To Retcon a Mockingbird

Trigger warning: Rape

In 1987, two events occurred that had lasting effects on my life. The first was reading the "Lost In Space Time!" saga in West Coast Avengers #17–24. The second was when an older boy on my block raped me.

I've been a lifelong fan of comics, ever since I first saw reruns of Super Friends in preschool. However, I was more on the DC side, and not really into Marvel. That is, until I discovered The West Coast Avengers. Most kids my age were reading the popular books like Daredevil, X-Men, and Spider-Man, but the "Wackos" (as they nicknamed themselves) were the team for me. The snappy exchanges between married heroes Hawkeye and Mockingbird was funny but sweet. Their chemistry was the core of the team and the driving force of the book. This was similar to the camaraderie that drew me into the Justice League during their fabled "Satellite Era" in the early to mid 80s, now supplanted by the less-than-impressive "Detroit Era" team.

Starting in WCA #17, the "Lost in Space-Time!" saga involved the team being tricked into a time machine that can only move back in time, tossing them from one era to another. Iron Man, Tigra, Wonder Man, Mockingbird, and Hawkeye eventually end up in the Wild West of the late 19th century and meet up with Two-Gun Kid, Kid Colt, and Phantom Rider. However, the trip hits a snag when Phantom Rider (AKA Lincoln Slade) became obsessed with Mockingbird (AKA Bobbi Morse) and kidnapped her just before the team was shunted off further into the past. Slade absconded with Bobbi, drugging her to induce memory loss and convince her that they were married. Although it was never shown on panel or outright stated, it was implied — via lack of consent — that Phantom Rider had raped Mockingbird.

Around the time this story was hitting the shelves, I was a young boy raised by a religious grandmother in a repressed household, with very little contact with kids my age outside of school. Months earlier, I started hanging out with "Bob" (not his real name), an older boy that lived down my block. Even though he was at least five or six years older than me, and much bigger and taller, he was mentally on the same level as kids my age. Between that and his collection of ThunderCats and Transformers figures, I had no problems making friends with him.

Then there was the day when I came over and his parents weren't home. Whenever I came over, we always played outside and I rarely came inside (mostly to use the bathroom or get a drink of water). Bob told he that he had something to show me in his room. Being a little boy who was so sheltered from the world that I had no idea what sex was, much less rape, I eagerly came inside his house.

I can still remember how the room was sparsely decorated, with a large open window across from the door that faced the sidewalk and the street. Below it was a medium sized bed, unmade. Then I was abruptly shoved onto his bed, my pants and underwear quickly being pulled off. Before I could react, Bob was on top of me and forcing his penis into me. My small frame struggled to move. My breathing became difficult with his weight compressing me. I didn't know what he was doing, or why he was doing it. I just knew that I didn't like it and wanted him to stop. I strained to break free, and began to scream for help, hoping that someone, anyone would come to my aid as Bob tried to force his half-erect penis into me. Eventually he stopped and got off of me. I don't know why he stopped. Maybe it was because he couldn't get hard enough to finish? Because he was afraid that someone would hear my screams from his open window? Was it due to remorse? I never found out, because I never discussed it with anyone and pushed it out from my mind.

Despite what had happened, I continued to hang out with Bob — though I never went into his house when his parents weren't home. Part of it was because I was naive, and didn't realize at the time that he tried to rape me. The other part was because he seemed truly remorseful, and I sensed that he didn't even fully understand what he had done to me (I suspect he did it because someone had raped him as well). I didn't tell anyone for years because of confusion, guilt, shame, and fear of getting my only friend in trouble. It took years for me to fully deal with what happened to me, and I no longer harbor any more guilt, shame, or anger for something that I did not want or deserve.

When I read about Bobbi's rape at the time, I was still too young to realize or understand what exactly happened to her, though I deeply felt and understood her pain when I revisited the book years later through adult eyes. Her rape had lasting repercussions throughout the the next few years of the book. Bobbi eventually shook off her brainwashing, and in her rage, let Slade fall off a cliff to his death. Partly out of guilt, and partly out of shame, she concealed what had happened from her husband Hawkeye, and from the rest of the team. However, due to interference from the vengeful ghost of Slade, the truth of what occurred was brought to light, fracturing both Bobbi's marriage and the team. Hawkeye was angry that his own wife had hidden the truth from him instead of confiding in him, as well as concealing the fact that she had committed an act of murder. Since murder was against everything the Avengers stood for, a schism formed in the group, with some siding with Bobbi, and the rest disagreeing with what she did, despite her reasons. Bobbi and Hawkeye separated and the team split into two factions, until the Bartons reconciled and the team reunited months later. This remained in canon for years, even after Bobbi was killed by Mephisto and the team disbanded in the wake of her death. (Secret Invasion later revealed that it was Skrull imposter that had died, not the true Ms. Morse-Barton).

As of Mockingbird #8, the final issue of her first solo series, the facts concerning her rape by Phantom Rider have been retconned. As someone that experienced the gamut of emotions associated with being a victim of rape, I was upset that one of the few portrayals in comics that gave the victim full agency and didn't play it up for "shock value" was suddenly being revised. I can understand that rape is a hot-button topic in comics, but that doesn't mean it can't and shouldn't be addressed. In the issue, written by novelist Chelsea Cain, Bobbi has a discussion about what happened between her and Slade back during her time trapped in the Old West. Bobbi tells Slade that she willingly had an affair with him, and that Clint convinced himself that she had been drugged and raped. Essentially, Mockingbird went from a woman who was raped and killed her rapist in self-defense, to a cheater who killed someone without good reason and let her husband retain the delusion that she was the victim of a terrible violation. Not to mention that somehow, the other Avengers managed to fall victim to this gaslighting. I’ve seen many a ridiculous retcon in comics — coughOneMoreDaycough — but this is too much. I'm not angry at Cain for trying to soften Ms. Morse's history, but I am bothered by how clumsily she did it.