Mockingbird has been an Avenger off and on since the 1980s, but it’s her work with Marvel's premiere spy agency that’s taking center stage in this week's Mockingbird: S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th Anniversary Special #1. This rare solo outing for Bobbi Morse is written by novelist Chelsea Cain, making her comic book debut. Known for her thriller novels, Cain aims to get inside Mockingbird’s head while raising the personal stakes of her time with S.H.I.E.L.D.
While some fans might know Mockingbird best as Hawkeye’s ex-wife, a new contingent of fans have become familiar with the character as a breakout star on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - a role so popular that reports of a Mockingbird spin-off show have begun to circulate.
Working with artist Joelle Jones, Cain is on a mission to redefine Mockingbird on her own terms as an ass-kicking super-spy with a distinct place in the Marvel Universe. Newsarama spoke to Cain about her goals for Mockingbird: S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th Anniversary Special #1, her first time collaborating with an artist, and her future in comic books.
Newsarama: Chelsea, this is your first comic book work. How’d you wind up getting the gig?
Chelsea Cain: I worked my way up slowly through traditional channels. Just kidding! Actually, it was pure hubris. My husband Marc Mohan and I hang out with a lot of comic book people. I’m not even sure how that happened. We met Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick a few years ago and became really fast friends. That led to an invitation to Brian Michael Bendis’s house. And the next thing I knew we had been absorbed into this whole comic book creator community. Have you seen The Blob? It was exactly like that.
One day I emailed Brian the exciting news that I wanted to write a Mockingbird comic book. This seemed to take him by surprise. He rode his bike right over and explained to me in the kindest possible way that I was high if I thought I was going to write my first comic book for Marvel. He suggested that I write a creator-owned comic bookthat I could use as a calling card, and I was like, “No thanks! I think I’ll write for Marvel.”
So he ran it up the flag pole and someone was convinced. Never underestimate self-delusion when it comes to professional success.
Nrama: You’re primarily known for your thriller fiction, but you also have a background in humor. How do you plan to balance those two elements with Mockingbird?
Cain: I think my thrillers are hysterical though many, many people disagree with me. Bobbi is funny. Her rapport with Hawkeye (and Hunter on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for that matter) has always been at the core of their chemistry. She knows her way around a one-liner. So it was important to me to show her being clever, witty, and thinking on her feet - while being menaced and kicking ass.
Nrama: Mockingbird is a long-time Avenger, but until recently, she was mostly defined by her relationship with Hawkeye. Now that she’s breaking out on her own, what sets her apart from Marvel’s other spies?
Cain: She’s not nearly as screwed up as most of them. Honestly, the cool thing about writing Mockingbird is that she has never had her own story before. She has only appeared in other people’s books. So we have no idea who she is, really. We might have gotten the odd interior narration, but nothing that really informs any deep character development. She has existed, in the comics, mainly as a narrative crutch for other characters. She’s existed to move other stories forward. It was exciting to get inside her head a little - to give her a story with personal stakes - and to explore, in a small way, what the soft sciences might call her “psychological sh--.”
Nrama: The solicitations for Mockingbird: S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th Anniversary #1 call your story a tale of revenge. What’s Mockingbird getting revenge for?
Cain: Man, it could be a long list, couldn’t it? But I really wanted this to be a personal story, small of scope, and I wanted to somehow deal with her batsh-- crazy backstory. She is out to avenge the murder of someone from her past.
Nrama: Is this a standalone story, or part of a larger arc with the other S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th Anniversary titles?
Cain: It’s a stand-alone, heaven help me.
Nrama: You landed Joelle Jones as your first artistic collaborator. How do you find the process of working with an artist, and what does Joelle bring to Mockingbird?
Cain: I asked to work with Joelle. I’m a big fan of her work on Lady Killer. She can draw really beautiful women who aren’t seen through a male gaze, if that makes sense. Beautiful... but not in heat. I could not be happier with how her art turned out - it’s so stylish and cool, and perfectly captures the retro vibe I wanted referenced. I know I’m biased, but I think that Joelle’s Mockingbird is the coolest Mockingbird that has ever been drawn. My only regret is that Joelle and I had given Bobbi all these cool tattoos and Marvel made us erase them at the last minute. (They had concerns about continuity, which makes sense. But they could have been temporary tattoos...)
Nrama: Mockingbird has been a breakout character on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., with rumors of her own TV series starting to percolate. How does it feel to be one of the first writers to capitalize on that popularity?
Cain: You don’t think Marvel can still take this away from me, do you?
Nrama: I don't think so.
What’s coming up next for you? Can we expect more comic book work in your future?
Cain: It’s very possible, yes. I have to have something to talk about at dinner, right?