Spotlight Sunday 7.25.21

Spotlight Sundays

A new comic from the Mother of Dragons means there are spoilers ahead for…

Screenshot of a database entry for M.O.M: Mother of Madness from Image Comics. It features an image of the cover, a description of the plot, and lists the creators as:
Writer: Marguerite Bennett | Emilia Clarke
Artist: Leila Leiz
Cover Artist: Jo Ratcliffe
Credits page from the first issue, featuring an image of "M.O.M." in a strange costume, and listing the credits above and:
Principal Contributor & Producer: Isobel Richardson
Color: Triona Farrell
Lettered by: Haley Rose-Lyon
Edited by: Laurenn McCubbin
Logo, cover & costume design: Jo Ratcliffe
Editorial Design: Deanna Phelps
Variant cover artists: Mirka Andolfo & Jen Bartel

“I’m your mom now, and I’m MAD.”

It’s not unusual for people from fields outside of comics to make comics. Prose writers, singers, comedians, and actors have all taken a crack at it over the years. Some fans get angry and defensive about it, but that seems silly to me, as comics can only benefit from new voices and new perspectives.

It is, however, a bit unusual – though not unheard of – for someone from outside the industry to come out with an original creation right out of the gate. Most dip their toes into the comics waters by playing with some of the Big Two’s toys.

Not so for Emilia Clarke, best-known for portraying Daenarys Targaryen on Game of Thrones, who skipped past Marvel and DC and went straight to Image with her own creation, enlisting the aid of comics veteran Marguerite Bennett (DC Comics: Bombshells, Angela: Queen of Hel) along the way.

In a letter at the back of the comic, Clarke explains that she didn’t grow up reading comics, but being immersed in comics culture as a guest at countless conventions led her to start picking up some comics and developed an interest, which led to her saying, “Wouldn’t it be funny if…” which led to the comic we’re here to talk about.

In broad strokes, M.O.M: Mother of Madness is about a 29-year-old single mother – I was struck by how often we are informed/reminded of her age in this issue – who has strange powers that she decides to put to use. Those powers are tied to her emotional/hormonal state, and include invisibility, rapid healing, super-strength, and super-speed.

The basic concept is to take all of the things that Maya, as a woman, hates about her body, and all of the things that women, generally, are judged for, and turn them into powers.

How did Maya gain these powers? Presumably, they’re the result of taking a bunch of different pills and potions concocted by her scientist father in a moment of grief after the death of both of her parents.

However, it’s worth noting that Maya was abandoned as an infant, and her parents were her adoptive parents, so there may have been something unique about her right from the start.

We first meet Maya – and see a demonstration of some of her abilities – at a work function, where she begins providing the fourth-wall-breaking narration that runs throughout the entire issue, and where she has an embarrassing incident involving her period and a white skirt.

Her primary job involves working for a company, run by a friend of her late father, which is ostensibly focused on making “green,” food products, but is mostly about cutting as many corners as possible. She also has a side gig selling pictures of her feet.

The setting for the story is the year 2049, and in many ways the setting is the continuation and culmination of current trends in the gig economy and the need for younger people to hold multiple jobs.

Maya’s workplace is an over-the-top example of a “hostile environment,” one in which current microaggressions are full-on macroaggressions, and the HR guidance on sexual harassment seems to be more of a “how-to” than a set of guidelines for preventing it.

Still, despite this, Maya seems happy at home with her precocious son Billy, and her friend – who wants to be more than a friend – Benny, and all of the work she does is for the purpose of providing stability and security for her family of two.

The bulk of the issue consists of exposition, with Maya mixing in conversations with the people around her with her direct-to-the-reader narration. Where the story kicks in is when she learns that there’s a man with a gun near where Billy is having a playdate, and she and Benny rush over. Maya works to take control of her powers and confront the man, and in the process learns that he is part of a human trafficking ring and has murdered a young woman.

Before she can mete out justice, the man spontaneously combusts, leaving behind an implant of some kind that contains a camera, and we see that there is a mysterious woman watching it all on the other side of the camera.

From there, remembering the words her father told her – “We’re put in this world to help each other, Maya.” – she vows to learn to control her powers and take down everyone responsible the trafficking and the murder of the young woman, Tiffany Nowak.

The issue closes out with the Letter from Emilia that I referred to near the beginning, some sketches and concept art, and some information and hotline numbers relating to issues of mental health, anti-racism, sexual assault, and LGBQTI+ rights.

I mentioned earlier that there are some people who will be angry about an “outsider” working in comics – even in the creator-owned space – and they’ll be especially angry about this comic, given that it is the unapologetically agenda-driven, woke SJW propaganda, and all of the other buzzwords du jour of the perpetually aggrieved, though even if it weren’t they would still say that it was.

But does that make it a bad comic? I suppose it would, if you were the sort of person who somehow thinks that any kind of art can be fully agenda-free, as if a story told by people could lack a point of view and perspective.

“Does or does not have an agenda” is a terrible metric by which to judge a comic, as the real question is whether the agenda is presented in a story that it is well-told.

So…is it?

At times, yes. It’s definitely an interesting concept, and I really like the art; the design, the dynamism, the flow of the storytelling – when there is story being told, which we’ll get into in a moment – and the colors that really pop, especially on the thick, glossy stock of the paper.

The dialogue is snappy, naturalistic, and is earnest with a sardonic and satirical edge.

However, the actual story is a bit thin, with the action at the end coming out of nowhere and not really fitting with the exposition-heavy backstory and scene-setting that makes up the bulk of the issue. I get that this is a first issue that’s setting up the concepts and introducing us to the setting, but at forty pages it’s nearly twice the size of a standard comic and should have plenty of breathing room, but it never seems to pause to take a breath because it’s too busy talking.

Fortunately, the exposition is interesting and engaging, but there’s just so much, and it doesn’t leave room for much else. There are scenes that could have been expanded on – I would have liked to have seen a bit more time spent focusing on Maya’s home life with Billy, for example – that just whiz past to move on to the next flashback or set of scenes that demonstrate the stressors Maya is dealing with at her (non-feet-pictures) job.

I also have a few quibbles about the setting and the consistency. While it takes place in 2049, there isn’t much on the page that indicates that to be the case beyond people simply stating “It’s 2049.” In terms of the look and some of the cultural references people make, it seems like it could be right now. There are a few little things that make it clear that it’s not quite the world we live in now, but I never really got much sense that it’s not taking place in 2021. In fairness, that may be a deliberate choice, a demonstration of a lack of progress.

I’m also a bit confused about Billy’s age. He looks very young, and Maya makes a reference to him being in kindergarten, but she also talks about having been an unemployed single mom at 19, and as we know, she’s currently 29. (I assume there is significance to the frequent references to her age, and I can think of a few possibilities, but the repetition does stand out.)

Did I like it? Overall, yeah. It is an interesting concept, and I’m engaged enough that I’ll probably pick up the two remaining issues when they come out, but I’ll do so in the hopes that some of the pacing issues are addressed.

(And I should note here that I’m keenly aware that I’m viewing this comic about women and by women from the perspective of a nearly fifty-year-old cishet white guy.)

In her letter at the end of the issue, Emilia Clarke says something that obviously resonates with me: Comics are for everyone.

That idea is baked into the DNA of this site, and it’s something that I often say, though I also stress that not not every comic is for everyone. Obviously, if you’re the kind of guy whose dick will fall off because a feminist wrote a comic book, then…well, this comic probably should be for you, but it’s not the kind of thing you’re going to enjoy.

That does it for this week’s Spotlight. Come back…sometime, whenever I decide to write another one.

As always, special thanks go out to my comic shop, Comic Logic Books & Artwork. Please remember to support your local comic shop, and if you need to find one, click here.

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