surprising if you saw headlines discussing potential struggles of hers such as drug abuse, violence, or anger. Yet even then, Violet doesn’t resemble other celebrities such as Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears circa 2007, or Mel Gibson. She’s not a case of someone on a tragic, downward spiral. Instead, she comes off as carrying a lot of anger and no hope. When you examine her, it’s emptiness. She appears to have no hope for the city, the world, or humanity.
As a lead character, this is going to be incredibly difficult to sell. You’re not going to pick up Mother Panic and finish it with a desire to cheer for the protagonist… partially because there isn’t a protagonist. Violet’s life is one big mystery to us, even after reading the first issue. Her mother suffers from Alzheimer’s, and her father is no longer alive – a mystery in and of itself that brings many questions. We get glimpses of Violet as a child before she becomes the jaded adult we’re familiarizing ourselves with in the present day story, but even those glimpses fail to shed light on the path that moved her from point “A” to point “B.”
The oddest attribute about Violet as a character though, is that we don’t know her motivation. There’s no explanation into why she’s operating as Mother Panic, what her goals are, or how she got started on this journey. That’s where the similarities to Huntress, Manhunter, or even Punisher end. These three (anti)heroes are killers – which as far as we can tell, Violet isn’t opposed to – but they have motivations that make it easier for readers to get behind them. Huntress and Punisher are on a mission of vengeance. Manhunter is tired of watching innocent lives lost due to repeat offenders that manage to continuously overcome the law. There’s nothing like that here. Not yet anyway.
Even the plots are a bit of a mystery. Houser essentially introduces us to various characters, sets up their personal arcs, and those arcs just happen to cross… There are essentially three additional characters worth watching aside from Violet: Mr. Hemsley, his bodyguard/ lover Dominic, and Gala. Fair warning, these are some twisted people. Hemsley appears to be some type of businessman, and whatever he does allows him to hire an army of staff to protect himself quite well. He’s also a collector, and commissioned Gala – a mob-like artist who isn’t afraid to create unsettling pieces of art (as in, illegal) – to create a piece for him. When Hemsley decides to show this piece to Dominic, Dominic doesn’t take it well and plans to inform the police. All of this comes together to start forming a single narrative, as Violet goes after Hemsley for unknown reasons, and finds herself in the middle of Hemsley and Dominic’s conflict. Meanwhile, Gala is in the background with her own self-interests. Then, thrown into all of this, are flashes of Violet’s past, and a growing mystery involving her family. I’m not going to say I’m hooked, but I’m extremely curious and intrigued.
Tonally and thematically, there’s a lot going on here. Clearly we have ties to Batman and Gotham City since the story takes place in Gotham City. But then there are tones that remind me of other mediums. Two that came to mind the most were Donnie Darko and Seven. The off-beat vibe of Mother Panic feels reminiscent to the same off-beat tone of Donnie Darko, and even Violet shares the same disconnected relationship with the world that Donnie does in some ways. Then there’s the edgy, creep factor that immediately made me think of Seven. This book has some seriously messed up people, and they’re doing egregious things. I’ve mentioned this in as many ways as I can, but this book isn’t for the faint of heart.
The Art: The art, which continues a number of these tones and themes. Odd, random panels featuring a rabbit in a sawed-off skull, a snake eating a rat, or even a dead swan, turned upside down with numerous arrows in it are peppered throughout the narrative. The images occur during intense moments or action, and reminded me of abstract representations of Charles Darwin’s theory of “survival of the fittest.” Then there are random panels that feature images such as wax melting down a birthday cake or lightning striking a tree – images that I interpreted as symbolism of there being beauty in destruction. It’s these moments that help shape the narrative, and provide a weird, unspoken sense of structure.
Moments such as these lead me to have a highly favorable opinion of the art. Then there’s the gritty texture, and the lines that looks like they’re drawn with charcoal instead of pencil to provide a noir-like, edgy presentation. These aspects are wins in my opinion, and reminded me of what I liked about Garry Brown’s work on Catwoman with Genevieve Valentine. But as I felt with Brown’s art, those artistic choices take away from the finesse of the art, and the finer details are sacrificed. Certain characters begin to look similar, and expressions are lost for the sake of artistic expression. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing depending on your preferences, but Tommy Lee Edwards isn’t consistent with his work, so that is a downer.
Breakdowns for this issue can be found in the spoiler tag.
Violet Page. Let’s face it, there’s nothing likable about this character, and that should be a bad thing… but somehow, Houser creates enough intrigue and mystery in her that you want more. You want to learn more about her. You want to learn what pushes and drives her. You even want to like her, you just don’t know if you should. She has no hope, and that’s a hard bandwagon to jump on, but I see people that I actually know in this character, and deep down, I know that they are good people, so this endears me to Violet… But it is an incredibly hard sell. Most of Violet’s humanity stems from her flashbacks, and her care for her mother slides in another form of respectability.
Fuck the Bat. Ok, so I’m going to be honest… We’re supposed to refrain from cussing on here (especially “f bombs”), but I’m going to go on the assumption that I get a pass with these reviews because we’re dealing with some seriously dark and twisted crap. Anyway, so much of who Mother Panic is, is expressed in her simple comment of “Fuck the Bat.” That single line establishes that Violet isn’t in this to be a hero, and that she isn’t interested in a broad idea of justice. She has to have some form of selfish motivation, and hopefully that will be revealed soon.
We’re going there. You know how I mentioned that Gala makes extreme forms of art? Yeah, well when you’re introduced to her character, she’s fileting a man alive, letting his blood run and drip onto a canvas. This is the type of art she creates.
This is creepy and weird, but I can also believe it. While in LA, I knew plenty of artists, and some of them did incredibly odd, twisted things for art. I’m talking about some really weird crap like using their own bodily fluids to create art (blood, urine, feces…). Gala’s scene took me back to the unsettling feelings I had while at a friend’s art gallery, and all I wanted to do was take a shower. But it gets worse… Whatever Mr. Hemsley had commissioned involves children, and after witnessing the horrific acts that Gala was up to in this issue, I can only imagine how horrific this revelation will be. Whatever it is made Dominic, who knows how powerful and dangerous Mr. Hemsley is, risk his life to try and report him.
Gotham Radio. There’s a short story at the end of this issue called Gotham Radio. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it is equally as bleak as the main narrative. There isn’t really any connection to the main plot other than the fact that these people of Gotham are hopeless and depressed.
The Bad: A story with holes. The biggest issue with this book (other than your preferences concerning vulgar plots and art), is that the debut issue didn’t fully satisfy my needs. I had a lot of questions once I finished the issue – which is fine because it does create some intrigue – but I found myself feeling as though I needed a little more somewhere (plot, character, motivation) to feel satisfied. Thankfully, immediately following the story, there was a profile of Mother Panic, and it filled these holes, making the narrative more rounded. On one hand, I hate that the story required the character profile to accomplish this, but on the other hand, it completely won me over…
- You prefer dark, intense stories.
- You want uncensored, bold characters.
- You want to explore just how dark and sick the streets of Gotham really are.
Overall: Upon reading the first few pages, I found myself wondering what I got myself into, but by the end of the issue, I wanted more. Mother Panic is dark, gruesome, graphic, and vulgar… and it’s the perfect answer to readers who feel that the main titles are a little too “formula” or “safe” to fully meet your needs. Anything can happen here, and there doesn’t appear to be a limit for the extremes of where the creative team is willing to go. Houser and Edwards don’t even bother to ease you into their world either. You’re thrown into the darkness whether you’re ready or not, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t walk away from this book incredibly intrigued and curious. When it’s said and done, after you finish Mother Panic you’ll feel a little dirty and slightly guilty, but if vulgar, dark themes don’t bother you, then you’ll want more.