Written by: Jody Houser
Art by: Ibrahim Moustafa & Jordan Boyd (main story), Paulina Gamucheau (backup)
Published by: DC Comics
In last week’s review of Batman, I wrote a bit about the vapid use of references in Elseworlds narratives. I open with this because a part of that involved drawing a contrast with the first issue of Mother Panic: Gotham A.D. The second issue sees Jody Houser delving even further into her imagined alternate Gotham, parsing through existing characters and settings in a meaningful way.
Additionally, this issue does all of that while toning down the monologuing, which appears to have just been a case of first issue blues last month. When it does appear (predominantly in the intro and the backup) the framing devices justify its use. However, and this is more of a lettering issue than a writing one, I wish Mother Panic’s monologue and dialogue boxes were visually distinct in some way. There’s one panel in this issue where the two appear right next to one another, which caused a little confusion my first time through the issue.
Ultimately, that’s a small concern amidst what is otherwise an excellent book. Where the first issue spent significant page space with the Joker, this issue checks in with Catwoman, Ivy, and (briefly) Harley Quinn. The futures imagined for the trio aren’t unpacked to the same degree as the Joker’s, but they’re interesting in their own rights.
The bulk of this issue ends up being spent fleshing out the world even further, demonstrating the ways in which it is meaningfully different from the Gotham we recognize. If anything, it reads like a logical conclusion from the crime-plagued city we see in every other Batman related book. Of course the ultimate end would be a brutal crackdown, followed by the installment of a fascistic police state, farmed out to the highest bidder.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the new government’s use of a false flag attack, which is not where I expected a certain sequence of pages from the first issue to go. But as the sequence plays out over a series of three pages, I fell harder and harder for what Mother Panic is doing. It’s exactly the right type of social commentary, the kind that grapples with contemporary issues without directly invoking anything. As a result, it goes deeper than a simple analogue would–the issues are, correctly, treated as larger systemic problems, as opposed to individual people or movements.
More than anything, it’s wild to me that Mother Panic is not unique among DC books in its willingness to critique capitalism and policing. Effectively the entire line of Young Animal books deals with similar themes in their own ways. Oddly enough, this one is the most traditional–science fiction trappings with roots in social commentary.
For the record, I don’t think this is a book hampered by being somewhat traditional. Instead, Houser seems to thrive in that space, using the somewhat familiar to tease out elements of Gotham–and the wider Batman mythos–we just don’t see that often.
Ibrahim Moustafa’s visuals further cement this Gotham as markedly different. This version of the city lacks the grimey feel usually on display. Instead, Moustafa envisions a cleaned up, nearly pristine version of the city. The only time buildings are damaged is in the wake of the false flag attack, and even then, the skyscrapers seen in the background offer a notable contrast.
As a result, the city lacks character, an effect I would guess is intentional (the juxtaposition with the backup makes it even more pronounced). Occasionally, the shading does clash with this. I would expect a little bit more of a…. sparkle, I guess? Some of Jordan Boyd’s faded coloring is designed to demonstrate the lifelessness of the city, but it doesn’t always feel quite fake enough, if that makes sense.
If this all sounds dark and gritty, well, that’s because it is. Fortunately, Houser makes plenty of time for levity, defusing the rather serious nature of everything else. Rosie (or Fennec Fox, if you prefer) is at the center of much of the levity. She’s only around for a few pages, but those pages are perfectly situated within the issue. Her dialogue drips with sarcasm, getting at the heart of just how absurd the situation she finds herself in is. Juxtaposing her against Violet–a character who probably takes herself a bit too seriously–is just about a perfect dynamic.
Ironically, Madame Gala offers an additional break from the serious tone established in the rest of the issue. Again, it’s a brief but well-timed transition between story beats–of which there may be too many.
As with my lettering qualms and the overwritten nature of the first issue, I suspect this won’t end up being a big deal, especially when the issues are collected. For the time being, however, there are a number of different threads left dangling by this issue. Within the space of two issues, the cast has grown fairly large. Because most of the characters physically inhabit different spaces, the issue can rarely check in with more than one of them at once, leaving it feeling a bit scattershot.
Again, I expect the plot to tighten as it moves forward, and this is just one of the downsides of serial storytelling.
Despite its shortcomings, none of which are systemic issues, Mother Panic: Gotham A.D. has proven to be an excellent continuation, at least so far. The renumbering is superfluous, to be sure, but Houser is making good on some really interesting ideas, backed up by a fantastic art team. It may not be for everyone, but it is exactly my shit, which I’ll take wherever I can get it.