Second issues are often difficult propositions. All too often they serve as a repository for all the ideas the first issue needed but which bogged it down and many are significant downgrades from their predecessors. That’s simply not the case for Mother Panic.
Picking up fairly directly from where the last issue left off, Mother Panic #2 answers important questions and advances the story while keeping the air of mystery that made the first issue such a tense and gripping read. The only time that Jody Hauser lets up on the gas is to provide some realistic obstacles to Violet’s single-minded crusade and, even when she does, she uses these moments to tell you quite a bit about what kind of person Violet is, what kind of city Gotham is under her pen, and generally what kind of book you’re reading.
I don’t know if it’s because this is a Young Animal book rather than a DC Universe one, and if it is I don’t know if there’s any reason it has to be one or the other, but, in each of her two issues, Hauser has immediately communicated Gotham to her readers in a way that is rare. Admittedly, there are still some problems with enforced edginess, a brief cameo from Batwoman and a troublesome gala come to mind as moments that will depend largely on the reader, but it actually is helped quite a bit by the presence of an aimless young nurse in training. I suppose if Mother Panic is going to be the badass worthy of Gotham it’s only fitting to see our lead male character left in that demure, helpless position usually reserved for women between their brief moments of relevance. Regardless of the gender politics, our nameless non-hero injects a sense of normalcy and decency into the story that helps clarify the distinction between Violet’s perceptions and the story’s.
The structure is not quite as finely tuned as the last issue and there’s relatively little in the way of satisfying action scenes, but Mother Panic’s second issue is really starting to play with some fascinating concepts. Just as we begin to unravel the secret behind Violet’s origin, Hauser reminds us just how little we know of Mother Panic’s. There’s something creeping and powerful about the way that Hauser plays with the distinction and the relationship between the two sides of this woman. Batman may pay lip service to it from time to time, but this feels very much like superheroes by way of a horror story, or perhaps the other way around. There are questions of control littered all throughout this book and the Carroll-esque strangeness that Hauser brings to Gotham, or perhaps reveals in Gotham, creates a fantastic unease that subtly breaks down your barriers and opens up all kinds of unbelievable possibilities.
Hauser’s world is ably realized by Tommy Lee Edwards with a strong blend of the straightforwardly angular and the minutely baroque. At its worst, which already feels too negative a comment, Edwards’ characters can feel flat, but that’s very much the minority of cases and it, especially with some bold color backing it, the art is solid to amazing for most of the ride. The background detail in this issue is phenomenal. Tiny streaks of light or shadow become full worlds and a cage of lighted windows define Gotham.
Even better, every page featuring the Mother Panic suit positively sings. Edwards’ grasp of Violet’s body language is great and he actually uses the small awkward elements of the design to the story’s advantage. There’s something very real about the way the suit is depicted but that doesn’t cut its cool factor or undersell the surrealism of the piece, in fact it actually strengthens it.
Jim Krueger’s “Gotham Radio” backup remains a quality addition to the book. This month’s story certainly lacks some of the kick of the last one, but it moves in some very fun and unexpected directions. Some of the content is kind of banal but there’s an argument for that kind of relatable tedium, given the characters in play.
Perhaps what interested me the most was how full this backup seemed. Last issue’s installment used small panels to convey a greater sense of scope, but this time it’s all down to the writing. Though it’s just fourteen panels over three pages, I sat with this one for far longer than that. Krueger seems especially talented at setting pace, with meetings and monologues directing the reader to the proper speed to read at. I was stunned to discover that there weren’t one or two more pages upon going back to review the story.
Phil Hester, Ande Parks, and Trish Mulvihill don’t get a lot of room to spread their wings, but the nostalgic look of Hester’s art still does a lot for the piece, even as it tackles some very timely feelings.
The first issue of Mother Panic was a textbook example of a strong first chapter, but this is where the wheels meet the road. Jody Hauser and Tommy Lee Edwards prove that this concept has plenty of twists and turns, nooks and crannies, to keep your interest for a long time and, while the flaws from issue one are still present to some degree, they are diminished as well as excused by some strong choices by the team.
The backup remains intriguing and the personality present in Gotham, in both stories, is fantastic. One month in Mother Panic remains a welcome and fascinating addition to DC’s lineup and takes that opportunity to tell the sophomore slump to go #$*! itself.