Mockingbird (and Chelsea Cain) Deserve Better

I wasn’t planning on writing a post tonight.  But then I read this article about Chelsea Cain, the author of Marvel’s Mockingbird comic.  It turns out the hateful backlash from “misogynist bullies” to the cover of the series’ finale, issue #8, was so overwhelming that she decided to leave Twitter.  As far as I’m concerned, this is not okay and we need to talk about it.  I guess cleaning will have to wait for the weekend…

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This is what all the fuss was about. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

The cover of issue #8 depicts Bobbi Morse, the titular super spy/superhero, wearing a t-shirt that reads “Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda.”  I saw the comic when it came out last week and thought nothing of it.  Apparently a lot of other people didn’t agree with me.  For reasons beyond my ability to comprehend or imagine, a certain segment of comic fandom felt showing the words “feminist agenda” was grounds for spewing hateful rhetoric at an author.  As soon as I read the article, I went to my local comic book store and purchased the entire eight issue run of Mockingbird.  I did this for two reasons.  First, I wanted to see for myself what all of the fuss was about.  Second, and far more importantly, I felt this was my duty as a believer in social justice.  Nothing justifies the level of harassment Chelsea Cain’s endured.  And, as is the case with all social justice issues, to do nothing is to be complicit in social sin and systemic injustice.  So I spoke in the way our capitalist culture hears most clearly – with my wallet.  I bought the entire series, to support an author being hatefully persecuted, and I read the comics, to see what the story was about.

Do you know what I found when I read the series?  Mockingbird was a really fun, funny book that’s uncompromisingly intelligent.  Bobbi Morse has a PhD in Biology, in addition to her Super Soldier Serum and Infinity Serum, and she solves more problems with her knowledge of science and math than she does with her fists.  I honestly learned a lot about biology from this comic in addition to seeing some great superheroics.  I also found a wildly unique comic, written to feel as much like a mystery/thriller as it was a superhero tale.  I loved everything about it!

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Bobbi, Howard the Duck, and Spider-Man fighting zombies…how is this not the greatest thing ever? / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Perhaps most important of all, I found nothing controversial in this series.  Yes, Bobbi Morse is a strong, bold, intelligent, powerful female character.  She’s also emotional, layered, and conflicted at times.  She is a lovingly crafted, dynamic character.  But there was no “aggressive feminist agenda” in the book.  It wasn’t preachy nor in-your-face with anything either.  So the anger and ire that has been pouring out in all manner of forms has nothing to do with some misperception of a presumed message built through the run.  Rather it came entirely from seeing the words “feminist agenda” on a cover.  And that is not okay.

First, it saddens me that Feminism is still so often hated, maligned, and defamed. The movement is about EQUALITY.  That ‘s the end of the story.  To be blunt, the idea that everyone doesn’t deserve to be equal has no place in 2016.  There are all sorts of people who will try and say differently but, at the end of the day, those are simply voices of patriarchal oppression looking to maintain a status quo with women held in subservience to a male-dominated culture.  That may sound extreme but we need look no further than our casual cultural use of the term “feminazi.”  Think about it for a few seconds.  It’s completely inappropriate!  To equate, even in a joking manner, those seeking equality with those who perpetrated the Holocaust and the murder of over six million Jewish people (and over eleven million people in total) is 100% unacceptable.  It is unfair to feminists and it trivializes those who died.  Yet, culturally, we toss the term about casually because it’s okay to link women seeking equality with those who perpetrate genocide.

Second, to my mind, there is no acceptable argument for diminishing a human being, any human being.  We are all equal.  Period.  I am proud to call myself a Feminist and have ever since I learned what the term meant.  Because, honestly, who can really be against equality?  Also, I consider myself Christian and, as such, I need to embrace this view.  A major part of Jesus’ movement was the empowerment of women.  He treated women with absolute equally in his movement and expected others to do the same.  If I’m to honor this man I call Christ with any sort of authenticity, I need to fight for the same.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Third, our art (hopefully) should challenge these sorts of oppressive ideas as well.  Art, when it’s operating at its highest potential, elevates us and helps us to reach for the transcendent. If all comic books are is a bunch of white men enacting male power fantasies with objectified women by their side then they can’t really do that, can they?  If, however, art is advocating inclusion, offering a voice to the voiceless, and looking to bring those on the margins of society and culture into the center, then it is challenging us to do the same and, as such, trying to elevate us and pushing us closer towards a transcendent mindset.

But let’s remember, (and this is important) those last three paragraphs are unquestionably faaaar more preachy and “controversial” than anything in Mockingbird‘s entire eight issue run!!!  Yet people saw a female character (and the star of, as I learned this evening, a brilliant and highly entertaining book) wearing a shirt with the words “feminist agenda” and they freaked out.  Would you like to know the wonderful, ironic twist?  It wasn’t even Bobbi’s shirt.  After falling off a cruise ship, she washed ashore on an island and found it at a resort.  That’s what she was wearing when she was picked up by SHIELD.  The vitriol this cover caused has (obviously) upset me.

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International Woman of Mystery! / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

As a lifelong comic fan it makes me incredibly sad to hear Chelsea Cain, who’s sold millions of thriller novels and openly enjoys interacting with her fans online, say she’s “Never had to block people [on Twitter] until I started writing comics.”  That deeply bothers me. I write often on this blog about how happy I am to be back in the world of comic collecting, how I missed it, and how returning has felt like coming home.  However, if I’m being honest, there is one facet of this hobby that fills me with sadness and shame.  That’s this angry, vocal subgroup of fans who are disproportionately troubled by the rise in prominence of minority characters.

Women, thankfully, aren’t the objectified male sex fantasies they were when I left comics behind in the late 90’s.  And now Miles Morales is Spider-Man; Kamala Khan is Ms. Marvel; Jane Foster is Thor; Sam Wilson is Captain America; and Riri Williams is becoming Iron Heart (to name but a few examples).  Comic book superheroes are becoming more diverse and, as such, far more representative of our world!  This is part of what brought me back to reading comic books after a seventeen year absence!!  They are relevant in a very real, very powerful way.  They more accurately reflect our world and, in so doing, not only allow more people to love and relate to these characters but can more fully serve as modern mythology.  The more people who can authentically relate to these characters, the more they can guide and challenge us as an entire culture.  And, in addition to being fun, that’s part of their job.  Or rather, it is when comics are written to and are performing at their highest level.  Yet look at some of the comments posted on Marvel’s Facebook page about this book.  It makes my soul sad :(.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comic’s Facebook Page via Bleeding Cool New.

Some people seem to truly hate this and take every opportunity available to them (the comment sections of online articles, social media, writing to comic book letter pages) to express their distaste.  They claim this is a “gimmick” or a “P.C. agenda.”  They accuse these creators of “pandering” or (most confusing of all) somehow ruining these characters by adding new dimensions and making them more relevant.  I have no idea what the people who write these angry comments, who flood Twitter with misogynistic ranting, are so afraid of.  Why would someone be troubled that there’s a black Spider-Man now?  Who cares if Mockingbird is wearing a shirt that says “feminist agenda” on it?  How is it “pandering” to have Ms. Marvel be Muslim?

These comments always stir two emotional responses in me.  First, comes the righteous anger.  I want to say – If you can’t handle this than, as blunt as it may sound, you’re welcome to leave the contemporary comic scene.  You won’t be missed.  Sleep comfortably amongst your back issues that don’t challenge your narrow world view.  As Bob Dylan sang so many years ago, “Your old road is rapidly agin’ / Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand / For the times they are a-changin’.”

Second, when my heated frustration cools, the more compassionate perspective arrives.  I wonder, looking at these people reacting with hate as unjustified as it is unfounded, what’s hurt them so badly in the past that they feel the need to hurt others to feel better?  It is horrible to have this sort of hateful rhetoric directed at you but I’d also imagine it would feel horrible to have this sort of hateful rhetoric living inside you.  We’re built for loving communion, not for anger-fuelled division.

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We’re also built for humor and heart, two things I discovered Mockingbird had in great supply.  How anyone can troll Chelsea Cain is, obviously, beyond me. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics.

I went to the comic store tonight passionately looking to do my social duty.  I ended up finding a comic book I fell in love with and wished I’d known about sooner!  Still, I know Mockingbird will become a frequent member of my re-reading pile.  As to the sadness I feel looking at the senseless attack on a talented writer who produced a highly underrated comic, all I can do is remind myself this isn’t how our world is meant to be nor how it will always be.  While those who shout such angry, close-minded comments from every platform available may be loud, they are not the majority.  Those voices, in time, will fade from our culture and become a sad little footnote in history.  In the end, I believe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is correct, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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17 thoughts on “Mockingbird (and Chelsea Cain) Deserve Better

  1. Well kudos to you for employing empathetic understanding instead of responding to hate with hate. As I’ve said, that’s been a challenge for me lately, and that challenge definitely surfaced while reading the comments alongside the comic cover in the picture you posted. I think we use hate and ignorance interchangeably in our culture, and while I think those comments reflected ignorance about feminism (okay, or a hate grounded in ignorance…or, okay, maybe complete hate) they bordered on hate toward the author. What always astounds me the most is when women write comments like that, decrying how bad feminism is, etc. I hope to continue imbibing your (and MLK’s) more optimistic worldview. As it stands, I’m just completely exhausted with nonsense like this. But it was an awesome piece.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What is so troubling is the comments alongside that image from Facebook weren’t the worst of what I found online. It is such a disproportionate response to something that shouldn’t even be an issue! Yet we still find this sort of hate and/or ignorance. It is saddening. Actually, “exhausted” is the perfect way to put it. That’s exactly what it feels like. Siiiiigh…

      Thanks for the kind words on the post too! If anything, that’s been the silver lining here. As I looked into the issue online I did find the voices of support for Chelsea Cain and compassionate awareness too. That’s something else we can all take solace in!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nasty, spite-ridden Comments litter th www more than ever before – this is th latest incident in a problem that is never going to go away
    Getting enraged by a comic book is ABSURD, bt th fact that th minds of TOO MANY cretins in this world are crippled by HATE baffles me – all too often, th net gives them th safe base from which to attack
    But it is really upsetting to learn how common it has become for th target(s) of such backlash to remove themselves from social media! That shld not have to happen, esp when u state how this writer enjoyed th interaction w readers/Followers.
    Best to relax w a film review:
    https://bradscribe.wordpress.com/2016/10/27/doctor-strange-the-bradscribe-review/
    Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Crippled by hate” is a powerful way to phrase the issue but I think it’s accurate. It reminds me of an old John Lennon song where he sings of people who are “crippled inside.” That does come to mind when I see this sort of stuff. And your point about the internet providing a “safe base from which to attack” is brilliantly stated and absolutely spot on. We, as a culture, are sadly waaay to comfortable using the relative anonymity of the internet to attach people.

      Also, on the far more positive note, I can’t relax with your film review yet because ‘Dr. Strange’ doesn’t come out in the US until next week! I always avoid reviews and any spoilers of a film before I see it so I can go in a blank slate. But, once I’ve seen it, I’ll excitedly turn to your post then. Yay!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yay, i was wondering why peeps have been avoiding my posts – another week then. U’ll b happy to learn that th latest cosmic Fartlighter bradventure is hittin th web this weekend – so u don’t have to wait for that!
        I MEANT to state what a brilliantly written Post u have here. Yeah man, a pox on all those “sadly waaay to comfortable using the relative anonymity of the internet”
        Make Cake Not War
        Cheers!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. So here is what I am thinking – you and I (and Kalie, and David, and everyone else we know but definitely you and I) need to get matching “Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda” t-shirts that are exactly the same as the one on the cover. That shirt is GLORIOUS. I know there are some out there already, but I want the same color. I wonder if Marvel will offer one…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well there are things we must see. I do not consider mean comments to be considered as harrasement. Mean comments pertain to everything especially when you put your political opinion into a comic. Some people do consider that as harassment which I question their level of tough skin.
    What I really don’t appriciate is the idea that this is a war against women. Snyder has gained a ton of strong criticism for Batman v Superman and getting booed in public spaces like ComicCon. Slott and Spencer just to name two gained death threats for their portrayals of characters such as Spided-Man and Captain America. No one spoke out to this extent for these dudes who had more extreme examples worthy of calling harasments. And I am really just picking 3 guys I can think of from top of my head.
    Now for the next part is the feminist agenda and if it really was pushed into the comic and the answer changes depending on two people you meet. Pro-Feminism and anti-feminism. Pro-feminists see this as nothing but a normality, but anti-feminists don’t. Especially a character like Mockingbird (who isn’t that feminist driven) and is really pushed into that territory. I really liked #1&#2 but dissapointgly enough I do not support MODERN feminism (I’ll get to that why) so these things really stood out to me. The writer was trying to alter character’s indentity for her ideals. Not very effective if you ask me. (Anyone get what the special snowflake thing in issue 5 was all about?).
    Now you may also ask why I hate something called feminsim. I don’t. Like you said on paper it’s equality amongst women and men right? Of course, but that was what felt to me in the old school feminsim. Today’s feminists really create many fabricated problems, but also use false statistics to prove their oppression. The movement turned more into “women are oprprased and men are not”. The movement, it’s leaders and members have changed over the years into something bad (not all of course). Now it’s always about “let’s talk women problems” and not “let’s talk men and women problems” which ties into this whole harrasing of “mainly women” on the Internet thing again. But how can I hate something that represents equality? The definition I support, all femnisnists say they support it, but their actions don’t. I would consider myself a feminist but they wouldn’t consider me one.
    I understand my take will probably be the most unpopular one here, but if you wanna ask questions I’ll be gold to answer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think if you’re in favor of equality than that’s obviously a good thing! And I’m with you! If true equality is unpopularity, it’s a sad byproduct of our culture. While I absolutely agree with you that some people who consider themselves feminist DO do the things you reference, I think there’s a very real danger in lumping the movement (Feminism) and it’s goal (equality) in with the vocal outliers who advocate oppression of one for the advancement of others. That would be akin to saying Christianity is pointless and dangerous because of those who firebomb abortion clinics in the name of a perverted vision of “Christianity” or demonizing all Muslims for the radical jihadists who pervert the Qur’an to fill groups like ISIS or Al-Qaeda.

      I also completely agree with your points about Spencer, Slott, and Snyder. And I appreciate your raising those examples. I’m opposed to any form of violent, oppressive, or hate-filled speech against anyone for any reason. If someone is telling a story or has developed a character someone else doesn’t like then they just don’t have to watch or read it. There’s never a justification for people to react with the level of anger, hate, and animosity as so many people do to these sorts of things.

      In fact, in raising those points, you’re bringing attention to something else that really bothers me about the current comic scene (and I think it extends to TV and movies to a degree as well). What happened to Chelsea Cain with ‘Mockingbird’ is one example of, as you allude to, a far larger problem. We, as “fans,” have this irrational sense of ownership over the characters we love. As you point out, it can lead to some dark places. For some unknown reasons we feel the right to dictate how any character should be developed and we feel justified in raining hate and vitriol down on any creator who takes them in a different direction.

      Looking at Zach Snyder for example, personally I didn’t care for his ‘Man Of Steel’ or ‘Batman v. Superman’ films. But I see no need, and I certainly don’t feel I have the right, to troll the man on Twitter and spew anger and hate on every online article about the films. That helps no one. And, worse, it makes me part of the problem of oppression and repression. Can (and should) we raise informed, intelligent, and rational critiques of things that may trouble us with a book or film? Of course! That’s what the discussion of art is about. But to become mean, angry, or close-minded in the process isn’t okay.

      It’s sad that comic fandom has this dimension. As far as I’m concerned whether female or male, regardless of race, religion, or political beliefs, no one deserves to be hated, excluded or kept down. We all have the right to our own opinions, yes, but we have the responsibility to voice them in a way that’s loving, compassionate, healing and helpful to others as well.

      So, while we may disagree with some of the specifics in regards to the Feminist Movement, I think (and hope!) we’re on the same page with the majority of this. It’s all about acceptance and equality for all. And, hopefully, we keep getting such great comic characters and stories out of it too!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I remember there was this popular post on the state of fandom as a whole. It was excellent. If I remembered the name I would tell you. It touches base on how we get too emotional over fictional characters and our desire to feel in property of those certain ones. I will give you the name if I remember it, but you maybe had a possibility of reading it because it was so popular when it came out in this year

        Liked by 1 person

      2. If you think of it, I’d appreciate your passing along the name! Don’t stress over it though. I did read a few pieces this year that revolved around that topic, so as you suggest, I might’ve seen it. Regardless, it certainly sounds interesting.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post sir! Diversity in books and comics is becoming such a major topic and really it shouldnt have to be. It should be a natural transition into a modern way of thinking. It is a shame how some comic fans act over some of the most trivial of things. I was pretty upset when I heard about the arguments over this cover as well. When I first saw it I thought it was fantastic, these strong female characters should be leading a charge of equality for young readers. Its long past time to move away from a white male dominated media and start reflecting the world we live in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I couldn’t agree more. I absolutely love the way you phrased this too, “It should be a natural transition into a modern way of thinking.” That’s it exactly! I also appreciate your point about how important this is for “young readers” to see. What we teach our youth is the most direct way to shape the future world we live in. Strong female characters are essential to show our kids what the future can and should be! That’s why, as you say, it’s so important to model respect and tolerance for all in art that accurately reflects the diversity of the world we live in!

      Like

  6. Hi Mike,

    It sounds like you find the most interesting characters. She sounds like a one-of-kind woman. I like strong women, too. Smart and pretty, who have a little sass. That sounds like Mockingbird.
    Can you send you email again?
    Mine is garyavants66@gmail.com.
    We are on Facebook now: God Among Geeks.
    Thanks,

    Gary

    Liked by 1 person

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