Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Not Letting Bullock on the Bus

Christopher Priest has a famous comic "rule," which he refers to as the "Put Them On The Bus" Rule.

The basic gist of it is, if you are on a book and you do not want to use a character, then you should "put them on the bus" and let them ride off into limbo until another writer comes along who DOES want to use the character (this also means that the writer should ACKNOWLEDGE the fact that the older characters are no longer going to be featured in the title).

Essentially what Priest is advocating is to not allow your (the writer) distaste for a character affect the way the story goes down. If the character has a following, but you, personally, dislike the character, then remove the character from the field of play so that your personal feelings towards the character do not interfere with your writing.

Greg's question about Harvey Bullock brought back up this old complaint of mine regarding the handling of Bullock in Detective Comics and Gotham Central- he was not allowed to be placed on to the bus.


I did not buy Harvey being willing to murder a guy because he shot the Commissioner, but it is not a terrible write-off, still giving Bullock a slight edge of sympathy.

But then, in Half a Life, I felt that there was a very weak exchange in which Renee Montoya explains why she has not come out in the precinct. She cites that Harvey Bullock was her former partner. Her current partner actually concedes that yes, he can see how that would influence her decision. The idea of retroactively making Renee Montoya a lesbian is one thing, but to retroactively make Harvey Bullock someone so hateful that his partner did not think that she would have lasted on the force had he known she was gay?

Dirty pool.

And then Ed Brubaker finished the job a few arcs later, when he had Bullock show up as a total loser who tries to kill the Penguin, because he thinks the Penguin was behind a series of killings (as the last bit of "Harvey's a joke," Harvey is, of course, wrong about Penguin's culpability).

That is not letting the character get on the bus until a later writer wants to write Bullock.

That is basically just ruining Bullock for any future writer.

Which is a shame, as he is a fine character. However, with the trashing his characterization has taken, I almost regret that Rucka did not get his pick in No Man's Land for which character to be killed off - at least Bullock would have left with some dignity that way.

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24 Comments:

Anonymous Colin said...

bullock was only ever interesting in the cartoon, and even then he was just someone people liked to hate.

The GCPD was only ever cool, during and post, No Man's Land, when Rucka and Brubaker wrote them.

Plus he came off pretty tough in terms of reputation in the mad hatter arc in the eyes of the other cops, so it's not like he was never given a chance at respectability. So he fucked up, that one time, and it's not like anyone actually read Gotham Central to know about it anyway.

Then again, who needs Bullock when there's Slam Bradley.

11/01/2005 07:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Mike Loughlin said...

Maybe it's because I don't have much attatchment to Bullock (I liked him in the cartoon, and during No Man's Land), so my assessment of his personality and role may differ from yours, but I don't have a problem with Rucka's depictions of the character.

Montoya's statement, in my mind, made sense, as I've seen Bullock written as stubborn and quick to make mistakes based on his own preconceptions (mostly regarding Batman). Whether his reaction to learning Renee's sexual orientation would be discomfort or outright hostility is not directly stated.

If he is homophobic, it makes him less admirable, but I do not think that form of prejudice is totally outside his previously-established character. If there is a Batman comic where Harvey makes some sort of statement to the contrary, I have not read it (and again, I haven't read many pre-No Man's Land Bullock appearances).

Bullock seems to be a tough but incorruptable cop, who gets the job done by any means necessary. That's a change from the "good, honest cops/ bad, corrupt cops" dynamic in Gotham Central, which may be why he was written out of the Bat-books.

I don't think he is ruined, per se; a good writer can get him redeemed, maybe make him a successful private detective at odds with both the police and Batman. Hell, after Infinite Crisis, he could go right back to being a cop on Earth 4 or something...

11/01/2005 08:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Dan Coyle said...

I wonder if the change to Bullock was done due to, on some level, the Schreck editorial office wanting to distance themselves from the O'Neil era, and Bullock is closely identified with Chuck Dixon, who wrote a lot of Bat-Books (and coincidentally, given his reaction to Rawhide Kid, isn't too comfortable with the gay).

As for Renee being gay, well, like I said in the eariler post, Rucka just likes girls kissing.

11/01/2005 09:21:00 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

With all due respect to Colin and Mike (who DOES admit that he hasn't read any pre-No Man's Land Bullock stories), Moench made Bullock a very interesting character during his mid-1990s run on Batman (which will be the next Comics You Should Own - I'm a shameless whore for my own work!). I agree completely with what Priest is saying, because it seems like the way writers "put their stamp" on a book is killing or disgracing or otherwise spitting on what has come before. I have no problem with a writer trying to make their run unique, but when you do it just by ruining a character, that's lazy. During Moench's run, Bullock is featured in issue #520, and it's a beautiful story that really gets what Harvey was all about. If you read those issues, Bullock is portrayed as a cartoon (it's Kelley Jones on art, after all), but that makes Moench's characterization of him that much more interesting. And that Harvey was totally loyal to his partners. The only question that Harvey would have had about Renee is: Is she a good cop? Other than that, it doesn't matter who she has sex with.

11/01/2005 09:53:00 AM  
Blogger T. said...

I thought Byrne came up with the bus analogy.

Anyway, I thoroughly agree Brian, I think if you want to disparage a character in a franchise book, you should create your own and then rape and mutilate them at will.

11/01/2005 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"I thought Byrne came up with the bus analogy."

I think I've seen it attributed to, like, a gazillion writers, but one of the ones who it has been attributed to, Priest, actually claims that it is "his" rule, so I figure it probably is.

I think other writers HAVE expressed similar sentiments.

11/01/2005 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

By the way, what's funny, Greg, is that while I basically enjoyed the Moench Bullock, I think even Moench was guilty of writing Bullock pretty poorly at times.

Around the #530s/540s or so, he really began to expand upon Bullock's characterization, which would be cool, except the areas he chose to expand upon were quite odd. It was almost like Bullock was becoming Moench's "Mary Sue." He made Bullock a book and wine connoisseur, for crying out loud!!

11/01/2005 01:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Charlie Anders said...

The Golden Age of Bullock was actually the early 80s, when Moench was first writing Batman. I got all those issues cheap a few years ago and they were pretty interesting. Bullock was originally this slobby cop with bad personal hygiene who was secretly obsessed with old movies (Bogart, etc.) and who fantasized about being debonair. Bullock had a secret "sanctum" of old movie memorabilia which he kept spotless and hid from everyone, until Robin found out about it. Later, some criminals found Bullock's sanctum and trashed it, and it was actually quite moving.

11/01/2005 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Totally, Charlie. Which is why it was so weird for me to see Moench go a different route with him later on.

11/01/2005 01:24:00 PM  
Blogger Bastarður Víkinga said...

Who created Bullock?

Was is Moench?

11/01/2005 01:41:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

I believe he was created in the 1983 by Doeg Moench.

11/01/2005 02:24:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

You are correct.

He was a much different character at first, but as Moench grew to like the character, he evolved to the Harvey we knew until, well, Rucka.

11/01/2005 02:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Bob Violence said...

It was just a matter of time. Stuff happens to supporting characters, just ask Leslie Thomkins. Stuff can't happen to the hero, so it falls to the supporting cast to be interesting and have problems.

11/01/2005 02:48:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Foss said...

Dignity? I admit, I haven't ever really read Batman regularly, and I haven't read "Half a Life," but Harvey Bullock, in all my reading, *never* had dignity. The man was Garfield in a trenchcoat, never seen without a donut or slice of pizza in hand. In fact, I think outside of short appearances in "Unresolved," the only Gotham Central arc I've read, that I have never seen him without food in his hand, without ten-o-clock shadow, and without looking generally like he could pass for homeless. He was rude, crass, dirty, and never without some disparaging word about the Department's attitudes toward Batman.

If this description of Montoya's coming-out is accurate and more explanation isn't given, then I think the real reason she never came out before is that Harvey would have been absolutely insufferable to her. Not only was she a rookie, not only was she pro-Batman, but now he'd have some other dirt on her, something else to pick at and make rude comments about.

Of course, Maggie Sawyer never came out while on Metropolis SCU, at least in part due to the climate toward homosexuals. Perhaps, had the GCPD known about Montoya's lifestyle, combined with Harvey's general unpopularity with the force, they would have a good excuse to terminate them both. But I hate to speculate on a story I haven't read.

Back to Harvey, in my experience he was less a character than a caricature, a sloppy amalgamation of every negative movie cop stereotype. And yet, he was one of the good cops. The irony of the situation, I think, must have been intentional in the shift toward "Year One." The corrupt cops were shining, square-jawed, muscular icons, like green beret Flass, while the good cops, the "untouchables," were flawed characters who you otherwise probably wouldn't like. Bullock was a slob, Commissioner Gordon cheated on his wife, etc. It upset the normal perception, a reversal of expectations that is characteristic of a town where an unknown thug could assert his authority over two powerful socialites.

Did anyone else notice that Lt. Flass in "Batman Begins" basically had Bullock's personality and mannerisms, except for his tendency toward corruption? If he hadn't taken any bribes or worked with Falcone, would you have known it wasn't supposed to be Harvey? Bullock, by all accounts, should have been one of Gotham's many corrupt cops, but he wasn't.

And what did him in? The man who, of the few good cops, was the most outspoken against Batman and costumed vigilantes and criminals, was undone by his own act of vigilantism. He worked inside a system that allowed corruption to run rampant, trying to change it from within and hating those who would try to work outside of the clear blue lines, yet when the system failed him, he finally understood why people like Batman take the law into their own hands.

Harvey Bullock was an exercise in irony. The idea that he is now despised by a force that was guilty of things he could never dream of is only icing on a deliciously ironic cake.

11/01/2005 04:05:00 PM  
Blogger Spencer Carnage said...

Half A Life was great. As I am one of those who can throw their hat into the "I only knew Harvey Bullock from the cartoon" ring, his portrayal by Bru and Rucka sits well with me. And Montoya, I only know from Gotham Central. However, if I read any of these earlier stories of her where she was portrayed as a heterosexual, I wouldn't be upset, unless she was out right homophobic(which would be the exact opposite of who she is today), because a person pretending to be something they're not is something that happens all the time.

Its a little interesting to see such negative attention paid to this little bit of the Batman mythos. With or without the continuity, it was a good story. But apparently someone just doesn't like the idea of a Renee Montoya being a lesbian...?

11/01/2005 05:28:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"Its a little interesting to see such negative attention paid to this little bit of the Batman mythos. With or without the continuity, it was a good story. But apparently someone just doesn't like the idea of a Renee Montoya being a lesbian...?"

Sorry, I guess I should have elaborated on "

But then, in Half a Life, I felt that there was a very weak exchange in which Renee Montoya explains why she has not come out in the precinct. She cites that Harvey Bullock was her former partner. Her current partner actually concedes that yes, he can see how that would influence her decision. The idea of retroactively making Renee Montoya a lesbian is one thing, but to retroactively make Harvey Bullock someone so hateful that his partner did not think that she would have lasted on the force had he known she was gay?

Dirty pool."

To elaborate, I did not think that was a good job by Rucka. I think that he basically decided to rewrite Harvey as a guy so homophobic that his partner feared for her safety had he known she was a lesbian.

I believe this came from Rucka not being interested in writing Bullock, which is fine. But I think he should have just transferred Bullock or whatever, rather than retroactively trash the character.

11/01/2005 05:40:00 PM  
Blogger Spencer Carnage said...

Definitely a good point. Although homophobia is not an admirable for anyone, it does feel a bit in character for Harvey Bullock. When he made that statement regarding how he understood that she could have been reluctant to tell Harvey, couldn't that be construed as him being somewhat apologetic? Or maybe stating something along the lines as "yeah, I come off a little strong, which could make something difficult like another person's sexuality that is considered taboo by society's standards a hard thing to discuss with me"?

11/01/2005 06:12:00 PM  
Blogger Loren said...

Maybe Harvey will show up during the whole 'Infinite Crisis' fiasco. After all, Harvey used to be a bigwig in Checkmate, and Checkmate has had a certain presence as of late.

Then again, maybe it'd be best to forget that everybody's favorite gruff Gotham cop was once a high-level US intelligence agent.

11/01/2005 07:03:00 PM  
Blogger ninjawookie said...

the adventures of BULLOCK AND BRADLEY!

11/02/2005 11:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Bobb decker said...

Hi everyone, I'm a long time lurker.

I hate coming across in my first post as a know-it-all, but harvey bullock first appeared as "Lieutenant Bullock" in Detective 441 by Archie Goodwin and Howard Chaykin. He was a background character with little dialogue, but he kind of looked the same.

Moench came on years later, brought him back from that one appearence and fleshed him out.

Now if I could only remember everything as well as Batman trivia...

11/02/2005 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

No, no, thanks a lot, Robb.

THAT was the answer that was stuck in my mind earlier when I was telling T how Bullock was a much different character from when he first appeared.

I just convinced myself that he changed dramatically from Moench's first writing of him to later appearances, but really, it was as you pointed out, and that Moench changed him a lot from his previous appearances (he still evolved under Moench, but not to the same degree of difference between the appearances you mentioned, 'Tec #441 and Batman #3...I wanna say 361).

11/02/2005 01:18:00 PM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

Did anyone else notice that Lt. Flass in "Batman Begins" basically had Bullock's personality and mannerisms, except for his tendency toward corruption? If he hadn't taken any bribes or worked with Falcone, would you have known it wasn't supposed to be Harvey?
That was Flass? Blimey. I didn't catch the name and I certainly took it to be Bullock.

Oh and perhaps Bullock is the new Spectre? ;)

11/03/2005 01:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Scavenger said...

To be honest, I didn't take the line in Half A Life to be that Harvey was homophobic...just that he wouldn't be very sensative to her conerns or fears.

But I dead on agree with you about the later story with Bullock.

My main Bullock knowledge was from Checkmate and then the Cartoon...never got how the 3rd in charge of a global spy orginazation got sent back down to being a detective schlub.

11/18/2005 03:24:00 PM  
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