By E.A. Henson
There are no great second acts.
Unless you count The Empire Strikes Back, The Wrath of Khan, Paul’s Boutique, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, etc. Whoever it was that mangled that F. Scott Fitzgerald quote clearly never took those into consideration. I’m fairly confident that if Fitzgerald had read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets he would have thrown the manuscript for The Great Gatsby right in the trash.
For the purposes of this article, I’ll be taking a look at the second act of DC’s Young Animal imprint: Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye and Mother Panic. Will this article itself be a great second act? That’s not for me to decide.
The first part of this article covered the inaugural Young Animal books Doom Patrol and Shade, The Changing Girl. It also gave you, the reader, a crash course in the history of DC’s Vertigo imprint to which Young Animal no doubt owes its creation.
Both Doom Patrol and Shade were important books to kick off the imprint because they were previously some of the most lauded Vertigo books. Coincidentally, they were both Silver Age properties that DC wasn’t doing anything with.
This brings us to Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye. Written by Gerard Way and Jon Rivera with art by Michael Avon Oeming, the book takes a look at the later days of a once famous sci-fi adventurer.
Admittedly, I was hooked by the title of this book alone. “What kind of name is Cave? A cybernetic EYE? Tell me more, please.” Then I found out more about the character’s origins and was even more intrigued.
The title character of the book is another Silver Age DC character that has been remixed for Young Animal’s sensibilities. According to Way, he found the character while going through the DC encyclopedia and thought there could be more to it.
Some backstory: Cave Carson was a spelunker that first appeared in Brave and the Bold #31 in 1960, no doubt created to capitalize on the great spelunking craze of the day. After that, the character quickly did… nothing. Aside from a few sporadic appearances in the DCU over the decades he was largely forgotten or relegated to a punchline.
Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye picks up well after the character’s heyday. It’s like what would have become of your favorite Hanna-Barbera characters long after you stopped watching them because it wasn’t “cool” to watch USA Network’s Cartoon Express when you were in junior high. Carson is now a widower with a daughter in college. He isn’t valued at the company he helped start and his better days are behind him. But something else is brewing beneath the surface and it isn’t just a case of existential ennui.
The writing of the book is spectacular. Carson’s sorrow over losing his wife is a real and tangible thing. It goes way beyond “sad spelunker is sad” which is what I was afraid the book would be when I read the previews for it. The art by Oeming is amazing as well. It has all the fantastic elements of the 1970s cartoons i referenced above (Cave Carson’s car, for instance) but it’s also atmospheric in a way those cartoons could never hope to be.
Rounding out the Young Animal lineup we have Mother Panic, a book that feels like what the previous three releases from the imprint were building towards. To elaborate, the first two releases were Vertigo mainstays, Cave Carson followed the Vertigo tradition of revamping a dormant Silver Age property, and now we’re given something new in Mother Panic.
Written by Jody Houser with art by Tommy Lee Edwards, Mother Panic is about a Gotham City heiress out for revenge. And since this is Gotham City she’s going to wear a cape while doing it. Way (who co-created the character) had said that he based the character on a “young Courtney Love” so you’ll know what to expect when getting into this book.
Dressed in all white, Mother Panic is direct contrast to Batman. Violent beyond reason and driven entirely by revenge, she’s beating her way through the Gotham underworld on a mission that hasn’t been made entirely clear to the reader yet. And that’s okay.
Mother Panic is an important book on several levels. It features a strong, female protagonist that isn’t overly sexualized. It feels embarrassing to have to point that out, but for years and years in comics it’s been “Female superhero? Here’s your bikini costume.” The industry has been moving away from that but it’s been at a glacial pace.
Secondly, it’s a book that takes place in Gotham that is for Mature Readers. DC likes to play it safe with their flagship characters and that’s not surprising. Early Vertigo books like Sandman featured some superheroes (Martian Manhunter springs to mind) but there soon was an editorial edict to distance those characters from the Vertigo characters. So, with Mother Panic taking place IN Gotham, WITH Batman, and featuring four-letter words that aren’t “WHAM!” or “SOCK!” (sock?) is kind of a big deal.
Of all the Young Animal books so far, I’m most interested in seeing where Mother Panic goes. It feels as close to taking a chance or working without a safety net as a big publisher can get.
So, if you’ve been out of the comics game for a while or you’re one of the “comics are for kids” people, check out DC’s Young Animal. The books are all strange, exciting, visceral and, without a doubt, worthy of your attention.