You might have heard about Marvel's Mockingbird series in the news this week — for all the wrong reasons. Its writer, Chelsea Cain, was cruelly harassed off Twitter by "fans" outraged that the series' final issue featured a cover of Bobbi Morse wearing a shirt emblazoned with the words, "Ask me about my Feminist Agenda." Mockingbird cover art by Joëlle Jones and Rachelle Rosenberg
Cain's terrible treatment over the cover is nothing short of disgusting — and supremely idiotic as well, as the comic book "purists" who decried it for somehow "ruining comics" couldn't look past the image to see the genuinely wonderful, clever and massively fun comic behind it. Many of Marvel's current books have played with the concept of what a traditional superhero comic can be — but Cain, along with artist Kate Niemczyk and colourist Rachelle Rosenberg, played with both structure and character in compelling ways to deliver a series that delivered a warm, funny and compellingly deep approach to Bobbi Morse as a character beyond her identity as Mockingbird.
The eight issues of Mockingbird can be split into two stories — its first half a tense, puzzling mystery with a non-linear structure, the second a personal examination of Bobbi Morse and her relationship with her ex-husband, Clint Barton (especially timely given the events that tie Clint to the ongoing Civil War II), and another man from her complex past, the villainous ghost/cowboy Phantom Rider. Linking those two tales together is Bobbi herself.
Mockingbird cover art by Joëlle Jones and Rachelle Rosenberg
Cain's use of Bobbi as the viewpoint of our story goes beyond her simply being the main character, or even that we hear her thoughts throughout an issue — Bobbi is our narrator and shaper of the story, and she can be as unreliable or twisting with the events we experience as she wants. More often than not, this is played for humour — and Mockingbird is jam-packed with that. As our guide, Bobbi will often twist things to make things seem lighter or funnier than they are, but at the same time her recollections obscure things that really happened. The reader, given the fantastical sequences (leading to some really wonderful bits of art from Niemczyk and Rosenberg) Cain presents to us as Bobbi, is left to interpret things as they see fit. Tweaking perception and narrative tricks like this aren't new concepts to comics, but it's fresh for a mainstream Marvel book and exciting to see.
Beyond Cain's literary sandbox, Mockingbird also shone with its portrayal of Bobbi as a character, too. This was most noticeable in its second arc, in which Bobbi's spy work takes a back seat to her relationships with Clint, fellow spy Lance Hunter and former romantic flame Phantom Rider. Mockingbird is unafraid of presenting its female lead as a lens through which to have incredibly pertinent discussions about gender, toxic masculinity, sex and love.
Interior art by Kate Niemczyk and Rachelle Rosenberg
These are not, as much as detractors to Mockingbird #8's cover would like to think, subjects that Mockingbird simply throws at the audience in an attempt to push an agenda, but crucial to understanding the way Bobbi thinks and operates as both a woman dealing with her troubled relationships and as a hero. Cain, Miemczyk and Rosenberg handle these moments with a deftness that makes the series both a deeply personal examination of Bobbi and yet one that can be extremely fun. I mean, I did mention the Phantom Cowboy, right?
Mockingbird was a rare series that balanced its deep, introspective look at its lead character with superhero-related arse-kicking and zany-ness that shouldn't really have worked. But it did, and it's a testament to the strength of Cain, Miemczyk and Rosenberg's work on this book.
The first collected volume of Mockingbird goes on sale next week; in the light of Cain's treatment by "comics fans", it's shot up to become the #1 best-selling Marvel comic on Amazon. Buy it, not just to support Cain against the abuse she's faced, but to do something Mockingbird's detractors couldn't: To look beyond a cover and read a fun, clever and truly unique take on superhero comics with a character that rarely takes the spotlight.