In the second chapter of DC Comics/Young Animal crossover “Milk Wars”, writer Jody Houser, artist Ty Templeton, and colorist Keiren Smith serve up a large helping of Catholic guilt. Mother Panic/Batman Special uses religious iconography and of course, dairy products, to look at the sadness and loneliness at the center of both Gotham vigilantes. Templeton’s art fluctuates from bright pop art bursts similar to his work on Batman ’66 to a more Gothic style when Mother Panic thinks about her terrible childhood at the Gather House and how she killed her father. Along the way, he and Houser pose the question of whether vigilantes, especially ones of the darker side, should take child sidekicks, and they draw a parallel between the Gather House’s brainwashing and Batman dressing up young boys (And occasionally a girl.) in yellow capes and green pixie boots.
Even though she’s almost 80 years younger than him in character years, Violet Paige aka Mother Panic wasn’t about to get upstaged by Batman in this comic. In the issue’s funniest meta joke, Violet’s swearing is censored, but she has no fucks left when she infiltrates the new Gather House and sees Batman in a priest’s collar preaching to a group of children in a Robin costume. As he rants about how none of this is real, Batman aka Father Bruce and the “Holy Sidekick Choir of Merciful Justice” point out her surface-level moral failings like her use of profanity and breaking random 10 Commandments. However, she is after the truth of what is going on with these kids and knows that everything isn’t okay.
The breaking point is when Violet sees a young girl that she’s saved multiple times in the main Mother Panic series enter the sidekick creation machine thing (It’s like something out of the Lego Batman games, but more nefarious.) and knows that she wants her to break the cycle of violence and revenge. After this, Ty Templeton loses the gaudy, religious trappings and replaces them with a flurry of quick hitting panels as Batman and Mother Panic go mano a mano and fight for reality itself. The fight choreography reminded me a lot of Batman ’66 especially with Keiren Smith’s bright background colors, and the “Milk Wars” theme of light exterior, dark interior continues in Mother Panic/Batman Special. On the outside, it looks like it’s Robin cosplay day or a Sunday School class, but these kids are being trained to go to war just like Violet was when she was a young girl with the body horror replaced by bright surrealism.
Even though it’s a crossover comic, Houser and Templeton find time to develop the character of Violet Paige between the crazy quilt of visuals and milk puns. A strong emphasis is placed on Violet’s strength as she sees through the ecclesiastical illusion and defies the Gotham City vigilante tropes to own her dark past instead of repressing it with toys and child sidekicks. However, as Mother Panic/Batman reaches its conclusion, Violet’s strength becomes tempered with responsibility because she lets the would-be Fennec Fox, who tugs on her cape and looks up to her as an inspiration, stay in her guest bedroom. Her war on crime doesn’t have to be a solo flagellation, and perhaps she can use her wealth and sense of empathy that is buried beneath snark and violence to help people and be a light and not a burning torch. It’ll be interesting to see if this thread continues in the conclusion of “Milk Wars” and the upcoming Mother Panic: Gotham A.D. series.
In Mother Panic/Batman Special , Jody Houser, Ty Templeton, and Keiren Smith deconstruct the child sidekick trope and takes a look at the connection between childhood trauma and masked vigilantes through the imagery of religious liturgy. Just like JLA/Doom Patrol showed how the “traditional family” could be a cover for all kinds of evil, Mother Panic/Batman goes for organized religion. These institutions, in and of themselves, are not bad, but can be used for nefarious ends because of their primal connection with humans. The comic doesn’t go full religious satire, but it’s a memorable framing narrative. I am never going to get the six panel Batman Year One remix with him becoming a priest and not a “bat” out of my head.
Lastly, but certainly not least, Mother Panic/Batman also features the second installment in Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew’s Eternity Girl serial featuring revenge, oozing body parts, and a late Bronze Age aesthetic. The two pager is a like an eye catching teaser trailer and has gotten me more excited for the upcoming miniseries with its play on superhero and horror tropes.
Story: Jody Houser Art: Ty Templeton Colors: Keiren Smith
Backup Story: Mags Visaggio Backup Art: Sonny Liew
Story: 8.1 Art: 9.5 Overall: 8.8 Recommendation: Buy
DC Comics/Young Animal provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review