The depth and deft use of literary devices involved in Mother Panic is unexpected. Jody Houser is reaching into the dark shadows of Gotham to create an intriguing, complex anti-hero. Mother Panic #4 oozes angst and mystery; with labyrinthian plot threads that will make readers cry out in joy and frustration as any clear significance can only be assumed.
Each issue of Mother Panic has unveiled a minuscule amount of detail about Violet Paige’s childhood. In Mother Panic #4, Houser again supplies a minimal amount of flashback material surrounding Paige’s upbringing at Gather House. The issue, however, implies violence and suffering within its key events and reveals more about Paige’s background than a few panels of flashbacks.
At the issue’s climax, Paige faces off against a lanky, androgynous villain bent on blowing up one of Gotham’s social elite. The target happens to be on Paige’s revenge list. The fight takes place in an eerie, off-putting office styled after a children’s playground. The setting awakens a connection between Paige and the bomber that aligns their quests. The altercation alludes to a connection between the two characters, uncovering more emotional trauma centered around Gather House than any of the previous three issues.
Houser excels at building on the enigmatic qualities of Paige. The different aspects of Paige’s life and personality are deftly mixed together to create a cohesive plot that still leaves readers wondering what the heck is going on. Monster Panic #4 begins with Paige fulfilling her role as a brash, unapologetic, Batman-bashing socialite, and fluidly moves through her broken childhood innocence, relentless vigilantism, right to a fairly touching moment of familial love. All of this builds Paige’s complexity and uniqueness while giving her clear connections to Batman’s personal mythos.
While Houser flexes considerable creative muscle throughout the issue, the change from Tommy Lee Edwards to Shawn Crystal on art is a bit of a letdown. Edwards’ chaotic, scratchy style set an appropriately dark, cold tone for the visuals. Under Crystal the art still maintains the violence and anger from before, but it looks warmer and more cartoonish. I’m not necessarily saying the artwork is poorly done. But the look and feel that Edwards had created was such a perfect fit, that it’s hard to enjoy a change this early in a series.
However, Crystal’s are feeds into Houser’s ability to imply details instead of overtly stating them very well. As Paige begins to realize the connection between herself and the bomber, Crystal links the realization to her role as Mother Panic with a simple embedded image of the Mother Panic helm. While the change in artistic duties may be too early in the series for my personal taste, it’s at least a change that still plays to the story’s strengths.
If you’re not reading this series, you really should look deep within yourself and ask why? Houser exhibits some very complex, well-developed writing skills that make everything about this issue shine. Mother Panic is a slow-burn, full of angst and intrigue. With four issues on the stands, it’s clear this is a series that demands attention.