This is the last of the initial Young Animal titles and I think it’s safe to say that this experiment has been quite a success. Where Shade, the Changing Girl summoned the creativity of Vertigo and Cave Carson the brand’s willingness to reinvigorate classic concepts, Mother Panic is a love letter to the brave new world of late 80s DC comics, when the line between Vertigo and DC was blurry.
From the art to the scene, Mother Panic opens with what seems to be a knowing homage to Batman: Year One. Here is Violet Paige returning to Gotham after years away, full of anger and grand ideas on how to end Gotham’s reign of terror. Jody Houser instantly has a way of making you feel comfortable with the characters and her plotting is almost ideal. You get a little bit of everything you need out of a #1 here. We spend time getting to know our protagonist, some suitably dramatic childhood memories, time with our villain, a glance at a secret base, and – of course – some action. It’s been a long time since we’ve really seen a completely new character launch out of DC but, structurally, Mother Panic is about as good a blueprint as you could ask for.
This title is important for Young Animal, it is, and especially was, an announcement of the imprint’s presence within continuity, but one of the weakest elements of this issue is the shadow of the bat. Batman looms large over this story. Gotham is, after all, his territory and no new-comer is ever going to change that, but there is a certain redundancy in the character. As I mentioned, we meet Violet at a moment that definitely mirrors Bruce Wayne and her paparazzi bait persona, parental issues, and brooding inner monologue do nothing to discourage that perception. At times this almost feels less like a contemporary of Batman and more like a radical reinvention of the character as it would have been molded today. On the other hand the repeated jabs at Batman can occasionally feel juvenile or overly self-aware.
Despite this, Mother Panic #1 actually one ups Batman: Year One in one critical area: its villain. Jody Houser does a fantastic job of building her enemies into the fabric of Gotham. You can feel their role in the ecosystem and smart writing combined with a sense of place make them feel natural and frightening despite a gimmick as strong as any Silver Age caper. It’s a fantastic reconstruction of what a Gotham villain should be and that does a lot to establish Mother Panic.
The writing is moody without being self-indulgent. Houser goes as far as the script requires and no farther. Her characters are familiar without being predictable and that’s almost certainly the best thing about this book. There’s enough of a basic storytelling knowledge in the reader that you can fill in important blanks and Houser’s writing summons up very real flaws for her characters, but they’ll obey your expectations as often as they’ll swerve. The one place where the writing is truly rote is during the fight scene, which follows the same grunting overuse of ‘Bitch!’ and ‘Rrgh, kill you…’ as every other comic these days, but it’s the exception that proves the rule.
Tommy Lee Edwards’ deep lines and muted colors instantly summon up great Gotham stories like Batman: Year One or “Half a Life”. The art slips between the blockily impressionistic and sharp, realistic, detail effortlessly. Combined with Edward’s storytelling sense and a spattering of intense and shocking visual non-sequiturs(?), this book is quite a treat for the eye.
It helps that Houser gives him some lovely subjects, but Edwards clearly displays an ability to bring life and energy to nearly any scene. Throughout it all there’s an honesty about both the positive and negative of what’s depicted. And, perhaps most of all, Edwards gets what is ‘Young Animal’ about this series. There’s fierce judgement, a revulsion at what we’re willing to accept, in the art. It appears best in, and resonates most in the part of the soul that conjures, a disdainful side-eye.
As much as this issue is a love letter to late 80s Gotham, the backup takes me straight back to the early 2000s and the era of Batman: Gotham Knights, especially thanks to art from Phil Hester. It’s a great start to a story that makes excellent use of the exacting page limitations.
The monologue that runs over the piece is a little cheesy, but what’s great about it is how it flips things in regards to the role of words and pictures. Pictures get a bad rap in this business, seen often as the lesser cousin of dialogue and plot, but, of course, the lines aren’t as clear as that, nor would it really matter if they were. So, instead of the incorrect but conventional idea of images existing to fill the gaps between somehow non-graphic ‘ideas’ we have a story told visually against the backdrop of this monologue.
It’s not anything you’d feel you’re missing out on if you decided not to pick up the issue, the way you might feel about Tom Scioli’s Super Powers, but its a strong story and a nice addition to the issue.
Mother Panic takes a familiar story and tells it beautifully, balancing vulnerability and that scathing, untouchable sense of judgement that we as modern westerners aspire to expertly. Art and script know exactly what the conventions of this story are and are all too happy to have it both ways, giving readers the comforting embrace of the well-worn while offering a tale that behaves less predictably than many of its peers. Pitch perfect artwork and a slew of enticing mysteries, obvious and subtle, make this the easiest of the Young Animal debuts to pick up and perhaps the hardest to put down.