Review: Mother Panic Vol. 2: Under Her Skin trade paperback (DC Comics/Young Animal)

For reasons that should soon become apparent, I’m venturing back to finish reading Jody Houser’s Young Animal series Mother Panic. I found Mother Panic Vol. 2: Under Her Skin just as enjoyable as the first volume, though not really altogether different, for better or worse. There’s the sense of Houser just on the cusp of something as the first year of this book ends — and then Mother Panic would go on to get six issues of a relaunched, re-set series before its final cancellation. So what promise Mother Panic had to rise above its original premise is never realized, though again, that premise was enough to happily drive me through the second book.

[Review contains spoilers]

As with Mother Panic Vol. 1: A Work in Progress, Skin consists of two three-issue Mother Panic adventures, written by Houser and drawn by John Paul Leon (replacing Tommy Lee Edwards from the first volume) and Shawn Crystal respectively. That again Mother Panic juxtaposes a gritty noir-realist artist (Leon, like Edwards) with Crystal’s exaggerated (but horror-tinged) style is a microcosm for this wonderfully weird series as a whole. Mother Panic Violet Paige is an ultra-violent loner vigilante who stalks the Gotham nights, but while wearing a giant, ostentatious, stark white robot suit; Violet is as antisocial as they come, but inadvertently creates for herself a motley crimefighting team that includes her mother, afflicted with dementia, a nursing intern that Violet previously kidnapped, and the Ratcatcher Otis Flannegan.

It makes for — purposefully, I’m sure — a book that is never one thing for very long: dark, violent, disturbing, but also silly, absurd, and domestic. Unfortunately, we never quite understand what all these elements meant to Houser or where she was going with them. Ratcatcher plays so little role he barely needed to be there, and after 12 issues we finally get confirmation of Violet’s mother’s telepathic abilities but never really a chance to see them in use. With the first year down, I suspect these things would have come to the fore in year two, but it’s not to be.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Still, at least one notable occurrence in Skin is that Violet gets the nod from Batman himself. Standards for what Batman would allow have considerably loosened over the years, if not varying by writer and series — where in the 1990s and 2000s Batman would have threatened away a Huntress-type character who broke more heads than he was comfortable with, now the encounter is no more complicated than “You’re doing good work out here” (Violet does not necessarily respond in kind). If a tad unbelievable based on all the other encounters we’ve seen between Batman and “unlicensed” vigilantes, at the same time Bruce’s quick acceptance of Violent is charmingly unique. Again, maybe something we would have seen built-upon in the future.

Jim Krueger (Justice) and Phil Hester’s “Gotham Radio” backup stories return. I’d be surprised if Krueger expected more than 12 “scenes” for this one, so “Radio”’s cliffhanger and unfinished ending seem more indefensible. Still, I was impressed with the sudden swerve to connect with Mother Panic proper at the end, a twist I didn’t see coming. Also, while I noted Krueger’s use of Steve Ditko’s Odd Man previously, it was only this time around it became clear that Krueger’s other prominent figure in the story is Lee “Blink” Hyland, from two prominent 2000s Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight stories by Dwayne McDuffie and Val Semeiks. That’s certainly an impressive deep dive cameo.

As alluded to, after about four years Mother Panic is back in the here and now, though not necessarily in the actual here and the actual now. I’ll take what I can get, no sense letting characters go to waste, though it occurs to me Violet probably fits better with the Gotham set than ever before. Batwoman Kate Kane appeared early in this title as she and Violet were similar Bat-outsider characters, but with further detail — childhood where Violet was trained as a weapon, adulthood in which she masks her vigilantism as a socialite — there’s even more Bat-characters that Violet might have something to say to — Batgirl Cassandra Cain, Robin Damian Wayne, and Next Batman Jace Fox, to start. I’ll be interested to see if any of that manages to happen under the auspices of Mother Panic’s new home.

Throughout the Mother Panic books, particularly when Violet fights, scenes by all the artists have been peppered with tiny, weird asides — a shattered wineglass spilling wine on a table, a tomato swarming with maggots, red vines overtaking a column. If this helps sell you on the book, it reminds me very much of the same kind of connected-disconnected asides in Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal (and not just because there’s also a recurring stag image). Shades of Lisbeth Salander, too, in Houser’s reserved, nose-to-the-grindstone detective Violet, especially as drawn by Leon.



So again, Mother Panic Vol. 2: Under Her Skin is a fine second chapter. It follows the tropes of plenty similar series — Manhunter, Silencer — and all the more the pity that neither those books nor this lasted long enough for all those characters to ever get together. And yet, it looks like we’re not done with Mother Panic yet, either.

[Includes original and variant covers, Who’s Who profile of letterer John Workman]


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