What is the purpose of a relaunch? Is it to wipe the slate clean for a story burdened with history? Is it to denote the beginning of a turn in the narrative? Is it simply to provide new readers a clear starting point? In superhero comics, a relaunched #1 can offer all of these things or just one them. Unfortunately, the relaunch of Mother Panic fails to embrace any.
In the wake of the "Milk Wars" event, Violet Paige has been abandoned on an alternate Earth. She has lost her home, resources, and family, with no obvious means of regaining them. The first issue of Mother Panic: Gotham A.D. is torn between her past narrative and what life in the original Gotham City was like and what she plans to do in this new version. That balance is unfortunate, because neither offers a particularly compelling hook. Throughout the issue, Paige repeatedly addresses how she got to this moment and what is different. It's useful exposition for a new reader, but none of it provides any thematic nuance to make someone want to keep reading. Almost all of the internal monologue is simply information.
Her current situation isn't particularly compelling on its own merit either. There is a well-produced montage that differentiates this Gotham City from the one most readers have come to expect. Bright lights and a solid marketing campaign evoke a comparison to Manhattan before and after Rudy Giuliani Disney-fied the island. The connection between this alternate Gotham City and Paige is barely addressed though. It stands out as an intriguing premise for a "world without a Batman" story, but that reduces this series protagonist even further. Slowly moving between different characters that form Batman's core cast make Paige primarily a reader surrogate.
As a continuation of the previous incarnation of Mother Panic, this issue doesn't offer much. It addresses the existing themes and conflicts, but none of them are important in the here and now. Paige's quest has been transformed into a simple one in which she must seek out her mother -- or this Earth's version of her mother. It seems to be something to do because something needs done. Any laughs or action stems from her new sidekick Fennec Fox. There's a Hit-Girl mentality to the character, but little in the way of motive.
It cannot be understated how much of an impact the addition of Ibrahim Moustafa as the series new artist makes on the lackadaisical plotting of this issue. His sharp lines and high contrast construction of small alleyways and city skylines enhances the tone of the issue dramatically. Paige's costume has never looked better than in Moustafa's pencils. He drafts a hero who feels dangerous and apart from the world she exists in. The dramatic size differences in her outfit feel more natural than they have in the past, and he frames her bright white form wonderfully in the remaining shadows of Gotham City.
Colors from both Boyd and Louise work in tandem to emphasize the black-and-white nature of Paige's morality. The bright lights of this Gotham make Paige's boldness stand out less. However, her chilly approach is matched in the too-clean and cool colors of the city. There is still a haunting atmosphere that abounds from every page, until a final reveal that shakes up the mood of the issue. These three artists combined with current "best of the best" letterer John Workman supports the many weaknesses in plotting and character via pure craftsmanship.
In spite of the rich setting surrounding this relaunch, Mother Panic: Gotham A.D. is a series in search of a story. The past lingers with little purpose and the future primarily serves Batman, a character who doesn't exist within these pages. As staging for a dramatic change, the work is functional, but whatever comes next must address key elements of theme and character that are entirely lacking here. Yet it's difficult to dislike a comic that is so well presented. The world building and depictions of Violet Paige take a first issue that serves neither new nor existing readers, and make it far more visually compelling than the narrative supports.
Published by DC Comics
On March 28, 2018
Written by Jody Houser
Art by Ibrahim Moustafa
Colors by Jordan Boyd and Marissa Louise