Mockingbird: I Can Explain collects the first five issues of Chelsea Cain’s run as writer, along with a special, which was Cain’s first work on the character. That special comes at the end of the collection, introducing Cain’s approach to the character. It’s kind of like a dessert in the collection, however, since it doesn’t have anything to do with the plot line of I Can Explain. It’s good dessert and it does make sense to have it as addendum, as the rest of the collection is very intricately plotted. So much so, I can’t imagine how it’d read in separate sittings.
In other words, I’ll get to the special, which was published first, last.
The first issue is structured around Bobbi (aka Mockingbird) going to the doctor at S.H.I.E.L.D. Cain gets in a lot of good jokes regarding healthcare and has some fantastic cameos. There’s a lot of visual information in the backgrounds, usually for smiles, always for texture. Artist Kate Niemczyk does an excellent job with the various kinds of visual material. There’s even some “clues” for later reveals. And some direct sight gags. Bobbi goes to the doctor four times; Cain starts with a present-day prologue, jumps back into one flashback, jumps forward into another flashback, then another, then another. I think. There’s a lot of careful structuring in Mockingbird and the setup of the flashbacks in the first issue is the most obvious.
It’s a good first issue. It’s fun. It’s not great. It’s good. Cain writes Bobbi really well and establishes some excellent pacing with all the layers.
So, of course, the rest of the comic is nothing like that first issue. The second issue takes place right before the second flashback in the first issue. You know because of Bobbi’s outfit. The first issue has her going through five different outfits, usually Mockingbird standards of some kind–or, at least, female superhero standards–then it turns out Cain and Niemczyk are going to fill in the information about those outfits over the next three issues. Wait, I counted one flashback too many. It’s four outfits, because issue four directly feeds into issue one. Sorry. One flashback too many.
But the outfit thing–even the very subtle introduction of a subplot important in issues four and five–is just part of Mockingbird’s texture. It’s not even the content of the book, which is entirely different starting with the second issue. The second issue’s an all action comic, with Bobbi rescuing scantily clad partner Lance Hunter from the Hellfire Club. What’s strangest about the comic, which makes a lot of jokes at the Club’s expense, is how sex positive the whole thing gets. Lance’s a himbo, but a well-meaning one who Bobbi can’t resist. It’s downright fun and naughty without ever getting too naughty. Cain keeps everything–from the double entendres to the easy jokes–in line. It’s a completely different comic than the first issue implies.
And the third issue is even more different. It’s the standout of the collection, just because Cain gets kind of super dark while still trying to be sensitive to the issue. Not the issue issue, but the subject of the issue issue–a sixth grade girl who has developed superpowers. It’s a fantastic commentary on misogyny and sexist media, but Cain never lets that commentary get beyond Bobbi’s head and mouth or the situation itself. All hail the verisimilitude, because Cain is still doing an action comic after all. Frankly, the third issue reminds me of eighties mainstream DC Alan Moore. Nothing wrong with reminding of that.
The fourth issue brings in Hawkeye and Cain’s take on the character and he and Bobbi’s relationship. It’s kind of like dessert too. It’s similar in structure and scantily clad men to the second issue, but Niemczyk goes for it a lot more this time around with Clint’s little purple undies. She and Cain aren’t afraid of cheap, but very situational funny jokes. Of course, it all ties into the first issue–and the fifth–so there’s potential heaviness going on, but the flirting distracts.
Ibrahim Moustafa does the art on the fifth issue, which is somewhat disconcerting. Mockingbird is Niemczyk’s. At multiple times throughout the issue, even though Moustafa does a fine job, I wished I was getting to see Niemczyk handle the scenes. It’s more action, with Howard the Duck (a wonderful characterization from Cain on him too) and Miles Morales Spider-Man (did Cain mean to highlight the charge Ultimate Miles has the same personality as Ultimate Peter, because she does). There are also zombies. And a lot of laughs. It’s a good issue; Cain perfectly balances action, humor, and serious commentary.
Then there’s the special, the dessert. Fine Joëlle Jones art. It’s a mystery. Funny. Dessert.
Mockingbird: I Can Explain starts strong enough, then Cain and Niemczyk blast through expectations. It’s a fantastic comic book.
Writer, Chelsea Cain; pencillers, Kate Niemczyk, Ibrahim Moustafa, and Jöelle Jones; inkers, Niemczyk, Sean Parsons, Moustafa, and Jones; colorist, Rachelle Rosenberg; letterer, Joe Caramagna; editors, Alanna Smith, Christina Harrington, Jon Moisan, and Katie Kubert; publisher, Marvel Comics.