Reading this first volume of Mother Panic from DC’s Young Animal imprint reminded me of what was morally wrong about the character of Batman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Although I thought the casting of Ben Affleck was spot-on, given the material he worked with, the role itself of a self-loathing vigilante with brutal methods who doesn’t mind the bloodshed seems to contradict what is great about the Dark Knight Detective in the comics.
Writer: Jody Houser
Artist: Tommy Lee Edwards, Shawn Crystal
Publisher: DC Comics
What we get with Mother Panic, originally conceived by Young Animal’s curator Gerard Way, is an attempt to modernize the idea of a famed celebrity by day, street vigilante by night, similar to what Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One did back in the late eighties. There’s even a reference to said title as the first issue with our hero Violet Paige returning to Gotham via plane, where she is greeted by the press. However, this is no Year One.
As a young celebutante with a bad attitude and an heiress in the upper echelons of Gotham City’s elite, Violet, under the guise of Mother Panic, swears revenge against the rich and perverted, in particular a weird boarding school where she was forced to go to during her youthful years–a fact that had been much publicized due to tragedy befallen on her parents. All of this sounds very familiar and right there is one of the problems, as given its original intent as a creator-owned comic, transferring the story to Gotham makes the narrative derivatively obvious and with the brief random appearances of Batman and Batwoman, Violet seems to be not much more than a bland combination of the two.
Given her acclaimed recognition for the Valiant superhero comic Faith that as an inspiring optimistic message, writer Judy Houser goes dark and it’s dull and frankly confusing. For starts, Violet is barely a hero as her actions make her unsympathetic, despite her love for the troubled mother. However, her backstory is hard to deconstruct as the flashbacks about her past are disjointed, so you don’t see that natural progression of what shapes her in her adulthood, whilst her upbringing in Gather House is very Black Widow-ish.
There have been many great artists to illustrate the streets of Gotham City and Tommy Lee Edwards is a fine addition to that list as his moody visuals fit appropriately this crime-ridden world, whilst his all-white futuristic design of Mother Panic is a nice visual contrast to the blackness of Gotham. However, three issues in, Tommy Lee Edwards gets replaced by Shawn Crystal whose art is initially jarring following his predecessor. Both share a similar visual style, although his character designs are more cartoony.
Concluding with a backup story that is a heavy discussion about the repercussions of Batman’s vigilantism that is all talk but no thrills, this first volume of Mother Panic is ultimately a half-assed attempt at modernizing aspects of the Batman mythos, but with a character that is hard to engage, especially from her disjointed origin.