Written & Created by: Emilia Clarke & Marguerite Bennett
Drawn by: Leila Leiz
Principle Contributor & Producer: Isobel Richardson
Colours by: Trionna Farrell
Lettered by: Haley Rose-Lyon
Edited by: Laurenn McCubbin
Cover by: Jo Ratcliffe
Additional Design: Deanna Phelps
So this might not be as much of a review as a dive into the world of comics and gender politics. Do bear with me. I think it’s worth the dive.
Let’s just start with the background. If you were not aware this particular comic is the brainchild of Emilia Clarke. You know the actress who was in that show and had some dragons. She is a self confessed fangirl but this is her first foray into writing comics. She has the help of well known female comics writer Marguerite Bennett. Now, much has been made about giving an actress the chance to write a comic book when comics generally have offered so few opportunities for female creators.
Personally I don’t think it should be an either or situation. If Emilia Clarke writing a comic book with a message for female readers encourages female creators and female readers alike then that’s great. It’s not on her to employ more female creators, that’s the purview of comic book companies who do need to do more.
Speaking as a female reader of comic books whilst I have read plenty of good books lately with female protagonists nearly all of those books have been made by male creative teams, almost exclusively. It’s disappointing to have some range of diversity on the panel and not as much diversity behind. Not that I don’t think men should write female protagonists, they absolutely should and many of them are doing a great job. I’d like more great books with female protagonists and I would like women to be behind some of them. I’d also like female creative teams to be able to take more than just female protagonists but male protagonists too.
M.O.M.: Mother of Madness is therefore a book that interests me. It’s a female protagonist, which is relatable, and the creative team are female. So I should like this book.
Having said all that I have my issues with this book too. While I really want to like this book and this book wants me to like it but I sadly don’t like it as much as I want to. I want to support this book. I want to say it’s a great book but it simply… isn’t. It’s not a bad book but there are elements which just do not work for me.
One such element is the vast amounts of text and speech bubbles. There is a lot. I get that the idea is that central character Maya breaks the fourth wall (ala Deadpool) and talks to us the reader but she tells us literally everything about herself on the first page in a series of huge speech bubbles. The speech bubbles can end up overwhelming the art. It’s a neat concept but the execution just feels a bit too much. Everything about Maya seems designed to scream modern feminist character you can like because you can relate on some level, whether it’s her anxiety or the fact she’s played Undertale (there are several; geeky references like this throughout and they often feel a bit shoe horned in for the audience).
This is my central issue. It’s so on the nose I am left wondering who the target audience is. Take the second page where we have the party scene. Maya tells us it’s her idea of hell and in the background we have various situations that I think women can relate to. Yet they seem again very on the nose. The host (a man) makes a glib #MeToo reference, a woman being ignored by her male colleagues when she has a useful point, men ogling naked lady art and a woman being told she’s too emotional and should smile when she brings up transphobia. It’s a lot.
These are really good points but it feels very much in your face. It might be my age but as a woman in her late thirties I know about these issues and yes, I think they suck, but it feels like putting all of that in the background of a splash page is overloading it, not giving those things time to breathe. Would it not be better to have some of these incidents also happen to Maya? The women in the background suffering these issues are nameless. I can relate because I have been in those situations but what would a male reader think? They don’t need names because that’s really what the message is but still it doesn’t quite work.
Then there’s the central conceit of the book. Maya is getting her period and with it she has powers. If you are familiar with the comic Maneaters you might be getting some deja vu, there are some similar themes and yet I feel like Maneaters did more with them.
I will say though there are good things about this book. The art is pretty decent when given a chance to shine unrestrained by speech bubbles. There is some interesting work with the flashback panels too. It’s well put together. There’s some very nice character work also with the character designs. Maya and her powers are interestingly depicted. There’s a really nice psychedelic element. The art really works for the story too. I like it.
I also like what this book is trying to do and trying to say. Maya is a likeable protagonist and it is nice to have an interesting female character who has a few facets to her. She has flaws and hopes and fears and a past. She is very well realised. She also has solid relationships and her friendships feel pretty real and with an added undercurrent of complication. That’s good to see.
Overall this is a book with a message I very much agree with. I am just not sure how well it delivers that message.