Today, Ryan M. and Spencer are discussing Mockingbird 8, originally released October 19th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Ryan M.: When the cover of an issue includes the eponymous heroine wearing an “Ask me about my feminist agenda” t-shirt, you have no choice but to examine the work therein with a feminist lens. I will admit that going into the issue, I expected it to contend with Bobbi’s reactions to her rapist stalker and how she deals with being a trauma survivor, possibly with irreverent jokes about corgis and effortless flirting with Hunter. Instead Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk deliver those corgi jokes and Hunter-flirting as they reveal the feeble heart of the patriarchy and use the Phantom Rider to skewer it.
Cain and Niemczyk dismantle the Phantom Rider in this issue. He is no threat to Bobbi, even as she floats through the Bermuda triangle with a boat full of civilians and Hunter as her only trained ally. Lincoln Slade is disrespected and dismissed at every turn of the story, only getting the better of Bobbi for a moment, when he shares news of Clint’s verdict. Of course, she’s saved by Mercorgis and ends the issue in a cozy cabin with both Clint and Hunter attending to her, so Slade is foiled again.
Cain uses a digression about Bobbi’s exes to set the tone for how Slade will be treated throughout the issue.
Cain juxtaposes Ka-Zar, an inarguably goofy and out-dated former paramour of Bobbi’s whose name has been given to a corgi, with the Phantom Rider. The comparison trivializes both of the men, but Phantom Rider’s dialogue further reflects badly on him. He is almost a caricature of a mid-century misogynist, his authority faltering as he is ignored. Also, I know that the outfit is an established part of the character, but something about the way Niemczyk renders his stubby legs poking out of his unnecessary shorts, infantilizes him. Slade looks like a boy playing cowboy rather than a man who could pose a threat to Bobbi.
The hits to his supposed manhood keep coming as even his trusty steed Banshee abandons him. Cain again undercuts Slade’s power by having another man use gentleness, empathy, and kindness to encourage Banshee’s freedom. Slade’s archaic ideas of masculinity don’t allow him to conceive of how kindness is more effective than his commands. Cain is effectively demonstrating the limitation of conservative ideals of manly behavior and the power of transcending those limitations. Everywhere Slade turns for power, he is thwarted. He can’t even depend on Ghost Pirates.
It’s almost enough to make you pity Slade, when he discovers that his command to commit massacre on the nerd cruise is met by disgust. Niemczyk is able to render ghost pirates that are both creepy and able to express concern and disappointment in Slade’s request. Cain makes Slade an outsider even among ghosts. His out-dated politics and desire to recapture that power over Bobbi that he once exercised through trickery alienate everyone in the Bermuda triangle. Cain doesn’t write Slade as an object of anger or even aggressive scorn. Instead, the world of Mockingbird has passed the anti-feminist malarky of Lincoln Slade by. He has no power to exercise, can no longer demand respect, and doesn’t even know how to aim a gun. If Bobbi is at times too much of a platonic ideal of womanhood, Slade is her inverse. He can’t seem to do anything right.
In the end, Slade isn’t defeated by Bobbi’s travel-sized shampoo or even a traditional showdown fight. He disintegrates thanks to some hand-wavy “science” and Bobbi is rescued by a pack of Mercorgis. While the rest of the issue built up ideas about Bobbi’s internal strength and Slade’s archaic attitudes, none of that came to play in the final act of the issue. I wouldn’t trade Mercorgis for anything, but it doesn’t resolve the core conflicts introduced in the issue or the arc. That said, the rescue is beautiful.
Niemczyk and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg depicts Bobbi’s descent into the water against a watercolor background. It has a dreamlike quality as the corgi faces begin to nudge her limbs. In the bottom panel above, Bobbi seems like a goddess being delivered to the beach with the sun beginning to rise over the horizon. It’s a quiet and gorgeous image, a nice moment before we return to the more zippy content of the issue.
Spencer, what did you think of the issue? I didn’t discuss the opening scene with Clint in any detail. What significance does that scene have for the issue’s development? Also, did you find the ending of the issue (and the run) satisfying? And, c’mon Clint is obviously the Tyler Durden, right?
Spencer: The pre-Matt Fraction incarnation of Hawkeye is definitely the Tyler Durden, but the modern interpretation is the narrator, hands-down. Either way, I suppose it just begets the question “Does this make Bobbi Marla Singer?” I can’t say I see it.
Ryan, I love your dissection of how Cain and Niemczyk just strip Phantom Rider of all his power throughout the issue, especially when it comes to the promotion of kindness and empathy over more traditional expressions of masculinity. One of the more interesting aspects of Mockingbird 8 is the way this ties into geek culture (it takes place on a Nerd Cruise, after all).
The common stereotype about comic book fans is that they’re outcasts, bullied and persecuted by the “popular” kids, and there’s at least some truth to this (though far less than there was even a decade ago), so it’s been depressing over the past few years to see how certain groups of fans have started taking on those same traits themselves, excluding, bullying, harassing, or even assaulting fellow fans and creators alike. It’s not cool, and I see the various geeks who come to Bobbi’s aid on the Cruise as Cain and Niemczyk’s way of refuting that mind-set. Some are more effective at fighting the Phantom Rider than others (to put it lightly), but none of them are afraid of the Rider, and none of their attacks embrace his brand of toxic masculinity. They’re not going to stoop to Slade’s level.
Keeping with this issue’s theme of feminism, it feels particularly important that the four fans who reject Slade’s proposal here are women. The dismissal of women’s opinions and gatekeeping of female fans is a serious problem amongst comic book fandom (if you ever hear the phrase “fake geek girl,” run), so it’s important that Cain and Niemczyk give each woman here a voice. Some of them are shrewd thinkers and mega-fans while others are clearly casual fans who are just having a bit of fun, but all are capable of speaking for themselves and all their opinions are just as legitimate. Moreover, in a society that loves to pit women against each other, it’s refreshing to see these four women, each with very different takes on the matter at hand, all refuse to turn against Bobbi. Solidarity, amiright?
In light of all this girl-power, though, there’s one moment I found somewhat perplexing, perhaps even troubling.
I’ve approached this scene from a few different angles, and to be honest, I’m still not 100% sure what to make of it. It we take Bobbi’s word at face value, then she’s simply not telling the truth. The Phantom Rider explicitly did take advantage of Bobbi; he put her under mind-control, and the word “rape” has canonically been used to describe his actions. Wikipedia mentions (but I cannot otherwise confirm) a brief period where Bobbi dated the Rider’s host once the Rider’s spirit had been exorcised from him, but that’s certainly not what she’s referring to here — in that situation, he wasn’t Lincoln Slade at all.
Is Bobbi perhaps suggesting that Clint doesn’t believe Bobbi was raped? If so, I feel like that’s a beat we need far more space to explore (especially considering Clint’s appearance on the final page), but I don’t think this is right. Bobbi’s assertion that she and Clint “are a lot alike that way” implies that she agrees with this line of thinking, as does the fact that it makes Slade give up his crusade. Is this perhaps a bit of internalized misogyny then, with Bobbi believing that she bears some responsibility for her rape, or that because she “always makes her own decisions,” she can’t be raped? She’d be far from the first victim to feel this way, but again, if this is the case, it really deserves far more space than Cain can spare to explore it.
The only other option I can find — and the one that seems most likely to me, since Bobbi usually refers to Slade as her “ex” instead of her “rapist” or “abuser/attacker” — is that Cain is retconning the nature of Bobbi and Slade’s relationship. While I could see an argument for this — one less female comic character with rape as her backstory would be a good thing — I don’t like the way it’s pulled off here. Again, it’s that line about how Bobbi “always makes her own decisions” that throws me; instead of implying that Bobbi chose to be with Phantom Rider, it implies that she can’t be raped because she’s always in control, and that’s just wrong, harmful thinking.
Mockingbird 8 otherwise proclaims such a strong, accurate, powerful feminist message that I can give Cain and Miemczyk the benefit of the doubt here and still love the rest of the issue for what it is, but regardless, this moment at best simply doesn’t have the space to be effective, and at worst, is legitimately problematic.
Another reason I want to give this issue the benefit of the doubt — and why I still think so fondly of it even after spending the past five paragraphs complaining — is because it’s just so funny and inventive. From the very first issue Mockingbird has been a book that hasn’t been afraid to take risks, but in its grand finale Cain and Niemczyk pull out all the stops, cramming the issue full of as many gags and flights of fancy as humanly possible. What’s great about these gags, though, isn’t just that they’re remarkably funny, but that they’re all built up to, and that they’re all true to Bobbi’s character.
Take the Mercorgi scene, for example. That doesn’t just come out of nowhere; Cain foreshadows it early in the issue by marking “Kingdom of the Lost Mercorgis” as a location on Bobbi’s map of the Bermuda Triangle. The joke is twice as funny because it takes what we thought was just one of Bobbi’s flights of fancy and makes it real.
Then there’s the flowchart, the beautiful, beautiful flowchart — because of course Bobbi would think in the form of a flowchart.
I’m a sucker for a good flowchart, but what really sells this one is that it’s absolutely, 100% based off of Bobbi’s perspective and thoughts; she couldn’t be more dismissive of Slade, for example. I also got a good laugh out of the fact that she’s already implementing the chart — in the panel before it’s introduced she’s already reached the point where she drinks a Chardonnay, and by the time we reach the end and see that Bobbi’s solution is to trap Slade in a shampoo bottle, she’s already searching for the bottle. Bobbi may be a mess, but she’s a frighteningly competent and prepared mess.
Ultimately, what I’m going to miss the most about Mockingbird is just how daring it was. From “puzzleboxes” to flowcharts and Mercorgis, Cain and Niemczyk never met a risk they wouldn’t take, and even when a plot point or theme didn’t fully click, those experimental moments still elevated it above much of Marvel’s other fare. It’s a shame Cain and Niemczyk didn’t get more time with this character, but I suppose a book this experimental and this unabashedly feminist was never long for this world to begin with; we’re lucky to have gotten the eight issues we did.
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