"Let's Pretend This Never Happened"- Redeeming Bishop

Can a comic book character be ruined for all time?  Can a character stray so far from their essential nature or commit so heinous a crime, that they can never be used again? 

            For some fans, the answer is “Yes.”  They bitterly complain about misdeeds that occurred in a story ten, twenty or thirty years ago.  Yet history shows us that the reverse is true.  For a beloved character, there is always a path to- if not, redemption- at least reclamation.  Jean Grey became a genocidal maniac and destroyed an entire planet with several billion inhabitants, but she was eventually welcomed back into the X-Men fold.  Hal Jordan became a homicidal traitor who made Benedict Arnold look like a kindergartener, but he was eventually restored to the Green Lantern Corps. 

            Paul of O’Brien of “House to Astonish” contemplated this phenomenon in a recent column.  He was ostensibly reviewing “Vendetta,” the current crossover between Uncanny X-Force and X-Force.  However, O’Brien laments that those titles haven’t been very good (I’ll have to take his word for it; I was unimpressed by online previews and off-the-shelf browsing and didn’t bother to pick up either one).  Plus, both titles are using this crossover to conclude their current runs and make room for yet another re-launch.  So, with an uninteresting story and two moribund titles, O’Brien wandered into the larger discussion of character redemption.

            One of the problems affecting the two X-Force titles is that their current leads have recently been mortal enemies.  In the last Cable series, writer Duane Swierczynski cast the X-Man Bishop as his villain.  Bishop was determined to kill the young child Hope because he thought that killing her would prevent his dystopic future from taking place.  And Cable was determined to protect her because she was the future hope of mutant-kind.  Cable fled into the timestream with Hope as his ward, jumping around history with his time travel device.  And Bishop followed them from era to era, hot on their heels in his dogged determination to kill Hope. 

            In my opinion, it was a horrible piece of mis-casting.  Bishop had been an officer of the law in his original incarnation.  He may have echoed Judge Dredd on occasion with his singular focus on justice but he was never a tyrant who operated outside of the law.  Plus, Bishop’s original rough edges had been smoothed out in the past 15 years as he developed friendships with Gambit, Storm and Sage.  The idea that Bishop would suddenly throw all of that out the window to become a deranged killer was completely out of character.  Furthermore, Bishop had already addressed and averted his future in previous stories, such as the major “Onslaught” story.  Swierczynski ignored past characterization and continuity to shoehorn Bishop into a villain’s role.  It was a complete repudiation of the existing character.  It also reduced a complex hero to a simplistic villain, compounding the mistake. 

            Swierczynski has since moved on and other Marvel writers have been left with the job of cleaning up the Bishop mess.  Sam Humphries has apparently tried to ease Bishop back into the fold as one of the characters in Uncanny X-Force.  But Cable has been in charge of the other X-Force team.  Inevitably, the two teams would clash and the animosity between Bishop and Cable would come to the fore (rather, understandably on Cable’s part; Bishop had repeatedly tried to kill him after all).  That clash is apparently at the heart of “Vendetta.”  Yet the battle between the two teams is really secondary to the main problem: can Bishop be redeemed as a comic book character?  Can he go back to being an X-Man in good standing?

            Paul O’Brien noted that there are two ways to redeem a character.  The first is to use “the logic of the story and actually redeem him.”  Geoff Johns opted for this route with Hal Jordan.  He reintroduced Hal in a mini-series specifically designed to rehabilitate the character, “Green Lantern: Rebirth.”  He explained the source of Hal’s madness.  He also had Hal pay for his past misdeeds, even though Hal might have argued that he wasn’t responsible for them since he wasn’t in his right mind.

            The second option is to “provide some sort of notional closure and then politely agree with the audience that We Shall Never Speak of This Again.”   For all practical purposes, Marvel pursued this route with Jean Grey.  They hand-waved away her crimes by declaring that she had been lying in a cocoon at the bottom of Jamaica Bay while the Phoenix took her form and did all of these horrible things in her name.  Marvel didn’t entirely follow this option in that they still mention it again, but usually to remind the audience that “Jean Grey didn’t do that; it was the Phoenix.” 

            The better example might be Carol Danvers.  In one misbegotten story, Carol Danvers fell in love with the time displaced Scarlet Centurion.  Then, in a weird twist of time and fate, she gave birth to their child who would grow up to become the Scarlet Centurion.  You read that right- she gave birth to her own husband.  Carol was written out of the Avengers as part of that story.  New writers didn’t really know what to do with her either.  She spent time as an exile in space; she became a new hero with different powers called Binary.  Eventually, Kurt Busiek brought her back to the Avengers, ignored all of the stuff that had happened in the meantime and restored her to heroic status.  Everyone essentially agreed “We Shall Never Speak of This Again”- although it occasionally shows up in an online discussion about bad story ideas.

            So what about Bishop?  I don’t know what Marvel will do with the character though they appear to be leaning toward “Let’s Pretend It Never Happened.”  Bishop isn’t as popular as Hal Jordan and probably couldn’t attract enough readers to buy a mini-series specifically devoted to his redemption.  So the best option is to simply move forward and hope that most fans forget about the admittedly forgettable Cable series by Swierczynski.  They probably need some nominal closure that they can then refer to in future stories.  It could be as simple as “that was a Bishop from another timestream” or “he was buried in a cocoon at the bottom of Jamaica Bay.”   But this is comics- everyone eventually comes back.

Views: 3790

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

For me it's somewhat of a tragedy that characters can come back from almost anything. It cheapens the victims of their original crime. To have the horror of a good guy go bad and then say in effect -'oops', or 'it wasn't really that bad and a lot of characters have done worse' or 'well they were sorry for a long time' or my personal favorite 'it's just comics' reduces the original story to meaninglessness. Not only the original story but the actual crime and the victims who become non-player characters. Douglas Adams when he created the Whale and the Flower Pot in the Hitch Hiker's Guide did it in part to point out that everyones death affects someone, even if it's only that person.
When you have Rogue trying to murder Carol, decimating her mind and then being welcomed into the X-Men I wonder how seriously I was supposed to take what she had done to Carol. When Carol beat up Julia in front of her daughter I wonder what sort of emotional scarring that must have left on a young girl to see a heroine -one of the good guys- beating up her mother for no real reason. When the X-men and the Avengers have a war, when Zatanna messes with Catwoman's mind, when over a million people are turned into OMAC's and Checkmate is allowed to rebuild with Sasha Bordeaux in charge as if nothing had happened... and then in a few issues it's all wiped away... It's one of the reasons I almost stopped collecting completely a while back. If the writers care so little about the characters why should I care?

To me when you set out to destroy or distort a character to tell a story and then another writer comes along and tries to move that character back it essentially eliminates give the character the ok.

Of course, Bishop is very visible in the trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past. They probably want him to be a hero in good standing before the movie opens.

As I've said before, killing or otherwise making characters unusable should be approved by the book's editor and also the executive editor. When you play with someone else's toys you shouldn't break them. Damaging valuable characters like this causes future writers to either write whiplash-inducing fixes or to ignore the earlier stories completely. In the larger world, it creates problems with selling the characters in other media.

The Hal Jordan case apparently was approved by everybody. I never understood why they gave him Reed Richards hair. This probably made readers (and writers) think of him as obsolete and want him replaced.

On the one hand, I can see the desire to thin the herd from time to time, especially on a book like X-Men, which seems to constantly keep accruing new characters, many of which are only a few degrees different than ones they already have.  Certainly at first glance, Bishop would seem to be redundant to the inexplicably more popular Cable (both time travelers from distopian futures with a fondness for really big guns), and as far as I'm concerned, the X-Men have far too many members from alternate futures/timelines.  On the other hand, up until the Messiah storyline, Bishop had been a much more consistent & coherent character than Cable (who, while not actually a cyborg, was none the less a conglomeration of various bits of business pretty much assembled as he went along), and there were any number of other characters who would have made more sense in his role in the story.  It's a shame there no longer seem to be people in a position to point that sort of thing out before the damage is done.

I don't think there is much care about continuity anymore, and perhaps that is a good thing.

While I appreciate some of the intent behind GL: Rebirth, I don't think it worked.  Heck, I refused to even read it because I understood that its purpose can't possibly work for me.  It was a domino puzzle meant to entertain with its ingenuity while DC asked us to just accept that no, it wasn't really Hal who commited such atrocities, but please let's pretend that the last five years or so of stories made sense anyway because we want to keep Kyle Rayner as well.

Uh, no.  I don't think so. Not interested.  You can't have it both ways.  

Either Hal is insane and the GLC has retroactively become Arbitrary Favoritivism, Incorporated, or not.  

And if not, then there is no place for Kyle Rayner anywhere near a power ring.  His character concept is purposefuly built to be anathema to that of the Corps.  

If you must publish stories of the Green Yuppie, put him on a parallel earth of some kind, away from the DCU.  Or make a permanent change in the DCU so that the Corps is no longer viable to justify his continued relevance. Do one or do the other.  Do not attempt to go in both, conflicting directions at once - and above all, do not dream of having me buy your books while you do such an attempt.

DC can have all kinds of contradictions in its stories, of course.  And boy, does it show.  But at some point I will simply not care to try and excuse them for that anymore.

There is a difference between constructing a story and just ignoring a plot point because it's too hard for the writer to handle.  I learned a long time ago that fixing something is harder than doing it right the first time.  That's especially true when it's not your mistake.  Someone wrecks a car and the mechanic has to fix it.

There was never a good reason for Hal to go crazy in the first place. Jean at least had the excuse of a major power boots and manipulation from the Hellfire Club (not that Emma's actions stopped Cyke from pursuing a relationship with her, nothing quite like making love to the woman who helped drive your love insane to really showcase how noble a character you can be).  The original Pheonix story was a good story about power, nobility and self sacrifice.  They trashed it when they brought Jean back.

Indeed.  I hope that's a motivating factor for making Bishop a good guy again in the comic books.

Richard Willis said:

Of course, Bishop is very visible in the trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past. They probably want him to be a hero in good standing before the movie opens.

Marv Wolfman used to like that image.  He talked about playing in somebody else's sandbox as a writer.  It's okay to do what you want with the toys while they're in your hands but you also have to make sure that you preserve them and put them back for the next person to play with.  Most writers don't have that attitude anymore.  Probably a reaction against "the illusion of change" that predominated for so many years.  But it's become an overreaction at this point.  Writers should still be careful that they don't ruin a character so that future writers can't use them. 

Richard Willis said:

As I've said before, killing or otherwise making characters unusable should be approved by the book's editor and also the executive editor. When you play with someone else's toys you shouldn't break them. Damaging valuable characters like this causes future writers to either write whiplash-inducing fixes or to ignore the earlier stories completely. In the larger world, it creates problems with selling the characters in other media.

I don't think I agree with you here. 

Sure, there are a lot of X-Men.  But are there more X-Men than Avengers?  Justice Leaguers?  Legion of Superheroes?  Is it a problem for those other teams to have lots of members and former members?  I do think an individual writer & title should stick to a more limited cast so that they can focus on a core group of characters.  But there are plenty of ways to remove someone from active duty beyond a: killing them off or b: turning them into a villain.  They could retire due to injury (see Banshee and Nightcrawler).  They could go back to civilian life in a regular job or as a student (see Cecelia Reyes and Shadowcat).  They could be stranded in another dimension, another timeline or another part of the galaxy (see Dazzler, Rachel Grey and Havok).  In each of those examples, the character is out of the way until a future writer decides to bring them back.  Plus, the return doesn't have to magically rewrite continuity. 

Separately, with multiple titles and multiple squads, there is plenty of room for active X-Men.



Dave Elyea said:

On the one hand, I can see the desire to thin the herd from time to time, especially on a book like X-Men, which seems to constantly keep accruing new characters, many of which are only a few degrees different than ones they already have.  Certainly at first glance, Bishop would seem to be redundant to the inexplicably more popular Cable (both time travelers from distopian futures with a fondness for really big guns), and as far as I'm concerned, the X-Men have far too many members from alternate futures/timelines.  On the other hand, up until the Messiah storyline, Bishop had been a much more consistent & coherent character than Cable (who, while not actually a cyborg, was none the less a conglomeration of various bits of business pretty much assembled as he went along), and there were any number of other characters who would have made more sense in his role in the story.  It's a shame there no longer seem to be people in a position to point that sort of thing out before the damage is done.

I didn't say I agreed with the idea of killing or otherwise destroying characters deemed redundant by whoever the current creative team is, I just said I could see why someone would think that way.  Personally, if I really wanted to get rid of Bishop, I'd ship him off to a variant of his own future that was less apocalyptic, with his sister Shard & various friends still alive--after all, what could be a more shocking twist of fate for any X-Man than a happy ending?

That said, I have to admit that, if I could write only one storyline for Marvel, I'd love to have Arcade (the master assassin who never manages to kill anybody) rub out the vast majority (but by no means all) of the characters who joined every incarnation of Alpha Flight after Puck & Marrina.  Seriously, why would any team need  both the Purple Girl and Murmur on their back bench?

Chris Fluit said:

I do think an individual writer & title should stick to a more limited cast so that they can focus on a core group of characters. But there are plenty of ways to remove someone from active duty....

Another way do this would be to just not write about them until you have an interesting story to tell. They must have lives beyond sitting around a table in their headquarters, or the equivalent. The writer shouldn't have to kill them or ship them off. Just omit them from the story. You don't even have to explain why they aren't there.  The other characters probably already know why they aren't there, so they don't have to discuss it either. Then when you do get a clever idea for a story they can just show up.

The idea of just not showing them has some merit, but that hinges on someone having some good ideas for them before they are either forgotten completely (whatever happened to that Lifeguard character & her brother whose name I don't recall, who used to run with X-Treme X-Men?) with no explanation, or someone decides their long absence makes them ripe to put on a list of disposable members to be killed off without a second thought to establish the newest threat level.  Even a relatively popular character like Colossus has gone for such long stretches with no story lines of note (or even much to do in story lines that should concern him) that he might as well have been statuary.

Reply to Discussion

RSS

Welcome!

No flame wars. No trolls. But a lot of really smart people.The Captain Comics Round Table tries to be the friendliest and most accurate comics website on the Internet.

SOME ESSENTIALS:

RULES OF THE ROUND TABLE

MODERATORS

SMILIES FOLDER

TIPS ON USING THE BOARD

FOLLOW US:

OUR COLUMNISTS:

Groups

© 2019   Captain Comics, board content ©2013 Andrew Smith   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service