Mockingbird 8

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.

hinkiest

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.

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.

mercorgis

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.

girl-fans

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.

phantom-rider

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.

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.

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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2 comments on “Mockingbird 8

  1. This is going to get complicated…

    Let’s start with the good things, because there is a hell of a lot. It is easy to accuse a lot of the stuff in Mockingbird as being overindulgence, but it ignores the fact that they all have a very specific function. THe flowchart is not only a depiction of Bobbi’s mind, or a way to combine both her scientific and human sides (with Chardonnay references), but is also filled with tiny little pieces of character. My favourite is the box that says ‘It The Restraining Order Current?’ and how it only has a ‘yes’ arrow. Of course there is only ‘yes’. Bobbi would never make that mistake.
    The Mercorgis, or the fact that Bobbi just luckily washes up on a luxurious resort that she enjoys while she waits, could be accused of being a deus ex machina, but in truth, it is metaphor. Having come face to face with Slade, Bobbi is reborn (Baptism imagery!) and the corgis, the glass of wine, the ‘Ask me about my feminist agenda’ shirt are all parts of the ‘new Bobbi’. This issue acts as the final part of the transition between the old Bobbi and the new one. After 7 issues developing this new version of Mockingbird, one last challenge of the past and a rebirth forges our new Bobbi, complete with threesome in the Swiss Alps. The Mercorgis are not just indulgence.
    I love what you guys bringing the ghost pirates progressive values, or fandom rejecting Slade’s toxic, misogynistic worldview (another touch I love. While woman are rightly front and centre, I also love that there are many men happily supporting as allies). And yeah, the fact that SLade is pathetic is also fantastic. Instead of giving Slade any power and ‘rewarding’ him for his toxic worldview, he is depicted as ultimately pathetic. As he should be. A creepy stalker like him should be treated just like this (and please note very carefully how I said stalker here, because it is important to the arguments that I am going to make. THe fact that Slade is just a stalker here means that every choice made around dissecting him is dissecting him from the perspective of a creepy stalker).

    BUT

    We also have the point Spencer brought up. According to Chelsea Cain, it is a retcon. The first problem with this is clear. And it is the fact that this isn’t clear. Cain needed to do much more to make clear that this was a retcon. Because when everyone is thinking of the original story, everyone is thinking of, as her Wikipedia page described it,
    ‘When the West Coast Avengers are transported to the old west of 1876 the Phantom Rider (Lincoln Slade) abducts, drugs, and brainwashes Mockingbird into forgetting her original life and convinces her she is in love with Slade (and by implication, raping her). After breaking free of his control, Mockingbird seeks revenge on the Rider, and is shown allowing him to plunge to his death off of a cliff’
    When this is the story as written, I feel more effort needs to be taken than simply saying ‘I’ve always made my own decisions’.

    But there is another layer to this I don’t like. But this is going to be a lot more complicated to talk about. Recently, DeConnick did something very similar to this with Captain Marvel, as part of the Enemy Within crossover. Apparently, part of DeConnick’s motivation to have Carol to lose her memories was so that she lost memory of her own rape. This is something that many female writers are interested in doing.

    And yet, I’m not a fan of it. In general, I don’t care for explicit retcons. Attempting to rewrite events of stories just doesn’t appeal to me as a story. But it also comes down to how I approach superhero canon. I treat superhero canon as mythic. Just like the exact story of Robin Hood (I can’t remember the source, but I remember hearing that Robin Hood stories were told before Richard the Lionheart, and originated from Wales, not Nottingham. What is a fact is that characters like Maid Marian and Friar Tuck were later additions, as is the idea of Robin being a Noble instead of a yeoman) is something that has changed over time, evolved and shifted, so to do I see Superheroes. For a more modern example, this is the same approach to canon that Mad Max has. The movies don’t fit too well together, with the first movie taking place just before the apocalypse and Fury Road seemingly taking place within at least a generation. But the Max of Fury Road is a mythic figure, and the exact content of previous stories doesn’t matter. The broad strokes of his origin remain the same (though with what appears to be an intentional inconsistency on the sex of Max’s child), but Fury Road also doesn’t treat his adventures with kids in Beyond Thunderdome as canon.
    Honestly, I feel this idea is essential to superheroes. I think Bendis has a quote about how ‘Continuity means that the best writer is slave to the worst writer’, but I can’t source that quote at the moment. But there is a lot of truth in that idea. If you think of something like Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye, a key part of the success of how it was a reinvention. Did it acknowledge continuity? When it wanted to. But it also recreated the character, throwing away everything that didn’t work and keeping the stuff that did. And that’s something that has been a key part of many great runs, especially recently. Writers not writing the next part of the story, but the next iteration of the myth. Which is where my disagreement with Chelsea Cain comes in

    She said on twitter ‘if we want female POVs in comics, might mean shifting paradigms.Maybe the whole drugged/raped story doesn’t need to be canon.’. I completely agree. But to me, the solution is to build an iteration of the myth where that is simply not the case. Write a Captain Marvel, or a Mockingbird where, quite simply, it is non canon, and just stay the course. Do a Hawkeye, and recreate the mythos and throw away the rape.
    Honestly, I have referenced those rapes a couple of times on this site as part of a discussion of comics’ long history of sexism, but I always wondered how many people here actually knew those events had happened. I only know they happened because I read a Cracked article about it 8 years ago or something. It would be very easy to create a world where no one would ever think that the particular story even exists.
    This is not to say that we should ignore comics’ sexist past. There are many ways to interrogate the many mistakes that were made. We can write stories that firmly reject wrong ideals comics once had. We can mirror previous storylines, in such a way that we critique the mistakes made previously by do it right this time. We can treat it as canon, and then interrogate it viciously, casting the blame on the right people. We should constantly be working out ways to critique the past, address their flaws. This isn’t me saying that we should bury the story under the rug. But this form of retcon doesn’t work for me.
    To go back to what Chelsea Cain said on twitter, I think there is an argument to be made that what Chelsea Cain has done is kept that West Coast Avengers story canon. In the current iteration of the myth of Mockingbird, we have the story where Bobbi is drugged and raped, and the story where we learn that that is not actually the case. We are still giving that West Coast Avengers story a place in the myth. We are talking about that story, when at first, we weren’t.
    And yeah, if you kept it in the myth in order to writea fiery screed against Clint Barton’s abhorrent actions, discuss Rape Culture, showcase the real toxicity of what Slade did and to critique comic’s sexist past, while telling the story from the perspective that it should always have been told from, that would be great. But by doing the retcon, Chelsea Cain didn’t do that.
    That isn’t to say she did nothing. In other tweets, she said her aim was to give Bobbi agency, and to let her reclaim the narrative. And she has. But when Chelsea Cain has done such an amazing job at building an iteration of the Mockingbird myth where Bobbi has agency and is in full control of the narrative, I don’t think there is much benefit to returning that story to the myth for the sole purpose of giving Bobbi agency and control of the narrative. I just don’t think there is a way to bring that story into the current version of continuity/current myth that doesn’t also accept that Slade is a rapist.

    And then there is another argument I saw someone make, that by empowering Bobbi by not making her a survivor of rape, you are suggesting that rape survivors aren’t strong. That an empowered woman doesn’t get raped, when the sad truth is that anyone can be.

    I understand that my point of view comes from the position of being a man, and that I simply don’t have the full understanding of Rape Culture to fully understand what Chelsea Cain’s processes were in making the choices she did. But from my limited understanding, I do feel there was a better way of dealing with it. I just can’t think that there is any useful reason to bring up a story that toxic except to dissect it. I think it should either be buried and paved over with a more progressive story that completely ignores it, or dissected for all its faults so that the mistake is never made again. I just can’t see how trying to make it less toxic justifies bringing up such radioactive material. The material is garbage, and let’s treat it as garbage. Not try and make it less garbage.

    Which means that ultimately, this issue has been disappointing for me. I honestly thought that Mockingbird was going to be cancelled by the end of issue 5, and I am so happy that it wasn’t. It was an amazing book and gave me a love of a character I barely cared about. It was inventive, it was fun, and it was powerful. And it is still one of my favourite recent Marvel series. Even this final issue continued that tradition, and was full of everything that made the series great. And an much as I am disappointed with this issue, I am sad to see this series go. It was excellent, and Marvel is now missing a unique perspective.

    For all my faults with this issue, thank you to everyone involved for a great series.

    • After everything that has happened, I feel kind of guilty for writing this…

      So I’ll just reiterate that Mockingbird was a truly fantastic book. Imaginative, original, human and truly pushing the boundaries of superhero comics. This was constantly one of Marvel’s best books, and I would honestly say second only to the masterpiece that is the Vision. Between Mockingbird and her Jessica Jones story in Civil War II: Changing Sides, Chelsea Cain demonstrated that she was one of the best voices in comics.
      It isn’t just that her work was fearlessly feminist, though of course I loved that. She is a fantastic talent, and I want to read more

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