Jody Houser is a shooting star. After writing several stories for Womanthology in the early 2010s, Houser published her first story for DC Comics, “Adrift,” in Vertigo CMYK: Magenta. Since then, she’s made her name known as the writer of books including Max Ride: Ultimate Flight and several Marvel stories. Preeminently, Houser is the writer of Valiant’s hit series Faith, which focuses on a plus-sized nerdy super-heroine who is being heralded by many as a huge win for representation in superhero comics.
Now, Houser is back at DC Comics. She is the writer of Mother Panic, a series that focuses on a Gotham heiress named Violet Paige who has a mysterious past, an ailing mother, and a thirst for vengeance. The story is a part of Umbrella Academy writer Gerard Way’s new Young Animals imprint, which aims to bring experimentation and a distinctly vibrant strain of creativity to the DC Universe.
At San Diego Comic-Con this year, The Comics Beat sat down with Houser to discuss the meteoric rise of her writing career and pull back the veil on Mother Panic. We learn more about Violet Paige’s personality, past, family, and her relationship with the DC Universe at large.
Alex Lu: Jody, I first came across your writing in Vertigo CMYK: Magenta. Your story in that anthology, “Adrift,” remains the standout comic from that anthology series in my mind. When you look back at the story now, what memories does it conjure up for you?
Jody Houser: It’s still one of my favorite things that I’ve written. I was actually writing that story a little over a year after my grandmother passed away, so when I worked on that script I got out a lot of the feelings that I hadn’t worked through yet. I cried a lot. However, then a lot of people cried when they read the story so I felt more justified in crying while writing it.
Death is something that happens in comics all the time and people come back all the time. It gets to the point where comics about death in the real world become a more interesting concept to explore just because death in most other comics has such a different meaning.
Lu: Definitely. There’s an interesting tension in the story between the heaviness of the concept “Adrift” explores and the vibrancy of its visuals.
Houser: Yeah. The main thing I think of when I picture the color magenta is 1990s Barbies because that was the color of the boxes, clothing, and everything else. The whole story spun out of that.
One of my favorite things about the production of “Adrift” is that Nathan Fox, the artist, has two daughters who were, at the time, about the same age as the girls in the story. After he finished drawing the comic, I found out that the green and pink color palette he used were the colors of his daughters’ rooms. I think that shows how much of himself he put into that story. The two little girls’ expressions are perfect throughout the book. It distinguishes him as someone who clearly has daughters who don’t always get along and knows exactly what kinds of nasty looks they give each other. I couldn’t have asked for a better artist on “Adrift.”
Lu: I love the way that you and Nathan came together to tell this very real, very personal story. In a lot of ways, it feels like Faith is following in the same vein.
Houser: Yeah. For me, the chance to write a character who’s super geeky and makes all the references that I do in my everyday life has been a lot of fun.
Lu: By contrast though, Faith and Mother Panic don’t seem to have very much in common at all!
Houser: Oh yeah! The only thing that Mother Panic and Faith have in common is that they’re women and wear white.
Lu: What led you to Mother Panic?
Houser: Molly Mahan, the editor of the project, approached me about pitching for it. Just knowing that Gerard Way was doing an imprint at DC Comics was enough to get me on board. I knew about his comics work and thought it was super cool– he’s an Eisner winner, after all. It was an opportunity to help DC reintroduce old characters and bring in some new ones and it seemed like a great thing to get in on the ground floor of.
I’m especially glad I get to work with Mother Panic because she is a new character created by Gerard Way and drawn in the first arc by Tommy Lee Edwards. To have the opportunity to be a part of developing her into a person in Gotham alongside all these iconic characters, doing her own thing and causing trouble…how can you say no to that?
Lu: Before Mother Panic joined the Gotham family and Young Animals, Gerard was developing her for a creator-owned project. He’s mentioned that, in his mind, she was a fully formed character before she ended up at DC Comics. Given that Mother Panic is now also your character as well though, do you think she’s changed at all from how Gerard originally envisioned her?
Houser: I don’t think she changed a whole lot. She definitely had a very strong foundation and a core of both what Gerard wanted her to be and what he wanted her to help show in the story. She’s a very privileged young woman, but she’s very aware of that privilege in a way that most other billionaire superheroes may not have to confront very often.
She’s very much in the midst of the social scene and is constantly in the tabloids for outrageous exploits. One of the people Gerard compared her to early on was Courtney Love– this 90s trouble-causing, shit-stirring, anger management issues type of woman. She definitely has some unlikable qualities that you don’t get to see super often in female characters. It’s been a lot of fun to play with her and see how well she does (or doesn’t) handle stepping into this new phase of her life.
Lu: I was reading the Young Animals dossier about Mother Panic and her alter ego, Violet Paige, and it mentions that Violet disappeared from Gotham for about a decade to live in some sort of boarding school…
Houser: Yes, a boarding school named Gather House which was not at all what it appeared to be when she was sent there. It’s definitely a core part of her background and her mission. I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just say be glad you didn’t go to school at Gather House.
Lu: What would lead someone who’s just gotten out of the most terrifying boarding school imaginable to decide they’re going to go back to the most terrifying city in the DC Universe?
Houser: Violet was born and raised in Gotham and Gather House is located on the outskirts of the city. The school is keyed into Gotham and some of the elite people she’s targeting now. She’s mostly back for revenge. She is not the same nice little girl who entered Gather House and there are people who need to pay for certain things. That’s going to be a lot of what she sets out to do.
However, it’s interesting being a vigilante in Gotham because there is a very strict code most of them follow. It’ll be interesting to see how closely she can adhere to that.
Lu: Does Mother Panic have a relationship with Batman at the start of the series?
Houser: She does not at the start, but we might be seeing another bat character, such as Batwoman, in the first story arc. However, yes, she definitely is someone the bat family will be aware of.
Lu: Can you tell us anything about the supporting cast or villains in Mother Panic’s story?
Houser: A lot of the villains she’s dealing with are brand new. They’re characters and concepts Gerard and Tommy came up with. Gotham is so well known for having this outrageous, amazing rogues gallery with such a long history, so throwing new villains into that pool can seem a bit dicey. Honestly though, these new villains are really cool and I’ve been having a lot of fun with them.
As for supporting characters, one of the things that sets Violet apart from some of the other heroes in Gotham is that she’s not actually an orphan. Her mother is still in the picture and is someone she’s trying to take care of right now. Violet’s mother is a core character in the book and in Violet’s life. She’s one of my favorite characters to write right now.
Lu: What is the relationship between the two of them like?
Houser: Well, Violet’s mother is not doing very well, so a lot of the tension between them springs from that. Violet loves her mother very much but her mother is not always an easy person to be around, as we’ll see.
Lu: When you write interactions between Violet and her mother, do you base them on relationships you or people you know may have with their parents?
Houser: My mother just texted me this morning with a picture of the ten copies of Faith she was buying so I actually have a great relationship with my mother! She’s very supportive of all my comics but whenever I write a weird mother character I feel like I have to tell my mom “it’s not based on you! This has nothing to do with you!”
Hopefully she’ll dig Mother Panic and not take anything in there too personally as well!
Lu: So we’re working with mostly new villains, but are there any classic ones you’d like to see in the series?
Houser: One character, who isn’t quite a villain, but I would love to throw at Mother Panic, is Catwoman. She’s been my favorite character since the early 90s and was one of the reasons I got into reading comics. They’re both women who come from backgrounds that have changed them dramatically. Many of the heroes in that section of the DC Universe, but particularly Mother Panic and Catwoman, are what Gotham made them.
I think it’s always interesting to see how this city has shaped people so differently and how that leads into them coming into conflict with one another.
Lu: So, would you call Mother Panic a hero or a villain?
Houser: Right now I would call her a vigilante. I think she’s still trying to figure out who she is going to be and what side of the coin she lands on.
Mother Panic #1 hits store shelves in November! Faith has a new ongoing series whose first issue is in stores now!