Thursday Comics Hangover: Meet the B-Side Batman

I read the first issue of Mother Panic, a comic from My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way's Young Animal imprint of DC Comics, when it was first released over half a year ago. I didn't think too much of it — the comic suffered from first-issue-itis, wherein a lot of things happened but we weren't told why we should care.

Last week, DC published the first collected volume of Mother Panic. Titled A Work in Progress, the book collects the first six issues of the series. When read all together like this, the story is good enough to make me feel embarrassed for giving up on the series too soon.

Mother Panic is a weirder, more experimental B-side to the character of Batman. It begins with a young celebutante named Violet Paige who returns home to Gotham City after some time away. When Paige isn't posing for the paparazzi, she's putting on a costume and acting out her vigilante fantasies on the streets of Gotham.

But while Batman and his attendant bat-heroes all dress in shadowy blacks, Mother Panic wears head-to-toe white. Her head is concealed behind a giant pointy white helmet. She wears enormous white gauntlets. While Batman is haunted by his dead parents, Mother Panic is haunted by her living mother — her brain addled by early onset Alzheimer's, Paige's mother lives in a fairy-tale land constructed in Paige's mazelike home, never quite making sense but still providing guidance through her cryptic observations. ("Here. Sometimes the audience should get flowers," she says early on in the series, as though she's talking right to the reader.)

If superheroes represent wish fulfilment, then Batman appeals to people who want total control over every situation. While Batman is all about control, Mother Panic is kind of a mess. She screws up a lot and shouts "FUCK FUCK FUCK!" when things don't work out. She shouts "FUCK YOU, TOO" at whichever agent of Batman happens to be spying on her at any given moment. She's all id and art, the flipped coin to Batman's boring overpreparation. I'd much rather be a Mother Panic than a Batman — deep down, I think she's having more fun.

The first two issues of the book, illustrated by Tommy Lee Edwards, are my favorite. Edwards' style is perfect for the character: he draws with a severe line that belies a certain cartoonishness rubbing just under the surface. Later issues are drawn by Shawn Crystal, who has a looser, more caricatured style. Both artists keep things nice and claustrophobic, rarely ever giving us a pulled-back shot. These are close quarters, and we are up in every character's face, with colorists Jean-Francois Beaulieu's deep reds and angry purples giving everything a certain cast of danger.

While most Batman-adjacent characters replicate the character's formula without much variation, Mother Panic feels like a weird interpretation of the idea — Batman run through Google Translate and back a few times, or set to a rumba beat, or played at 1.5 speed. It's one of the most interesting variations on the character that I've seen since Grant Morrison stopped writing Batman. I want more weird modern melodrama like this in my superheroes.