Mother Panic, a title under the Young Animal imprint from DC Comics, is now in its third issue, but has followed its own relative time in development while introducing a brand new character to the DC Universe. Written by Jody Houser, and illustrated by Tommy Lee Edwards, and featuring a character created by Houser, Edwards, and Gerard Way, the series took on the necessary origin story for Violet Paige in an interesting way—by decompressing it over several issues while combining it with a developing plotline.
It’s an older style of comic storytelling to render an origin story as a brief aside before leaping into the action of the comic, rarely to return to the subject unless rebooting a character. It’s a newer and more engaging method of comic storytelling to recognize the reader’s interest in hero (or anti-hero, or villain) psychology and build consciousness for characters throughout wider storytelling, unraveling key details as if Watson were revealing how Holmes solved his case. A comic can still make us simply accept a premise, even a radical one, under the right circumstances, but to build an enduring character, it’s a smart move for the creative team to make us believe a complex character exists through their biography.
The first two issues of Mother Panic introduce us to snarky, socially confidant but socially resistant heiress Violet Paige, and soon to her alter ego who wears an unusual costume, something between a bat-like suit and a moon landing suit, but created with much more of an eye toward aesthetics by Tommy Lee Edwards. We follow Paige through her dark world and begin to realize that she is haunted by both her past and present, where she is caretaker to her mentally ill mother. Her current investigations as would-be vigilante concern a man from her past, Hemsley, who may well have played a key part in making her what she is. The Gotham that Paige moves in is a very dark Gotham, certainly the Gotham we know from the Bat books, and one in which a man invested in child slavery moves around freely. So far.
If Paige has been difficult to get to know fully in issues #1 and #2 it’s because we’ve received flashes, glimpses, and pieces of the puzzle, and some of the elements have even been a little hard to look at directly, so there may have been some wisdom in spreading them out. From the (possibly) accidental shooting death of her father in the previous issue, to her isolation in a catholic boarding school, and now, her attempts to recreate herself as a vengeance-seeker and protector of the innocent, Paige has been assembling the pieces of her own puzzle.
Interestingly, when she’s presented visually in fight scenes, we often have unusual visuals associated with her–from owls and other birds to snakes and other predator-prey scenarios. This suggests a common link to Batman mythology where he is treated like an avatar of natural forces. While the suggestion isn’t hammered home too hard in Mother Panic, the idea that Paige might already be invested with traces of mythology associated with the natural world reminds us how much we don’t know about her and preserves an element of mystique. Edwards’ art brings with it so many interesting angles, sharp edges, nuanced facial expressions, and plenty of silent beats, that it’s hard to imagine that a character so resistant to easy interpretation could be conveyed in any other way.
In this third issue, Paige is confronted with the Bat world more directly as Batman observes her actions in his city and Batwoman is sent in to confront her about her role. After all, if a new vigilante comes onto the scene, surely Batman would know about it. And possibly try to stop it. They perceive Paige as a “hostile with super strength”, and she is not quick to set them right. When Paige confronts the twisted artist she’s been seeking in connection to Hemsley, Gala, the artist questions whether Paige is “the creator or the creation”.
And this seems to be a question Paige herself is asking. If she can rebuild herself out of her constituent elements to make a narrative that’s empowering rather than diminishing, which will she be? Perhaps both. But even she admits at one point, “This wasn’t in the script”, showing that she doesn’t feel in total control of this process. Memories from her past suggest a lack of agency quite strongly–she’s constantly being passed around, a passive observer in a big and frightening world. Her story of becoming Mother Panic seems to be the story of become an agent of her own persona again.
And this is the issue where we begin to feel we can fully see her as a character–she’s no longer making somewhat shaky forays into going after those who she feels do harm. What she has become will no doubt be measured against Bat-standards, since they are keeping an eye on her, but it will also be up to the reader to decide what they think of this new arrival in Gotham. She, for one, makes it clear that she is only just getting started.
Mother Panic #4 arrives in shops on March 8th, and is currently listed in Previews World here.
[Cover art by Tommy Lee Edwards for Mother Panic #4]