“Mother Panic,” the Vigilante of Young Animal finds herself about to become an exhibit in Galla’s art gallery! As she fights her way out she must fight her greatest battle, to be emotionally vulnerable for a change.
Written by Jody Houser
Illustrated by Shawn Crystal
Colored by Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Lettered by John Workman and Shawn Crystal
With the true face of an old friend revealed, Violet Paige must fight her way free or risk Mother Panic becoming a part of Gala’s grisly art exhibit. Back at home a disturbing revelation about Rebecca’s mental state comes to light. Includes the finale of “Gotham Radio” by the acclaimed team of Jim Krueger and Phil Hester!
Issue 12 of “Mother Panic” brings ‘Under the Skin’ to a close and with it the first year of issues. Unlike previous finales, issue 12 feels like something a bit more. Not just the close of an arc, but a chapter. A season finale that sets up for more adventures in the months to come. With her three-issue structure, Houser has delivered on a different facet of Stan Lee’s maxim of creating the “illusion” of change. These shorter storylines give the single-issue reading experience the perception of covering a fair amount of ground in a short time period. So much ground, by the end of ‘Under the Skin’ and year one, Mother Panic has their own burgeoning rogues gallery. As the series is positions itself for a perhaps more heroic outlook going forward.
The character of Jane aka Twelve is a good example of the strength and limits of the three-issue structure. As with most comics, I wouldn’t have minded a bit more of the character before her turn. It would’ve potentially shown more of Gather House, and the vaguely mysterious Collective, and given the character a bit more depth than the femme fatale archetype. But with only three issues, there isn’t much page space to be indulgent. That desire for more depth, however, speaks to the effective masking of the character and power of the archetype in particular. “Mother Panic” is powered by the interiority of Violet Paige, while the series isn’t limited to her sole perspective she is the primary source of narration. Her narration gives the book a hard-boiled posture and is supported by art teams that play in noir and neo-noir sensibilities. It’s because of this perspective that readers and Violet project onto Jane the femme fatale appearance. Without Violet’s perspective, there would be no emotion as Violet laments not knowing how to “fix” her, and can only destroy.
If it weren’t for Violet’s history (shown in those surrealistic flashbacks), we would see Jane for what she really is, and both her and the book would be much less interesting for it. Functionally speaking, Jane is just a henchwoman, worse she is one of Galla’s art projects. Her cybernetic parts reveal her to be something of a puppet whose own awareness only seems to break through with violent bursts of anger against those who attempt to control her. At least when she’s viewed as a femme fatale there is the implication that she is taking some amount of agency in the manipulation. That is a lot of smart character work for a supporting, potentially recurring, character.
The finale of ‘Under the Skin’ is essentially a big o’ll fight issue. While prior finales have featured some kind of physical confrontation, this one dominates the issue. Action heavy issues can be a mixed bag, often derided as quick too read and more an exercise in spectacle instead of character. Violet’s showdown in Galla’s art exhibit manages to thread the needle between violent spectacle and character, reinforcing the arcs core motifs and series as a whole.
While the series has dealt with violence in a mixture of surrealism and gritt in the past, something about the depiction violence in this issue is a step past those. Like Jane, it comes down to the mixture of blunt functionality and aesthetics. Bluntly a guy gets his throat slit and Violet is stabbed multiple times, but it’s all with a kitschy paintbrush knife. There’s the interaction between colorist Jean-Francois Beaulieu pallet and Shawn Crystals blacks and cartooned style. It makes an uncanny mix as Jean-Francois brushes on the blood red and how it seems to seep out of the stark blacks of Crystal’s inks, creating an odd sense of realism for his style. Equally unsettling is how the texture of the blood matches the abstract expressionist (think Jackson Pollock) brush work on Galla’s other canvases.Continued below
Complaining about the antagonist functioning as a mirror for the protagonist always strikes me as ignorant of how western storytelling works. It’s a quite effective tool to show who a character really is. Her fight against Jane becomes the physical enactment of her personhood, characterizing herself as a “free fucking agent,” and a rebuttal to what Gather House tried to make her into (aka Jane.) Their fight isn’t pretty, even if it involves using gaudy skulls to bludgeon with and features onomatopoeia like it’s Batman ’66. Like the blood there’s an uncanny mixture of kitsch and functional brutality.
This year has been an educative one for Violet. First, she learned she isn’t the monstrous killer they or her own dark impulses want her to be. Then she discovered a soft spot for the kids and that she’s bit more outwardly heroic than she thinks. But what ‘Under the Skin’ attempts to begin to teach is the toughest lesson yet: emotional vulnerability. It’s a call Violet, initially, seems unable to answer. From her hard-boiled posturing, traumatic upbringing, and celebrity culture, she has been conditioned to not be emotionally available. When presented with genuine affection and interest, mostly from her not-quite-girlfriend girlfriend, she is comedically flummoxed by it. Reacting in calculatedly cruel ways. To get under the skin, to be vulnerable, is to let people see you and she’s been cut before.
While her posturing is partly a defensive mechanism, it’s driven by her own feelings of alienation. Until, she learns she’s never been alone. Her Mom shares some sort of psychic/physical connection with her, which presents itself as vague dementia. For Violet this is a profound moment, it gives her a tether to hold onto. More importantly it plays as genuine, emotionally cathartic moment as they embrace. In a world of fakery and manipulation, their bond is genuine. Violet is finally able to open up and let someone in for the first time.
Jean-Francois’s decision to color the moment of connection in purples and oranges is somewhat odd. The orange-purples are a complementary color to the greens on the previous page, but they harken back to the violent reds of Galla’s exhibit. Those colors create a more explicit warm tone but, like the action in this issue, it creates an odd mix.
“Mother Panic” #12 reads like a season finale, the culmination of an arc and the start of another one. In several ways it reminds me of the first season of Arrow. It started out all dark and grim, a little tonally out of balance, but slowly over time it and audiences learned more about itself. Maybe Violet Paige isn’t as dark, scary, or alone, as she thought she was. Now she has friends and a support structure that cares about her not the mask.
She even says her nom de plume for the first time. It’s a name that brings with it some anxiety given the origins, but Houser and Crystal present the moment as something of a reclamation. Part of a larger declaration of vengeance against the mysterious Collective. Mother Panic is coming for them.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – “Mother Panic” has closed one chapter and is ready to open another once all this ‘Milk Wars’ business is over.