Writer: Chelsea Cain / Artist: Kate Niemczyk / Marvel Comics
I love my comic shop guy. Not only does he remember my name and pull my comics as soon as I come in the door, not only does he stock all the FunkoPops I really want for my office desk, but he also makes good suggestions. He knows I read A-Force and Ms. Marvel, so he handed me Mockingbird. I don’t know anything about her, but for $3.99, it was a low-risk trial.
I looked her up. Mockingbird, street name Barbara “Bobbi” Morse, is most widely known as Hawkeye’s ex-wife.
She’s also a S.H.I.E.L.D agent on her own, Agent #19, who has been a member of a variety of mutant-management teams. She fits into the Black Widow mold of non-super-powered secret agent heroines with improbable proportions and a lot of blonde hair. This is her first solo title, written by Chelsea Cain, a first-time comic book writer (but a long-time novel writer), and penned by Kate Niemczyk, for whom it is also her first lead role. That’s a lot of new — new solo, new writer, new artist — which could translate into a new hot mess.
It doesn’t. Instead it translates into a fresh, complex, eye-popping style and story in the Marvel line of women that was hella fun to read. This is a super spy story in a super-powered world, the plot of which is about exactly that: what happens in the seam when regular people become something else?
The issue opens here:
Mockingbird has been given a dose of experimental drugs that may be producing side effects. Thus, she’s in the S.H.I.E.L.D. medical office weekly. Most of the issue is taken up with developing Cain’s version of Mockingbird’s character. She is brutally efficient, sarcastic, and smarter than you, which produces all kinds of funny, biting interactions with other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, including Iron Man and Black Widow.
She’s also developing a level of paranoia that’s excessive even for a super spy. But she tries to maintain her mundane persona. Yeah. Right. By this point in the story, you know only one of these things is true.
The story itself is told as what Cain describes as a “puzzle box” — a plot that wraps around itself, revealing facts out of order, so that you only understand the beginning by getting to the end. By the time you get to the last issue, you can go back and re-read the first and have a completely different experience. The Usual Suspects is a classic example of this style. As an opening, this issue delivers, leaving me eager to figure out how she gets here:
The art is a work in progress. At times, the perspective is skewed even for a genre famous for improbable perspectives. At all times, however, Mockingbird looks badass, physically strong, socially confident, intellectually curious. This is a woman who’s been in the shit, but never on her own, with her own plot and direction. Now here she is. Let’s see how this puzzle box unfolds.
6 out of 10… but 7 if you love Corgis (I do)