"Mockingbird: S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th Anniversary" #1 delivers a standalone Mockingbird adventure by Chelsea Cain and JoÃ«lle Jones and a follow up tale by Margaret Stohl and Nico Leon that introduces the Red Widow. Cain, Jones, colorist Rachelle Rosenberg and letterer Joe Caramagna produce a gorgeous book that maintains a high standard from start to finish in the first story in this issue.
Jones packs a lot into the story, with every panel carrying story and detailed characters. Some panels, like Bobbi Morse picking up a gun for the first time in the issue or reflecting on her amorous mistakes, are playful and uncommon, fashioned to emphasize the story; as drawn by Jones, they are completely memorable. The panel of Clint Barton and Lance Hunter is David Aja-level crafty and plays into the rest of the story.
On the other side of the storytelling spectrum, two panels consume nearly three pages of this story, though those panels are among the quietest in the story. Mockingbird's full face isn't visible in one of those panels and the other feels like a compromised cliffhanger. Unfortunately, that minimizes some other panels that would have been much more dynamic with a little more real estate available.
Jones' art is boldly colored by Rosenberg, who keeps the characters in realistic tones and shades but unleashes all sorts of crazy colors and patterns for the backgrounds. Caramagna adds in snappy sound effects (most notably in the morgue), using a different but clean font. He also balances the dialogue and captions throughout the story, keeping Jones' art clean.
The story itself is constructed on a plot that exists solely to explain Bobbi Morse to newer readers. Cain does a great job of personalizing Mockingbird, but the story in this issue feels like a tryout. There's just enough here to sample but not quite enough to satisfy. I like what Cain does with the characters and the pacing is smart, but now I'd like to see a story with a slightly bigger scope, as Cain certainly makes Mockingbird worth reading.
The second tale in "Mockingbird: S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th Anniversary" #1 is a ten-page experiment that juxtaposes an assignment for Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, with the awakening of Ava Anatalya Orlova, the character destined to become the Red Widow. This segment is written by Margaret Stohl and drawn by Nico Leon, with Andres Mossa on colors and Travis Lanham handling the letters.
That story starts off as the tale of two trains on two tracks from two different stations but, by the end of the ten pages, Stohl brings it together, even if the two characters' paths do not directly cross in this issue. The cover blast promises "The Thrilling Debut of the Red Widow," but the ten-page tale stops short of "thrilling." It does hit "intriguing" and even crosses into "interesting," but there isn't enough here to make Ava thrilling or even worthy of continued exploration. The final panel is a visual tease smartly assembled by Leon and Mossa, but the story leading up to it lacks gumption.
The fact that Stohl brings the two women onto such parallel paths makes the story more fun than the by-the-numbers trope of teen sidekick that this story appears to be on first blush. That's not to say it isn't fun or worthwhile; it's just not completely memorable. Ava Orlova feels like a younger version of Yelena Belova or a misplaced "Young Avengers" analogue for Black Widow, but not much more than that. She makes some heroic decisions for the story's sake, but Stohl makes it quite clear those should be a one-time occurrence, if Ava has her way.
Leon's art is sharp throughout the tale, if a little dark, but the story expects darker art. His storytelling is crisp and clean, even in the shadier panels, and Mossa meets his artist on note, giving "First Strike" a dour range of color.
"Mockingbird: S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th Anniversary" #1 is a decent read with a fun, fast-paced Mockingbird story and an intriguing but thin introduction to Red Widow. Both characters clearly have paths taking them elsewhere from this shared publication, but fans of Mockingbird will be pleased with this purchase. Where those paths wind up remains to be completely revealed, but -- if the creative team in place for Bobbi Morse's tale joins her in the future -- then I'll be checking in as well.