"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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I think this was pointed out when Spiderman became popular and suddenly Hal Jordon had to become a Peter Parker clone.

If turning a test pilot into a whining traveling toy salesman was their attempt to emulate Marvel or Spider-Man, it was a pretty lousy attempt.

Yes, but as I think a column here once pointed out once Spiderman became popular one of the editors at DC decreed that Hal had to be more like the Peter Parker character. I think that when editors see something work they push for that to be used in other titles, regardless of wether it works for the characters or not. Bendis sells so suddenly everyone has to be Bendis.

Richard Willis said:

I think this was pointed out when Spiderman became popular and suddenly Hal Jordon had to become a Peter Parker clone.

If turning a test pilot into a whining traveling toy salesman was their attempt to emulate Marvel or Spider-Man, it was a pretty lousy attempt.

Generally, it's a good long-term strategy to give your customers what they want so they continue to buy your products - next month, next year, five years from now.  I think creators and editors are always trying to tell the best stories they can while they are working on the comics.  "Only interested in getting paid and moving on" describes 99% of how the world views their jobs.  These aren't lifetime commitments.

Richard Willis said:

Unfortunately, a lot of people are buying these books, and ultimately sales are all they care about. They don't care if you or I are buying them as long as sales are high. Whether this is a good long-term strategy is questionable. As I said here or somewhere else, the creators and the management are only interested in getting paid and moving on.

  I can see that.  The current writer isn't going to worry about the character four or five years after he's stopped writing him.  On the other hand while he is writing the character there should be some realization or acknowledgement that some storylines are so wild and out of character that they will destroy a character for some readers.  I'm still not sure why Cyclops went for Emma or why Catwoman never went after Zatanna.  Taken as one shot stories theese aren't a problem, viewed (as comics are or say to be) part of a characters live they take away from the character for me.  I end up wondering how Catwoman can be so determined as to pull an apology out of Lex Luthor and yet so weak that she lets Zatanna off the hook.  Or how great Tony Stark is that Jen folds after merely throwing a hissy fit.  For that matter how she can be a good lawyer in one issue and someone who doesn't seem to know the law in another issue.  If the creators want me to view these stories as one shots with no real connection to each other but for the characters names then let them say so and I won't mind.  But they don't do that, they insist that the same She-Hulk I read in one title is the same She-Hulk I read in another title.  If that is the case then they should really work hard at keeping her character stable and not letting the writer treat her like a Kleenex to be used and thrown away.



Mark S. Ogilvie said:

  I can see that.  The current writer isn't going to worry about the character four or five years after he's stopped writing him.  On the other hand while he is writing the character there should be some realization or acknowledgement that some storylines are so wild and out of character that they will destroy a character for some readers. 

Most likely the writer - whoever he or she may be - probably does not believe they are doing that.

  That makes me wonder.  How could Bendis not know that the Scarlet Witch's mental problems had been dealt with?  How could Slott write Jen as not knowing that a law would allow SHIELD to draft her?  She's a lawyer, the SHRA was going to influence every part of her life and the lives of her friends and she didn't read it thoroughly? 

With Bendis, I'm going to revert to my old standby of presuming that he doesn't care what other writers have ever done with any character. (No, my advanced age hasn't mellowed me on that point.)

With Slott, I'm going to defend him. Legislation can be thousands of pages long. To expect any one lawyer to know every aspect of it is presuming too much. I'm sure Jennifer Walters did her best but I'm going to give her a pass on not knowing all of the law.

I agree with both of these points.

Cavaliere (moderator emeritus) said:

With Bendis, I'm going to revert to my old standby of presuming that he doesn't care what other writers have ever done with any character. (No, my advanced age hasn't mellowed me on that point.)

With Slott, I'm going to defend him. Legislation can be thousands of pages long. To expect any one lawyer to know every aspect of it is presuming too much. I'm sure Jennifer Walters did her best but I'm going to give her a pass on not knowing all of the law.

The first point is easy enough to agree with, but the second point means that Jen supported a law that she never even read.  With all of the laws and regulations passed by the government I can see that for other laws, but this law specifically targeted her life and the lives of her closest friends.  That's a bit like saying that the astronauts didn't bother to read the Saturn 5 manual before they went up in the rocket.  More it says that she and other pro-regs hunted down their fellow heroes without knowing the full consequences of those actions. Not really heroic or smart to me.

  When you've got blank spots in a characters actions or motivations the reader -or at least I- fills in the blanks based on what they know of the character.  That's part of the fun of reading.  But when a writer deliberately (as in Bendis with Scarlet) or carelessly (as in Slott with Jen) jerks the character 180 with no reason given or plausible motive hinted then one of the conclusions I take is that the character has just gone bad.  Jen should have been front and center on the legal side of the debate, she should have used her knowlege of the law to either fight or explain the shra and she did neither.  Reed didn't even bother to explain to Sue what he was up to and in fact lied to Spiderman.  When suddenly all of the character for no real given reason start to act like all of their history is gone then you loose me as a reader.  And once that's done I see no reason to start again since the next writer -if people like Bendis are a success- will do the same thing.  Rogue is nice to Scarlet in on title, in the Avengers title they are both in she treats Scarlet like dirt.  If the writers and editors think that little of the characters that they write them so badly why should care about them at all?  What's the point of me reading a redemption story if the character is just going to be reversed with the next writer, which is I'm sure what will happen here.

Cavaliere (moderator emeritus) said:

With Bendis, I'm going to revert to my old standby of presuming that he doesn't care what other writers have ever done with any character. (No, my advanced age hasn't mellowed me on that point.)

 

With Slott, I'm going to defend him. Legislation can be thousands of pages long. To expect any one lawyer to know every aspect of it is presuming too much. I'm sure Jennifer Walters did her best but I'm going to give her a pass on not knowing all of the law.

Cavaliere (moderator emeritus) said:

With Bendis, I'm going to revert to my old standby of presuming that he doesn't care what other writers have ever done with any character. (No, my advanced age hasn't mellowed me on that point.)

 

With Slott, I'm going to defend him. Legislation can be thousands of pages long. To expect any one lawyer to know every aspect of it is presuming too much. I'm sure Jennifer Walters did her best but I'm going to give her a pass on not knowing all of the law.

I'm going to have to side with Mark on this ONE point: Jennifer Walters, being a lawyer, should both know better and do better. Presenting a Jennifer Walters who didn't tells us either that the character is incompetent or the writer did a bad job, or both. 

Then we should put the blame where it belongs: on Mark Millar.  He was the one who wrote Civil War.  Here's what he had She-Hulk say in CW #1 (to Larry King):

A ban on super-heroes?  In a world with thousands of super-villains, that's obviously impossible, Larry.  But training them up and making them carry badges?  Yes, I'd say that sounds like a reasonable response.

It's Millar, not Slott, who has her firmly on the Tony Stark side and coming out in favor of the SHRA.  However, she's a pretty minor player in the CW series, with her only other speaking part coming in CW #5.  Reed Richards is expressing his doubts that the pro-reg side is right, and She-Hulk gives him a pep talk to reassure him they're doing the right thing.

Slott could only have played with the cards he was dealt.  My guess is that Millar didn't consult him.  If he had contradicted CW, he would have likely found himself unemployed in short order - and really, it would be a silly reason to throw yourself on your sword.  You can argue Millar wrote people wildly out of character in CW but I don't think She-Hulk is one of them.

She was in favor of the idea of registration, she trusted Tony and Reed, and I'm going to assume because of that she just didn't read the legislation thoroughly.  I have to disagree that is either She-Hulk being incompetent or Slott doing a bad job.  At worst, she was too trusting.

  That's a stretch I think.  Tony's a business man, Reed's a scientist.  Neither of them know the law as well as she does.  True Slott could only play with the cards dealt and during the cw storyline no one at marvel seemed to have ever heard of the US constitution, but his writing of her reaction to Tony Stark and Hulkworld is what really bothers me about the character.  She learns what the Illuminati have done, goes to the helicarrier to shout at Tony, he attacks her, hits her with an un-tested weapon and she wakes up powerless. (what I wonder would the reaction have been if she had gotten cancer or something from the nanite weapon?)  Jen swears to drag him through the courts, especially when she finds out that he's been experimenting on the Hulk-foes that she captured for him, he dumps her in New Jersey to use as bait for Amadeus Cho.  A kid that Doc Samson nearly kills, Samson being the person who's been turning over to Tony Jen's private medical records that he's been keeping as her psychiatrist.  In response to this Jen does...

Nothing.  She doesn't sue Tony, she doesn't bring Samson in front of the AMA, she basically sulks until Tony gives her a note of apology.

  On one level I know that the powers that be at marvel decided that Tony was un-touchable, but on another level I have no reason to respect a character who takes all of that, does nothing and then comes crawling back to have drinks with the man who did all of that to her.  Name me any woman that would do that.  If that is all of the respect that the writers at marvel have for Jen's character then I'm not going to read her again.  Why bother?  They'll probably do it to her again.  If they had opened her new series with Jen doing anything substantial against Tony or Samson I'd think about it, but they don't and maybe this is just how the marvel writers feel that women react to strong men: they cave.

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