“Mother Panic” co-creator Gerard Way says in his afterword that the idea for this series was basically what would Bruce Wayne, and by extension Batman, be like if he grew up in today’s celebrity-obsessed environment. Way also states that the series started as a creator-owned title before he got the chance to bring its protagonist, damaged and violent debutante Violet Page, and her titular alter ego to Gotham. I don’t think basing the series out of DC’s most infamous Bat-infested cesspool adds as much as Way thinks it does, but there’s a lot of stuff in this first volume that justifies its subtitle.
Violet is returning to Gotham after many years away with a lot of anger issues to work out. She gets a chance to work them out in her superhero identity, Mother Panic, when she rescues a man about to be killed outside a party she’s attending. This man, a nurse-in-training named Dominic, was given a look at his artist boyfriend’s latest work and was in the middle of escaping when he was caught. It turns out this new piece involves kids being kidnapped and held against their will, and just like that Mother Panic has a case to pursue that involves people who deserve a beating.
The best thing about this volume, which is actually written by Jody Houser, is Violet, as she’s a refreshingly cynical and uninhibited presence in DC’s superhero world. She’ll flip off the press, give trolling answers on a late-night TV show, and go on one night stands with guys and then leave X’ed out smiley faces around their apartments in her own blood to keep them from calling her back. Her crimefighting style is also more unapologetically brutal than Batman’s in most cases as well.
How did she wind up like this? Well, Violet’s backstory is full of… unpleasantness that makes her above-mentioned actions easy to understand. There’s her mother’s early-onset alzheimer's, the circumstances of and what led to her father’s death, and her experiences at the experimental orphanage known as Gather House she was sent to afterwards. It’s all pretty disturbing and unconventional by superhero standards yet allows Violet to emerge as a mostly-realized character.
I say “mostly” because we’re still waiting on the explanation as to why she decided to focus all of her energies into her current career as a superhero. In fact, there are a lot of little things that make it feel like the six issues here could’ve used some more editorial guidance. Whether it’s fight scenes that don’t always flow together, scene transitions that feel awkward, a second-arc villain whose issues are never quite explained -- these issues make it feel like the book was rushed. While it has plenty of style and attitude, “Mother Panic” hasn’t quite managed coherence yet.
There’s also the matter of how setting the story in Gotham keeps me from fully buying into everything here. While we do get cameo appearances from Batman and Batwoman, they ultimately wind up taking a much lighter touch than you’d expect regarding a new vigilante operating in their town. This is only in the first arc, mind you, as none of the Bat-family decide to drop in and check on Mother Panic for the second one. While Way invokes the idea that Mother Panic’s presence in Gotham is akin to the new guard challenging the old in his afterword it feels utterly half-baked in the comic itself. Honestly, I think his initial plan to go creator-owned with this title rather than tie it into a major superhero universe would’ve served it better.
Even with the above-mentioned issues with awkward scene transitions and hard-to-follow fight scenes, the art from Tommy Lee Edwards still manages to be striking in most cases. There’s something about how he manages to convey an impressive amount of detail and emotiveness through the thick lines he uses that manages to impress me every time I see his work. I’ll also give him credit for giving the title character a distinctive look which is at odds with all of the other vigilantes which inhabit Gotham. Shawn Crystal takes over for the second arc and he has a more exaggerated style and gives the story he illustrates more of a psychotic funhouse feel to it. Different, yet still within the boundaries established by the first arc.
Overall, I’m still wondering if it’s worth sticking around for another volume of “Mother Panic.” There’s always the chance that Houser and whoever illustrates the next arc could tighten up the storytelling… or wind up revealing that the issues within this volume are inherent to its execution. As it is, “Mother Panic” is very much a work in progress at this point which is ultimately kind of surprising given the level of talent involved in its creation.