"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.

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Chris Fluit said:

Sure, there are a lot of X-Men.  But are there more X-Men than Avengers?

Despite Brian Bendis' best efforts, I'm fairily certain that there are.

Justice Leaguers?

Yep.

Legion of Superheroes?

Definitely. These days the LSH is on the smallish side, far as membership numbers go.

Is it a problem for those other teams to have lots of members and former members?

It definitely is. On Marvel, it has forced the company into a rather inflexible mindset, where everything seems to revolve around armies of one kind or another, and team membership has barely any meaning now. There are no more superteams as such, just black ops squads that often do not even attempt to consider whether they are breaking laws.

DC is arguably worse, albeit a bit more schizoid about it.

The problem with Arcade killing someone is that if that character is important then they won't stay dead for long. Why waste his time?

Dave Elyea said:

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?

Actually, I think that the problem with actually killing off the third & fourth stringers of Alpha Flight is not that someone would bring them back, but that most readers would assume that most of them had never appeared before, and had been specifically created to serve as cannon fodder.  Seriously, does anyone look forward to the return of Silver & Gold?  Does anyone think I just took a couple of nouns and tried to pass them off as forgettable super-hero names?  As for why Arcade would waste his time, given his success record to date, it would be like getting paid for making practice runs.  As for who would pay him to eliminate these morts, I'm thinking any villain who had the misfortune to be defeated by them--there would be more dignity in being beaten by the Pet Avengers!

That really is the problem with master assasins like Arcade and the Joker, they can rarely kill anyone important, or even hurt them for long. The Joker's crippling of Barbara is about the longest I can think of. The reality being that if you kill off the main character of a book you don't have a book anymore. That is why characters who loose their books are the most vulnerable. Carol Danvers wouldn't have had her mind sucked out by Rogue and been betrayed by the X-men if she had still been in her own series.
Which in a way makes redemption hard for characters who have regular series. Once they've crossed a line and stopped being heroes you have to know that with in a year or less they'll be heroes again because the main character still has to be at least a nominal good guy. Even characters like Constantine. So we get a rather cyclic set of tales about heroes doing terrible things, crying, doing one good thing and suddenly everyone forgets. Trouble is -for me at least- is that the redemption tales are often poorly thought out or barely done at all, so it looks as if the hero can be a good guy so long as he has good pr and the fact that the people he hurt are back in line willing to trust him again makes me think less of them too. Real redemption and regret and rebuilding bridges takes time and I believe the comic book writers and editors are the most impatient group of creators that have ever picked up a pen. And even if they aren't there are publishers who are used to working on schedules.
For me, when I see a character go bad now I just stop reading that character period. I know what's coming and the art only goes so far.That really is the problem with master assasins like Arcade and the Joker, they can rarely kill anyone important, or even hurt them for long. The Joker's crippling of Barbara is about the longest I can think of. The reality being that if you kill off the main character of a book you don't have a book anymore. That is why characters who loose their books are the most vulnerable. Carol Danvers wouldn't have had her mind sucked out by Rogue and been betrayed by the X-men if she had still been in her own series.
Which in a way makes redemption hard for characters who have regular series. Once they've crossed a line and stopped being heroes you have to know that with in a year or less they'll be heroes again because the main character still has to be at least a nominal good guy. Even characters like Constantine. So we get a rather cyclic set of tales about heroes doing terrible things, crying, doing one good thing and suddenly everyone forgets. Trouble is -for me at least- is that the redemption tales are often poorly thought out or barely done at all, so it looks as if the hero can be a good guy but do terrible things to everyone so long as he has good pr and the fact that the people he hurt are back in line willing to trust him again makes me think less of them too. Real redemption and regret and rebuilding bridges takes time and I believe the comic book writers and editors are the most impatient group of creators that have ever picked up a pen. And even if they aren't there are publishers who are used to working on schedules who will push them.
For me, when I see a character go bad now I just stop reading that character period. I know what's coming and the art only goes so far.  Makes it kinda hard to be a fan since so many writers seem to love tearing characters down instead of building them up.

Mark said:

That really is the problem with master assasins like Arcade and the Joker, they can rarely kill anyone important, or even hurt them for long. The Joker's crippling of Barbara is about the longest I can think of. The reality being that if you kill off the main character of a book you don't have a book anymore. That is why characters who loose their books are the most vulnerable. Carol Danvers wouldn't have had her mind sucked out by Rogue and been betrayed by the X-men if she had still been in her own series.

Well, yeah. Welcome to comic books, that is they way it has been since almost day one. Which is why I just don't let it bother me.

Real redemption and regret and rebuilding bridges takes time and I believe the comic book writers and editors are the most impatient group of creators that have ever picked up a pen. And even if they aren't there are publishers who are used to working on schedules.

Sometimes that is true, but in real life it happens too. Dave Bliss was back to coaching just a few years after the Baylor scandal. I think a bigger problem is that too many fans hold a grudges of a Edmond Dantes level and never forgive.

  I've never heard of Dave Bliss.  But I do know of people like Jerry Sandusky, Whitey Bulger and on the fictional side Hannibal Lecture, Dr. No, Taskmaster, Deathstroke, Loki...  Of the fictional list I just put out I can think of 2 that are or were offered membership in an Avengers team or have worked for the US government and I don't even need to list the X-men who had body counts.  Their redemption has been cheap because their victims were un-important.  That is what I feel is the biggest obstacle for me to accept any redemption, the fact that the victims were't important to begin with.  At least not according to any writer I've read about in an interview.  The line is always "Yes, the character did those thing those and it haunts them and they have to deal with it."  Notice the spotlight is on the character who needs redeeming, not only the bothersome pesky people that he killed.  If life in that fictional universe means so little to the writers why should it matter to me?


  Perhaps readers do hold grudges, I know I do and I make no apologies for that anymore.  If the writers want to turn Catwoman and She-Hulk into wimps and Tony Stark and Reed Richards into world destroying villains that is their choice, but not reading those characters anymore is my choice.  And assigning more blame to the reader who doesn't like a bad story than to the writer crafts the story to begin with isn't in my opinion really isn't fair.


Travis Herrick (Modular Mod) said:

Mark said:

That really is the problem with master assasins like Arcade and the Joker, they can rarely kill anyone important, or even hurt them for long. The Joker's crippling of Barbara is about the longest I can think of. The reality being that if you kill off the main character of a book you don't have a book anymore. That is why characters who loose their books are the most vulnerable. Carol Danvers wouldn't have had her mind sucked out by Rogue and been betrayed by the X-men if she had still been in her own series.

Well, yeah. Welcome to comic books, that is they way it has been since almost day one. Which is why I just don't let it bother me.

Real redemption and regret and rebuilding bridges takes time and I believe the comic book writers and editors are the most impatient group of creators that have ever picked up a pen. And even if they aren't there are publishers who are used to working on schedules.

Sometimes that is true, but in real life it happens too. Dave Bliss was back to coaching just a few years after the Baylor scandal. I think a bigger problem is that too many fans hold a grudges of a Edmond Dantes level and never forgive.

It seems we're mostly talking about redeeming heroes that have gone bad. There's other versions, though, such as villains reforming into heroes. Their number is quite large and some of the Avengers with the longest records fall into this category: Hawkeye, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Wonderman, Quicksilver, Black Widow, and so many more. Over in the X-books, there's Emma Frost. Now, to be honest, she was SO evil as the White Queen that I still don't really accept her as a hero. Does anybody remember the 15 minutes where Sandman reformed, became a hero, and was even a reserve Avenger? I actually thought that was a neat idea and looked forward to what they'd do with the character. What they did was promptly do a convoluted 180 and make him a villain again. Ah, well.

  Redemption can be done, but it should take a lot longer than a mini-series.  I'm still not buying Emma as a good person either and I still find it hard to believe that Scott chose to be with her.

That is one thing I loved about the show Angel. The whole series was about redemption, and it was a fun five-year journey. I would hope that someday soon, a comic writer will take the long view of that theme and do an open-ended series about a character seeking redemption.

Also -- I loved that Sandman as hero (and reserve Avenger) arc. I wish that had lasted longer

It was the way he became a hero that I liked.  Sort of reminded me of Steel Jack in Astro City.  How many years can you be a loosing supervillain and still push your way through another battle?  After a while the years take their toll.



Travis Herrick (Modular Mod) said:

Mark said:

That really is the problem with master assasins like Arcade and the Joker, they can rarely kill anyone important, or even hurt them for long. The Joker's crippling of Barbara is about the longest I can think of. The reality being that if you kill off the main character of a book you don't have a book anymore. That is why characters who loose their books are the most vulnerable. Carol Danvers wouldn't have had her mind sucked out by Rogue and been betrayed by the X-men if she had still been in her own series.

Well, yeah. Welcome to comic books, that is they way it has been since almost day one. Which is why I just don't let it bother me.

Real redemption and regret and rebuilding bridges takes time and I believe the comic book writers and editors are the most impatient group of creators that have ever picked up a pen. And even if they aren't there are publishers who are used to working on schedules.

Sometimes that is true, but in real life it happens too. Dave Bliss was back to coaching just a few years after the Baylor scandal. I think a bigger problem is that too many fans hold a grudges of a Edmond Dantes level and never forgive.

I agree with Travis 100%.  These are fictional realms and our real life boundaries don't apply, so when someone says "In the real world, that wouldn't work", I say - of course not, it's comics, there are endless things that wouldn't work in the real world.  When characters do things we don't like, we can all think of a dozen things or more like mind-control and clones and etc etc, that can explain away the bad behaivour.  So like Travis, I don't let it bother me.  Real life is too short to hold grudges as far as I'm concerned, never mind holding grudges against fictional beings.  So to me, Bishop and any other fictional character can be redeemed, and frankly should be if their fall from grace was so out of character in the first place.  I think Chris has made a good case that that's how it is with Bishop.

Not me, the idea that morality can be turned on and off like a switch and have no lasting consequences goes against everything that I believe. Redemption -even if it is possible- takes good, hard clever writing and I don't see much of that. Usually it's just a slap-dash approach and onto the next big event crossover. Comic book writers have become in my opinion very lazy about redemption and in general they have a very poor understanding of the pain that can be caused by the callousness of people with great powers. If they want me to stop holding grudges they've got to start writing better and stop thinking of life as being cheap and disposable.

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