Mockingbird 1

mockingbird 1

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.

Pee Cup

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.

Anxiety!

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.

dream mockingbird

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.

patterns everywhere

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?

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6 comments on “Mockingbird 1

  1. Marvel again comes up with a solo title for a character I know nothing about and don’t really want to know anything about. At no point in my life have I ever thought for even a second, “Dang, why can’t Marvel put out some good Mockingbird stuff?”

    I thought this was good and fun. I can handle confusing as long as they keep moving forward and present it in a way that’s interesting. This is. I want to know what happens (or what happened I guess, since now we’ll see the flashbacks).

    I thought this was a good debut. I’m glad, I sometimes am frustrated that female characters by female writers is a category that I usually find unreadable (sorry Angela and Hellcat).

    I’m definitely on board. I totally missed she slept with Hawkeye. That’s dumb. You have to really have some stress to add that to your life.

  2. Got to say, that Mockingbird one shot they did was pretty decent, so I’m happy it went to series, especially with an idea so ambitious as a puzzle box.

    Honestly, I never had too much of an issue with ‘Who is Mockingbird?’ in this issue. I thought that the form identifying her as a Spy, Superhero and SHIELD Agent gave enough of an idea on what she does, and her personality never struck me as particularly enigmatic. She is out of her comfort zone, so you don’t have ‘Mockingbird on a normal day’, but it also didn’t feel particularly enigmatic. Just woman using sarcasm to deal with uncertainty (also, I think Tony Stark is closer in terms of sarcasm than Deadpool. Deadpool’s humour is very, very different, due to the fact that he is superhero Bugs Bunny)

    I’m more interested in the puzzle box aspect. It is not a particularly easy thing to do, as you need to have something crazy enough that it can’t be explained, while interesting enough that you want to understand more. And it needs a story around it. Mockingbird achieved this with great grace. The mystery is wonderfully weird (my bet is that it has nothing to do with the Infinity Formula/Super Soldier Serum combo, but that next issue she gets infected by something and doesn’t notice) and the story is told in an way that makes it enjoyable, even though, as clearly stated at the end, it makes no sense yet.

    I love the little touches, like how Herucles is always there, or Tony Stark possibly having gonorrhea. But one of the best touches is actually What Bobbi herself is reading. First, she is reading Organic Chemistry, which is perfect for her. But in the second time, she is reading up about table tennis, which is also great. No wonder she knows what a table tennis ball is made of, because she isn’t letting SHIELD do everything. She is investigating herself.

    I really enjoyed this, and think I’ll put it up there with All-New WOlverine and Weirdworld as great 4 out of 5 star books. The first issue doesn’t reach the heights of the better Wolverine issues, nor the lows of the weaker aspects of Weirdworld (though between AGents of SHIELD references and Mockingbird’s new costume, it sure as hell will try!). But this is now among my most anticipated comics, I think

  3. Ryan, are you sure that you are interpreting that ‘dream sequence’ correctly? To me, the first two panels aren’t Bobbi’s dreams. To me, the three panels are all different moments of Bobbi’s life that get interrupted by checks. She gets interrupted by the checks when she is in space, when she is fighting posh lizardmen on a mission and when she is in bed. THe fact that the message is coming from her card when she is in space makes it seem even more likely that this are different moments in time, as if it was a dream, I would think that the SHIELD message would act as an intrusion into the dream, and not be part of it

    • That is how I read it. And I think future issues will have her in space and fighting posh lizard men.

      And I guess schlupping Hawkeye and bleeding out her ear.

      I’m like Matt here: I’m totally on board and am excited that Marvel has done such a good job with B and C list characters in their own titles.

      • I think the next few issues will take place before each of the appointments. Next month suggests that it will take place before the second appointment, so the month after will likely be either before the third or first (wouldn’t be surprised if the first appointment is the last issue, as I think that is where Mockingbird got ‘ill’). Then issue 5 is the finale.

        But hopefully the second arc will have things like space and posh lizardmen. Will be interesting to see what the second arc will be. Another puzzle box? Or something more traditional?

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