Super-powered nerds, clones with a mission, a starry-eyed little girl with a cape of dreams, and shocking pink dolls that know too much are only some of the fantastically edgy characters Jody Houser has brought leaping off the pages of comics like Faith, Orphan Black, Womanthology, and Adrift. Now she’s taking us into the dark subculture of Gotham to unmask Mother Panic—a traumatized outcast who blurs the hero and villain stereotypes of good and evil.
Dreamed up in collaboration with Gerard Way and Tommy Lee Edwards, Violet Paige aka Mother Panic is a vigilante celebutante for whom Way’s initial inspiration was a cocktail of his own music and rebellious ’90s grunge starlets like Courtney Love. What we do know of her nebulous past has left her bruised and vengeful. She associates with drug dealers and other criminals who hide from the law in Gotham’s midnight shadows. She frequents all the underground dives and dens of iniquity Bruce Wayne wouldn’t be caught with or without his bat suit in. She isn’t exactly likeable. She isn’t supposed to be.
At New York Comic Con, Den of Geek sat down with Ms. Houser for a revealing look at the bones of Violet Page and how she was fleshed out into an anti-heroine.
Den of Geek: What was Gerard’s initial inspiration for this character and what inspiration of your own did you add to it?
Jody Houser: I believe that the character was actually based on a concept that Gerard and Tommy Lee Edwards were looking to do as a standalone book, but once Young Animal became a thing, it brought that concept [of Mother Panic] in and tailored her to be a fit for the DC Universe. Her story plays out in Gotham, and she very much catered to that city, but it’s a side of the city we normally don’t get to see. Batman and some of the Bat family are around but wouldn’t go there.
How would you describe the seedier side of Gotham City and Violet’s connection to it?
Violet Paige is sort of the celebutante you see in the tabloids all the time. She causes fights, possibly uses drugs (or at least everyone assumes she does). She’s like a trainwreck who causes trouble everywhere she goes, so a lot of people think that’s all there is to her. What the don’t know is that she has a much darker and more troubled past than anyone really knows. That’s what’s been the impetus for her to take on this identity of this vigilante in Mother Panic—I prefer to say “vigilante” because it’s not really clear if she’s a hero or not yet.
Will Violet’s development in the series reveal more of her conflicting good and evil sides?
I think it’s less about us figuring it out and more about her figuring it out. The first story arc is called “Work in Progress,” so it’s very much about her deciding who she’s going to be and who she wants to be.
How do you feel Violet’s painful past influenced her to become the person she is today?
There’s definitely a split in her life prior to going to Gather House [the school she was traumatized at] and after going to Gather House. She’s pretty much the person that Gather House made her. That’s really the core of what happened to her. She absolutely has put up with abusers.
Suffice to say that she’s in an angry state right now, but it’s a very justified anger. The people she’s lashing out at are people who—and I feel most readers will agree—have it coming to them. At the same time, she’s also taking care of her mother. Her mother is not well. She has health issues, so you get to see the more caring and concerned side of her too; she’s not just her anger.
Do you think her desire to protect her mother connects to her desire for justice?
Definitely to an extent, that’ll come into play more as she continues because right now, she’s just focused on revenge but yeah her desire to protect her mother is one of her core motivations for everything she does whether she realizes it or not. I think at the end of the day, if she’s being a vigilante in Gotham, there is only so far she can go before she can get tossed out by the Bat family. There are some controversial things she’ll be able to get away with, but beyond that, I think this is very much a learning experience for her. She’s going to figure out what she really wants to do and who she really wants to be as she grows inside this persona.
Speaking of justice, what kind of questionable ethics is Violet fighting against?
Most of the people that she’s targeting are the very upper echelons of Gotham society, and they’re the people who are into really weird stuff. These are not the people that Bruce Wayne associates with. If he got an invite to one of their parties he wouldn’t be seen there. Even Bruce Wayne [invited] not as Batman, but just as Bruce Wayne, wouldn’t dare go to these things. It’s the darker, seedier side of the Gotham elite, and the things they are doing are pretty reprehensible. These people have a severe case of ennui. They have so much money and so much power that they’re just looking for new and unsavory ways to be entertained.
Which characters in the Gotham universe do you feel she parallels most to and why?
I think the interesting thing about the Gotham-based characters is—this goes all the way back to Batman himself—is that they’re very much shaped by their circumstances of growing up in Gotham City. Gotham took away Bruce Wayne’s parents, and he’s Batman because of it.
I don’t know how much they parallel, but one character I’d love to see Violet encounter at some point is Catwoman who was also very much shaped by having to survive in Gotham she was younger in most incarnations so that’s something I really tried to put into Mother Panic as she was taking a different path by Gotham and we’ll se what came out on the other side.
Do you also feel she relates to any of the clones in Orphan Black?
I think in terms of her background she might be closest to Helena. One of Helena’s most famous outfits is all white, so they have that in common too.
We obviously know how Batman and Catwoman got their names. How did Mother Panic get hers?
I think the name actually ties into Gerard’s music. I believe someone said there was a reference to it in his solo album, somewhere in the album notes, but I haven’t double-checked. I believe the name did come first, but the it strongly ties in to the character.
Vigilante that she is, can she still be an inspirational female character?
She’s no doubt an interesting female character, though I don’t think she should be aspirational to anyone. She’s a bit of an antihero. There have been a lot of male antiheroes or almost downright villainous characters in pop culture lately, especially with shows like Breaking Bad, but you just don’t see as many female characters who are on the blacker side of gray. That’s the thing I’m trying to play with.
You know she’s not a likeable person a lot of the time, and I think that’s okay. I think there should be more characters who are like that. Not everyone has to be nice and comfortable and happy and aspirational.
Watch out, Mother Panic releases on Nov. 9. To say that we’re trembling with anticipation is an understatement.