Review: Mother Panic: Gotham A.D. trade paperback (DC Comics/Young Animal)

June 8, 2022

Given DC making a big investment these days in a second, future-set continuity, Jody Houser’s Mother Panic: Gotham A.D. could be read as a nascent first draft (and not without a bit of irony thereof). This marked the end (at that moment) for Mother Panic, but I’d have assuredly read more if it came. In a similar vein to Ram V’s recent Bat-villain-focused Catwoman volume, Gotham A.D. sees a future where most Bat-heroes have been vanquished and all that remains to help Panic Violet Paige fight the tyrannical Collective is a cadre of aged Bat-villains doing good by necessity. Middle-age Bat-rogues helping Violet navigate a dystopian future? Sounds like a hoot — sign me up.

[Review contains spoilers]

The mild failing of Gotham A.D. — no fault of Houser’s or artist Ibrahim Moustafa — is that it doesn’t contain the Mother Panic/Batman special from the “Milk Wars” crossover. Sure that’s a bookshelf away, but it factors enough into the plot of Gotham A.D. that it’s inclusion seems obvious. Namely, that as a result of “Milk Wars” Violet has been transported not just to the future but to an alternate future where events in the past happened differently; further that her psychic mother seemed to foretell these events and gifted Violet with Batman’s secret identity before she was whisked away. Clearly I gleaned the high points, but experiencing them would have been better.

As mentioned, one of the defining characteristics of Houser’s future Gotham are the villains headed toward their middle years in the absence of the missing Batman — Joker and Scarecrow taking on a bit of paunch, Catwoman Selina Kyle going gray, Harley Quinn going corporate. Where Neo-Gotham, and to a certain extent even the Future State of Next Batman, see a glitzy Gotham get more technologically advanced, Gotham A.D. essentially just mellows. It’s charming change from the norm in line with Houser’s Mother Panic’s anti-superhero superhero aesthetic.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Not, of course, that Violet doesn’t still have villains to fight. It’s a reminder how rich the original Mother Panic series' tapestry was that we can be surprised by old enemies in new forms — Pretty, Gala, Violet’s brother Victor Paige. No telling to what extent Houser planned the A.D. excursion from the start, but I was impressed that she still managed to bring the final conflict around to Victor vs. Violet, as it seems it should be, despite the different circumstances.

Also, wonderfully, that after 18 issues of non-sequitors, in the very final issue does Houser finally explain the book’s constant random images — rotting fruit, clown faces, a fish on a spear, and so on. Maybe “explain” is too strong a word — we find out Violet sees them too, and that they’re part of her Gather House programming, though not necessarily what they mean. Which is fine — for my dime, Houser left nothing unaddressed, at least, which is tough to do I expect when the end point of your book is never quite certain. Should the next creative team to use Mother Panic choose also to show these “programming” panels, I think that would be a nice touch.

Moustafa takes over well from the artists who came before — his is a grittier style closer to Tommy Lee Edwards and John Paul Leon than Shawn Crystal, which is how I’d prefer it. Particular kudos for his red-cowled Jason Todd Red Hood/Batman hybrid, with shades of Knightquest Azrael (though some time after the fact, Houser channels well Grant Morrison’s half-crazed Jason). There were also a couple of silent pages during this book’s big war scene that, if I’m not mistaken, portrayed some unrevealed conflict between Catwoman Selina Kyle and Holly Robinson, which I thought was nicely subtle by Houser and portrayed well by Moustafa.

If a common story structure, Houser still enacts it very well — Mother Panic Violet Page is not a hero, just out for revenge, though heroism finds her nonetheless. That Jason Todd should be Violet’s foe here is wisely and particularly pointed — two sides of the same coin, both trained in childhood to be “weapons,” so to speak. Jason’s training was ostensibly benevolent, Violet’s torturous, and yet in this iteration at least, Violet becomes the hero and Jason becomes the “villain.” I thought it was a nice touch that Jason joins Violet’s motley crew, and I’ll have more to say on an aspect of that another time.

I had actually thought in the book’s final pages that Violet was in search of Rosie’s parents — the small child abused by Gala and then whose parents were killed by the villain Remains, and who traveled with Violet to this alternate Earth. Rosie, as Violet’s irrepressable sidekick Fennec Fox, has intuited all the wrong messages, becoming by dint of tragedy the gleefully violent vigilante that Violet wishes she herself wasn’t. My presumption was that Violet might try to find Rosie’s alt-Earth parents to try to reverse some of the damage (maybe redeem herself a bit in the process) but it wasn’t to be. (Instead she’s looking for former friends Dr. Varma and Dominic, for whom I don’t think the audience has as much affection as Houser might think we do.)

2.25

Rating

Overall I enjoyed visiting the future with Mother Panic: Gotham A.D., and in the absence of more of this series proper, I’m pretty happy with the prospect of visiting a different alt-future in Mother Panic’s company. Something else that struck me in Gotham A.D. was the DC Black Label level of language, the Young Animal books being something of a precursor to Black Label. If DC would throw continuity to the wind and let Jody Houser write a DC Black Label Mother Panic graphic novel, wow, I’d buy that in a heartbeat.

[Includes original and variant covers, artist afterword]

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