Comics written by celebrities are a mixed bag. From the blockbuster IP grabs like BRZRKR that attach a beloved actor in order to get a movie made, to the B-movie style indie comics which wouldn’t pass muster if there wasn’t a big name attached, through nepotism-driven Spider-Man runs that quickly run their course, it can be easy to be skeptical of titles that come with big hype based on nothing but the talent involved alone. But Image Comics’ newest big-name release M.O.M.: Mother of Madness #1 isn’t that comic.
The brainchild of Emilia Clarke, this is a balls-to-the-wall take on superhero stories, women in comics, and the very concept of being a hero. It helps that the Image Comics book is co-written by Marguerite Bennett, has stunning art from Leila Leiz and colorist Triona Farrell, and expressive, enjoyable letters by Haley Rose-Lyon. That makes M.O.M. feel completely in line with the publisher’s usual output… except that this book has an all-female creative team and was created by the star of one of TV’s biggest ever fantasy shows.
Mother of Madness follows Maya, a superpowered single mother. While it might sound kitschy, the first issue is a wild, weird, and very adult take on the concept which was inspired–like so many of our favorite comics–by a “wouldn’t this be funny” chat Clarke had with friends while on the way home from a concert. “We were talking about how mums are like superheroes,” explained Clarke in a recent press conference “How women have this incredible ability to have so much going on and manage to achieve all those things, where it’s almost superpowered.”
But for the actress, the idea stuck and she decided that she wanted to make it a reality in the only format that made sense: comics. “The reason why I wanted to approach this funny, cool, feminist material in this comic book space is that I love superheroes,” Clarke shared. “I love comics. I love the freedom that you have with your imagination. Your creativity has no boundaries whatsoever. Anything is possible, so what better way to tell a story?”
The comics world is also a community that Clarke has found to be infinitely welcoming and inclusive. “You can voice opinions in a space that in my opinion is friendly and for everyone, and is accepting of everyone,” Clarke shared. “I feel so much that’s what the comic book world does: it allows people who maybe don’t feel like they fit into the right group at the right time into the right thing… comic books are your private world and you get to kind of unite in that otherness. It just seemed like a really accepting space to be talking about these ideas and to have fun. And fun is surely what we should be trying to do as much as possible.”
One of the key things that sets Mother of Madness apart from other comics by well-known actors or people outside the comics industry is that Clarke had her “comics guru” Marguerite Bennett on board who helped her learn the ropes of creating a series for Image. “It was absolutely amazing,” Clarke gushed. “Marguerite has been my guru in this because whilst I am a consumer of comics and of the comic book world, I’ve never made one before and there was a lot of stuff that I didn’t know. I met Marguerite and fell in love with her, and she has literally held my hands throughout this entire process and has been like a queen!”
Mother of Madness’ true secret power, though, is Leiz’s art, which brings Maya to life in vibrant, slick, and energetic style. One of the standout moments is when we see Maya’s powers in action for the first time in a truly memorable superhero reveal. Receiving the art from Leiz was a revelatory moment for Clarke. “I think that was probably the image that I saw that completely blew my mind. There’s another one coming in a couple of issues that was like, ‘Oh my god, it’s like you were in my head.’ It’s just been the most fulfilling, exciting process.”
During the roundtable, Clarke was asked about her hopes to inspire and educate, which is clearly something that she’s passionate about. For the actor and writer, growing up as a young woman who had periods she felt like education around them was lacking and the chance to explore was something she couldn’t ignore. That inspired her to create a heroine who gets her powers from her menstrual cycle. Often, though, those stories are steeped in gender-essentialism and transphobia. While that isn’t the case in the first issue, we wanted to get more context on this aspect of the story, which co-writer Bennett was happy to share.
“Maya is the only one with these particular powers in our story!” Bennett told us over email. “Further, no binary or gender-essentialist TERF bullshit is welcome (which I believe we even state outright in the opening pages)–no ‘only women can get periods’ nonsense here. Maya isn’t special because she gets her period; it’s just one element of her own personal, specific-to-character relationship to her body and how the world perceives her through that body. The first issue begins with her getting her period at a fancy gala, and the ensuing crushing societal shame that leads to a surge of powerful emotions–embarrassment, guilt, anger, etc.–as the hormone shifts in her body trigger her transformation.”
Bennett also expanded who Maya is as a character, what she represents, and how the team sees her as a powerful pushback against many of the misogynist tropes we often see in storytelling and real life. “Maya is, in essence, a patriarchal nightmare,” Bennett explained. “Many elements that have been used to demonize women throughout history are sources of Maya’s strength. Maya is a single mother (a station in life that was often seen as shameful), she is opinionated and strong-willed (instead of demure and compliant), she has many friends (including other women–no ‘I’m not like other girls!’ nonsense), and her emotions (‘You’re being so crazy right now!’) are the key to her powers.”
The Mother of Madness co-writer continued. “The whole ‘women go nuts once a month’/PMS folderol gets turned on its head, as the hormone surges in Maya’s body–whether for joy, stress, fear, comfort, and so on–trigger each of her different powers. The period itself is merely incidental in this case–any incident of high emotional turmoil and hormonal upheaval would cause the same. Her emotions (and the chemicals corresponding in her body) are what activate her abilities. Where in the past women were demonized as ‘hormonal,’ their bodies blamed for various sins, Maya’s emotions are now the key to her untold powers. Her emotions are literally what make her stronger.”
Another thing that makes Maya stand out from other superhero women and mothers is her eventual costume reveal. Far from the skin-tight lingerie-inspired superhero designs we’re used to, Maya rocks a stylish jumpsuit and mask combo that will surely become a cosplay staple. For Clarke, it was one of the most vital parts of creating her own superhero. “The first reason I wanted to have a female superhero that looks different is because the female superheroes that you have–how do they pee? Where is the button to undo when you ate?” Clarke laughed. “I realize it should be idealized, but why can’t you have a woman who looks like she can do the school run? She can enjoy a filling meal. Who can run around and actually do all of the things. Also as someone who wears the costumes in the movies of these things, you’re like ‘I couldn’t do any of those things I could barely breathe.'”
While the M.O.M. design was crafted by Leiz, Clarke was involved in the process and it was, according to the actor, one of her favorite parts of making the comic. “I really enjoy fashion! So the funnest process was working out what her costume was going to look like. And it began with Missy Elliot in the ’90s when she did that fisheye video and was wearing all these sick, shiny tracksuits. And then Rihanna and how she bowls around, and I was like these are fierce, fierce, women who look comfortable. So that was really how that came about.”
Unlike BRZRKR and other recent big-name comics that are paid for by fans before release, Clarke didn’t kickstart her project, instead entirely self-funding just like almost all Image Comics creators before her. While it’s technically a risk, the chance to truly own her creation was clearly worth it. “You get to a certain point as an actor where you’re like, ‘Oh, all I do is learn my lines and stand where they want me to stand,’ and sometimes that can feel really unfulfilling. But to have something that is solely mine feels just incredible. And if it’s not successful, that’s okay! That’s absolutely fine! I had an idea and it turned into a thing I can hold. That’s not something that I get with my job regularly, that just doesn’t exist.”
M.O.M.: Mother of Madness #1 hits shelves on July 21, 2021, but you can preorder it now.