Emilia Clarke is the mother of M.O.M.: Mother of Madness #1, a new comics series from Image Comics out today. In an interview with AIPT last month, Clarke was very clear this is a passion project and not some vehicle to turn into a TV show or movie. Given how much the first issue leans into its medium, that’s very easy to believe. It’s a three-issue series that launches with a densely packed issue featuring an origin story, character work, and its main hook.
SPOILERS AHEAD for M.O.M.: Mother of Madness #1!
This series opens with the main character Maya Kuyper at an art museum party for her work. More specifically, it’s an event her boss made her attend for a “Female Empowerment in the Workplace” initiative. The year is 2049 and yet we soon learn the world is less open-minded, less feminist, and certainly less interested in helping marginalized people. It may be a party for a good cause, but unfortunately, Maya’s workplace is as sexist and chauvinistic as anything you’ve ever seen. Clarke and co-writer Marguerite Bennett make it quite clear throughout the comic that this world is far behind where we are today.
This opening sets up Maya rather efficiently since the character breaks the fourth wall to talk to the reader. You quickly understand Maya’s personality is fun, a bit chaotic, and she’s willing to break the rules. Using all the comic’s tricks at her disposal, Maya speaks to the reader (hell, even classic paintings speak to the reader) and divulges her life story over multi-panel montages.
Just when you thought you knew Maya well enough to get on with the story, it cuts to Maya’s childhood. It becomes clear there’s a lot to get through, which is one of the faults of the comic since it can feel like there are too many ideas at work on any given page. Maya gives us a full rundown of who she is in a densely packed number of word balloons, which is followed by a five-page flashback. This flashback shows us how Maya went from happy kiddo to a teenager attempting suicide. Just as we internalize what Maya has done, we snap back to a month after the party. But wait, there’s more, as the narrative snaps back again to Maya’s life alone in her 20s. This yoyoing is quite jarring and can make the first-read frustrating to get through.
Having read the comic a few times now, I can say the narrative grows on you. Maya going through all her powers is shown expertly by artist Leila Leiz in an excellent double-page layout. In fact, there are multiple pages that blend panels together in interesting ways to give the book a more kinetic feel and movement across the page. Triona Farrell’s colors add loads of atmosphere to scenes, too. Ben-Day dot stylizing is present, and when Maya is in a dark place you feel it with the heavy blues surrounding her.
Maya’s powers tie to the loss of her parents — another comics trope for you there, but once the plot gets moving the narrative starts to feel fun and flighty. The writers never let us forget about the important issues, with notes of water shortages over the radio or the fact that Maya has a black eye and has suffered abuse at the hands of men. She’s lived through a lot of pain and real hurt which helps contribute to understanding her positivity and gives way to more comedic turns.
It’s not until the final few pages that Maya truly becomes a hero. Again, we’ve gotten multiple flashbacks up until this point and to get her first-ever superhero intro in the very same issue feels too packed. The script can’t break very well as it zips along, and while a second or third read helps clarify things in your mind, it’s likely too late for those who won’t go back to it. The only other gripe might be how Maya seems to know what she must do at the end when the reader has yet to be given enough info to know who the villain is or how Maya goes after them at all.
M.O.M.: Mother of Madness #1 is a unique story, but one that is trying to do too much in a single issue. Still, it mixes good messages you can learn from, a foreboding sci-fi future, and superpowers in a way that’s never been done before. It’s an idiosyncratic comic, to say the least, and while it has jarring tonal shifts it has the promise to become your favorite comic that tries something new.
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