Spider-Man and Mockingbird: The Allure of the Workplace Romance

Welcome to the ninth installment in this li’l series using Spider-Man comics to explore the variety of romantic archetypes we find in literature (illustrating the variety of romantic experiences we find in life)!  Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird is a scientific genius, Avenger, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and super spy whose relationship with Peter Parker would be a central part of Dan Slott’s final years writing The Amazing Spider-Man.  In Bobbi Morse, Peter found a witty, compassionate partner who could kick his ass and/or inspire him when he needed it.  Every bit as smart as Peter, she’d meet him in his brilliance and push him further.  As Mockingbird, she stood beside Spider-Man to face everything from Skrull invasions to Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign to the Zodiac terrorist attacks to Hydra takeovers.  Being a superhero herself, Bobbi could share Peter’s entire life.  Oh, and they worked together.  Which is good because, you know, nothing can ever go wrong when you date a coworker.

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Our introduction to Mockingbird and Spider-Man’s working relationship – their use the Spider-Mobile to track villains through Shanghai. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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I…yeah, she’s right. The theme song wasn’t his best work. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Spider-Man and Mockingbird first worked together as members of the New Avengers.  In the wake of the Secret Invasion, it was discovered Bobbi Morse was one of the heroes kidnapped by the Skrulls as they slowly infiltrated every facet of life on Earth.  Once the Skrulls were beaten, Bobbi resumed her marriage with Clint Barton/Hawkeye (who thought she was dead (but it was really Skrull Mockingbird who died (because…comics))) and joined him in the New Avengers.  Hawkeye would return to the main Avengers roster, but Mockingbird stayed with the New Avengers alongside Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Wolverine, Ms. Marvel, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Iron Fist, the Thing, and – of course! – Spidey, until the team eventually disbanded.

Several years, a separation, and a divorce later, Bobbi Morse would find herself working with Peter Parker again.  When Doctor Octopus’ mind was in control of Peter Parker’s body (because…comics), he completed Peter’s PhD and went on to found Parker Industries, a cutting edge science and technology company.  With the power this position afforded him once he regained control of his body, Peter strove to be a socially conscious CEO, capping his salary at middle management level and extending Parker Industries’ charitable reach around the globe.  Under his leadership, Parker Industries became a global corporation with offices in New York, Shanghai, London, and San Francisco.  Looking to employ their advanced tech, S.H.I.E.L.D. became Parker Industries’ top customer.  With the S.H.I.E.L.D. contract came Bobbi Morse as S.H.I.E.L.D. liaison to Parker Industries and Spider-Man and Mockingbird were soon jetting around the world, fighting evil wherever they found it.

This is one of my favorite story arcs by any author in any Spider-Man comic ever.  It all works so well!  Dan Slott is at the top of his game writing this and Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stuart Immonen are two of my favorite modern Spidey artists.  This was the most innovative and fun Spider-Man had felt to me in years.  But what cemented this story’s place in my all-time favorites category was watching the budding relationship between Peter and Bobbi grow.

Mockingbird and Spider-Man 9 (2)

Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

They weren’t dating when Bobbi first came to work at Parker Industries.  In fact, Peter was dating another coworker at the time, Lian Tang, who helped design gear for Spider-Man.  But Lian was stealing tech from Parker Industries for the Zodiac – and trying to kill Spider-Man for them – so they’d give her experimental drugs for her sick mother.  After the dust settled, Peter didn’t press charges and offered Lian a second chance, but their relationship was certainly over.  However, he was far from finished flirting with his coworkers.

As they were mopping up after their first big victory over the Zodiac, Mockingbird began a little playful, flirty banter with Spider-Man.  Clearly Peter’s recently failed office romance didn’t give him pause because he jumped right in and followed suit.  And really, can you blame him? 

In theory, the workplace romance is the best thing ever.  Right?  You see each other every day.  You have all the same vacation days so you can effortlessly plan trips together.  Plus, there’s the fun and the thrill of the…well, if not forbidden then certainly naughty nature of it all.  Flirting at work, sharing desirous looks and private jokes at work, stealing secret kisses at work, even sneaking off for a little afternoon delight at work – all of this makes the workday exponentially better!  Who wouldn’t want to take the (at least occasional) doldrums of the workday and inject them with a sexy shot of passion and romance?

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Let the flirtatious fun officially begin! Or, as Grandma used to say, “Ooo la la, oui, oui!” / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

I think it’s natural.  When you spend all day, every day with the same people sooner or later – if you have even just a little bit of chemistry with any of your coworkers –you’re going to wonder, “What if…?”  Plus, our coworkers often become our good friends, given the amount of time spent together, and a good dating relationship is always just a short-yet-important shift away from a good friendship.  Everything you want in your ideal romantic partner is found in a best friend – you just need the healthy sexual attraction and physical relationship added into the mix.  The more time you spend with someone the easier it becomes to cultivate those sorts of feelings, too.  Long workdays certainly open the door to that cultivation…regardless of whether or not it’s a good idea.    

So, it’s hard to avoid these romances blossoming.  Plus, we’ve all kinda been conditioned to want this and to view the workplace romance in this grand, sweeping, romantic light anyway.  For that, I absolutely blame The Office.  In his book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman discusses the cultural effects of the film When Harry Met Sally.  In his essay “This Is Emo,” he writes:

It made it realistic to expect that your best friend may be your soul mate, and it made wanting such a scenario comfortably conventional.  The problem is the Harry-Met-Sally situation is almost always tragically unbalanced.  Most of the time the two involved parties are not really “best friends.”  Inevitably, one of the people have been in love from the first day they met, and the other person is either (a) wracked with guilt and pressure, or (b) completely oblivious to the espoused attraction.  Every relationship is fundamentally a power struggle, and the individual in power is whoever likes the other less.  But When Harry Met Sally gives the powerless, unrequited lover a reason to live.  When this person gets drunk and tells his friends that he’s in love with a woman who only sees him as a buddy, they will say, “You’re wrong.  You’re perfect for each other.  This is just like When Harry Met Sally!  I’m sure she loves you – she just doesn’t realize it yet.”  Nora Ephron accidentally ruined a lot of lives.[1]

While conveyed with a healthy dose of cynicism, I think he’s largely right.  And I think Jim and Pam have done this for a new generation of would-be paramours in the workplace.  Instead of looking to our best friend to be our Soul Mate (which still happens even if the movie isn’t as clear a cultural touchstone anymore), we look to our friends at work to be our Soul Mate – or at least a life-defining lover.  We want Casino Night declarations of love and yogurt lid gold medals and rainy gas station proposals.  Seriously, who wouldn’t want a relationship like Pam and Jim’s??

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I LOVE their banter. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

So I completely understand why Bobbi and Peter would jump into a romance, despite the potential complications their working together could yield.  No one thinks about the complications at the start!  Heck, if anything their working together just makes the prospect of a romance all the more fun.  And fun really is the perfect word to describe “Spockingbird” or “Mocking-Man”…which are the two celebrity couple names Spidey tries out for them XD.

I love Mockingbird and Spider-Man together for the same reason I love Spidey dating the Black Cat and, to the degree they “dated,” Silk.  I love, love, love, love when Peter is with someone who can share the superheroing side of his life.  I think this is important for two significant reasons.  First, Spider-Man is often a solo act and that’s not healthy.  It’s not good for us to go through life alone, trying to handle all the trials of life by ourselves.  Second, for better or worse, Spider-Man will always be a part of Peter’s life.  As a result, being with Mary Jane or Betty Brant or Gwen Stacy will always leave them worrying about Peter and/or put them at risk of being harmed in some supervillain’s strike against Spider-Man.  So I love when Peter’s in a relationship with someone who can superhero alongside him as opposed to it being a burden in their relationship.  Mockingbird, like the Black Cat and Silk before her, is never going to be the damsel in distress and she’s every bit as capable as Spidey in facing masked menaces.

Mockingbird and Spider-Man 49 (2)

Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Really, Bobbi is a better romantic fit with Peter in this way than either the Black Cat or Silk were.  With Silk, there was never a real romantic connection between them.  Cindy and Peter enjoyed a wild and uncontrollable sexual attraction to each other.  It was hot and it was fun but it stopped at the purely physical.  With the Black Cat, their relationship was far more fully defined with real and significant feelings for the other, but she was never really interested in Peter Parker.  Felicia loved the Spider but was often bored by the man.  With Bobbi however, she is a perfect balance to Peter in action but she really cares about him and his “regular” life, too.

Even before they are officially dating, she comes with Peter to the Coffee Bean when he invites all his friends to catch-up after he realizes he’s been neglecting those relationships.

Mockingbird and Spider-Man 20

Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

She loves Aunt May and builds her own relationship with her, outside of just doing the obligatory “girlfriend” stuff. 

And when Parker Industries eventually collapses (because Doc Ock came back in a new clone body that was part him and part Peter (because…comics) and Spider-Man had to destroy the company to prevent Ock from taking back control and turning all their resources over to Hydra), Bobbi gets a new job and a new place and lets Peter crash with her as he tries to find the courage to face let alone sort the catastrophic mess his life has become. 

Bobbi even gently nudges Peter back towards the world, never being abrasive but not letting him lay idle all the time either. 

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Bobbi is so patient and so understanding with Peter. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

And she knows him well enough to know when their feel-good fix is becoming a potential problem.

Mockingbird and Spider-Man 43 (2)

Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

They just click so well in so many ways.  But there is a reason so many places have specific policies about dating in the workplace.  It’s not that they hate love; it’s just that they’re being realistic.  Things can get messy.  Conflicts of interest can arise.  Bobbi Morse will be forced to resign her S.H.I.E.L.D. position when Peter’s frantic quest to find and capture Norman Osborn leads him to use Parker Industries resources to invade and topple regimes in foreign countries.  S.H.I.E.L.D. can’t abide by that but Bobbi chooses to stand with Peter, costing her her job.

She then began to work directly at Parker Industries …until the whole aforementioned “destruction of the company to stop Doc Ock and Hyrda” thing happened.

Bobbi next took a job as the security expert for Humanitech Robotics Inc….until she and Spider-Man learned the advanced A.I. they were developing was really the supervillain Quicksand imprisoned within the robots’ operating systems.  They freed Quicksand and broke the story but Humanitech Robotics Inc. was finished.

Bobbi Morse lost three jobs because of her relationship with Peter Parker!  But it’s all worth it in the name of love, right?  Uh, right?

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Bobbi resigns from S.H.I.E.L.D. because of Peter. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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Bobbi rebounds after losing her job at Parker Industries because of Peter. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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Understandably, Peter’s charm is beginning to wear a little thin for Bobbi after she loses job #3 because of him. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Unfortunately, as with When Harry Met Sally, very few of the workplace romances we pursue will end up like Pam and Jim.  As much as we want to be Pam and Jim, the odds are more likely we’ll end up like Erin and Andy when Andy tells the doc crew, “[Crying] Ok, we ready? [cut] Don’t use that part.  Last week, Erin told me that our relationship would be proceeding without me.  Now I have to see her every day at work.  Which is…brutal.  When people say office relationships are a good idea, they never talk about what might happen if you break up.”[2]  Everything flips when they end.  All that fun, flirty, sexy excitement and energy that filled your day is replaced by everything being awkward all the time.  And awkward and uncomfortable are the best case scenario!  Losing access to a certain stairwell or bathroom for several years because it takes you too close to someone’s workstation when you’d rather just avoid that all together until it gets less weird thank you very much, is a good ending.  Your workplace could become filled with open hostility!  You could lose the respect of your coworkers!  You could have to quit!  You could end up fired!  So the workplace romance is an alluring, seductive, fun…high risk/high reward situation.

Ultimately, Peter and Bobbi will fall victim to this awkward ending, too.  No matter how great a couple they seemed to be (and they seemed so great!), once they removed the thrill of the workplace they realized there wasn’t much to the romance.  Out to lunch with Aunt May, Bobbi tells her she and Peter broke up.  With a familiar frustration Aunt May asks, “What did he do now?”  Bobbi explains, “It wasn’t just him.  When we got together, it was in this hectic, fast-paced job, globe-hopping on one…Parker Industries venture…after another.  Barely time to breathe.  It was great.  Then recently, we went to England to…wrap up a loose end…and on the flight back, we didn’t have any work to talk about…our TVs were broken…it was just us.  And after being stuck together for seven hours, we finally realized…outside of work…we have absolutely nothing in common.”  Workplace romances can end for all sorts of reasons (with varying degrees of fallout, too :8).  Sometimes they just end because the allure of the workplace romance was really the only thing pulling you together in the first place. 

Mockingbird and Spider-Man 58 (2)

OF COURSE Peter misses the lunch Aunt May invited him and Bobbi to so OF COURSE he isn’t there when Bobbi tells Aunt May about their breaking up and OF COURSE a Spider-Man fight interrupts it all and puts people in danger because Peter can’t make good choices. But Bobbi’s there to protect May and call Peter out all at the same time. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Peter moves into a new tiny, little apartment.  Bobbi moves out to the West Coast to take a new job.  And what was once this sexy, thrilling adventure becomes a lot of pregnant pauses, uncomfortable silences, and daredevil feats of avoiding eye contact.  Fortunately for Peter and Bobbi, theirs ends without any major emotional scarring, anger, or bitterness.  They can (probably) stay friends.  Secretly, I’ve always believed the main reason Dan Slott broke them up was because, after ten years writing The Amazing Spider-Man, he wanted to give new author Nick Spencer a blank slate to begin with on the title.  So you never know, maybe “Spokingbird” will hook up again sometime.  Because that’s the thing with the workplace romance, right?  Just because it didn’t work before doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun.  And who knows?  It may work the next time.  I mean, you see each other every day, right?  And you have such great chemistry…

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Want more of my li’l series exploring romantic archetypes using Spider-Man comics?  Well you’re in luck!  Check out:

Spider-Man and the Black Cat: Flirting with Perfection to see how the Black Cat represents those people we know may be wrong for us and/or we know it won’t work out with in the long run…but we’re drawn to them all the same and we seemingly can’t stop flirting with or the pursuing them no matter how hard we try :).

Spider-Man and Mary Jane: Soul Mates? (Y/N/Maybe) for an examination of Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship, with a focus on the question of Soul Mates as well as the classic romantic tropes of the will-they-won’t-they and best-friends-first relationships.

Spider-Man and the Spider Family: A Look At What Might Have Been… to contemplate the “What if…?” people we think of when we consider our romantic “what might have been”s care of the alternate reality series The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows.

Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy: All the Beautiful Angst of First Love to consider how Gwen Stacy has far more significance than just “the girl who died” and how her relationship with Peter perfectly presents all the awkward, cringy, and still oh-so-magical moments of the first time we fall in love.

Spider-Man and Silk: You Gotta Love A Physical Attraction to look at Peter and Cindy Moon’s relationship as an example of those people who inexplicably turn us on.  The attraction, the draw to these people, is like a force of nature, completely beyond our control.  It’s fun buuuut complicated without romantic feelings, too.  

Spider-Man and Captain Marvel: The Super Friend Zone which uses the one date Peter and Carol Danvers went on as the frame to examine the friends we’re attracted to, the nature of “the Friend Zone,” and what we do when we start to feel a li’l romantic and/or sexual chemistry percolating in a platonic pairing.

Spider-Man and Betty Brant: Complicated Affairs of the Heart uses one of the oldest characters in Spider-Man’s character history to explore everything from first crushes and first dates to the confusing pull of falling in love with someone who’s married.

Spider-Man and Michele Gonzales: Hook-Ups, Hang Ups, and Bad Habits explores how all the personal problems and issues and baggage we have that we refuse to acknowledge/own/see can hurt our ability to make it work with a really fantastic partner, as well as what happens when we meet someone who calls us on all our shit.

Spider-Man and Jessica Jones: Harkening Back to the High School Crush opens the door to reminisce about allllllllllll those awkward, anxiety-filled high school crushes we had and could never find the courage to act on while also considering the influence we may have on all the people we hardly know who come in and out of our lives.

Spider-Man and Jean DeWolff: The Lonely Echo of Unrequited Love is a sort of mirror to the cute-anxious experience of the crushes we don’t voice in high school, as it examines the very real pain we can carry in our hearts when we love someone who has no idea how we feel nor loves us back in the way we love them.

Spider-Man and Debra Whitman: Substitute People and Surrogate Relationships explores the toxic relationships we find ourselves in when we don’t articulate our boundaries and advocate for our own needs within our relationships, why we may struggle to do so, and briefly considers the nature of abusive relationships as well.

Spider-Man and Danielle: Wait…Is This A Date? dives into those oh-so-awkward questions that haunt the beginning of any would be romantic relationship were you try to figure out if you’re on a date with someone or just hanging out and all the discomfort and relief trying to figure that out can bring.

Spider-Man and Lily Hollister: She’s My Best Friend’s Girl dives right into the uncomfortably taboo waters we find ourselves in when that inexplicably magnetic attraction ignites within us and we realize we are freely flirting and passionately infatuated with our best friend’s significant other.

Spider-Man and Anna Maria Marconi: The Healing Power of Love considers if/how we may be healed and thus saved by someone else in and through love their love.  To this end, it examines a relationship “Peter” had with Anna Maria while Otto Octavius/Dr. Octopus was in control of his body and living life as the Superior Spider-Man.

Spider-Man and Cissy Ironwood: The “Hey, Whatever Happened To…?” Relationship uses the relationship created for Peter by legendary comic scribe Chris Claremont to consider those people we click with, go out with a few times, and then…they inexplicably disappear from our lives.  There’s no fight.  No break-up.  They’re just there…and then they’re gone.

[1] Chuck Klosterman, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto (Now With A New Middle), (New York: Scribner, 2003), 9.

[2] The Office, “Moving On,” Season 9 Episode 16, Directed by Jon Favreau, Written by Graham Wagner, aired on February 14, 2003 on NBC.

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