An alien bird invades the comatose body of a mildly sociopathic bully. An heiress with questionable morals and motives disguises herself in white and works as a vigilante at night. What do these two odd combinations have in common? They are both new, female-led comics: Mother Panic and Shade the Changing Girl. Both books are part of the new imprint Young Animal by DC Comics.
Written for mature audiences, these comics deal with morality, revenge, sexuality, and highly flawed women. “Most readers I know, male or female, want to read about these complex characters,” said Mother Panic author Jody Houser. “No one really wants to keep reading the exact same book. I think we are seeing more diversity in terms of type of character because there is really a hunger for that.”
Through these stories, the writers of both comics explore human emotions and current events that echo in our society today. Take Loma, the title character from Shade the Changing Girl.
Loma is an alien from an avian species. On her new planet, Meta, parents must pass an exam in order to raise their children. Loma’s parents, also avian, do not pass the test, and so she is raised by two people who are a different alien race. Loma’s parents also happen to look like humans.
As Loma grows up in this society, she is seen as a troubled teenager who has no control over her emotions. Avians are known to collect things, and Loma loves collecting artifacts and trinkets from Earth. On Meta, she feels like nobody understands her, so one day she steals the madness cloak which allows her to come to earth and take possession of a body.
“She has to think about, not just being a different species, but also the weird rules that are built around the species,” says Shade colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick, about how Loma is treated on her own planet.
Echoing the original 1970s comic Shade the Changing Man, Loma falls into the body of Megan - a beautiful swim team captain, who also happens to be a sociopath, and the biggest bully in her school. Once Loma takes over Megan's body, she asks her new friends and parents to call her Shade.
Both comics are geared toward mature audiences but they deal with issues many teenagers and adults struggle with. Issues such as bullying, racism, and how we interact with each other. “Comics need to really reflect what is going on in the world,” says Shade writer Cecil Castellucci.
What makes Shade the Changing Girl unique are the complex issues within the contents of the comic juxtaposed to the bright psychedelic colors. Reminiscent of the '90s and Lisa Frank, the artwork by Marley Zarcone and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick gives Shade a colorful and brilliant voice, while dealing with the comic's darker themes.
The most pressing issues in the comic is bullying. Before Loma takes her position as the comatose Megan, Megan was known as a sociopath among her peers. Her worst acts consisted of practically drowning one of her swim teammates, pushing her swim team to dangerous points of exhaustion and even her parents were afraid of her. Yet Megan believed she was loved and beloved by everybody. “Any person that is a bully, they are a bully because they have a lot of psychological pain themselves,” says Castellucci.
Shade's dazzling colors and language pop out of the page. The story wraps you into the madness of what is happening. It brings in elements of pop culture, is fast paced and humorous. If Shade is a bright Lisa Frank blanket, Mother Panic harkens back to the darker '90s, echoing other DC Comics.
Set in Gotham city, Mother Panic centers on heiress Violet Paige, a vigilante seeking revenge for the harm she endured as a child. She is neither good nor bad. More importantly, her story focuses on what it would really be like to live two lives. Because it is set in Gotham, Batman and Batwoman both make an appearance. But this story is about Violet: her trauma, her struggles, and how she deals with her dual life.
Mother Panic is a concept from Young Animal imprint creator Gerard Way. The comic was fully realized by co-creators artist Tommy Lee Edwards and writer Jody Houser. “Violet wants payment,” says Houser. “As the comic goes on, she may find she is more heroic than she thought, and that she is less selfish than the audience thought she was in the beginning.”
Where Batman’s alter ego Bruce Wayne is a playboy billionaire philanthropist, Mother Panic’s alter ego Violet is more like a raging Courtney Love with super strength.
It is through Violet’s pain and flaws that the audience feels and connection and understanding to her character. She loves her mother, who seems to be mentally ill, and she wants justice for her past.
“We are seeing a trend in movies and television with male characters, that they are anti- heroes and unlikable characters but they are so incredibly fun to watch,” says Houser. “And I think we are starting to see more female characters who follow that trend.”
The Mother Panic and Shade team are filling in a much needed niche in literature. Too often women are expected to be the caring, nurturing character in a story, but not all women are like that. By creating these complex stories in literature, these authors and artists are expanding the pantheon of female characters in fiction. Not all women are always good, or always bad, and that is okay.
These comics give a strong voice to women. Mother Panic was written by female writer Houser, and Shade the Changing Girl had a predominantly female creative team, with artist Zarcone, colorist Fitzpatrick, writer Castelluci, and letterist Saida Temofonte.
These comics reinforce two important points, the first being the importance of having female led projects with female writers and artists. The second is that by having more female voices in the creative side of comics, the industry will lead the way to having more diverse and interesting female characters both in comics, and in other forms of entertainment as well.
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Isabel Sophia Dieppa is a writer and actor. She is a part of the performance duo Of This World in Chicago, IL. Dieppa is the recipient of a 2018 Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting grant, which she has used to report on property rights in Puerto Rico. Her interests lie in science, art, and history. Past writing includes interning for the Chicago Field Museum ECCO program, the national theater blog HOWLROUND, music reviews for UR Chicago, and in a former life was a beat reporter for the Indiana Daily Student. She loves archaeology, kitties, and dancing. The next big adventure may include an archaeological dig in Peru. Follow her on twitter @isabelsdieppa.