Bishop To King’s Five!
Credits: Jim Lee (plot), Scott Lobdell (script), John Romita, Jr. (pencils), Scott Williams (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Going/Rosas (colors)
A group of future fugitives murder Bishop’s fellow XSE members, Malcolm and Randall. The X-Men arrive just in time to stop Bishop from killing any more of the fugitives. Bishop is injured in his fight with Colossus and flashes back to the days before he time traveled. While chasing Trevor Fitzroy in the future, Bishop stumbles across the X-Men’s war room. A decades old message from Jean Grey warns about a traitorous X-Man who murders the team. Bishop meets The Witness, the last man to see the X-Men alive, but doesn’t get any answers about the traitor. In prison, Fitzroy kills a rat to fuel his power, and travels into the past with a group of convicts. Bishop, Malcolm, and Randall follow Fitzroy into the past to capture them. In the present, Bishop wakes up and is inducted into the X-Men by Professor Xavier.
Fitzroy’s father is influential enough to order Bishop to stay away from his son. Apparently he’s a politician, as Bishop says he doesn’t care about politics and goes after Fitzroy anyway. I think the identity of Fitzroy’s father was another mystery that was teased for a little while, but I don’t know if it was ever resolved.
Bishop says that the XSE was founded after “The Emancipation” enabling mutants to police themselves. He also claims that there has been “thirty years of relative peace.” Bishop’s backstory was filled in later, but I don’t know how much of it was consistent with these clues.
Marvel’s regular line of titles still can’t do full-bleed pages. Pages 18 and 19 have a white bar at the bottom even though the entire border is supposed to be black.
Not only does Bishop join the X-Men in this issue, but Malcolm and Randall are killed, Bishop’s future time period is revealed for the first time, and the X-Traitor subplot is also introduced. When I write the summaries for these issues, I’m often surprised to see how much some of these comics accomplish in 22 pages. The decompression fad in comics seems to have died down, but most modern comics still don’t seem this plot-heavy. Unlike previous issues of Uncanny, this issue mostly has consistent, deliberate plotting that covers a lot of ground but doesn’t feel rushed. Except for the deaths of Bishop’s co-workers, though. Malcolm and Randall get the least dramatic deaths in history (or at least since UXM #281). These guys were obviously ciphers who were never intended to live (the letters page in a previous issue outright told readers that something bad would happen to them). One of the comments in a previous post reminded me that people used to write in and request for these two to be resurrected. It’s really hard to figure out why.
Bishop comes across as a more sympathetic character, mostly thanks to the flashback where we see his devotion to his friends and his dedication to stopping the bad guys. These are pretty stock character elements, but even they were missing in his initial appearances. He truly seemed insane, especially in one Portacio drawing where he laughs manically at the idea of actually meeting the X-Men. All you really knew about Bishop in his first appearance is that he’s insanely violent. He’s still not that interesting of a character, but he’s come a long way over the course of just one issue. Bishop’s bloodlust also isn’t presented in a positive light, with all of the X-Men expressing disgust over his actions. This is certainly a different point of view than what you see in X-Force, where the star of the comic does things like shoot a defenseless man.
Even if the writing is getting better, it wouldn’t be UXM without a little nonsense. Why are the fugitives Fitzroy released still running around? They were conjured up in an Antarctic base that was soon blown up. How did they end up in a New York nightclub? Bishop follows Fitzroy through his time portal right after he escapes prison in the future, but Bishop doesn’t show up in the present until Fitzroy has already joined the Upstarts, built a super-powered armor, attacked the Hellfire Club, and traveled to his base in the Antarctic. I suppose you could say that Fitzroy teleported himself further back in time than everyone else, but why would he do that (especially when he was shocked to see that Bishop followed him)? Why exactly is he going back to this specific time period anyway?
The X-Traitor subplot is introduced in Bishop’s flashback, creating a long-running mystery that eventually fizzled out. Four years after it was introduced it was finally resolved, but there wasn't a lot of interest by that point. It’s a dramatic idea, and the introduction in this issue works pretty well, but no one seemed to know where to go with it. Bishop’s next appearance implies that Gambit is the traitor, Bishop remains suspicious of Gambit, the other X-Men don’t seem to care, the subplot is ignored for years, and then Xavier (sort of) is revealed as the traitor. The end.
John Romita, Jr. shows up as the fill-in artist and does a great job. Romita’s able to fit in with the exaggerated style of the time, but maintain solid draftsmanship. His characters are truly three-dimensional, with a weight that’s missing from a lot of the later Jim Lee issues. His storytelling is always clear, while still experimenting with different types of page layouts. Scott Williams’ inks give his pencils a slickness that fits in with what a lot of the other X-books of this time. This is the only time I remember Williams inking Romita, but it’s a nice combination.
Having read this issue and X-Force #8 at the same time, it makes me wonder if Marvel's enthusiasm for Bishop inspired Cable’s origin. The first hint that Cable is from the future is in X-Force #5, and we see him time travel for the first time in #8 (keep in mind that I’ve only read a few of his New Mutants appearances, so it’s possible I missed something). Bishop’s first appearance and X-Force #5 were released at around the same time, so I wonder if someone somewhere said, “Hey, the future! Let’s make Cable from the future, too!” Considering how popular both of these characters were, I’m surprised Marvel didn’t try to co-ordinate their future timelines during one of the annual crossovers. It's also amusing that within one month of each other, both X-Force and UXM had lengthy flashback issues with a character flashing back to the future to explain how they got to the present. Both of these issues also have guest art by critically acclaimed artists that have seen their reputations grow over the years.