I’ve never thought much of Mockingbird as a character. I had always assumed that she’d been created purely so that Hawkeye could have a blonde, bird-themed love-interest in the wake of DC Comics’ successful romantic pairing of Black Canary with Green Arrow. The truth is that Dr. Barbara “Bobbi” Morse had a history long before she became Mrs. Clint Barton. Indeed, she has one of the most convoluted evolutions in all of comics’ history.
Introduced as an unnamed brunette who spun a story involving psychic visions and a desperate need to find Kevin “Ka-Zar” Plunder in Savage Tales #2, she was given the name Barbara and changed into a blonde when the Ka-Zar comic changed authors and changed titles, jumping to Astonishing Tales. Her psychic visions were never mentioned again but she was finally given a full name and an occupation—Dr. Barbara Morse, Biologist—in later issues, which tied her into the group of scientists responsible for creating the monstrous Man-Thing.
By the time Astonishing Tales #15 came around, Barbara was asking to be called Bobbi and had been established as Ka-Zar’s love interest. It was at this point that she joined SHIELD as Agent 19 before briefly pretending to drop out of SHIELD to assume the costumed identity of The Huntress as part of a mission. She dumped Ka-Zar somewhere along the line and gave up the Huntress identity in favor of the codename Mockingbird. Shortly after that she met Hawkeye, the two fell in love and they ran off to form The West Coast Avengers together.
I mention all of this that I may praise writer Chelsea Cain for finding a way to naturally and simply introduce all of this backstory in this collection of Mockingbird’s first solo series. Perhaps that is why this first volume is titled I Can Explain?
As this story opens, Bobbi’s life has become even more complicated. In order to save her from a mortal wound in the line of duty with The Avengers, Bobbi was injected with an experimental compound which combined the Super Soldier Serum that empowered Captain America and slowed Nick Fury’s aging. The compound saved her life but SHIELD’s scientists are uncertain what the long-term effects will be. This means that Bobbi is forced to submit to on-demand medical testing, which makes her job as a SHIELD super-spy somewhat difficult. And that’s before she finds out the brass think the compound may have given her dormant psychic abilities!
Cheslea Cain writes Mockingbird as a smart, sarcastic woman who doesn’t suffer fools gladly…or at all. The writing proves equally intelligent and hilarious, with the five issues contained within this volume telling their central story out-of-sequence. Despite this, the flow of the narrative runs smoothly throughout and proves even more satisfying after a second reading.
The humor of the series also comes out in the artwork, with sight gags like Tony Stark sitting in the SHIELD doctors’ waiting-room reading an informative pamphlet on STDs at one point. Artists Kate Niemczyk, Ibrahim Moustafa, and Joelle Jones all boast styles that suit Cain’s stories well, finding a consistent balance between the intense James Bond-style action sequences and the animated, nearly slapstick humor. And corgis. There are very cute corgis.
Marvel Comics rates this series as being appropriate for audiences 12 and up. I would personally push that to a 16+, purely for the second chapter in which Mockingbird must rescue another agent from a party in the basement of The Hellfire Club. While there’s no nudity in this sequence (indeed, the outfits are relatively modest as these things go) and the humor is largely dependent on innuendo, some children may be uncomfortable having to explain the bits with shocking collars, animal masks, and BDSM to their parents. Or vice versa.
Mockingbird, vol. 1: I Can Explain
Written by Chelsea Cain
Art by Kate Niemczyk, Ibrahim Moustafa, and Joelle Jones
Marvel Comics, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 12+