Today, Taylor and Ryan M. are discussing Mockingbird 1, originally released March 9th, 2016.
Taylor: Being a middle school teacher, I’m around people trying to be something they’re not almost all day. That’s no dig against the kids I teach — I remember when I was in middle school I was in a similar state. When you’re young, you try on different personalities all the time. Some fit, most don’t, and the result is most of the time you’re left attempting to be something alien to your core self. Barbara Morse, a.k.a. Mockingbird, may be an adult, but like the bird that is her namesake (and middle schoolers), she’s still in search of her identity. This defining aspect of her first issue is both its strength and weakness.
Bobbi, as Morse goes by, has a PhD in biology and has been seriously worked over by S.H.I.E.L.D. She has been injected with both the Super Soldier serum used on Captain America and the Infinity formula used by Nick Fury. It’s a bizarre cocktail and no one knows how it will affect Bobbi. Never wanting to miss a chance, S.H.I.E.L.D. has Morse come in every week to have her biometrics monitored and to see whether she’s losing her mind. Being a lab experiment is a small price to pay for free healthcare, right?
These frequent visits to the S.H.I.E.L.D. clinic are the narrative framing device for this issue. The plot of is advanced with each visit, and as such we also learn more about Morse each time she checks in. For one thing, we learn that she has a pretty good sense of humor about her whole situation.
She demystifies what is a humiliating ritual of each doctor’s visit by making fun of the whole thing. This shows her sense of humor, but is also coping mechanism used by Bobbi. She downplays the awkward situation of having to repeatedly pee in a cup by asking that she gets it back one day. That’s a funny statement in and of itself, but I also can’t help but see it as Bobbi trying to control at least one aspect of her visits to the S.H.I.E.L.D. clinic. In every way, the doctors at this clinic want to know Bobbi and thereby control her. Her sarcasm, which they hilariously misunderstand, is a way of wresting some control back into her own hands.
From this I get that Bobbi is funny and sarcastic a la Deadpool. Elsewhere, however, it appears that she’s all too vulnerable. Throughout her numerous visits to the clinic, Bobbi is asked to rate her anxiety. With each visit, her anxiety rises until it’s basically off the charts.
This rising level of anxiety belies the humor that Bobbi forces upon the nurses lucky enough to draw her blood. Her worry about what the chemicals in her body will do to her along with her (maybe) hallucinations of zombies is a cause of serious dread. Add to this the basic anxiety of having needles put into regularly to draw blood and it’s clear to see why Morse is feeling anxious. This side of her character is fare different from the one she shows to us throughout most of the issue and to her nurses. It speaks to a character who has a fragile core but a hard exterior.
For me, this is the primary source of entertainment and consternation in this issue. After reading the first issue I’m still not totally sure who Bobbi is. Her personality vacillates between two extremes in this issue which makes it hard to take any barometric readings on who she really is at heart. While I’m fine with having a mysterious lead character, usually in a first issue I get some sense of who they are. However, even though we get Bobbi’s monologue, it’s clear that she’s catering to the audience. She never lets us see exactly who she is even in the relatively safe confines of the reader/character relationship. In this way she matches all of the different costumes she wears throughout this issue. She’s dressed differently in each scene, which adds to the confusion about who she is, what her skill set is, and what types of missions S.H.I.E.L.D. has her doing.
All of which is to say the ambiguity of Bobbi’s character is at once both fascinating and frustrating. Ryan, do you feel the same way about Bobbi or do you find you think you have a better understanding of her than I do? Was there anything else in Chelsea Cain’s story or or Kate Neimozyk’s art that caught your eye? Also, how significant do you think Barbara’s choice of hero name, “Mockingbird,” is?
Ryan M: Bobbi’s true self is a bit of a mystery here and you’re right that it creates a push-pull dynamic with the reader. It leaves a hole at the center of a story that is otherwise fun and funny. Tony Stark is both a quinoa thief and possibly carrying gonorrhea, for goodness sake. Taylor, your focus on Bobbi’s identity reveals a fundamental element of this issue. The narrative presented makes very little sense. We are seeing glimpses of a larger arc but without any external context, we are falling deeper into confusion as Bobbi is figuring things out. Cain directly addresses the issue’s strangeness in her letter to the reader that closes the issue. It’s reassuring to know that the story was intentionally puzzling.
I don’t think I understand Bobbi any better than you do, but the clearest glimpse we get at her may be when she is not trying to fool anyone. At the clinic, she is constantly under surveillance, both by doctors and the groups of zombie ladies. Our first chance to see an unobserved moment for Bobbi is in her dreams.
In the few panels above, we see Bobbi’s subconscious without the shield of her sarcasm. She sees herself as a scientist and a fighter. It’s also here, outside the clinic, that Cain offers the first evidence that Bobbi is hiding beneath her bravado. She does have “bloody discharge from ears” and there is a vulnerability to her expression to her face as she realizes it. There is no one to see her. Even her bed-mate is turned fully away from her. His identity is not explicit, but he does have purple targets on his sheets, so, I have a guess. Just as Bobbi seems about to have an authentic emotion, Cain immediately pushes us away from that moment by having Bobbi return to her narration and giving us the face drawn on a ping pong ball rather that Bobbi’s reaction to the blood on her hand.
The story purposefully keeps us away from understanding things in a linear way. Neimozyk’s art reinforces a sense of disorientation by introducing a series of patterns found everywhere from the wallpaper in the examination room to the nurse’s scrubs.
In this single panel, Neimozyk creates a cacophony of design with the aggressive wallpaper clashing with Bobbi’s hospital gown which clashes with her arm band all of which doesn’t work with the industrial mint green furniture. We know from her paperwork that Bobbi is increasingly paranoid and drinking Chardonnay to cope. However, with this panel, the anxiety is for the observer and Bobbi is focused and calm. This is a small scale version of what happens in the issue. As Bobbi gets closer to the truth, she gets more focused and the reader gets more scattered.
Given her exceptional levels of sass in this issue, it seems like Mockingbird is an appropriate moniker. Her name, much like her personality, works for me on a pretty facile level. I hope that along with Cain’s promised linear narrative, we get enough insight into Bobbi that we can understand the character, even if Bobbi doesn’t understand herself.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?