Monday, November 21, 2016

Fixing One Problem But Creating Another

So there was bit in the sorta recently released Mockingbird #8 where writer Chelsea Cain tries to rewrite the history between Bobbi Morse and the Phantom Rider a bit, but I'm not sure if it's a net positive. Trigger Warning for discussing rape.

In the original story, written by Steve Engelhart during his stint on West Coast Avengers, the "Whackos" get suckered onto a partially functional one of Doom's time machines that can only go backwards in time and are sent to 1886. They have a brief team-up with Two-Gun Kid, Kid Colt, and Phantom Rider before deciding to try going back to Ancient Egypt to see if Rama-Tut will fix their time machine. Phantom Rider becomes obsessed with Mockingbird, and just as they're about to depart, sucker punches and kidnaps her. Then he drugs her to forget Hawkeye and fall in love with him. Eventually Two-Gun Kid snaps her out of it by dressing up as Hawkeye, Bobbi hunts down the Rider, during the fight he stumbles off a cliff, and Bobbi declines to pull him up (he doesn't help matters by demanding she do so, rather than asking politely or pleading). She and Clint are reunited, but Bobbi holds back about a lot of what happened, at first not wanting to burden Clint (and probably not dwell on it herself), and then later because she hadn't realized how strongly Clint felt about "Avengers don't kill". Which leaves an opening for the ghost of the Rider to appear and tell Clint Bobbi actually killed him. Which Clint, who had sensed she was keeping something from him, believes. It leads to him divorcing her like a total dipshit.

That's a lot of recapping, but I figured we might as well lay out the original parameters. What we get now is Bobbi telling the Rider Clint divorced her because she cheated on him. That the Rider could never have controlled her, and she made the decision to have a fling with him. And Clint, whether he would admit it out loud or not, knows this. {Edit: Now with the page in question from the comic that I totally forgot to include the first time!}

Now, there is a possibility this was all a ruse by her to shatter any illusions the Rider had of being in control. In story, it seems to make him realize he's always been a schmuck she used and discarded, and there's no hope of them being together. So he abandons the relative he's possessing. But Cain did say on Twitter (before she was driven off it by abusive jackasses in an uproar over Bobbi being drawn wearing an "Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda" shirt, because some people are stupid assholes) that maybe the drugged/raped story didn't need to be canon, and that yes, Bobbi is saying she had given consent and Clint just didn't want to accept it. So I don't think the intent is for it to be a ploy Bobbi's using, but rather, the new interpretation of the story. It gets a rape out of a female character's backstory that didn't really need it, seems like a good thing. Except. . .

I mean, as a side issue, it makes Clint look better. He didn't divorce his wife who had just recently been drugged and raped (I don't know how physical the two had gotten, but I don't think it matters much since the Rider had clearly removed her consent) because her attacker said she murdered him and Clint believed it. Pretty shitty. Instead, he divorces her because she cheated on him and (maybe) had a hand in killing the guy she fooled around with. That's more understandable. I've made my feelings on infidelity pretty clear in the past, so if we're going with "Bobbi was unfaithful", I am fully on Clint's side in this, whereas before I had basically no sympathy for him whatsoever.

From Bobbi's perspective though, it's kind of hard to square her actions in that story with this retcon. Like, the last she sees of her team, they're going further back in time to try and parlay with a potentially dangerous time-traveling despot to get back home. She has no idea how that's going, but she should be able to reasonably conclude they're worried about her (and Clint is probably frantic), which is going to make them desperate and cause them to maybe take risks they shouldn't so they can get back to her. But there's no indication she thinks about that at all*. What's more, Two-Gun Kid and Kid Colt are trying to track her down and rescue her through all this, and the first time they catch up, she helps the Rider beat their asses. Which is one thing if she's drugged, but quite another if she's not. That's going a little far for an affair, no?

Then there's the whole issue of the Phantom Rider's death. In the original story, Bobbi shakes off the effects of the drugs, is rightly pissed, and hunts down the Rider in a fury, telling Two-Gun and Colt to stay out of it. She's clear-headed enough to be ready for all his tricks, but her emotional state could be questioned in terms of how much she's thought this out. In the new version, she was toying with the Rider the whole time, and when it's over she attacks him until he falls over the cliff. Then she watches him die. Which makes it seem like her trying to cover her tracks. She got what she wanted, time to get rid of the evidence. How inconvenient he didn't stay dead. There's a greater argument for premeditation on her part. Slade is no innocent, he still kidnapped and tried to drug her, even if it didn't work. But the fact Bobbi played along with it, rather than kicking his ass the moment she regained consciousness - or the first moment he dropped his guard, or the first time Two-Gun and Colt caught up - doesn't look too good**.

The original story didn't really do Bobbi any favors, in terms of adding or illuminating aspects of her character. I think there were probably stories in her SHIELD years that could have handled pointing out how her attitude towards killing differs from Hawkeye's, without adding rape to her backstory. The new version takes that out, but I'm not sure it puts back in anything good. One answer might be that the story had to play out differently from how we've seen it, but there's only so far you can stretch it. Phantom Rider still has to die, and Bobbi still has to be present. Hawkeye still has to lost somewhere in time during all this. It still isn't going to be great for her, any way you slice it. So I don't know. Not so much turning a negative into a positive as it is turning a big negative into a little one? You could do something probably with exploring why she made that decision, how it fits into her personality as a whole.

{Edit: Something that came to mind after I posted this originally is this retcon does sort of explain why Clint and Bobbi have had an on-again, off-again thing since her return in Secret Invasion. Based on how the story played out originally, it's hard to understand why Bobbi would want anything to do with a jerk who abandoned her at a traumatic moment and basically blamed her for it. I'm sure Clint regretted it (and it certainly fed into him venturing into Hell to rescue her soul that time Daimon Hellstrom tricked him into rescuing Patsy Walker, a story which is probably not in continuity anymore, but whatever),  but I'd expect Bobbi to feel a lot of resentment towards him. But if he divorced her because he was hurt she cheated on him, but he still cares for her, and despite the affair, she still cares for him, then the fact the mutual attraction persisted makes more sense. For what that's worth.}

* Cain also made a point we've only seen the story from male POVs which if she means the writers, yes, I imagine that's correct. But in-story, we did see Bobbi's thoughts, via the magic of thought balloons.

** There's also the question of Phantom Rider's mental health. Even setting aside his unhealthy obsession with Bobbi, which has persisted beyond death, he was clearly having problems. Struggling to uphold the law, dealing with the guilt of his brother's death and trying to carry this mantle of the Phantom Rider, which left him feeling isolated. I mean, he's so ecstatic when he thinks the drugs worked, because he isn't alone. It doesn't excuse his actions, but the guy needed treatment (treatment he would almost certainly have not received in the 1880s, but that's another matter). At the minimum, he probably needed to get out of law enforcement and vigilantism entirely. That's not relevant, it's just something I noticed a little more thinking back over the story recently.


SallyP said...

Boy howdy... this sounds... convoluted.

CalvinPitt said...

I feel like Chelsea Cain's goals were pretty straightforward, but yeah, it kind of becomes a mess the more I think about it.

Although, it does help to explain why Clint and Bobbi seem to keep drifting back together since she was brought back in Secret Invasion. Like, under the old story, it made no sense why Bobbi would want anything to do with him after he divorced her over that. But if he did it because she had an affair, because he was hurt, but he still cares, and she still cares about him, then I can see them getting together from time to time as they do. So that's a plus. Hmm, maybe I'll add that in to the post.