Before I start this review proper this week, I wanted to take a moment at the beginning and explain some things about myself so hopefully this article makes a bit more sense. I genuinly make an effort to keep my articles positive, and I do not like writing negative reviews. The world has a lot of negativity and I try hard not to add to that with my work. I also want to be clear that I am a big supporter of female comic book characters, writers, artists, and diversity in general. I firmly believe that comics are for everyone, and everyone should be able to see themselves both on the page and behind the pages. I want more diversity and different voices, and while this book may have not been for me, it may be for you.
That being said, this book is getting a lot of indie hype right now, and has a lot of people talking, and I wanted to offer a counterpoint for those who might feel that the hype has less to do with the book itself, and more to do with the team behind it.
I also wanted to make it clear that, while I have issues with this comic, I understand the issues this comic is attempting to address and I fully and completely support dealing with those issues. I just don’t think this comic is doing it in a helpful or productive way.
So, preamble over. Let’s dive in to today’s review, and we’ll see what you think. Is this book for you? Am I completely wrong? Follow me on that journey now dear reader, and let’s find out.
Alright, so, let’s start this week by completely destroying my nerd cred right out the gate. I struggled to like Game of Thrones. I struggled so much that after the first season, and a few episodes of the second, I just gave up entirely.
I even tried to read the books, to see if maybe reading them would help me enjoy the show more, and after reading Book 4 I had just had enough. Game of Thrones was a nerdy soap opera, and I know that a lot of people love it and think it is the greatest thing ever, and perhaps one day I’ll go back and give it another chance, but between my complete lack of investment in any of the characters, and the fact that the last season has been so panned and derided by critics, well, let’s just say the odds are slim that I’ll get to it any time soon.
That, of course, takes me to the subject of today’s article, and the co-author of today’s comic, Emilia Clarke. For a lot of people, her character Daenerys Targaryen was the whole reason they watched the show, or at least that’s what the people I knew who were in to it told me. I found her character’s arc compelling in the books, but in the show it just wasn’t my thing. Still, to each their own, and if you loved what she did then I don’t fault you for it. Clarke is a great actress, and did a great job with the roles she has been given, even being one of the few shining moments in Solo, a film that seemed to work overtime to dim even the brightest of stars.
All of this takes me to today’s comic: M.O.M.: Mother of Madness, a book that is banking hard on Clarke’s star power and appeal to build a fan base. Is it worth the hype? Does it shine like the crazy diamond that the publishers are counting on? Can the Mother of Dragons succeed as the Mother of Madness? Let’s dig in and find out!
Here’s the blurb: Game of Thrones superstar EMILIA CLARKE debuts an EXTRA-LENGTH, THREE-ISSUE MINISERIES! The mayhem begins with Maya, under-the-weather scientist by day, over-the-top superhero by night, and badass single mom 24/7. Deadpool action and Fleabag comedy collide when Maya activates her freakish superpowers to take on a secret sect of human traffickers. Mature readers only! Comedy and chaos await in the first of three 40-page issues by the glamorous artist of Horde, LEILA LEIZ!
So, I have a lot of thoughts about M.O.M.: Mother of Madness, thoughts which I will now do my best to communicate as effectivly as I can.
What did I just read?
M.O.M.: Mother of Madness struggles in a number of places for me. The first thing is that it is a very, very talky book. There is nothing inherently wrong with a book being very talky. Some of my favorite comics are incredibly dialogue heavy, but our main character spends the entire book talking, and talking, and talking directly to the audience. She starts the book talking and continues to talk, almost without pause, through the entire first issue. We are not given a chance to make up our minds for ourselves about something before Maya, our main character, is off and running on another speech that, frequently, is only tangentially connected to what is actually going on in the story.
See, the blurb kind of sets up why this is going to be a problem, because this comic is attempting to be like Deadpool. Maya is constantly breaking the 4th wall, but in a way that feels more disjointed than informative. Maya has real trouble actually staying connected to the plot. It’s a bit like if in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ferris spent 99% of the movie talking to the audience, and only occasionally turned around and acknowledged that there was a story going on behind him. This first issue skips and jumps from moment to moment, driven forward by the sheer force of the constant narration alone.
Let me give you an example. M.O.M.: Mother of Madness opens at a party where terrible people are saying horrible things. Maya seems to float through the party not really acknowledging anyone or anything, and then gets embarrassed, leading her to go into a side room where she transforms into a super being of light who does…nothing? She has a big superhero reveal, and then goes into a backstory about her adopted parents, where he mom dies of cancer, her adopted father dies of a broken heart, and Maya deals with this by cleaning her father’s lab and swallowing a ton of pills for…reasons? Is it a suicide reference? Is she attempting to test her father’s drugs? It’s not really clear. Throughout her entire stream of non stop narration, she never actually addresses what is happening in the drawn story. We have no idea about the character’s motivation for the things we see her doing, and her constant narrating causes confusion for the reader in a moment that could have been better explained through art alone. As I have said many other times before, it is always a good idea to show, not tell when you can.
Whatever the reason, Maya gains powers whenever she is hormonal or agitated, which apparently happens at the same time every day and she monitors her levels on a wristwatch. Also she wears sunglasses, which she is constantly looking over, for, reasons? We see her eyes so I’m not sure what the sunglasses are about, but other characters comment on them so I assume they have a purpose, but yeah, yeah.
For an origin story, our heroine is very ill defined. We don’t really understand her motivations or her drives. She feels overlooked in her field, but also seems to celebrate that with her only female coworker. She has a son that she seems to care about, but when he is in possible danger she sends her clearly telegraphed possible future love interest to check on him while she rushes into unknown danger where she could very well be hurt or killed without a second thought. She talks about how she is miserable, but also is constantly upbeat and positive, and not in a smile-to-kill-the-pain kind of way, but instead like she so detached from reality little to nothing seems to actually be able to break into her bubble.
Stick with me here on this next point, because I want to make it clear that this has nothing to do with white male fragility, I promise. You see, with very few exceptions, every single male character in this book is a terrible troglodyte of a human. As I said before, issue one opens at a party celebrating the accomplishments of women in business, but every man is making crude and derogatory comments about the women there, an in some cases literally sexually assaulting them. Now, I get that it’s being done in an ironic and hyperbolic way, but, what’s the joke? Women being ignored and mistreated in the workplace is a serious issue and in the last few years there has been new and important light shone on these problems, but instead of using M.O.M.: Mother of Madness as a platform to highlight that issue it’s making light of it, and to no real effect. Are we supposed to laugh at this because it’s so terrible? Are we supposed to be horrified that behavior like this is still happening? The characters are so absurd, and the situation is so hyperbolic, that I honestly do not know what the desired reaction is?
Adding to this confusion is, again, the fact that Maya doesn’t really seem to be that affected by it. Like I said, we have a constant stream of running narration, and in the opening party she is info dumping a ton of personal details on us in a way that is both confusing and overwhelming. Maya seems to float through the party not really acknowledging anyone or anything people are saying. We see these awful things happening, but she is aloof and above them, in a way that makes me wonder if she is actually even there at the party. She is detached and disconnected, and that makes it hard to understand her motivations, and hard to connect with her as an actual character, and not just a parody.
It really boils down to an issue of tone. Am I supposed to laugh at the things in this book? Am I supposed to feel sad? Am I supposed to be inspired? It’s really hard to tell.
I wanted to like M.O.M.: Mother of Madness. As I said, we need more diversity in comics, and we need more female voices. Throughout this comic I could see real seeds of good ideas and potential for real storytelling that addressed in a more coherent way what Clarke wanted to say. It’s clear that she is passionate about these issues and wants to start a discussion, or continue a discussion that is already happening, but the stream of consciousness storytelling and the lack of an understanding for how comic story telling actually works, is drowning the reader in the stream instead of floating them to a real message.
The main character is a women who feels overlooked and embarrassed by everything. She feels disconnected and her powers are really more of a burden than a blessing. I get that because we’ve seen that before in a million other works. The connection that her powers are tied to her hormones, and her constant fight to control herself in the crazy world she finds herself in is a good idea, but it also has been done before. If this book had attempted to focus on that as the key to the story, and stopped trying to be funny and make constant, Deadpool-esque jokes, this might have been a fantastic comic that raised some interesting points and started some valuable discussion. But because the tone is constantly shifting, and the focus is so all over the place, I just struggle with what the take away is.
You might say that I am not the intended audience for M.O.M.: Mother of Madness, and that is a totally fair point to make, but the question is, who is this written for then? It’s too crude for younger readers, and too immature for older readers. It raises serious issues, but seems to only do so as a way to set up jokes. If people have suffered the same kinds of things that the main character has, are they really going to want to laugh about them?
And remember, this is a superhero origin comic about a mom. Making a single mom a superhero is one of the books guiding lights, but we don’t really see much in the way of her being a mom in the story. I’m hoping issue two deals more with the balance between her worlds, but issue one doesn’t show much about that and that’s a shame since it would really give our main character more depth and agency.
Still, I encourage you all to check M.O.M.: Mother of Madness out and let me know what you think. This is not the worst first outing I have read for a new writer, and I think that the fact that they have Marguerite Bennett of DC Bombshell‘s fame co-authoring does a good deal to help shape this into some kind of narrative, but overall this book was just not for me, but maybe it’s for you?
Until next week, stay safe!