'Mother Panic': Behind Gotham City's New Comic Book Vigilante

Mother Panic Variant 3 - Publicity - H 2016
Tommy Lee Edwards/DC Entertainment
Writer Jody Houser explains why DC's new costumed crime fighter is "pretty messed up" by her own origin story.

There's a new reason for villains to be scared in Gotham City. But Mother Panic — the name of the latest vigilante in Batman's hometown, starring in a comic book launching today from DC Entertainment's Young Animal imprint — isn't the kind of caped crusader audiences might expect.

The new series, written by Faith's Jody Houser with art by Tommy Lee Edwards, features Violet Paige, a socialite emotionally fractured by her past and out for revenge — but where Batman is all about a laser focus, Violet's alter ego is motivated by a far messier rage, and the results of her actions are more likely to cause trouble for everyone in the long run. Houser talked to Heat Vision about the new series, its lead character and just how Violet differs from Bruce Wayne.

Mother Panic is the final of Gerard Way's Young Animal titles to launch, and it's unlike the earlier three series in that it's an original character co-created with Gerard. How did you get to be involved in the project?

There was definitely a concept for the character by Gerard and Tommy [Lee Edwards, series artist] when I came on board. I was asked by editor Molly Mahan to write a couple of sample pages to see if I could nail Violet's voice, and apparently I did, because I got the job the day after I turned it in. I helped take what they had for the concept, which was mostly parts of her background, and put it together and turn it into a fleshed-out character. I tried to put a few twists on some things they wanted to build up in her history and really just help establish who she is at Gotham at this point, and what brought her to this point.

One of the most noticeable things about Violet is that she's really not what readers would expect from a superhero, even a superhero that exists in the Batman mythos. She's not exactly the most likable hero, to put it mildly.

I definitely don't think, at this point, she'd consider herself a hero. I've been calling her a vigilante, because that seems the closest thing to who she is. Right now, she's putting on a costume for her own ends — she wants revenge for her own ends, for things that happened to her. She wants them to pay. But if she walked by someone on the street getting mugged, it's probably a 50/50 chance on whether she'd help them. It probably depends on how she's feeling that day. She's not meant to be a likable character at this point, I think a lot of the fun of the book is seeing the start of things and where she's growing into. I don't think she knows.

It's a fun spin on the Batman mythology. Violet is pretty much the anti-Batman …

A lot of thought went into Violet in relation to Bruce Wayne, and how Bruce Wayne handles things like his civilian identity and his social presence. It's putting a spin on that and pushing it to volume 11 with Violet, because in a lot of ways, they are very similar. They both have that social cache — well, it's a very different social cache; Bruce is donating to charities and Violet is getting written up in whatever the Gotham equivalent of TMZ is for punching a paparazzi in the face.

The thing is, it's not entirely an act with her. That anger is real, and as the series goes on, we'll get to see just how justified that anger is. I think people can have these tragic backstories and not become the Great and Perfect Hero all the time. That's just not realistic; there are going to be people who end up pretty messed up by what they went through, and Violet is definitely one of those. She has a lot of stuff to work through.

You mention the tragic backstory, and that's one of the most interesting things about the first issue for me, that Violet's backstory isn't what readers might be expecting — especially those familiar with Batman's origin.

I think everyone sort of expects superheroes and vigilante types to be orphans, and that's not the case with Violet. I think her relationship with her mother is a huge part of who she is, and I'd say, if she had to choose between her mother's safety and her mission for revenge, [she'd choose] her mother's safety, for sure. It's definitely a new relationship that I don't think we've seen too often for superheroes — someone caring for an ailing parent.

That relationship, and Violet's anger, feel like the core thread to the first issue, at least. The costumes, the superhero aspect of Mother Panic, isn't the central idea. It's about who Violet is as the messed-up person under the mask.

At the end of the day, costumes in a sense are set dressing, and if you don't have a compelling character underneath, it doesn't matter how cool they look — although Violet, as Mother Panic, looks really cool. But you need to have that foundation there to have a story.

Let's talk about how cool she looks. Tommy Lee Edwards' art on this comic is really sharp-looking, and very individual.

That's something that [Vertigo and Young Animal imprint editor] Jamie S. Rich said — that it doesn't look like any other book on the stands. I remember when the black and white art came in, and Tommy's art was just so good. I was like, 'Does this need color? This looks so good, we could just publish it as is.' And then he sent in the colors, and we liked it even better. He's amazing, he's an icon and the fact that I get to work with him on a character he's co-created, it's mind boggling. I feel really lucky.

What's the game plan for the series? It feels very punk, for want of a better way to describe it — in your face, and immediate, which makes me wonder if you're looking at this as a short, sharp shock.

We've definitely had story meetings for the different arcs of the book, with Molly, my editor, and Gerard. We're definitely looking at the long-term story, I mean, honestly, I'd love for this book to run for a few years to firmly establish her as a character and see where she goes. I think she's in a great place starting out, but you don't want her to stagnate. I want to take readers on this journey with her, and to go on that journey myself, and see where she comes out on the other side.

That's rare for a superhero concept in today's market, where there's often the tendency to reset the character to their classic interpretation on a regular basis.

It's so much fun to be able to play with a character like this, because she doesn't have a classic interpretation, she's brand new. Whatever we do with her in this book will become the classic interpretation for her, which is a lot of fun.

What lies ahead for the series? What should people expect?

Gerard had a bunch of cool ideas for villains that I've been seeing into the stories — a lot of them are very visual ideas, and I've been fleshing those out: Why does this person look like this? What is their deal? It's been a very cool process; it's fun coming in and having so many different pieces to work with. The ideas that Tommy and Gerard had, but also, it's set in Gotham, so there are years and years of history there. A lot of times, I feel like I'm engineering this brand new building, and deciding what it's going to look like from all the pieces I have to work with.

I grew up reading Batman comics. I love Batman and Gotham, and the entire Bat-family. I love that he's a loner who made this entire family for himself. But Gotham's also a sizable city. We're not necessarily going to tripping over the Penguin or Catwoman every time you walk out of the door. We're going to be exploring a Gotham you don't necessarily get to see in Batman comics, number one, because we're a mature readers title, and two, because Mother Panic moves in different circles from anyone else in the Bat-family.

Then again, if you're running around Gotham in a high-tech costume, Batman and his friends are going to take notice. I think that, as long as she's somewhat close to honorable, she won't get into too much trouble … but Violet doesn't like playing by any rules, so we'll see how that works out for her.

Mother Panic No. 1 is available digitally and in comic book stores now.