Ask Her About Her Feminist Agenda: Why ‘Mockingbird’ Was One Of The Best Books Of The Year
It’s relaunch season at Marvel Comics, and while that always brings a wave of new and exciting titles, it also means we have to say goodbye to titles that are cancelled quietly and shuffled away into a category marked “Cult Favorite”. The past month has seen the end of a number of critically acclaimed titles including Nighthawk and A-Force, but the one I’m going to miss the most is Mockingbird by Chelsea Cain, Kate Niemczyk, and Rachelle Rosenberg, which ended with its eight issue recently.
Mockingbird was granted life in the first place based on the success of a “50 Years Of SHIELD” one-shot by Cain and Joelle Jones, which breathed new life into the character, bolstered somewhat by the character’s appearance in television's Agents of SHIELD where she is played by Adrianne Palicki. Cain and Jones’ story was a fun, action-packed spy tale that also reintroduced the stuffy British spy Lance Hunter as a younger and sexier ex of Bobbi Morse’s, and that one issue left fans wanting more.
Mockingbird’s ongoing series was launched with one of the smartest and most intricate first issues in recent memory, as it jumped around in time showing Bobbi’s four separate visits to a SHIELD medical facility, setting up a larger mystery and featuring some cute nods to a larger Marvel Universe. Over the course of the issue, and later the series, Cain and Niemczyk don’t limit themselves to traditional comics art to tell their story, but use graphs, charts, and more to convey Bobbi’s experiences in a rounded way.
Mockingbird is more a spy comic than a superhero title --- in the second issue she rescues the queen --- but it was also about Bobbi’s place in the context of a larger Marvel Universe, and how accomplished she is compared to her superpowered, mostly male, contemporaries. It’s surely something that most readers --- nearly fifty percent of them according to recent studies --- can relate to, and a dynamic that hasn’t been tackled too much in superhero comics.
Then there’s the boys; the two men in Bobbi’s life, her exes, Clint Barton and Lance Hunter. Mockingbird is a breathe of fresh air, because while it’s a sexy book, no doubt about it, it’s a sexy book by different standards than most superhero comics, with a much more even-handed and humanizing approach to sex than we've come to expect. It’s almost as if comics from people other than straight, cisgender white men can portray a variety of experiences and ways of looking at the world!
Niemczyk deserves special attention as one of the breakout stars of this year, and while it’s a little early for end-of-year awards, she has my vote for the ComicsAlliance Best At Drawing Corgis award, which I just made up. Her real strength lies in the physical acting of her characters, and their body language speaks volumes where most artists would have to rely on their writer to set the tone and the mood in any given room.
Ultimately, Mockingbird was the feminist superhero comic that we needed, but possibly one that we didn’t yet deserve. While the comics industry has made great strides towards inclusivity and a broader focus on a range of experiences, it might not be ready for a smart, funny, sex-positive, competent woman like Bobbi Morse. Just look at the wider world and see how women that could be considered Bobbi’s equal are treated in politics, in STEM, hell even in the comic industry.
History will be very kind to Mockingbird as people realize what a great title they had, and what a shame it is that it isn’t around anymore.