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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

X-amining Bishop #1-4

"Escape from Tomorrow" / "One Man Posse" / "Future Intense" / "Final Reckonings"
December 1994 - March 1995

In a Nutshell
Bishop battles the remaining fugitive from his time, Mountjoy.

Writer: John Ostrander
Pencils: Carlos Pacheco
Inks: Cam Smith
Letterer: Richard Starkings/Comicraft
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Editor: Suzanne Gaffney
Group Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Issue #1: Following yet another Danger Room session in which Bishop replays the circumstances surrounding Malcolm & Randall's deaths, Storm & Xavier order Bishop to accompany Storm into the city to attend a play. On his way out, he passes his holoprojector to Forge, telling him it contains memories of his sister but is in need of repair. Meanwhile, in the wake of Fitzroy's death, Bantam is being hunted by Mountjoy, a fellow time traveler whom only Bantam is aware is in the present time. Calling the X-mansion to get Bishop's help, he learns he's in the city, and tracks him down. When he does, a fight breaks out between Bishop, Storm & Mountjoy. Bishop is able to force Mountjoy out of Storm's body & drive him off, but is injured in the process.

Issue #2: Following a nightmare, Bishop wakes up in the X-mansion infirmary. Forge gives him the repaired holographic projector, telling him he's improved it so now Shard is tied to Bishop's brainwaves, making her as real as possible. With Shard's input, Bishop decides he needs to track down & kill Mountjoy, and if that means he has to leave the X-Men, so be it. As Mountjoy claims another body as he searches for Bishop & Bantam, Bishop & Shard go to a police station near where Mountjoy claimed his first victim. The body-swapped Mountjoy is there, and a fight breaks out between him & Bishop. In the course of the fight, Bishop is knocked out, and when he wakes up, he's seemingly back in his own time. 

Issue #3: After Bishop relives significant moments from his past, including his induction into the XSE & Shard being promoted above him, he wakes up back in the present, and continues his pursuit of Mountjoy. But he is badly injured, and Mountjoy is able to take advantage of his weakness to take control of his body, thus learning that he can hurt Bishop most by destroying the X-Men.

Issue #4: The Mountjoy-possessed Bishop returns to the mansion, and Mountjoy quickly abandons Bishop in favor of Gambit, Psylocke & Archangel. However, Bishop has a plan, and lures Mountjoy into the Danger Room, where the Shi'ar tech will enable Shard to become solid. Together, they attack Mountjoy, but he takes Shard hostage. She urges Bishop to blast them both, even with the risk that the blast could disrupt her energy matrix. Bishop reluctantly does so, knocking out Mountjoy & freeing the X-Men. Shard is damaged, though, and the two siblings are forced to say goodbye once again as Shard fades away. Watching from the control room, Xavier is impressed with how much Bishop has grown & changed, and notes that Bishop's choice not to kill Mountjoy means he truly is one of the X-Men now.

Firsts and Other Notables
Bishop gets the X-Men solo limited series treatment, following in the footsteps of Gambit, Sabretooth & Deadpool (twice) as Marvel floods the bursting market with as many books featuring its best-selling characters as possible. Like Deadpool, Bishop will receive a follow up miniseries (as well as feature in an additional miniseries), and like both Deadpool and Gambit, Bishop will also eventually gain his own solo series in the wake of this (though it will be neither as critically well-received nor last as long as their respective ongoing series).

The villain of this story is Mountjoy, making his first appearance. He is another fugitive from Bishop's future, with the power to either insert himself into another person's body (controlling their actions while still maintaining their physical appearance) or to absorb another person into his body (thus gaining all of that person's memories and abilities while maintaining Mountjoy's default appearance). As such, he traveled back in time riding inside Fitzroy's toady Bantam, which is why neither Bishop nor readers were aware he existed until now, despite both believing Bishop had hunted down all the time fugitives previously. He pointedly survives this story, and will return later in Warren Ellis' Excalibur run, but beyond that, he never really amounts to much.

Bishop asks Forge (who is hanging around the mansion for some reason) for help repairing a holographic projector from his time that contains the brain patterns & memories of his sister Shard. This leads to Forge improving the device such that it allows a fully interactive recreation of Shard to appear, making issue #2 the first appearance of this iteration of Shard, who will eventually join Forge as a member of X-Factor (she seemingly "dies" at the end of this story, but she'll back. In hologram form).

Fitzroy’s toady Bantam, last seen in “Child’s Play”, reaches out to Bishop for help, in the wake of Fitzroy’s apparent death in that story, seeking protection from Mountjoy, whom Bantam has secretly helped bring to the past. Bantam will pop up next in Bishop's later solo series.

During a dream, Bishop overhears Jean repeating one of the key phrases from her “X-Traitor” recording (first revealed in Uncanny #287), which will become important again at the start of “Onslaught”.

During one of Bishop’s flashback, he is talking to the blind Hancock, appearing for the first time, who references the Summers Rebellion, an event which will later be depicted in Peter David’s second X-Factor run. Hancock will appear in flashbacks to Bishop's future in some later issues.

Hancock mentions a group of characters, one of whom, Hecate, will appear in later issues as well.

The series was later collected under the title "The Mountjoy Crisis", though that name isn't used at all here (nor amongst fans, as far as I know, at the time). 

The first issue concludes with a pinup. 

Creator Central
John Ostrander, a writer probably best-known for his DC work (and his later work on Dark Horse's Star Wars books) pens this series; it is, I believe, his first work for Marvel. He will continue to work on the fringes of the X-universe for the next few years, including a second Bishop and an XSE miniseries. 

It is drawn by Carlos Pacheco, his first work for stateside Marvel (he had done some Marvel UK issues previously). He will also draw the two issue X-Universe miniseries during "Age of Apocalypse" and a Starjammers mini, and later become the regular artist on Excalibur, and then Adjectiveless X-Men (and, much later, help launch the second volume of Uncanny X-Men). 

The Chronology Corner
Bishop appears here between X-Men Annual #3 and Excalibur #83. Somewhat curiously, this is after Uncanny #318, when Jubilee left for Generation X, despite her being the one to take Bantam's call in issue #1. 

A Work in Progress
The opening pages of issue #1 are a pretty faithful recreation of Uncanny #287, the issue in which Malcolm & Randall are killed.

Bishop says that Mountjoy was trained by the Emplates.

When Mountjoy absorbs Storm, he uses her body to hurl lightning at Bishop, who fires it back at him. Mountjoy is in the air, so he is unharmed due to not being grounded, but Bishop’s power doesn’t really work that way; he doesn’t redirect the specific energy he absorbs, he takes it in then releases it as a concussive force blast.

Mountjoy also employs a “basilisk field”, enabling him to slow the reaction times of people around him.

Xavier rightly posits that Bishop & Shard’s future is likely an alternate future relative to the present.

Apparently, Bishop always scans crowds of people when on unknown turf.

Shard is credited with capturing Mountjoy in the future.

In the future Bishop & Shard argue over Bishop’s desire to continue patrolling the streets rather than climb the ranks of the XSE.

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
This miniseries takes the "first issue fancy cover" dictum to the extreme (X-TREME!!!) by giving each issue of the series a cardstock foil-enhanced cover.

Austin's Analysis
Bishop getting his own limited series had to be something of a no-brainer in late 1994. The character was still extremely popular, yet little of his pre-X-Men past had been revealed, and while his profile had diminished a bit from the heady days following his introduction, he remained an integral part of the X-Men, featuring regularly in most of the line's biggest stories. So giving him a solo series as part of the efforts to push as much X-product as possible while the line is riding high makes sense. The end result is far from perfect, but remains mostly entertaining. Certainly, more entertaining than the character's present-day representation as an icon of 90s excesses & bad trends would suggest.

It's biggest problem with this story is repetition, as it is essentially a four issue-long fight against one villain, with only a few minor details surrounding the fight changing from issue to issue (first, Mountjoy is possessing Storm. Then bystanders. Then a chunk of the X-Men, all the while Bishop angsts about hurting the people Mountjoy is controlling and/or trying to figure out a way to force Mountjoy out of his body du jour). It also doesn't help that Mountjoy isn't the most engaging of villains, and suffers from power creep on top of that (he can possess people, or absorb them, and also, it's hard to hit him). And the central character conflict of the story - is Bishop an XSE officer or one of the X-Men? - is essentially the same arc that has defined the character since his inception. There's nothing wrong with revisiting a character's core struggle, but it would also be nice to see Bishop struggling with something else for a change.

But for all that, the flashbacks to Bishop's past (in the future) are interesting, both for their glimpse at a possible future for the X-Men as for how they inform the present day Bishop's characterization (the reveal that Bishop turned down promotions to stay a "street-level" officer is particularly insightful), as is his banter with Shard, which manages to walk the line of having Bishop treat her as both his sister, and just a holographic representation of her (and we shant lay the blame for the later "Hologram Shard joins X-Factor" plotline at the feet of this mini). And what really sells this story is the art, which does a great job of depicting Mountjoy's creepy body-stealing abilities via melting faces, and imbues the whole thing with a fair amount of energy that helps prop up some of the more repetitious elements of the issue-to-issue.

All in all, then, Bishops first solo outing is a bit of a mixed bag. Plot-wise, it's action-heavy and repetitive, and it involves the character following an already-familiar arc as it unfolds. But there's also some interesting glimpses at Bishop's past, his interactions with his sister work well, and the whole thing is buoyed by some engaging & energetic art.

Next Issue
Next week: Uncanny X-Men #319, X-Factor #109 and Wolverine #88!

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  1. I'm glad you pointed out we don't need to blame this introduction of the Shard hologram for what happens later.
    Ostrander is one of my favourite comic writers (and also having met him a few times at conventions), so I would hate to have to this reflect negatively on Ostrander.

    I had forgotten that this iteration of Shard was introduced in this mini-series.

    1. I'm a big Ostrander fan too - I love his Star Wars stuff. And I met at my local con once, and he was super nice.

  2. Forge, give Bishop back his sister! I've got work tomorrow!

  3. I skipped this series when it came out because I was not impressed with the art and didn't want to pay that cover price for each issue. Having a foil cover meant nothing to me and didn't want to have to pay extra for that when the art wasn't a superstar artist and I hadn't heard of the writer and you wanted extra money for each issue????

    At this point I didn't care for Bishop and really didn't care for him again until he was more of a cop covering the ex-mutants after No More Mutants.

    1. I was still all-in on whatever the X-books were putting out at this time, so I bought all of this (though, oddly, as we'll get to, I didn't buy the near-contemporaneous Rogue miniseries). It was my introduction to Pacheco, who would go on to become one of my favorite artists (I love AVENGERS FOREVER).

    2. I bought the Sabretooth and Deadpool mini's but skipped this and Rogue. I bought the first Gambit issue and didn't care for it and realized I needed to start skipping some of these. Because they cost more and my allowence was around $5 a week at this point, this was the cost of two books and only getting one worth of material. At the same time, I got the two different Pizza Hut offerings, the mini comics with VHS tapes and the 4 issue series with a personal pan for each.

    3. Those Pizza Hut tapes were a godsend back in the day.


  4. A footnote in the panel you mention of Jubilee taking Bantam’s call in #1 says that the issue takes place before Generation X.

    // Mountjoy also employs a “basilisk field”, enabling him to slow the reaction times of people around him. //

    That phrase gets tossed out rather like it should be familiar to characters and readers both. Could be it’s an established thing in a
    novel Ostrander’s read, but its casual use struck me as odd. Which doesn’t keep it from sounding cool.

    Also curious sans any apparent hint of explanation is that Mountjoy uses business/finance terms to refer to the main aspects of his power. The act of absorbing people and/or merging with them can be a “hostile takeover” or make the victim a “silent partner”; setting them free is to “divest” himself. And even before those terms are used he makes a “chairman of the bored” joke.

    1. The basilisk field thing reminds me of the way Ostrander wrote his late 80s First Comics series Grimjack, where Grimjack would pull odd gadgets and magickal devices out of his overcoat almost at will during fight scenes. It worked in Grimjack because the interdimensional setting of the series allowed for a WIDE range of technology and magic...largely. By the end of the series it turned into a bit of a crutch, so, basically, Ostrander had previous form for just pulling something cool that sets up the next plot point out of thin air.

      None of this takes away from how much I loved Grimjack back in the day.

    2. Blam, must've been something in the air at around mid-1993 when the issues were written. Exactly at this same time in Peter David's SPIDER-MAN 2099 #27 and #28 "Corporate Headhunter" and his merry band of "corporate raiders" engage in a name-checked "hostile takeover" by a full frontal assault to obtain a company to the corporate Alchemax.

      The Spider-Man 2099 is downright stupid, but here what you said mostly serves as a non-explicit hint of of the background of Mountjoy, who's upper-class bearing somewhat distances himself from the more gangly other future mutant criminals who Bishop first came to chase.

      Shard, and Storm after he releases her from the takeover, call him by the name "Mountebank" that got an upper class tang to it. Bantam in one point says Mountjoy stays checked because of not wanting a conflict with Trevor Fitzroy, to whose rich father (and the liberties that gives to Fitzroy) Bishop I believe once referred to in one of them in-their-future-past scene.

      If I had to guess, Mountjoy similarly to Fitzroy is a prodigal son of an extremely wealthy family and similarly to many royals of today courtesy of that were raised and educated for the top echelons of the business world, but as a personal choice they rather opt for this mutant hedonism villainy instead with an antipathy to their peer rivals.

      Mountjoy is an Upstart, who deservedly didn't even get a start and hasn't got much upsides.

      I like it when they don't just explain everything.

    3. A footnote in the panel you mention of Jubilee taking Bantam’s call in #1 says that the issue takes place before> Generation X.

      Yeah, that I'm not sure how to reconcile that note with the later decision to set this after UNCANNY #318, since she leaves for Generation X in that issue.

    4. Teemu, I like it when they don’t just explain everything as well, but it seemed to me that even if Mountjoy didn’t soliloquize about it himself Bishop would’ve remarked on his penchant for such terminology when briefing the X-Men on his powers. Nothing empirically wrong with that not happening; simply curious enough for me to feel compelled to mention. I’ll definitely take the lack of context from Ostrander here over a labored punstravaganza from David.

    5. Which is not a direct comment on Spider-Man 2099, since despite really liking Rick Leonardi’s stuff I barely more than flipped through it when it came out and have never gone back to read any.

    6. Blam, your original point is extremely valid. One has grown to expect an on-panel explanation to things such as this that are clearly enough intentional by the writer, and it feels kind of wrong if an explicit one doesn't get given.

      As for the whole 2099 imprint, it's the kind of "re-imagination" thing that I personally instinctively shun from. This particular premise just managed to win me over with its various strengths. And it didn't harm that Leonardi was the penciler of a couple of my very first Marvels ever.

  5. (the reveal that Bishop turned down promotions to stay a "street-level" officer is particularly insightful)

    The ones Shard had taken the trouble to set up for him. I guess when it's all down to genes like it is with XSE, nepotism can't be far away.


  6. Carlos Pacheco on getting hired by the X-Office

    “Marvel invited me to visit them — I mean they paid for that, [for me to come] to the States. Brian [Augustyn, DC editor] wanted to do it, too. I couldn’t understand why. …

    “Suzanne [Gaffney] offered me the best titles that she had. She proved to be a smart woman: She hired Mark Waid for Deadpool, Mike Wieringo for Rogue, Ian Churchill for Cable, John Ostrander for Bishop. She didn’t come from the world of comics, so even being an editor at Marvel she always had an eye on the non-Marvel comics, like Flash. She also discovered [Joe] Madureira.”

    Pedro Angosto & Brian Saner Lamken. “Heroes — An Interview with Carlos Pacheco.” Comicology Vol. II #3, Pgs. 20-31, 50-31 [Side B]. Raleigh: TwoMorrows Publishing, Spring 2001.

    1. That's interesting, only because Gaffney at this point had been working in the X-office for awhile - she was Harras' assistant at least as far back as "X-Tinction Agenda" when she got drawn into the story. So she was clearly keeping an eye out for talent even while fairly entrenched at Marvel.


    2. It may have taken some time for her to establish the credibility, tenure, or comfort level to make hiring suggestions, let alone have the power to recruit talent herself — and regardless of the quality of her instincts, surely the need to feed the beast that was the expanding line of titles at this time didn’t hurt any.


  7. Carlos Pacheco on Bishop

    “I enjoyed doing Bishop. I knew that it was going to have certain repercussions, so I tried to add some things to the character than what had already been published. And with all due respect, I think that that was one of the versions of the character that got closest to his real potential. I tried to reach into the character’s psychology, tried to find out who Bishop was, what Bishop was.

    “One of the keys to him was that he was like the John Wayne character in The Searchers by John Ford. He’s not a superhero; he’s a military man, he’s someone who believes in a warrior’s code of ethics. I gave him that military-man look: His uniform is like one of the cavalry, right from Rin-Tin-Tin, which I saw when I was a boy. [laughs] He was a grown-up Rusty! Even the type of weapons that I gave him I tried to keep logical, like rifles, not [sci-fi guns that looked like] hair dryers. He was like a Little Big Horn survivor. He left his world, lost everything that he cared for, even his companions in his mission; he was alone, and he annexed to the X-Men because they were the closest thing [in their era] to the world that he came from, but he didn’t believe in their ideology or their way of acting.”

    Pedro Angosto & Brian Saner Lamken. “Heroes — An Interview with Carlos Pacheco.” Comicology Vol. II #3, Pgs. 20-31, 50-31 [Side B]. Raleigh: TwoMorrows Publishing, Spring 2001.

    1. In the casting of my mind I never had any other option to play Bishop on screen than Julius Carry, the also cavalry-panted Lord Boller of The Aventures of Brisco County Jr. fame.


  8. According to Pacheco:

    The guy walking behind Bishop and Storm on Pg. 4 of #1 is his friend and fellow artist Salvador Larroca.

    Ragged Glory Park, whose sign is seen in the rubble at the bottom of #3’s splash page, is named for the Neil Young album.

    The items at the feet of the kid in the Avengers jacket on Pg. 4 of #3 are issues of The Spectre, which Ostrander was writing at the time for DC, and Will Eisner’s The Spirit.

    Pacheco intended for the character of Hancock, seen in Bishop’s time in #3, to be a blind, aged Cyclops.

    The poster in the background down in the subway on Pg. 20 of #3 promotes a film starring Bob Diamond, a member of Marvel’s Sons of the Tiger, and real-world actor Jean-Claude Van Damme. Graffiti in that panel references the subway-based secret headquarters of Lex Luthor in Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman film; “Ultra Marín” is an amalgam of sorts between Ultra Marine from Marvel’s Dark Guard, which Pacheco drew, and Pacheco’s friend Rafael Marín.

    1. The guy walking behind Bishop and Storm on Pg. 4 of #1 is his friend and fellow artist Salvador Larroca.

      And future X-Men artist!

      Pacheco intended for the character of Hancock, seen in Bishop’s time in #3, to be a blind, aged Cyclops.

      Interesting. I wonder if he shared that with Ostrander, or if it was just something he thought of while drawing the character. None of the Summers Rebellion stuff really gets developed until Peter David's second X-FACTOR run, but Ostrander does return to that period a couple more times.

      “Ultra Marín” is an amalgam of sorts between Ultra Marine from Marvel’s Dark Guard, which Pacheco drew, and Pacheco’s friend Rafael Marín.“Ultra Marín” is an amalgam of sorts between Ultra Marine from Marvel’s Dark Guard, which Pacheco drew, and Pacheco’s friend Rafael Marín.

      An I believe Rafael Marin went on to ink Pacheco on a few projects, as well.

    2. Dammit! I meant to make a note that an older guy with his mutant powers having burned his eyes out taking the trouble to call "Summers" a piece of work aroused suspicion of his true identity.

      "Hancock" as the first signatory to the Declaration of Independence would be an apt pseudonym to the once first X-Man leading a rebellion against the Sentinels.

      "Scott Summers" obviously was a name on one of the graves in the Days of Future Past, so there's that. But it's not like Jean didn't have one of those.


    3. @Austin: // I wonder if he shared that [— “Pacheco intended for the character of Hancock, seen in Bishop’s time in #3, to be a blind, aged Cyclops” —] with Ostrander, or if it was just something he thought of while drawing the character. //

      I finally remembered to ask Carlos and he replied that as he recalls it was the latter.

  9. Seems I’m a little late to the party on this one!

    I tended to skip the ancillary X-Men miniseries for the most part, just as I didn’t read the non-core monthlies (aside from GENERATION X). But I loved Bishop, so this one, I read. I think I thought it was okay, but not all I had hoped for.

    It did, however, introduce me to Carlos Pacheco. I quickly fell in love with his work and followed him to the STARJAMMERS mini, then to EXCALIBUR when he was announced as its regular penciler. I didn’t read his FANTASTIC FOUR issues, figuring there was no reason to jump on that title since he was only supposed to do two or three issues leading up to “Onslaught” before returning to EXCALIBUR. And he did return, but only for something like one final issue. Fortunately, his next stop was X-MEN, which I was already reading, so that meant I didn’t need to add another new series in order to keep following him.

    Post-X-MEN, I read his AVENGERS annual and AVENGERS FOREVER, then I lost track of him. (Was that when he went to DC?). I looked at some of his more recent Marvel work, circa the “Schism” crossover, and wasn’t as enamored as in the 90s. He’s changed his style, and nowadays it looks too plain or stiff or something. But I still find his 90s stuff gorgeous.

    (Also, I will forever remain a little disappointed that the second Avengers mini, WORLD IN CHAINS, he and Busiek had planned circa 2000 never happened.)

    On the flip side of the creative team, I’ve always found it odd how certain writers became “the guy” for certain X-characters around this time. Ostrander was the “Bishop guy”, Howard Mackie was the “Gambit and Rogue guy”... but neither of them had done any work for X-office before taking on those roles, which just seems weird to me.


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