Talking about feminism can be a complex issue. Over the years, there have been different definitions and movements, but put most simply it can be distilled down to the belief in equality between men and women and the rights that go along with it. It’s not a new concept, and it serves as a backbone for the very blog you are reading right now. So when an author is harassed off Twitter for writing a character who wears an “Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda” t-shirt on the cover, I made it a point to not only read Chelsea Cain’s Mockingbird comic, but to also review it for you guys.
I don’t want to spend a lot of time focusing on the Twitter incident, except to take pleasure in the amount of support Cain received from the comics community. It brought a lot of attention to a book that in many ways had been under the radar. As a result, it shot to number one on Amazon and I got to discover one of the most unusual books I have read in a long time.
Mockingbird, Vol. 1: I Can Explain
On the surface, this book seems a lot like other books out there: another kick-ass lady spy/agent does some kick-ass lady spy/agent stuff. The storytelling in this series about S.H.I.E.L.D Agent Bobbi Morse (codename: Mockingbird) is different. The book is considered a “puzzle-box,” with stories that you can read out-of-order or as one-shots if you’d prefer. As a result, each book can not only keep up the jaunty and playful pace, but it also allows each issue to reward the reader with unique insights into Bobbi’s personality. In one story, she saves the Queen of England; in another, she saves her ex-husband from an underwater base. And (in my favorite issue) she helps a young girl come to grips with the discovery of her own emerging super-powers.
While this book is perfectly accessible for those who are newer to Mockingbird and the Marvel Universe, it’s also filled with fun inside jokes and Easter eggs. There’s added value here in that you will want to look back over the book to examine the background characters and search for references you might have missed. My favorites? I don’t want to spoil you too much, but keep an eye out for the Hulk caught in a rather private moment. Oh, and keep an eye on who else is in the waiting room with her at S.H.I.E.L.D’s health services.
When a book like this is focused so heavily on one person, I often find that it’s the personality or characterization of the main character that can make or break a book for me. In a way, you have chosen to spend an hour or so of your life with this fictional person. As I read, I’m hoping that I am going to get something out of that time commitment. You can like a character or hate them, but they often need to be full enough to draw you in, make you care, and keep you from getting annoyed and trying to convince your dog to just write the stupid review for you because you would rather be catching up on West (or is that just me?). Bobbi herself is a lot of things, but not so many that she feels scattered. She can be a little too sarcastic and flip about things, but there are clues that this is just her way of preventing her emotions from getting the best of her. Her choices are not always the best; she is imperfect, but she is driven by a moral code and does genuinely care about those around her.
Bobbi’s intellect is also on display in this series, which I found quite refreshing. It adds another element that makes her more than just “kick-ass.” She has vast scientific knowledge and knows how to use it. It’s both a tool in her arsenal, but also an interest — once again adding to her character and personality.
All this leaves one final question (one that stems from the earlier mentioned Twitter controversy): Is this book feminist? I would argue that on the most basic level it absolutely is. In my opinion, true feminism is about equality and representation, not about making women good at the expense of men. Here, Bobbi is written as a character who can make choices, both good ones and bad ones. She can be sexy and strong, and she can be vulnerable. The point is that she is making her choices as an independent entity and is not simply being forced into roles and stereotypes as a result of her gender. See how easy that was? Really, I could go on about this, but something tells me that I might end up both preaching to the choir and feeding the trolls. Let’s just put this simply: nuanced female characters are a good thing. It’s a powerful reminder of all the things that women can be.
Needless to say, I will absolutely be reading Volume 2 when it comes out in May.