A KC COLUMN by KC Carlson
Brilliance often occurs in the strangest places. Case in point: Marvel’s recent Mockingbird series by (mostly) writer Chelsea Cain, artist Kate Niemczyk, and color artist Rachelle Rosenberg with awesome film poster-y covers by Joëlle Jones & Rosenberg.
Don’t know who Mockingbird is? Well, you’re not alone in that, despite the fact that she was created way back in the 1970s. The character had a fairly undistinguished career for a couple of decades, mostly as a second banana to men like Ka-Zar (under her supposed real name, Barbara “Bobbi” Morse) and Hawkeye, whom she ultimately marries (and ultimately divorces). Much of this era was recently collected in the Mockingbird: Bobbi Morse, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. paperback.
For a more detailed chronology of the character during this era, please refer to the extremely detailed Wikipedia entry for her. (Obviously, she’s got a passionate fan-following.) That page stops before most of her recent All-New, All-Different status and has little mention of the current series. That’s probably okay, because her older past history and chronology is a huge mess, and much of it has been retconned into something altogether different.
Frankly, it isn’t always all that interesting and, in some cases, really insulting to the character. (You might want to especially be wary of old West Coast Avengers stories featuring a character named Lincoln Slade. Short version: It’s a poorly thought-through story about a “relationship” using elements that we now recognize as abuse.) None of it is necessary to read these current issues.
Mockingbird became much more popular around 2010 in the Brian Michael Bendis-written New Avengers, first premiering as a minor but key component of the Secret Invasion event of 2008. During that event, it’s explained that many of her really odd storylines (basically the entire run from Avengers West Coast #1 through Secret Invasion, plus many other appearances elsewhere) weren’t actually her, but that of a Skrull impersonator. These days, in order to not complicate quick flashbacks to some parts of the character’s overly complicated back history (and that’s putting it mildly), a lot of the specific details are frequently glossed over in stories in this modern era. And rightly so. Some are quite frankly mind-boggling and disturbing. By 2012, Mockingbird became part of SHIELD’s new Secret Avengers roster in the comics of the same name.
SHE’S ON TV!
In 2014, Mockingbird was added to the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series, portrayed by Adrianne Palicki in the second season episode “A Hen in the Wolf House”. She was a regular recurring character for much of the second and third seasons of the show. Recently, a proposed Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spin-off series called Most Wanted starring the character/actress was filmed as a pilot but not picked up as a series. It is not known if the character is returning to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D for the new season, but producers have indicated “we’re always open to that possibility” of her returning during Season Four.
THE CURRENT MOCKINGBIRD ERA
I was greatly excited reading the first issue of the latest Mockingbird series by the creators indicated above. So much so, that I set it aside until several more issues were published (yeah, I’m weird like that), so I could savor the depth and detail (and the sly, unforced humor). I recently binge-read the whole series to date (#1-7, plus the S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th Anniversary #1 one-shot by Chelsea Cain and Joëlle Jones), and it was easily one of the more enjoyable reads I’ve had this year. It was also fun to read, something I really appreciated after getting bored by issue #2 of so many other new series from this year.
Because of her exposure to doses of both the Super Soldier Serum (see Captain America) and the Infinity Formula (see original Nick Fury), Mockingbird is repeatedly summoned to the S.H.I.E.L.D. Medical Clinic for further testing and check-up — often in the middle of missions. Be sure to check out the various heroes (and ducks) who also populate the waiting room!
You must read these Mockingbird comics slowly to appreciate the detail (and humor) in many panels. The comic also seems to have an odd fetish for corgis. (Assuming comic books are allowed to have fetishes… Their readers, yes, but the comics themselves…?) Speaking of fetishes, many of Mockingbird’s old ‘80s and ’90s costumes are re-used here, mostly for comic effect, which nicely counteracts the original sexist designs.
These comics also have an incredible sense of multimedia, with a lot of the storytelling being done through memos, illustrated instructions, modern signage, notes to no one, diagrams, donor cards, TV news crawls, and even Siri. Favorite cover: #4’s James Bond movie poster pastiche. BTW, the cover to issue #6 (by Joëlle Jones & Rachelle Rosenberg) is completely awesome for costume geeks, with interpretations of what seems like dozens of Mockingbird costume variations from over the years.
The detail and craft applied to this series is phenomenal. I suspected something odd was going on in the early issues, but I was enjoying myself too much to think about it too much. Then I started seeing recurring hints of weirdness (“puzzle box”) in the also much enjoyable lettercols. I hope I’m not ruining some big secret here, but this is just too brilliant not to share — this first five issues of the series are especially designed to be read in any order! And it works! And also brings new levels of depth and discovery during the rereads.(As well as new appreciation for the series’ humor.)
The anarchist in me is hoping that the forthcoming collection of these convoluted issues is somehow printed in different random sequences offering multiple versions of the book, which might actually be something that would ultimately confuse the entire Direct Market (publishers, distributors, retailers, and readers) causing the entire thing to finally implode! Why, this series could possibly save the industry… or ruin it!
More fun: Issues 2-5 feature paper dolls, both female and male. Yet another scheme to increase sales. (You have to buy two issues: one to stay “mint” and the other to cut up and play with!) In issue #6, the bonus feature is De-Stress With These Daily Yoga Poses (with art and design by Manny Mederos) including “Charlie’s Angel”, “Scratchy Sheets”, and “Tripped by Corgi” poses. The special feature in #7 I can’t talk about, because it reveals a big secret, but it’s one you will really appreciate when you get to it.
THE END (Sniff…)
And now the bad news. Mockingbird is cancelled with issue #8 (scheduled to be on sale 19 Oct 16). (Sigh.) The series will be collected in two volumes. The first collects issue #1-5 and the S.H.I.E.L.D. one-shot and will be available next month. Volume 2 collects #6-8 and New Avengers (2010) #13-14 (an important Bendis-written Mockingbird storyline) and will be published next April. I suppose it’s too much to wish that there will be a nice hardcover of the entire run somewhere down the line. Let’s hope by the time that Marvel might actually consider such a thing, that fans have not forgotten this wonderful and entertaining series.
KC CARLSON: Originally, I was supposed to feature a bunch of new Marvel titles that I’m really enjoying in this column — until I got carried away talking about Mockingbird. My other current Marvel faves include Black Widow, Doctor Strange, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, and Ant-Man (which is also being cancelled). Hopefully those others I mentioned won’t also be cancelled, just because I mentioned them. They’re all great and all for very different reasons. If you’re not already reading them, please check them all out for some very different Marvel storytelling.
WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you. I survived Cheese Days 2016. Thanks, Amy!