Review: Mother Panic Vol. 1: A Work in Progress trade paperback (DC Comics/Young Animal)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

That Jody Houser's Young Animal book Mother Panic seemed to be a mature readers title set in the Batman universe held much appeal for me, being more connected and less esoteric than what I understand of the Cave Carson title, for instance. But while Mother Panic Vol. 1: A Work in Progress starts well enough, especially with art by Tommy Lee Edwards, for me the story failed to distinguish itself as anything new and different, and with a mid-book change in artist, what had started strong became mundane, if not silly. That DC Comics has enough courage to let one of its characters say, "F--- the Bat," is admirable, a sign of not being so buttoned-up as in the past, but even choice words don't ultimately make this more than just another Bat-analogue title.

[Review contains spoilers]

DC's last successful attempt at a kind of "new Batman" was Batwoman Kate Kane, who herself figures prominently into Mother Panic. With Batwoman, writer Greg Rucka essentially followed the Bruce Wayne template -- family tragedy, training, Alfred-type figure -- with tweaks here and there, to form something that felt Batman-esque but also fresh and new. In Mother Panic, one can see Houser attempting much the same, and Young Animal lead Gerard Way acknowledges in the book's afterword that Mother Panic is a modern "answer to Batman."

But while the idea of positing how modern fame would mesh with the life of a vigilante is an interesting one -- not wholly dissimilar from Batwoman, her presence reminds us -- Houser never quite gets there, and as such Mother Panic is never quite as full of meaning as it could be. Mother Panic Violet Paige attends some parties and appears on a late-night talk show, but there's never a sense of any of this being difficult for Violet or that anything's at stake necessarily. Way references Bruce Wayne drinking apple juice as a cover for champagne as a kind of antiquated device, but surely at those parties Bruce would feel the sting of someone commenting how his playboy persona would have disappointed his father, or Bruce would have to duck out on some kind-hearted socialite to go fight for justice. Violet is troubled, to be sure, but she has it easier than most super-vigilantes, with no real responsibilities to speak of, and that takes some emotion out of the goings-on.

Tommy Lee Edwards's sketchy, gritty art carries Mother Panic far in the beginning, giving it a lot of visual pizazz that buffets the story when necessary. Especially, Edwards is a giant factor in making Violet's bulky, overdesigned, super-post-modern-fashion costume work, and indeed the look of the Mother Panic character is really stellar. But the costume's complexity and nuance is a double-edged sword; after the third issue, Edwards departs and Shawn Crystal comes on, with a cartoony style and a tendency toward sexualizing the characters, especially the previously rather formless, genderless Panic, which totally ruins the illusion.

Though I appreciate Crystal's Will Eisner-esque touches to the book's audio effects, overall the book becomes less dark and less immediate at this point. Crystal's arrival coincides with the introduction of Batman villain Ratcatcher to the proceedings, though more slovenly and less fearsome than he's been before, and sequences of Violet's crazed mother talking to the rats. By the end of the book, Violet has unwittingly gathered an offbeat team consisting of her mother, her reluctant doctor Varma and a nurse, Dominic, whom Violet saved from death early on, and Ratcacher, and the final scene of them all together is much too cutesy. Mother Panic barely got going with its troubled loner vibe before the lead gained a family, and that seems far too swift a turn.

Work in Progress also collects the initial "Gotham Radio" backup stories by Jim Krueger, Phil Hester, and Ande Parks. In an era where Watchmen looms large in the DC consciousness, "Gotham Radio" launches with three pages of panel grids, and the story's abject darkness, its patriotic Comedian-esque antagonist, and the old-timey setting of a radio station all give off a Watchmen vibe, not to mention Krueger's use of Steve Ditko creation Odd Man. Coming off the troubled end of Mother Panic, "Gotham Radio" is so dark that it feels like too much and the three-page chapters read as choppy. Krueger makes conservative radio host (and possible murderer) Cory Edgars too much of a stereotype, such that the story emerges as a screed rather than a nuanced mystery. I would like to see what happens next here, whether we get a new Odd Man, but the specific layering of Mother Panic and "Gotham Radio" didn't work for me.

Jody Houser's Mother Panic Vol. 1: A Work in Progress is an interesting mélange, with elements that remind of Arrow and The Hunger Games, plus Batwoman and Marc Andreyko's Manhunter. Somewhere amidst the Crystal material, 1990s books like Scarlett, Anima, and Hacker Files came to mind, these kinds of start-up hyper-and-grim series with eccentric supporting casts. Unfortunately, like those titles, Mother Panic doesn't feel long-lived to me; I appreciate where the book's trying to go but the creative team as a whole doesn't seem able to support it.

[Includes original and variant covers, afterword by Gerard Way, promotional art, faux "Who's Who" pages, character sketches]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Mother Panic Vol. 1: A Work in Progress
Author Rating
2 (out of 5)
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1 comment:

  1. Thats interesting. I really enjoyed the 3 last chapters of this and i loved the art in this chapters, it is nice and clear but not to cartoony. The look of violets castle alone is great! I also dont have an problem with a well craftet Bat-analogue titel as long as the characters do not feel ripped of and in this case Violet and espacially her Mother have enough new aspects to keep me hooked. I would give it an 3,5.

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