Mother Panic is an all-new series and character created by Gerard Way, Jody Houser, and Tommy Lee Edwards, to take up her place in the Young Animal imprint at DC Comics, and as a new character, she also gets to find her way into the established world of the DCU. She encounters other DCU characters occasionally and Batman and Batwoman are keeping their eye on her since another random vigilante with anger issues in Gotham is never a simple thing.
Starting in issue #4, the series shifted from being drawn by Tommy Lee Edwards to being drawn by Shawn Crystal, with colors by Jean-Francois Beaulieu, and this shift is interesting to the feel of the series. Edwards’ art on the first three issues was extraordinary, powerful, and very mythological in feel. The Gotham he portrayed felt like the most gothic of options, as much like a city built of Arkham Asylum as a city where the sun ever shines. But the change over to Crystal’s art brings with it unique opportunities, since as much as Edwards brought a mythological, heavy feel, Crystal brings a shift to folk-tale and fairy tale motifs.
There have always been elements of the folk tale and fairy tale in this series, with Houser providing that continuity, from Violet Paige’s mother’s strange garden evoking Alice in Wonderland to the focus on children kidnapped and rescued in the first arc of the story. In the current issue, #5, Paige even says, “I speak fairytale”. In fact, this issue even opens with a reference to the “prince and the pauper”, a folktale motif made famous by Mark Twain. The origin point for fairy tale and folktale elements in Paige’s life seems to be Gather House, the twisted and experimental boarding school that Paige was sent to attend after her possibly-not-accidental shooting of her father. There they literally experimented on the children in their care and produced results “beyond” the normal, whether in “Pretty” a child who they altered to go “beyond beauty” or in Paige who they turned into an extreme fighter.
Mother Panic is an interesting comic–it throws in a wide array of ideas and issues to think about even while pursuing mysteries in the old style of Detective Comics, but one that stands out in this issue is the question of being made by others vs. creating yourself as a person. Violet Paige and “Pretty” were taken in and changed by Gather House, and in DCU mythology we have a lot of alteration of characters as a theme. Some are changed by life events, like Batman, and others seem to take part in their own creation once the ball is rolling, like the Joker or Harley Quinn. In this comic, we have seen Violet Paige’s life before Gather House and we know life circumstances shaped her, creating something at her core that remains. More like Batman than the Joker. But Gather House also shaped her physically and mentally, and in this issue we see flashbacks where she seems complicit and up to the challenge of this change. Tellingly, we also see her continuing to alter herself in order to be a vigilante and recover from combat.
It’s a really good storytelling move to present Pretty as a contrast to Paige. Pretty seems to have been totally mentally broken by their transformation with little remaining of the person they were beforehand. Nevertheless, they have an instinct for revenge against Gather House and a fairly amoral drive to reach that end. Despite their desire to get revenge, it seems like their transformation has been total. Pretty has been changed, whatever their initial desire was to improve their circumstances, beyond that desire and can’t go back. It’s not so clear whether Paige is any different than Pretty in this regard, but wondering about that is very important to understanding the character.
Paige makes choices in this issue that seem to break the cycle and show that she is different from the ideology and mentality of Gather House, even while she continues to change herself based on the patterns they established. Pretty seems to show they are more deeply embedded in the ideas of Gather House than they may ever be truly free of.
All of this adds to the ongoing ideas of creating oneself in Mother Panic, as we watch Violet Paige attempt to create this new persona and decide what missions she will take on and how far she will go to correct what she perceives to be wrongs. It’s a fine line for her–and it may always be–between allowing the forces that created her to maintain control, and taking some of that agency back and she continues to create herself.
Mother Panic #5 is currently out in shops. Mother Panic #6 arrives on April 26th, 2017.