Review: Mother Panic #4

motherpanic4coverMother Panic #4 strikes fear into one of the more problematic elements of the Batman mythos. It’s the fact that when he’s not beating up the usual bank robbers, common criminals, or assassins who work for the al-Ghul family, he is repeatedly beating up the mentally ill. Mother Panic speaks out against that part of Batman in a late night interview as part of her cover identity as the wild, smart mouthed heiress Violet Paige, but writer Jody Houser and a new art team of Shawn Crystal (Arkham Manor) and Jean-Francois Beaulieu (I Hate Fairyland) have her put her ideas to action as well. However, everything is subsumed in her quest for vengeance to take out the men who sent her to the terrifying Gather House after she killed her abusive/rapist father. In this case, Mother Panic’s sights are set towards Layton, the man, who suggested to her brother that she go to Gather.

Crystal brings a more cartoonish art style to Mother Panic #4, but it fits the larger than life slightly Gothic revenge tale tone of the book as well as the spindly “villain” that Mother Panic faces. Childhood is a unifying theme in this issue with plenty of red tinged flashbacks courtesy of Beaulieu, and the big action set piece happens in a Gotham tech mogul’s own personal Chuck-E-Cheese. This infuriates Violet even more because her childhood was filled with tragedy and torture at the Gather House, whose one page appearance juxtaposed with a silhouette of the Mother Panic helmet reveals why she is so driven on her path to retribution. At least, Batman had Alfred to love and watch over him as a kid plus tons of money for fun stuff. Violet was shipped off to a terrible boarding school/tortured chamber and disowned by her own brother, which might be a reason why her methodology is more extreme than Batman.

But along with blood orange explosions and intense fight scenes set in reversion-to-childhood caves, Houser uses narrative captions to develop Violet/Mother Panic’s personality, and how she seamlessly shifts from mouthy socialite to loving, if a little deceptive daughter and task driven vigilante and finally a compassionate hero of all things. Mother Panic puts on a harder edge when she’s around strangers (I.e. talkshow hosts or members of the Batman Family), but softens around her. For example, Crystal and Beaulieu draw Violet as furious with anger lines and red everywhere but then dial down their lines and colors as she embraces and talks to her mom, who has been through a lot of painful stuff too. The hug and halfhearted promise of not hurting her brother Victor is touching, but the caption box from Houser reveals that she’s saving Victor for last. The kind, empathetic daughter is yet another mask she wears.

MamaPanic

Mother Panic is more violent and definitely more laconic than Violet Paige, but Houser and Crystal create an ideological connection between these two identities in Mother Panic and make their antiheroine more sympathetic in the process. Violet plays up her sarcastic and misanthropic tendencies so that the press and gossip freaks focus on her sound bites and don’t check deeper into her background and discover that she’s Mother Panic. But even when she’s being the worst talk show ever, Violet’s real views about the world pops up as she violently berates Batman’s “jackboot” approach to fighting crime. Mother Panic fights a mentally ill criminal later in the issue and instead of cold-cocking them, she gives them a hug because they both went to Gather House. It’s preceded by a riveting fight sequence where Mother Panic uses arcade cabinets as cover from gunfire but ends with a revelation that her desire for revenge is also tempered with empathy. Mother Panic terrifies the exploiters but is truly kind to the exploited even if she ends up using them as soldiers in her crusade against crime just like the despised Batman.

Shawn Crystal and Jean-Francois Beaulieu bring an extra level of anger and theatricality to Mother Panic, and the sequence set in Layton’s office has a tragic energy as two characters with horrible childhoods battle in a darkly lit “playroom”. This theatricality extends to Jim Krueger and Phil Hester‘s backup as the quirky Steve Ditko-created vigilante Odd Man begins to investigate the anti-Batman radio host at his daughter’s station.

Jody Houser, Crystal, and Beaulieu add new layers of kindness and darkness to Violet Paige in Mother Panic #4, and the issue functions as a great study of how people interact and behave in different contexts with a side dish of gadgets and punching because this is Gotham City after all.

Story: Jody Houser Art: Shawn Crystal Colors: Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Story: 9 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.2 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics/Young Animal provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review