You Should Be Reading Mockingbird

There’s a lot to like about the new Mockingbird ongoing title from Marvel. For starters, it’s the next step in a really spiffy new direction Marvel’s been taking with their comics lately: diversity. In the past year-or-so, Marvel’s really stepped up their game with who’s in their comics. You’ve got Asian characters headlining their own series (Totally Awesome Hulk, and the fantastic-and-severely-under-appreciated Silk), and Spider-Man and Captain America are black. Spider-Woman and Spider-Gwen have their own books, along with Black Widow, Squirrel Girl, and Moon Girl. Then there’s the new-mainstays of Captain Marvel and Ms Marvel… Point is, Marvel’s got a pretty diverse character lineup for their books.

It also helps that that diversity extends behind the books too. Ms Marvel is written by G. Willow Wilson, herself a Muslim, and so is lent an extra couple layers of delightful texture. Ta-Nehisi Coates lends a special sense of identity not only to T’challa in Black Panther but to all of Wakanda, one that’s science-fictiony and fantastical, but doesn’t necessarily subscribe to a Western/white image of the future. It’s wonderfully different, and, in a word, dope. There are a few titles, Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat! and Mockingbird being two, that have all-women creative teams working on them.

Which brings me to Mockingbird.

Like I said in the first sentence (before I got distracted by diversity), there’s a lot to like about the comic. First off, is the character of Mockingbird herself. The first issue is light on actual plot (rather, it tantalizes what’s to come) and instead focuses on setting up who exactly Bobbi Morse is. It helps that the comic is very much told from Bobbi’s point of view, with little boxes of narration peppering the action. From that, we’re afforded a window into Bobbi’s inner life and how she filters the world she sees through her identity. It doesn’t take long for us to get a handle on who she is: super-spy scientist who knows what she’s doing and has little patience for those who don’t.

Also, her background as a scientist affects her decisions and thought processes. She isn’t just a by-the-way scientist, it’s part of who she is. This is actually something Mockingbird does really well: Bobbi’s various identities (woman, scientist, spy, Hawkeye’s ex-wife) are all worked intrinsically into her. Bobbi feels fully formed and fully herself, a rounded character with a shaded personality that can go different ways. Which is really cool, guys!

That alone would make Mockingbird a perfectly enjoyable book, but it doesn’t stop there. As becomes steadily more and more obvious as the series progresses, Mockingbird had a decidedly feminist bent. Take issue two, which has Bobbi Morse going undercover in the London Hellfire Club to rescue Lance Hunter. Now, the Hellfire Club is the sorta place that necessitates a scantily-clad outfit to blend in. But, but but but, the art never ogles Bobbi, or makes her out to be anything except in a position of power, fishnets and spiked leather boots be damned. Lance, on the other hand, is distinctly made out to be both hopeless and an object of desire. Also: He’s wearing much less than she is. It’s this sort of wonderful subversion of what’s become accepted as normal in comic books that gives Mockingbird such a strong sense of voice and personality.  That Bobbi-saving-a-male-hero is something of a trope for the book at this point (in #4 she rescues a swimsuit-clad Hawkeye) is icing on the cake.

But! Mockingbird isn’t content to just subvert and usual and call it a day. It goes further. The third issue finds Bobbi acting as hostage negotiator to a sixth-grade girl with superpowers she doesn’t understand. It’s a neat little story in and of itself, but the conceit of scary superpowers is used as a cipher for not being understood as a girl growing up. Oh, it’s made perfectly clear within the text, what with Bobbi’s narration asking “How can we have a meaningful dialogue with adolescent girls when we live in a culture that still can’t talk about tampons?” and tv news tickers describing the powered girl as “hysterical” and an “attention-seeking tween.” Here’s a mainstream, Marvel comic book — a medium usually associated with young males — talking about and trying to understand what it’s like growing up as a girl. It’s delightful and validating in a way that you don’t usually see in comics. Or a lot of movies, for that matter.

I really like comics in general (I had one on my thesis/rationale at college!), both for pulpy fun and for some plain good storytelling. But every now and then something like Mockingbird comes along, which not only tells a great story but says something as well — and merges the two together effortlessly. It’s a fantastic series and, without question, my favorite book Marvel’s putting out right now.

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