Monday, August 5, 2013

Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)


The recent decision to bring the X-Men film franchise around to tell what might very well be the most classic of classic X-Men stories--Days of Future Past--also brings us into contact with one of the coolest and weirdest underlying themes in X-Men: time. Specifically, time travel.

Time is actually a bit at the heart of the X-Men story. Evolution is, after all, about time. It’s about the way a species adapts and changes over time. And of course, there’s a civil rights angle. It takes time to change a society’s views; it takes time to build a legacy; it takes time for the human race to evolve not just physically but emotionally and cognitively to a point where it isn’t wracked with prejudice and fear. And that’s the whole thing with the Sentinels really. Time is running out for the X-Men. They can’t just sit back and wait for humanity to come around. If there isn’t a change right quick humanity is going to destroy itself.

Glimpses of this grim future trickle through to the X-Men from all sorts of sources…not the least of which is time travelers. When I was reading X-Men comics back in the 90’s, Bishop was actually the newest, coolest addition to the X-Men and yet another link to this possible dark future. And I would have assumed based on everything I was reading at the time that he’d still be around and be a core member of the team.

He had been hardened by a bleak future, but was still proof that somehow through everything that was (possibly) to come, some remnant of the X-Men’s ideals survived. In Bishop’s era, the X-Men were legends that a select few emulated. Of course, Bishop’s discovery of a video recording of Jean Grey noting that the X-Men had been murdered by a ‘traitor’ and his subsequent accidental jump into the past switches Bishop’s fight from trying to preserve the X-Men’s figurative ideals to actually, literally, saving the X-Men themselves if he can help it.

Bishop’s number one suspect was the shadowy and most-loved-by-female-readers character Gambit who, inexplicably, was alive in Bishop’s timeline despite the X-Men’s deaths. Seeing the X-Men through Bishop’s eyes was awesome. It was like he knew that something momentous was on the horizon even if the X-Men didn’t totally see it themselves. They were virtual unknowns to the world, but in Bishop’s era they were legends. And having Bishop around gave you just enough doubt to make you worry about Remy even though you wanted Bishop to be wrong.

Spoiler alert: turns out Bishop was wrong. The events that lead to the recorded message Bishop witnessed occurred shortly after the X-Men discovered that their mentor Charles Xavier had, in fact, lost control of his psychic powers and become the horrendous entity Onslaught. A few years of excellent storytelling and foreshadowing concluded with Bishop throwing himself in front of a huge blast intended to annihilate the X-Men only to absorb it, conceivably averting at least part of the future Bishop had come from.

Probably what I’m writing here isn’t new to any X-Men fans. I recall it all, however, to make my point which is the following: I'm not totally opposed to the idea that Bishop has become an antagonist in the X-Men universe. There’s been a lot of radical changes to the X-Men status quo and a lot of hard choices about the future of mutants has had to be made. To Marvel’s credit, they seem to have stuck with a lot of these choices too. These haven’t been passing fads. I mean, look at Cyclops now: I don’t think they’re going to un-write that stuff! He’s changed.

When you’ve got two time travelers running around in X-Men comics (Bishop and Cable), putting it all together is pretty weird. What does it mean that they’re both here, anyway? Cable is from a much more distant future than Bishop.

I think it makes sense that sooner or later these two are going to be at odds. They both came back to change something, but what they came back to change and how they’re going to go about it is different. Cable sees the future of the mutant race in Hope Summers. Why shouldn’t he? Cable’s entire life is basically about being something that shouldn’t exist. He was a man in the wrong time-era with mutant powers that the world feared and an inflicted techno-organic virus that was supposed to kill him. It’s a miracle that Cable even exists. And in his timeline where Apocalypse rules everything you have to keep ‘hope’ alive any way possible (you see what I did there?). It makes sense that he’s going to have a connection with Hope who, frankly, also shouldn’t exist. She’s the only mutant whose ever been inexplicably born after M-day and looks like Jean Grey. I mean it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out something's not right.

But okay, Bishop. My point is about Bishop and I’m getting to it.

Bishop isn’t Cable. And when he looks at Hope he sees the start of a chain of events that are going to bring humanity to the brink. He hasn’t seen what Cable has seen in the future. But he’s going to want to put a stop to what he’s seen in his, even if it means killing Hope. It’s brutal, it’s a dark twist. But I can buy this. Here’s what I can't buy: it’s one thing to make Bishop the villain. It’s another thing to make him evil. Bishop seems to enjoy tracking and trying to kill Hope too much. He gloats about it. It’s like suddenly he’s this sick psychopath that the X-Men have to get rid of. I mean, really, is that the guy who came back in time to stop Gambit from killing the X-Men? Bishop making the choice to try to kill Hope should make him a very misguided martyr or even make you stop and think what if he's right? Maybe Hope is bad news. I mean, how much good every came from Jean’s Phoenix powers anyway? What if she DOES blow up and mutants start getting even more persecuted than they already are?

But the way he’s written these days doesn’t invoke that. It invokes "Bishop is a sick bastard who deserves to die!’. And I just don’t buy that. It may be when it comes to movies or even reboot comics like the Ultimate line that it works better to have Bishop embody these traits. It’s kind of simpler that way, I admit. Cable’s the ‘good’ time traveler and Bishop is the ‘evil’ one. But I want to go on the record as saying that there was a good, interesting character here whose gotten kind of mangled. I mean, these days Cyclops has been mangled. But it’s all been organic and riveting. You totally get why and how he got there. Watching Bishop gloat in his former comrades faces over the possibility of killing a little girl does not feel organic to me.

So I guess my point is the original concept of Bishop was of a hero. And I can take him as a misguided villain who makes us question morality when we consider morality through the lens of the future rather than solely the present (TIME…see, I don’t totally ramble). But I don’t like him as a psychopath and it’s too bad that they went there. Because while Joss Whedon brought Colossus back from the dead and everyone was okay just forgetting about that whole evil phase, I don’t think there’s going to be any going back on this one. Just sayin’.

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