Today, Drew and Michael are discussing Mother Panic 1, originally released November 9th, 2016. As always, this article containers SPOILERS.
Drew: A quarter century after the runaway successes of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, deconstruction remains a thriving mode of superhero storytelling. It makes sense that, in a world that is constantly retelling the same stories in films, television shows, video games, and the comics themselves, there’s little need to reiterate the beats we already know, so Batman’s origin, for example, can be cut down to a few iconic images, and the rest of the narrative can be given over to highlighting themes and ideas baked into that origin. That is, the narrative can be less about the story (since we all know it), and more about the telling. Of course, that approach tends to be reserved for characters whose origins have become common knowledge — heavy-hitters like Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man — but what if that approach was applied to a totally new character? What if their origin was taken as a given, so the emphasis was more on texture than the specific beats of the story? You might end up with something like Mother Panic 1, an issue that blends a familiar presumption of familiarity with a truly unfamiliar character. The effect is disorienting — frustratingly so at times — but nonetheless alluring.
The issue opens with just about the most specific allusion I’ve seen in a superhero origin — writer Jody Houser and artist Tommy Lee Edwards aren’t just cribbing from Batman’s origin, they’re making explicit reference to the opening of Batman: Year One. Just a refresher, here’s how we are first introduced to Bruce Wayne:
He’s returning to Gotham by plane after an absence, remarking in the voiceover about his attitudes and opinions of the city. This is an image that has extended beyond comics to become part of the Ur-mythos, returning most notably in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.
Compare that image to the one that introduces Violet Paige in Mother Panic:
We quickly learn that Violet’s story is quite similar to that of Bruce Wayne’s — a wealthy socialite returning to Gotham after a long absence. Oh, and they’re also both costumed vigilantes. But it’s the differences between these stories that really intrigue me — Houser and Edwards aren’t using this shorthand to say that Violet is the same as Bruce, but to highlight how they’re different.
Even as the narration in Year One is ostensibly coming from Bruce’s private journal, we never get close to him in that scene, and only observe him through the airplane window. Here, we immediately get up close to Violet, though the adopted deconstructed origin style doesn’t fully explain what’s going on with her. We know she’s had major surgery, but we don’t know what for; we see her drinking casually in the middle of the day, but we’re not sure if the story that she’s returning from rehab is just a rumor; we know she may be jeopardizing something she’s “built,” but we have no idea what that is. More than anything, we see just how Violet’s attitude is different from Bruce Wayne’s; while both are deeply cynical about Gotham, she contemplates “burning it to the ground.”
That this series stands in the shadow of Batman is in many ways its raison d’être — Violet herself resents the comparison, even as her methods owe a huge debt to his legacy. Moreover, a case of mistaken identity — goons mistaking her as a minion of Batman — seems to be an important plot point going forward. Indeed, Batman seems to be hot on her trail, suggesting that their relationship is going to be central to this series.
There’s a lot going on in this issue — we also spend some time meeting our villains — but the most intriguing detail to me is an odd visual motif that Edwards employs throughout Violet’s costumed fight. Take a look at the striking stylized non sequiturs peppered throughout this sequence:
Many of them are violent, but many also have a kind of surrealist abstraction of that violence — other images include an eyeball at the center of a flower (I can’t tell if it’s a lotus or a gardenia) and a bunny sitting in a human skull. More importantly, I have no idea what they’re meant to broadcast — are these simply thematically related images, or do they reflect the subjective experience of any of these characters? Does Violet see these images as she fights? Does she cause her opponents to see them? It’s not clear, leaving us with all kinds of questions from an otherwise straightforward fight scene.
Michael, this issue was very heavy on the questions, and relatively light on answers, which is a very delicate balancing act to pull off. Do you think it succeeded, or did you find the lack of answers frustrating? My attitudes with the rest of the Young Animal line thus far has fallen on pretty strict love it/hate it lines, but this one seems to fall somewhere in the middle for me. I’m certainly intrigued enough to come back, but I’m curious if that mileage varied for you at all.
Michael: I’m definitely still trying to wrap my head around the general idea of Young Animal from the few issues I’ve read so far. Drew mentioned how Mother Panic 1 was full of questions, and rightfully so. The questions that are presented in Mother Panic 1 are easier to comprehend than the ones presented in otherworldly books like Doom Patrol and Shade the Changing Girl, however. Instead of aliens and alien-possessed teenagers, Mother Panic 1 reads like a heightened reality of Gotham that doesn’t mind showing us a little extra blood and throwing some f-bombs every now and then.
Drew also pointed out how Jody Houser emphasizes the differences and deviations between Bruce Wayne and Violet Paige. They’re not exactly polar opposites, but you can certainly draw a clear distinction between their choices of late night formal wear. The caped crusader is a hero who utilizes the shadows to move around Gotham, as if appearing from the void. Mother Panic’s costume, on the other hand, is a bright white beacon that would be hard to miss. Besides tracking down Mr. Hemsley, we don’t know a lot about Violet’s motives as Mother Panic. The costume that Tommy Lee Edwards creates for her appears to be an extension of Violet’s celebrity: all white with some Hello Kitty flair. Since she’s a “celebutante” that pops up in fans’ selfies and flips off the press, it’s not surprising that her alter ego would be something so ostentatious and over-the-top. She flies around on a hovercraft, after all.
The man that Violet is tracking down is “Mr. Hemsley,” a man who bears a striking resemblance to an old hunting friend of Violet’s father. Given the scene where a reporter is trying to get Violet to comment on the “mysterious death” of her father, it’s quite possible that Hemsley had something to do with it and Violet is trying to enact some vengeance.
Violet’s father has been dead for fifteen years but her mother is alive and (un)well. It’s not clear if her mother’s mental state is clinical or something manufactured, but she’s kind of an unsettling presence. Typically, I try to divine some meaning from the supposed “ravings” of a character like her. After mommy dearest sings a little tune she presents Violet with a flower to give to the unconscious bodyguard she’s brought back. “Sometimes the audience should get the flowers,” she says. Since Violet is a performer (?) herself, maybe her mother is trying to encourage her to give back to her audience? Could Violet take a turn as a hero or will she stick to her own self-serving plan?
While Hemsley is Violet’s presumed ultimate target, he’s only a lackey for the actual bad guy: Gala. Like Violet and her mother, Gala is an artist, one that happens to use the blood of her victims as her artwork. Maybe it’s because we’ve also got a “killer artist” running around the pages of Daredevil, but I wasn’t all that taken by Gala. Villains are a tricky thing to write and creating villains is even trickier. Maybe I’m just desensitized by villains who are so overtly desensitized by the lives they take. Regardless about how I feel about Gala, I was a fan of the “spot room” that Edwards drew — as if Hemsley walked right into a painting itself.
Batman and Mother Panic will inevitably come face to face at some point. And while it doesn’t seem like Violet is a fan of the Bat, she does seem to share his aversion for bloodshed. When Violet went hunting with her father and Hemsley she was unwilling to kill the deer in their sights. Her father assured her that someday he’d teach her “how to pull that trigger.” If my suspicions about Hemsley and Violet’s dad are correct, she might just pull the trigger on Hemsley himself.
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