Mockingbird: I Can Explain
It’s rewarding to see how comic creators who didn’t grow up in the medium can take long-running characters (who often have been dragged in so many directions over the years that there’s no personality left, or they’re a mass of contradictions) and find fresh, modern new approaches to them that make them fascinating. That’s precisely what Chelsea Cain does with Bobbi Morse, Mockingbird, in this five-issue collection.
Mockingbird: I Can Explain contrasts hugely with the cash-grab Mockingbird: Bobbi Morse, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. put out a few months earlier. That oversized, expensive ($40) reprint book shows how the character’s earliest stories were really about S.H.I.E.L.D. spies or Ka-Zar jungle action, not her. She was a plot device, a supporting character in other people’s adventures. Here, though, she’s front and center, with her own perspective, one that hasn’t been seen before.
Cain brings in a subject area that makes perfect sense for superheroes (and is particularly culturally timely) but is rarely explored: the medical exam. Bobbi has been dosed in the past with both Super-Soldier Serum (which made Captain America) and Infinity Formula (the stuff that made Nick Fury so long-lived). This explains why she’s come back from the dead a couple of times. So she’s got to come in for frequent checkups and testing.
The most intriguing aspect of these issues, as explained in an afterword by the author, is that you’re not supposed to fully understand the first issue on the first read. The next three fill in flashbacks and explanations, before the fifth finishes up what happened. It’s a structure that pulls the reader in to figure out the puzzle, and it’s a perfect choice for the character, given her tangled history.
Along the way, Bobbi visits the Hellfire Club, where she rescues British spy colleague Lance Hunter in a hilarious send up of superhero sex and thrillers. She infiltrates an secret undersea lab to rescue her ex-husband Hawkeye. A flashback to Bobbi’s school days savagely portrays the obstacles smart girls have to fight just to be taken seriously. That’s the biggest change here: this superhero comic is unapologetically feminist. (Which is probably why it’s been canceled, with issue #8 the last.) Plenty of women found this a welcome introduction to the genre, from an underused perspective.
The comics are also stylish and fun to read. The art is by Kate Niemczyk (with Sean Parsons on one issue) and Ibrahim Moustafa. They contribute to the playful atmosphere of the series, a welcome choice of tone when so many current superhero books can be so dire. One favorite aspect of such: the other patients in the waiting room, and what they’re reading. Of course Tony Stark might be concerned about STDs!
Mockingbird: I Can Explain also includes Mockingbird: S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th Anniversary #1, illustrated by Joëlle Jones, in which Bobbi solves a murder involving scientific debate over how to manage super-soldier serum. Plus, this collection has four sets of paper dolls with new outfits for Mockingbird.
The final three issues will be available (along with another, non-Cain story) in the My Feminist Agenda collection. It’s strongly recommended. Bobbi goes on a cruise with a bunch of corgis and Marvel cosplayers to avoid her ex-husband’s Civil War 2 tie-in trial and faces up to a bad ex-boyfriend. As with the other issues, Mockingbird focuses on Bobbi’s point of view, telling her story in her own way.