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A Hell of a Past – Mockingbird

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This is the first in a series (of indefinite length and regularity) of pieces examining the hilariously convoluted history of certain comic book characters.

Our inaugural edition focuses on the long, strange trip that has been Bobbi “Mockingbird” Morse’s 40-year comic book history, from the pages of 1971’s Astonishing Tales #6 to the present day (she made her live action TV debut this week on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

Enjoy!

NOTE: THIS IS JUST ABOUT HER FICTIONAL BIOGRAPHY. THERE ARE SOME INTERESTING STORIES INVOLVING HER BEHIND-THE-SCENES DEVELOPMENT THAT I’LL PROBABLY ADDRESS IN THE FUTURE, MOST LIKELY IN THE PAGES OF COMIC BOOK LEGENDS REVEALED. SO IF YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT THOSE STORIES, WAIT UNTIL THAT TIME TO DO SO.

Barbara “Bobbi” Morse made her first appearance in the Ka-Zar feature in Astonishing Tales #6, by Gerry Conway, Barry Windsor-Smith and Bill Everett (quite an awesome creative team for your first appearance, huh?). See if you can recognize her…

Yes, when Bobbi first showed up, she had psychic powers!!!

This was Gerry Conway’s last issue of Astonishing Tales, though, so next issue Roy Thomas took over.

Roy continued the plot a bit (no psychic powers mentioned)…

Then the next issue, we finally meet her in the Savage Land, only now she has abruptly changed her hair color and gained a fiancee out of nowhere…

For the next few issues, Barbara and Paul are caught up in this bizarre storyline involving British refugees continuing to fight World War II in the Savage Land against German refugees.

Clearly, you could tell that Thomas and co-writer Gary Friedrich had NO CLUE why Barbara was coming to see Ka-Zar. Watch Paul be a total jerk to Barbara in this issue that was just a framing sequence for Ka-Zar’s origin…

Barbara was strictly “damsel in distress” all of these issues.

Finally, in issue #12, out of NOWHERE, we learn Barbara’s motivations…

Yes, they searched for something for her to do, and they came up with “tie it into Man-Thing!”

By the way, do note that this does not fit her early appearances at ALL.

Okay, so now she is a biologist working with the government.

In a flashback showing how she was compelled to get help (Ka-Zar, though? Huh?), she is also strictly a damsel-in-distress…

But then our next twist, Paul is a bad guy!!!

Things get bad for Paul as Man-Thing destroys the installation…

mockingbird15

This gives us our NEXT twist, though. Barbara is not just a biologist, she is a biologist working for SHIELD!

mockingbird15a

Go to the next page to see what happens next now that Barbara is a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, including the first appearance of her Bobbi nickname and the first appearance of her in costume!

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75 Comments

can you show the history of tigra?

the mocking bird origin info is very interesting.

Wow, that *is* crazy. And here I only knew her as Black Canary to Hawkeye’s Green Arrow, though I’d read a few of those Ka-Zar issues and that issue (OK, every issue) of Marvel Team-Up.

What I really love in this post, though, is seeing Bobbi interpreted by such an amazing gallery of Marvel artists. Barry Windsor-Smith, Gil Kane, John Buscema, Neal Adams, John Byrne… Not too shabby.

That is one terrible way to die, though. Killed by demon spit while sporting a mullet. Wotta revoltin’ development.

After years of thinking of her as Marvel’s Black Canary rip-off, I’m still sort of amazed she wasn’t created as Hawkeye’s love interest. And he original codename was Huntress, of all things. She just needs to quit being a superhero and focus on intel gathering to complete the Birds of Prey trifecta.

God, she used to be so much COOLER.

great feature Brian! I’ve loved Mockingbird since her WCA days; but I’ll be honest, I had NO idea what her history was prior. Crazy stuff indeed! I think Spiderwoman would be a good candidate for this…her past is NUTS!

Great new feature idea. I’d love to see some of these on Psylocke, Power GIrl, Hawkman, Magneto (surprisingly more convoluted than most people realize: he’s been de-aged, dead, reformed, in a coma, given amnesia, decapitated, ruled a nation, etc.), and Black Canary.

I want more files like this, congratulations

You should do the history of Hellcat next (Though I guess shes not in anything), shes the one that started out in the romance comics first right?

Yeah, pphead, I agree – she was a seriously groovy chick!

I too didn’t realize she’d been around that long. She’s always been one of my favorite Marvel heroes because I loved her attitude and costume design, and and always I thought I had bought her first appearance off the rack in that Marvel Team-up with Spider-Man.

Thanks so much for this article – it was awesome to see Bobbi drawn by all those great artists – especially her Huntress appearance. (killer boots!)

I had no idea she was a Kazar love-interest – I wonder if she’s ever met up with him again in recent times?

Her costume sure got mangled over the years. I love her new look, but do kinda wish she’d return to her distinctive white&black mask. The first version she wore in the Spidey story would be better than the boring glasses she has now.

Lots of mutants would be great for this list. Psylocke, Copycat, Cable, Shattertar. Black Widow has evolved considerably since her first appearance.

I still don’t see quite why she was brought back from the dead in Secret Invasion.

For the past few months I’ve been trying to pick up all of her early appearances. They aren’t that expensive to pick up. Astonishing Tales #12 and 13, featuring her, Kazar, A.I.M. and Man-Thing are absolute classics.

I guess “hilariously convoluted” depends on how you interpret “hilariously.” The pre-WCA material provides examples of writers handling a character without following a plan. The WCA material was successful and straightforward, with the exception of the Byrne run on WCA. Whatever the motive was for her death in AWC #100 — wanting Hawkeye to go back to being a loner? — the death was well done.

The material since her retconned resurrection occurred has been terrible, but the reasons for that are easy to see. She’s a character without a theme. Nothing she does is a natural fit, because the character concept has internal contradictions, and giving her generic superpowers in NEW AVENGERS only made things worse. She was better off dead.

SRS

I agree with SRS, she is better off dead than how she’s been handled of late.

If this theme is all about ridiculously convoluted, there is no doubt both Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart will be heavily involved in almost all of them. I am currently reading a lot of 70s Marvel comics for the first time, and it’s Amazing how the same four writers seem to appear everywhere mucking everything up with excessively convoluted fanwanking.

Thanks for getting all that information and posting it for us. Its good to know where our current heroes came from and the history that they have to tell. Looking forward to more in the future.

om never knew mocking bird started out as a scientist trying to track down kazar and then wound up being the marvel version of the huntress first. talk about convulted. and two canidates perfect for this colum in a future edition have to be hawkman and donna troy .

Pretty much the entire team of Alpha Flight could be on here.

Iris West is a possible candidate for this feature.

Wow! I’ve actually got the issue where Bobbi and Zabu are on the helicarrier and Fury calls Zabu “mangy”! It’s one of my first comics, If I remember correctly, it deals with the alien giant Gog. It ends with Victorius becoming the supersoldier.

I think I also have the Marvel Team Up and I definitely have the first Hawkeye-Mockingbird series that ends with them in the tub.

Thanks for this. Good memories.

Great idea for a column, Brian. And a great choice of subject to start it off as well.

As always, I think you’re too harsh to Thomas and Englehart, T.

I won’t deny that both had a tendency for fanwankery and convoluted stories, and it makes me want to shout at them when they waste a whole issue to resolve some obscure storyline from another comic that I wasn’t even aware of in the first place and that doesn’t add anything to the drama of the current storyline.

But they both had some great moments too. They’re the guys that picked up the Marvel style Stan Lee created and took it to the next level, they were the Marvel style on warp speed, when they were good.

Insane! Weird that her DC analogue (Or is she the Marvel analogue?) Black Canary had an equally confusing origin. But now that’s been retconned away. Again. Or something.

I’ve never read anything before the Team-Up, but I had picked up a little bit of her earlier history that’s been referred to here and there. It wasn’t until last year’s Hawkeye and Mockingbird series that I even knew she was a biologist. And that bit about being psychic came as a total shock just now!

Gruenwald really should’ve drawn more often. Is there anything else he ever drew? The Hawkeye series is the only thing I’ve ever heard of.

Better off dead?! You people are crazy.

She has just as much reason to exist as Hawkeye. Considering how integral SHEILD is to the Avengers, as an ex-shield agent with a long history with Nick Fury she’s perfect for the team. There’s no reason the Avengers has to be such a sausage-fest.

Plus, she can kick butt now with tougher foes than ever before. She rocks.

That’s what’s great about comics, characters like this we’ve had multiple reinventions because of the multiple writers writing them. Hellcat is a great example or Tigra or Wonderman, Hank Pym, etc….

I like the idea of Bobbi as the Huntress and being Ka-Zar’s partner. It’s sort of like the Green Arrow origin where he became a great archer because of times spent in the wild. She could have become like this because she spent time with Ka-Zar in the Savage Land and would be his liaison with the modern World. If they ever do a Ultimate version, that could be the road to take, And then have her work for SHIELD AFTER her adventure in the Savage Land would have given her incredible survival skills.

Also I like her the glasses. I think it makes her look differently than the other blond heroines.

I loved (and still have somewhere) that ish of Marvel Team-Up, my favorite part aside from Bobbi’s general sexy appearance was where Spidey’s given control of the Shield flying car and almost loses it over the ocean because he never learned to drive. I always thought that was one of the most charming “real New Yorker” elements of Spider-Man, which of course has probably been changed by now, since all Avengers can pilot Quinjets, motorcycles, submarines, etc.

Future Suggestion: Machine Man! I always hated what the Wolfman/Ditko series changed him into, which took decades to repair, and I’m not sure where he’s at now..

Tigra! Tigra! Tigra!

Gruenwald really should’ve drawn more often. Is there anything else he ever drew? The Hawkeye series is the only thing I’ve ever heard of.

Not much, just a few things in the ’80s. A few What If? stories back in the day, including the classic one where Korvac won (and its sequel later on). An ’80s Marvel Team-Up annual with Spidey and a bunch of heavy hitters (Dr. Strange, Quasar, Scarlet Witch, Thing) against the Serpent Crown. Pretty much only stuff he also wrote, except for a few Bill Mantlo-era issues of Hulk (including that weird Questprobe video game tie-in).

I imagine we’ll be seeing a lot of Byrne in this feature too. Speaking of which, man, Donna Troy would be a gold mine for this.

This is pretty amazing.

I only really know Mockingbird in her incarnation as a cut-rate Black Canary. It looks like that is not even in her Top 3 status quos. She has a long history of being an extremely effective mole.

I think the hell stuff deserved at least a mention, just because the Skrull reveal contradicts it. Not necessarily a full section on its on, but at least as a foot note/extra to the Skrull reveal sections. Contradictions caused by retcons are one of the issues when it comes to understanding convoluted backstories.

Wow…I have her debut issue in Astonishing Tales #6 and forgot that was her!

And Brian, Gerry Conway didn’t leave AT in issue #6 since he wrote the last 2 installments of the Doom series in the other half of that comic in issues #7 and #8

Wow! What a fictional life she’s led.

Betsy Braddock would probably wok in this feature, too.

Brian, this was an absolute trip. Definitely continue this feature!

Y’know, looking at this, I realize they could have said that every appearance after that first issue was a Skrull, if they wanted. How freaky would that be?

What about ANY OF THE MLJ HEROES?

I loved Byrne’s Avengers West Coast stuff. It ended too soon.

Gurenwald also drew the entry for Green Arrow’s evil counterpart Merlyn the Archer in the first series of Who’s Who: The Definitive Guide to the DC Universe. Before becoming a comics pro, he also designed a new masthead for the Justice League of America book. Redrawn by Dick Dillin, it became the image atop many of the Satellite League-era letters pages.

Bobbi’s one of my favourite characters and I thought I knew her whole history but I had no idea she was first written with psychic powers. That’s crr-azy!

A great column and concept for a column, Brian! I look forward to seeing more of this, and I hope the focus will be on characters who in spite of their longevity don’t or haven’t received a lot of A-list status. I also hope future articles will incorporate characters from across the comics medium. Let me know if you need help with anything concerning the column or the others you write. While I’m not a journalist, I’m a comics fan and I can only imagine the amount of research and work that goes into a column’s preparation.

It’s interesting to know that the Mockingbird Hawkeye loved at some point was the alien Skrull that he killed during Secret Invasion.

I liked Bobbie, and agree with others that the ‘Secret Invasion’ Retcon sucked. Those issues of the Avengers were some of my favourites. as it really got into the sense of family the Avengers had. (Plus getting a Perez drawn Eric Masterson was icing on the cake for this Thunderstrike fan).

Definately keep this article going.

Did Bendis ever give an explanation for why the Bobbi Morse who died via demon spat didn’t turn into a Skrull body (which happened to the Skrull Elektra and every other Skrull imposter who died in Secret Invasion)? I loved a lot of Bendis’ stuff when he first started working at Marvel (he brought me back inrto collecting comics)….but he fell into the “rewriting history” trap like so many others (which has contributed to me no longer buying comics).

I don’t think Bendis gave explanations for many of the plot holes and problems raised by Secret Invasion.

It has been a while and I have zero desire to read it now, but I recall Bendis not even being consistent within his own story, much less in regards to other writers. It very much felt like he was making the whole thing up as he went along, with little to no thought or planning.

Bendis usually has VERY well thought-out themes, but he’s very impatient with the business of plot details and mechanics. There’re usually a lot of ideas in his stories, but the way he gets from A to B is often inconsistent, spotty, and sometimes self-contradictory. I increasingly prefer what other writers do with the thematic architecture he sets up in his stories to his actual stories.

Let me jump aboard the “Do one of these for Hellcat” bandwagon!

Bendis usually has VERY well thought-out themes, but he’s very impatient with the business of plot details and mechanics.

He does? How can a Bendis Avengers story have a well thought-out theme if nothing else in the story works? From a reader’s perspective, there’s no difference between a writer who’s “impatient” with the labor involved in plot development and mechanics, and someone who simply doesn’t know how to write. The story is terrible either way.

SRS

My first encounter with Bobby was in the B&W story. I had no idea she had a history (I assumed the references to her past history with Ka-Zar were just a fabricated backstory). I notice nobody ever explained what happened to her psychic powers.
Yes, the death probably should have been included. Although I suppose it slops over into an “abandoned and forsaken” storyline too.
Tigra would be good. Supergirl, maybe, due to all the post-Crisis reinventions.

Okay, I just browsed through a list of Astonishing Tales covers online and saw in the Dr. Doom feature, Black Panther identified only as “T’Challa” Is that due to Marvel’s discomfort about sharing a name with a black-power group?

Thank you, Brian. Your column was interesting, though it doesn’t make Mockingbird such. Initially, I liked the dynamic that she and Hawkeye had back in the WCA days. Upon reflecting, she’s just another Black Canary without the scream. She’s yet another female SHIELD agent who’s put on a mask. I’m not certain how to fix her. I just wish she was more dynamic and original…other than battle staves?!

If Bobbi Morse was a SHIELD agent all along, then her “psychic powers” could have been an act, a cover story to explain why she wanted to see Ka-Zar.
And Presto! The “missing, unexplained” psychic powers are no longer missing, nor unexplained.

[…] by bursting his own ear drum with one of his supersonic arrows, as our friend Brian Cronin detailed in this long post about […]

I like the Contest of Champions panel with her on one side and Shanna (Ka-zar’s other love intrest) on the other.

1. Was it also around the GLA times that Mockinbird developed the giraffe-based powers? One of the panels depicts them perfectly.

2. It should’ve been obvious it was a Skrull that died, regular humans don’t die from having their costumes ripped. And being burned leaves human beings being… actually burnt. Not untouched except for a weird trickle of black fluid at the mouth.

Lots of comic book characters have a hell of a past. To name a few:

Rick Jones: instrumental in Hulk origin, Hulk sidekick, founder/head of Teen Brigade, instrumental in Avengers origin, Avengers sidekick, Captain America sidekick, Captain Marvel sidekick, Kree/Skrull War winner, Rom sidekick, Hulk sidekick again, A-Bomb… I’m sure I missed a few important events in that list, such as dying and coming back to life.

Captain America: I can’t keep all the retcons straight in my head anymore.

The Vision: I can’t keep it straight in my head anymore.

interesting for never knew when she started out with Kazar she had metal powers. then not then later winding up that the barbara who killed the phantom rider was a skrull. can’t wait till this column gets to trying to explain the mess that is donna troy for dc

“You cruddy broad!” They really knew how to hurl insults back in the 70s.

I had Astonishing Tales 12, which introduced me to Bobbi and to Man-Thing and (I think) AIM. Until now, I didn’t realize that it was also the first issue where the writer had any idea who she was!

Hey Brian, I’m with some of the other posters with featuring either Tigra or Hellcat next (or Moondragon, Mantis, Monica Rambeau, Julia Carpenter, Sersi … pretty much every female Avenger besides Jan, Wanda and She-Hulk would be perfect for this feature, they’ve all had messed up origins).

But Hellcat in particular I’d like to see, especially since she transitioned from being a funny book character to a Marvel Universe character. It might be fun to explore specifically when that happened. A lot of people say she 1st appeared in the true Marvel Universe in The FF annual with Reed and Sue’s wedding, but it seems like there’s a point when her series transitioned from humor to romance, circa issue 116 … almost like a line in the sand, all of a sudden things got more realistic.

Byrne and Bendis sure like to change things. I always loved Byrne’s West Coast Avengers run.

Well done. I’ve always liked the character since I was introduced to her in that Hawkeye limited series. I can’t believe that Hawkeye gives her such a hard time when she was essentially raped by the Phantom Rider. And Mephisto. He really hates couples in love, Silver Surfer and Shalla bal, Peter and MJ and this. What other lovebird couplings has he kept apart?

Those sleeves. You could hide a helicarrier in those things.

Well, I ‘d like to echo the other voices calling for columns on Tigra/The Cat and Patsy Walker/Hellcat!!

And I’d like to add Valkyrie and Hawkman.

Nice column!!

Always one of my favorite characters after the Hawkeye mini but I always felt like Roger Stern would have done a better job with her than Steve Englehart did in West Coast Avengers. I enjoyed her and Hawkeye together and really liked their series a few years ago.

What is interesting is how in older decades writers and artists didn’t let anything go to waste. If a character was introduced by a writer, the following writer in a title would keep using the character, and the character could even resurface in another title. And with characters without a strong concept, like Barbara Morse, it became almost like a game of chinese whispers.

Even when the new creative team wanted to changed directions sharply, they would at least pay lip service to older characters and plotlines and try to give those tories a hasty finish.

Compare that to the post 1990s Marvel Universe, where different runs can replace one another without much of a looking back and we have a sort of Darwinian continuity – only popular stuff survives.

I don’t know which is preferable, really. Constant re-start in modern comics gets tiresome, but we also have some less than stellar older works when a lot of effort was spent trying to fix continuity points. The only constant is that a series suffers when there is a lot of flux in the creative teams.

The most recent Mockingbird arc extensively used her past history. Including characters who hadn’t been mentioned in comics in forty years. And her ongoing series with Hawkeye by Jim McCann also extensively used her past history. Hell, even Bendis tried to work in her past history into his take on her.

Brian –

When I said “modern”, I think I was describing stuff from the 1990s up to 2008 or so. I didn’t read a lot of Marvel Comics after 2008, so I take your word for it.

But there is something weird about guys like Bendis. It’s not like they really ignore what came before, but they’re very selective about it. “Hmmm… I like the stuff John Byrne did to Wanda. I will pretend the years of stories that came after Byrne showing Wanda adjusting never happened.”

Or the way Bendis more or less returns to the 1960s for his characterization of the Wasp.

So yeah, some modern writer returning to the very first Mockingbird stories while treating everything that came after as some fake implanted personality doesn’t surprise me.

Shot and revived by the super-soldier serum and the infinity formula, what stunning originality. Oh, wait, not at all.
Minor question, wasn’t Victorius established as the head of the cult when it first showed up? So why “says he was the head”—or has that been retconned? And why would they tell a Secret Origin of Ka-Zar when his origin was established? Just a recap or was it some startling new revelation?
Black Knight would be good. Starts out as a scientist atoning for his uncle’s crimes, becomes a magic sword wielder and … well everything that followed including moving to the Malibu universe for a while.

Weird thing to notice, but is Bobbi’s cleavage/ torso fireproof? (Yes, that’s asked in jest.)
It’s just amusing to see that Marvel Team-Up where her shirt gets burned off: her costume protected her, even though she still shows a lot of skin that the burning fabric should still have at least singed. And then when she died from the blast to the back (okay, I forgive her costume not saving her because it’s Hellfire) – her skin looks pretty non-burned.

Huh, maybe Bobbi had a power all this time: invulnerable decolletage!

Oops, no, the Cult preceded the Super-Soldier leading it. My bad.

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