The latest issue of Mother Panic arrived last week in shops, bringing in artist John Paul Leon in the rotation of duties on the series, and to great effect. Written by Jody Houser, with colors by great Dave Stewart and letters by John Workman, issue #7 stands as a particularly good example of what the series is capable of, and may even represent the best work on the title so far.
Published in the Young Animal line of comics curated by Gerard Way at DC Comics, Mother Panic introduces a new vigilante-style character to the gloomy streets of Gotham, and is a title that has always showed a lot of promise. That promise seems to be really paying off issue by issue of late.
In issue #7, Violet Paige, heiress and trained cyborg super-soldier gone rogue, struggles with the ongoing questions of just what she should do in her newly created role of a white-masked avenging angel. What boundaries should she set for herself, and just how much of the city’s safety should she feel rests on her shoulders?
Her mentally ill mother often has very interesting and insightful things to say about Violet, cloaked in her fairy-tale-like musings, but one of them seems to be that Violet should, indeed, take up the mantle of a hero. This issue pursues that possibility when Violet finds herself a rescuer for a second time to a child she’s previously freed from enslavement. It pushes the issue of her own identity and she’s forced to ponder it more deeply.
Meanwhile, we get more flashbacks about the factors that shaped Violet physically and emotionally at the transformative school Gather House where students were specifically engineered, often with devastating and grotesque results. Violet’s cybernetics and conditioning, however, were seen as a success there. Are they still? Have her captors really “made” Violet in ways she can’t escape?
The title for this issue is “Victim Complex” and there’s a really satisfying ambiguity in the ways this issue of the comic orbits around that concept. It would be hard not to see Violet Paige as a victim, a child who was operated on 17 times, we learn, and thoroughly programmed. Can she ever get beyond that? Another play on words leaves you interpreting the fact that her victimhood has made her “complex”, which is certainly true.
Because, as we learn in this issue, Violet’s cybernetic enhancements are beginning to break down and require careful attention, Violet is also a victim in this way–she is a medical phenomenon that can’t be allowed to continue living in a “normal” way, but is likely facing a lifetime of pain and maintenance. This points out for us that Violet’s victimhood is something she can never be unaware of or block out fully. It’s with her in many insistent ways that force her to confront her past daily.
There are no easy answers for how Violet should choose to deal with her traumatic experiences, and the creative team on this book should be praised for making sure that’s the case. Reducing a victim narrative to salacious selling points is something comics have been accused of, with victimhood handled in a shorthand that’s dismissive or even insulting to people who suffer real trauma and struggle bravely with the aftermath. Even though this story is about a cyborg person set in a fictional city, the commitment to authenticity and meaningful narratives in Mother Panic are bound to be appreciated by readers.
This also makes for some truly powerful character development for our central, brooding lead who lives in a city of “cowls” and has to decide whether she fits that mold. Violet is still figuring that out. This is her novice season. But this issue humanizes her so much as a character that we begin to see the shadow of things to come for her and the kind of multi-faceted anti-hero she could be.
Mother Panic #7 is currently in shops. Issue #8 arrives on June 28th, 2017.