Saturday, 5 December 2015

Bison (2000AD #1301-1309)

"Christ Almighty, this is going to be hard" - Jack Bison

I was browsing the sale rack at my local Forbidden Planet the other day looking for something cheap that would kill twenty odd minutes on the train.  For fifty earth pence I picked up a 2000AD collected strip I had never heard of called Bison.  It became apparent once I checked in with Google that the reason I had never heard it was because the story hadn't caught on and so only a slim, forty-five page release ever featured the titular Bison by the creative team of Colin Clayton, Chris Dows and Laurence Campbell.  It's an ambitious tale considering the small page count, it deals with well-worn maverick cop tropes, attempts to predict what the internet would be like thirty years into the future (from the publication date which was 2002, the story takes place in 2031) and has an interesting take on transgenderism which is probably the thing I found most enjoyable about the story.  It also has pretty decent art, I do think it might have been better left in black and white which would befit it's gritty nature, the colour palette used is somewhat bland and smoothes a lot of the jagged edges out of it.  But that's just my personal love of black and white art speaking.  Also the need to cram so much story into the alloted amount of pages means there are a couple of sequential fails and so the story stutters in places when it needed to keep the flow.  But enough of my carping for now, what exactly is this book about?  Read on.

We open in Miami 2031, a pair of senior cops, Commissioner Hughill and Chief Tozer are driving to a crime scene while Hughil laments not firing loose cannon cop Jack Bison when he took office.  They arrive at a building with the sing "Esposito" on it and find many dead bodies and some overturned cars.

Hughill: "Well so far Chief, this looks like a typical Jack Bison investigation"

Tozer: "Not quite.. There's not enough corpses or collateral damage.  Yet"

With a SWAT team backing them up they go upstairs to the office where the grizzled Jack Bison is jamming a gun in the mouth of a man called Cormier.  Bison tells them to look in the safe, but Hughil says those documents are worthless as evidence because there was no warrant issues.  Under threat of death, Bison lets go of Cormier, telling him to tell Esposito "he's next".
Introducing Jack Bison.
Back at the station Bison's hatred of Esposito is revealed, he was responsible for the death of his wife and also the documents he found reveal the police is in the "well respected" and "hugely powerful" businessman Esposito's pocket.  Tozer says that's not true and obtaining the evidence left fifteen dead, seventeen injured and a massive lawsuit now pending.

Hughill: "Bison, you're a dinosaur - old fashioned, out-moded, out of step... Well it's time you became extinct".

Bison leaves and Tozer tells him he'll try and get his job back.  Bison just notes that "the dinosaurs died out through an act of God... Bisons were hunted to death."  Another smarmy cop appears and demands Bison's badge and gun.  Bison jams his badge in the cops mouth and sulks off.
Swagger and Jack go for a drink in the run down "real world".
Later Bison meets his friend Swagger and they go to a pole dancing club.  The place is empty and the dancers somewhat chubbier than you would expect.  Bison bemoans the fact that everyone is living in the virtual world now, for them real life is Internet 4, "while everyone has their head up their cyber-ass, there's still crime."  Swagger offers him an "I4" decoder card which will let him access the I4 network under a false ID.  Bison takes the card though he doesn't seem enthused.

Back at his place he lays out all his evidence he's collected about Esposito, wondering:

Bison: " in hell can I get to you?  You've got your own private army.  Your home is a fortress and you virtually own the force."

He then decides to try the I4 card and mentally travels to a company showroom called "Body Tourist".  This was the place Swagger said he was humping his way through looking like "King Harry of England".  And he discovers Esposito's nineteen year old daughter Charisma uses the service and realises he has a "way in".  He contacts her and she fancies being a man for a change and agrees to the swap.
Jack and Charisma make a deal.
Being able to swap minds into different bodies is probably not ever going to happen no matter how sophisticated the web gets, but in a sci-fi version of the internet it's a great idea being able to "shop" for bodies and agree to switch.  Also, the net as it existed even before the web did has always been a safe space to play with ones own identity.  You can be male, female, whatever race or sexuality you want, you can construct a whole different persona when in cyberspace and you'd be surprised how many online gamers will "crossplay" characters of a different gender and roleplay them as well. 

This isn't meant to trivialise the struggles of being transgender offline, but the web must offer a great opportunity to start being the gender you feel you really are and grow comfortable with that gender in the real world as you do so.  Hell, "teledildonics" even allows for sex over the net now.  Anyway, while I am happy being a woman, I'd totally swap minds with a fit bloke for a short time and try and screw as many women as possible.  Ahem, at least I'm honest!
Whoops, bad luck Jack.
Bison comes around in Charisma's body only to discover she's a junkie.  Her dad comes in and hits her, telling her to stay away from I4.  He warns her "don't ever disappoint me".  Meanwhile Charisma is admiring her new body in a full length mirror, then she realises she hit the jackpot when she finds all the evidence against her father in the flat as well as a gun.

Bison furiously messages her and demands his body back.  Nope, he has a great body and as a bonus it's not a drug addicted one so she's instantly kicked the habit.

Charisma: "But, Jack.  This is what you wanted isn't it?  Now why don't you go and try and kill daddy.  While I go out and have some fun!"
Charisma admires her new body.
Bison flushes the rest of the drugs then leaves the room.  Her dealer, one of the guards, asks if she wants anything.  He asks for "PCR", which instantly cures drug addiction, or instantly kills you.  The dealer agrees but he'll have to sleep with him.  We then cut to Bison in the toilet taking the drug.  He survives, and we see the dealer dead in the bed and he also kills the bodyguard who comes to investigate.  Now clean and determined, Bison leaves the compound under cover of darkness.

Charisma as Bison has been allowed back on the force and is very chipper.  She and her partner Franco go into a building with the name "Warder" on it.  Charisma pistol whips the front desk clerk.  Franco asks what "Bison" is doing, Warder is a millionaire and clean.  Charisma says "he's so not clean" and barges into a board meeting.  She tells Warder:

Charisma: "I'm helping myself to your huge personal stash of drugs in that invisible safe behind you."

When Franco tries to call it in, she shoots him, then all the others in the room.  Meanwhile Bison is back at his flat and realises Charisma knows everything about him and has his guns too.
Jack now clean, contemplates what Charisma is up to.
Then Charisma calls him via wristphone and gloats about what she is doing and how Jack won't stop her because he can't kill himself.  Charisma signs off saying she made another call as well, and suddenly Esposito and his bodyguards appear.  One of them shoots the gun out of Bison's hand.

Esposito: "So it is true.  You are working with Jack Bison.  Tell me... what could he offer more than your father."

Bison blames the drugs messing him up, but Esposito checks his wristphone and discovers the last call was from Bison.  He leaves telling three of his goons to "kill her."

Don't underestimate Jack Bison, no matter what he looks like.
Bison however, still has all his fighting skills and takes the three of them out and takes their guns.  She hears the police coming for him as well and scarpers.  Charisma has helped herself to Warder's drugs and money.  Tozer calls her, thinking she's Bison and says there is no sign of Charisma at his flat, just three bodyguards minus guns.  Petlantly Charisma yells "SHIT!".

Bison meets with Astrid Milano, Warder's second-in-command.  Bison wants Astrid to protect "Charisma" from Bison and take him alive. Meanwhile Charisma tells the police Commissioner that Esposito and his daughter are gunning for the whole department, blaming Franco's death on Warder and his men.

Astrid gets her tech guy to track "Bison's" whereabouts, he can only narrow it down to the bad neighbourhood.  Astrid and Bison go to "The Yacht Club", a nautically themed establishment.  They speak to the owner, Nathan Softly and Astrid asks him if he knows where "Bison" is.  He demurs.  When Astrid threatens him, his bodyguards pull out guns.  Astrid says to Bison that if Nathan dies, Bison will come after them next so they instigate a gun battle in the club.
Astrid and Jack start a fight.
When all his guards are dead, a cowering Nathan says he doesn't know where Bison is but knows a man who may know - Swagger.  Astrid and Bison drive off and Astrid comments "you fight like a man" to Bison.  Back with Nathan, he is on his knees in front of Esposito saying his "dumb bitch daughter" cost him a ton of money.  Esposito shoots him then theorises "Charisma" is looking for "Bison" for protection.

Astrid and Bison find Swagger and Astrid smacks him in the face and demands to know where "Bison" is.  Bison asks to interrogate Swagger alone, and when they are left in peace he tells Swagger he is Bison and that only Bison would know he's been pretending to be King Harry online.  He tells Swagger to call Charisma on his emergency frequency and get her over here.  Then he and Swagger return to the main room and Bison says Swagger knows nothing.

Astrid is killed by Esposito's men.
Astrid is about to kill Swagger when Esposito's men burst in and turn her into pink mist.  Bison takes out his guards and lunges for Esposito's throat and starts to choke him.  Before he can kill him Charisma turns up and holds a gun to Bison's head.  "Bye daddy" she says and shoots Esposito.  She turns to leave saying that killing Esposito was another thing she "stole" from Bison.

Bison tells her to stop and points a gun at her demanding his body back.  When she refuses she says she'll be King of Miami in six weeks time, and that his body was wasted on him "wasted on a good cop".  Bison pulls the trigger and puts a large hole in the chest of a surprised Charisma.

Bison: "You're right.  I am a good cop.  No matter what I look like."
Jack's body is rendered unusable.
And the book ends with him helping Swagger walk out of the club.  Well,  I did find a lot to like in this strip.  I especially liked the ending when Bison realises it's what's on the inside that counts and for now he'll be confined in a female body and perfectly happy with that.  If a stereotypical male cop can, by 2031, come to terms with the fact that he can be just as effective in a female body then I see that as an ideal regarding gender identity worth striving for.

The lack of angst and cheesy comedy that could have been milked from the situation after he is trapped in Charisma's body is truly refreshing, he's mainly pissed off about it being a drug addicted one not female one.  There's a bit of a frisson between him and Astrid which makes it a bit of a shame she was killed.  If the story had further parts planned I'd have liked to have seen them explore Bison's sexuality and find out more of what he can and can't do as a woman or maybe we'd have found by 2031 there would be no limits on what women can do compared to men.

Bison contemplates his new body too.
Also it might have been good to see if he'd still self-identify as male, or if he'd decide to roll with his phsyical identity and become a woman inside too.  Or perhap he'd be an early example of a "genderqueer" protagonist, neither and both genders at the same time. There is something appealing about a hard bitten Frank "Sin City era" Miller-style male protagonist's soul transferred into an attractive twenty-year old female body, and this storyline feels like it was a prologue for a proper run with Bison-as-a-woman from the start.

The start of the story fair hammers all the cliches of the maverick Dirty Harry cop and I think this was to provide as much of a contrast as possible with the body he ends up in.  If you didn't know those tropes are being used fairly playfully I can see how that would colour your view of the rest of the story, which seemed to be the issue people online had with the series.  It had potential, but alas further adventures of Bison were not forthcoming, but at least the book helped while away a twenty minute train journey in a thought provoking manner.


  1. Bison sounds intriguing. Mind if I link to this review from the wiki?

  2. thats one crazy obscure 2000AD strip! shame it didn't get any more episodes, like you say it had a lot of potential.

  3. Forbidden Planet's sales rack is a gift for finding obscure stuff.