Monday, January 11, 2010

XSE #1 - #4, November 1996 - February 1997

Time Lost

Credits: John Ostrander (writer), Chris Gardner (penciler), Terry Austin & Tom Palmer (inkers), Derek Bellman & Graphic Color Works (colors), Comicraft (letters)

The first Bishop miniseries was a deluxe format series on slick paper with high production values and Carlos Pacheco art. This is not. Aside from the awkward combination of computer colors and low-grade newsprint that marred many of Marvel’s titles during this era, the art comes from a not-ready-for-primetime Chris Gardner. At least Terry Austin and Tom Palmer are brought in to ink, and while some pages are almost reminiscent of Rick Leonardi (thanks to Austin’s inks), they’re not enough to save the comic. John Ostrander returns as writer, setting the story up as a flashback conversation between Bishop and Shard. Bishop wants Shard to join the X-Men, which somehow leads to a retelling of their life story. There’s actually a lot of Bishop continuity established here, and I have no idea if Marvel’s made any effort to keep it consistent over the years (based on Paul O’Brien’s review of the recent Bishop mini, I’m not sure if Marvel’s even consistent with his actual first appearances in Uncanny X-Men). In this issue…

- More about the Summers Rebellion, which briefly united humans and mutants against the Sentinels, is revealed (the XSE is later formed to police mutants in exchange for humans shutting down the mutant camps similar to the ones in “Days of Future Past”);

- We see Bishop’s grandmother, who may or not be Storm;

- The Exhumes, an anti-human mutant group, is introduced;

- We learn that Bishop met Fitzroy as a boy after he was recruited into the XSE;

- Several minor characters like Hecat’e (an XSE drill sergeant Shard admires) are introduced;

- And we learn the story behind the M on Bishop’s face (Bishop and Shard were two of the last mutants given the M in the mutant camps, the other members of the XSE earn them when they graduate).

Another one of the vague hints dropped by Lobdell in Uncanny X-Men is addressed, as Ostrander introduces the Emplates, a street gang with powers similar to Generation X villain Emplate. The story ends with the Emplates targeting young Bishop and Shard on an early XSE training session. That’s a lot for a first issue, and with the exception of the hint that Storm is Bishop’s grandmother (which is just wrong for numerous reasons), I can’t say that any of these are bad ideas. Unfortunately, it feels more like a checklist of continuity points than an actual story. The only real characterization comes from Shard, who resents living in Bishop’s shadow. That’s not particularly engaging, and it’s something the X-titles have already thoroughly explored with Cyclops and Havok.

Future Intense

Credits: John Ostrander (writer), Deodato Studios & Mozart Cuto (art), Derek Bellman & Graphic Color Works (colors), Comicraft (letters)

The final few pages of the previous issue had a sudden style shift, as the art suddenly turned into a generic ‘90s Jim Lee knock-off. I suspect Deodato Studios also did uncredited work on that issue, since they were the kings of that look circa 1996. This issue actually opens with a softer, Pacheco-style, but we get to the generic ‘90s look soon enough. The story picks up from the previous issue, revealing that young Bishop became the youngest cadet to become an XSE officer due to his performance in the Emplate attack. Bishop and Shard continue their conversation from the first issue, leading to a flashback featuring Malcolm and Randall, Bishop’s created-to-die partners from his early appearances. We learn that Randall was a lighthearted extrovert from a human/mutant commune, while Malcolm was a by-the-book rich kid desperate to prove himself. Bishop recounts the day the Exhumes massacred Randall’s commune, which cemented his bond with Malcolm. Like the art, this is all pretty generic, and Ostrander isn’t doing an awful lot to humanize the characters.

Future Betrayed

Credits: John Ostrander (writer), Deodato Studios & Mozart Cuto (art), Shannon Blanchard & Malibu (colors), Comicraft (letters)

And now we have a series of flashbacks that leads up to Shard’s death. Bishop previously claimed that he killed Shard, but it turns out he was really just a big drama queen. It’s revealed that Bishop and Shard’s relationship was often strained, mainly due to Shard’s jealousy. As a teenager, she even dates Trevor Fitzroy just to make Bishop jealous. Years later, after Fitzroy is apprehended, he gives Bishop info on an Exhume hideout. Bishop passes the report on to Shard, hoping that a large bust will give her another promotion and help her forgive him after a recent fight. Shard asks Bishop to stay behind, eager to prove herself. Instead of finding the Exhume terrorists, she’s blindsided by a group of Emplates. Fitzroy, by the way, has his backstory fleshed out. He’s the illegitimate son of Anthony Shaw, Black King of the Hellfire Club. Fitzroy kills his half-brother William but his father’s influence keeps him out of jail. He then forms a group of wealthy mutants called Hellions and causes chaos. So, over five years after Fitzroy’s introduced, and four years after he’s used on a regular basis, someone finally gets around to resolving a few of the vague comments he made in his first few appearances.


Credits: John Ostrander (writer), Deodato Studios & Mozart Cuto (art), Shannon Blanchard & GCW (colors), Comicraft (letters)

With Shard now transformed into an Emplate, Bishop must decide whether to follow XSE protocol and kill her. He of course can’t go through with it, and instead brings her unconscious body to the headquarters of Stark/Fujikawa. Apparently, the Witness (the mysterious old man who may or may not be Gambit) heads the corporation, and grants him permission to record Shard’s brainwaves and turn her into a hologram. Witness’ condition is that Bishop work for him for a year, which he agrees to. What exactly Bishop does during that year isn’t explained (Bishop “isn’t ready” to talk about it yet), but it conveniently brings us to the end of the miniseries. After his year with the Witness, Bishop rejoins the XSE and goes on the mission that sends him back to this timeline. Since the first Bishop mini was essentially a four-issue long fight scene, I am glad that Ostrander at least used this opportunity to fill in the gaps in Bishop’s history. Unfortunately, it came several years too late. Aside from being released in the middle of a glut of superfluous X-miniseries, it was also published years after most readers seemed to care about Bishop (I wonder how much of his early popularity was owed to fans who were just excited to have the first appearance of an X-Man). By the time you get to late 1996/early 1997, Scott Lobdell is already making references to how out of place Bishop is with the rest of the team in Uncanny X-Men, and setting up the storyline that writes him out of the series for several years. I can’t say this is a terrible book (well, some of the art is extremely weak), but I’m not entirely sure why it was published in the first place. I have a feeling I’ll be repeating that several times as I go through all of these limited series.


Matt said...

I never picked this up. It doesn't sound like I missed much.

(And I have a feeling I'll be repeating that several times as you review these mini-series this week!)

Incidentally, the word that Blogspot wants me to type in the verification box to post this is "shetable." Probably the funniest random word I've ever seen...

Flossin said...

Man, I have this mini. I bought it cause I was still a crazy completist. But I never got around to reading the whole thing because it was possibly the most mediocre and un-engaging comics I ever bought. Good job on reviewing those! Hang in there!

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