Black History Month ’09 #25: Re-Definition

February 25th, 2009 by | Tags: , , ,

Bishop had the strange position of being one of exactly two black X-Men when I was big into the comics. He was on the cover of the first issue of Uncanny X-Men I paid for with my own money (I remember this because it was behind the counter on a display as the first appearance of Bishop.) and he seemed pretty cool. Whilce Portacio made him look pretty mean and scary, and his power was, and is, dope.

But, he doesn’t work all the way for me. It isn’t that he’s inauthentic or not “black” enough or whatever– he’s from the future. It’s also not necessarily his origin or his underlying story. The X-Traitor stuff was fascinating, his ties to Gambit were interesting (the Boysenberry pie scene from X-Men is still one of my all-time favorites), and the hero worship he originally had for the X-Men was really very cool.

He just hasn’t clicked yet. He’s been through a few different variations. His original version is probably the most interesting to me, though the costume and hair left much to be desired. The idea of the X-Men living on into the future and inspiring people even then is, well, inspired. It’s a nice twist on the idea of a superheroic legacy, and Bishop being awestruck the first time he meets Storm or Cyclops was fun. There’s an unspoken undertone of authoritarianism to the whole works that adds a bit of sauce, too. After a while, he just turned into a generic X-Hero, but it was interesting while it lasted.

Bishop went through Age of Apocalypse and ended up with his mind turned inside out. He tripped from that into Onslaught and a series of increasingly uninteresting adventures that went from New York to the future to outer space and back again. When he landed, Claremont reinvented him as a bald detective guy, which could have been an interesting idea. Instead, it turned Bishop into a generic guy who makes deductions and sometimes fast-talks cops. District X was a series which threw Bishop into the midst of Mutant Town, New York, but it was similarly bland.

Messiah Complex added a new wrinkle to Bishop’s past. It explained that the dystopia he hails from was caused by a certain mutant baby. Messiah Complex was essentially a crossover that is at least in part about Bishop trying to kill a baby. This situation escalated in Cable’s solo series, where Bishop is chasing Cable and that baby through time.

While it’s actually kind of a gross-sounding hook on paper, I think it would have been way more interesting if Bishop were presented as at all sympathetic. If the baby actually did cause the death of millions, then Bishop is genuinely trying to do the right thing and you have a real dilemma. Instead, Bishop is eliminating entire eras in his attempt to pop the baby. It makes him pretty unlikeable, I think, on top of the whole “I need to kill this baby” thing.

Bishop’s a character that I want to like, but, like Nightwing, he’s never had a Frank Miller come along and turn him on his head and make him interesting. He’s run through a gauntlet of characterizations at this point, and none of them really seem to click. He’s always missing something. He needs a good hook and a good arc to make him worthwhile.

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6 comments to “Black History Month ’09 #25: Re-Definition”

  1. The Bishop miniseries currently running is meant to show Bishop’s side of things, and, presumably, make him a more sympathetic character in Cable. Unfortunately, they got Stroman on art.

  2. IMO, a good hook for Bishop was in Uncanny X-Men #358. He was stuck in the far reaches of space with Deathbird trying to find his way home and moonlighting as a freedom fighter. A bad hook for Bishop? Right now. I dug the first issue of his new mini. It was interesting and it gave him a nice backstory to work with. But, by the end, it’s still going to feature Bishop as the bad guy. This new characterization, while adventurous, is wildly out of step with everything we’ve seen from the guy in the past.

  3. I still have a problem with the idea that this mutant baby caused Bishop’s future. That means despite Onslaught killing the X-men in his timeline somehow everything else played out so that Wanda could cause M-Day. Very hard to believe. I mean originally with the X-men involved she was still almost killed.

  4. I got big into comics just before Bishop showed up, and I have always liked the character. I definitely agree that much more could be done with him.

    I also agree with Endless Mike, the art on the new series is just not good in any way.

  5. I dug that they tried with Bishop. They tried and tried some more.

    They slipped up then tried to fix it. We complained about his “Jheri Curl” and they made him aboriginal. Not bad.

    I like Bishop as a guy who still doesn’t quite fit in b/c he comes from a place and time requiring a very, very different mindset to survive and prosper. I also like him, though, as a hero.

    Bishop in space didn’t quite do it for me, but kudos for trying.
    Bishop the cop didn’t do it for me, although I thought there was some validity in the interpretation. (I was never too into the Mutant Town concept. I never got used to the world having so very many mutants.)

    Bishop as a guy who will destroy entire timelines for his own ends? That doesn’t sound any kinda heroic to me. It’s the kind of thing that makes a character pretty irredeemable, in my opinion. It’s the kind of thing that ruins a character.

    It’s that kinda $#!+ that gets us caught up with “yellow fear monsters” n whatnot. I could deal with Bishop wanting to kill the baby, even, as long as he never got the opportunity to kill the baby… as a baby. Y’know?

  6. Bishop without the Jheri Curl is no Bishop of mine.

    Just kidding.

    I don’t have much to say here except that I thought the Nightwing analogy was really apt. I never thought of it that way with Bishop, but when you get right down to it, between top-tier characters and minor fan favorites, there’s these familiar characters that have this nebulous ceiling that’s holding them back. They get fairly constant screentime, but no consistent characterization. Every six months a new guy comes along and goes “We’re taking this guy in a new, exciting direction!” and almost everything before it gets scrapped. It’s like being an Army brat and moving around all the time. It’s hard to like a character if he/she is always changing.