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DC’s new “Young Animal” imprint has a handful of great titles getting positive buzz. Founded last year, the idea behind the sub-brand is to give fresh and more mature narratives to lesser known DC characters. In Mother Panic, however, we get an entirely new character but in a familiar setting: Gotham City.
The story follows Violet Paige, a cybernetically enhanced assassin who uses her skills to fight crime in Gotham. She’s got loads of secrets, and the story adds to that mystery with snippets of her past. Writer Jody Houser weaves this intriguing tale with pencils from John Paul Leon and colors by Dave Stewart.
In Mother Panic, we get all the darkness of Gotham City in a truly fleshed out environment enhanced by its grimy, slick artwork.
A quality comic can often tell a compelling story by achieving the right balance between words and images. Art can propel action and plot, often in a more compelling way than narration of an exposition dump. Mother Panic uses its dark surroundings to do just that, and with captivating results.
The story begins with Violet prowling night clubs to find a murderer wearing a body-bag. She doesn’t belabor his crimes or motif in the narration, just one mention. The villain is almost secondary to the inner turmoil she’s been through. Recently injured, Violet plans to undergo surgery to fix the cybernetics that, as she puts it, “hold me together.” Despite this weakness and a warning from her trusted doctor and confidant, she continues to put herself into the cross-hairs.
Among these plot points are flashbacks to her training with the Mother Panic. A dour nun in a stately manor, these scenes hint at an origin story. A woman done with overbearing authority figures, Violet snaps her instructor’s neck and burns the manor – the only dialogue we get (or need) a curt “No, Mother Panic.”
Last item of note in the writing is a brief but satisfying cameo from Batman. As Violet confronts the body-bag murderer she initially trounces him. However, her weakened state shuts down the attack prematurely, so Batman steps in to finish him off. As he leaves, some words of encouragement, a jibe about her costume (“the white isn’t very subtle”), and he’s off, a perfectly believable and concise guest appearance to remind us this is Gotham after all.
As I mention, earlier, the art in Mother Panic is essential to moving the story along and setting the mood of our surroundings. Club scenes where Violet stalks her prey swim in dark greys and blacks with slashes of light and color from lights or Violet’s mere presence.
In the flashbacks, the colors switch to sepia to make it clear we’re not in the present, that these are old flames long extinguished but not forgotten. Fight scenes are particularly impressive, providing big splash pages for critical hits. In addition, while Violet beats down her target images are superimposed in striking red. A tomato overrun with grubs. A broken wine glass overflowing. I never thought I’d see a comic with hints of David Lynch, but crazy art like this gives me hope.
The Batman cameo gets great treatment as well, with the oily black of his swooping cape, deft handling of the attacker, and a helping hand for the victim. Panels are laid out in a conventional but not overstuffed way. As a result, no colors or lines bleed into each other or become less detailed in wide shots, which is an impressive feat when almost the entire book is swathed in darkness.
Mother Panic is yet another great read coming out of DC’s Rebirth renaissance, so get to Downtown Comics today to pick up this and future issues!