In professional sports you bench a player that is under performing, for whatever reason, and you typically leave them there until they show you they’re worth starting again. Sure, these guys still get playing time, coming off of the bench during relief situations or to replace injured players, but they are never there for that first possible play of the game (barring an injury to the starter). They might play, but they aren’t starting, and in sports like baseball and basketball, that’s the difference between being a superstar and being a nobody on the team. Not so much hockey where you always have multiple lines moving in and out of the game at all times, or even football where the starting lineup depends on the play being called for the situation.
In TV benching a character would be like….you ever watch How I Met Your Mother? During one season one of the actresses, Alyson Hannigan, was pregnant. Now, rather then spend an entire season writing around the actress being pregnant when part of her characters arc at the time was not being ready to be have kids yet, they found a more clever method. Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) tells a horribly dirty joke, and Lily (Hannigan) storms off and doesn’t return for several episodes, right around the time it became impossible to disguise her pregnancy. Effectively removing her from the eye of the camera until they would no longer have to really hide her in every shot. They put Lily on the bench until the actress was ready to come back to work, and then when she returned it was as if nothing ever happened….though the season did end right after she returned and the next one picked up
Same thing happened in Sports Night oh so many years ago, where one of the actors had a stroke and it was worked into the show. They said the character had a stroke, and they made his recovery a plot line for the rest of the season as the actor slowly came back to work.
The key detail that comes with a benching, in any form, is in the return potential. If you send someone to the bench without intending for them to ever return, that’s more of a retirement or a firing. You won’t see Charlie Sheen back on Two and a Half Men and he isn’t benched, the character is done and killed off and put out to pasture. Just like when veteran quarterbacks were put on the bench in favor of the hot shot new guy, they weren’t put there to come back in and reclaim their jobs. They were put there with the intent to mentor from the bench and maybe fill in when there’s an injury.
Now, let’s take this to comics with a few examples of a retired character.
Jack Knight, the pre-New 52 Jim Corrigan Spectre, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (really that franchise as a whole unless Neil has allowed otherwise). Notice the pattern? DC is notorious for retiring a character after a legendary run, making it so that no other creators will come in and tarnish the work that came before. It’s an ultimate display of respect for a creator after the end of a seminal run, and I can’t think of the last time I saw Marvel do it.
Now for the benching! We’ve got all sorts of different types! There’s the ‘we don’t want to create brand confusion’ benching that has taken Wally West away from us, the ‘we made the character toxic for fun’ benching that took away Scarlet Witch for the better part of a decade, the always amusing ‘we simply don’t know what to do with this character’ benching that we saw happen to characters like Nate Grey and Prometheus, and the always epic ‘whoops, we forgot he existed’ benching that happened to Charles Xavier.
Wally West, Donna Troy, Cassandra Cain, Stephanie Brown. Beloved characters of the modern era who all seem to simply not exist anymore. Wally West no longer has an origin, as his Aunt Iris never dated Barry Allen and thus never introduced him to her nephew who would one day be Kid Flash. Plus, Barry is much younger now and never died, which means that Wally would simply be Kid Flash…but that’s what Bart Allen is. Donna Troy hasn’t had a mention in the New 52, and given her history…yeah, I understand, she is the most confusing character in DC’s stable, but she’s still been a prominent character for decades. Now, our former Batgirl’s got sucked into the continuity abyss that is the Bat right now, where nobody can decide when and for how long Babs was Batgirl before being crippled, and thus the idea of having replacements is blasphemous. More so than four Robin’s in five years.
They ride the bench, they sit there waiting for the right situation or writer or moment and then they will undoubtedly return…alright, Wally and Donna might. Dan DiDio isn’t a huge Chuck Dixon fan, so I’m not expecting to see Stephanie anytime soon.
Now, some characters get off the bench from time to time. Resurrection Man, Static, Hawk and Dove, and Swamp Thing are among some of those that have been allowed to come off of the bench at DC in the last year and a half…one of them hasn’t been returned to it. In the last month or so we’ve seen Booster Gold get put back on the bench for the time being as well, which grinds my gears.
Sometimes you see potential just get completely wasted with the bench, and more often than not it’s because a creator came up with something positively awesome and nobody could figure out how to follow it up. Look at Prometheus at DC, Grant Morrison created him as an anti-Batman figure that could take on the League. He made a handful of appearances in his JLA before fading into obscurity for a few years, returning in some horrible stories as Hush’s bodyguard before it is finally revealed that it was an imposter, and the original had been incapacitated since fighting Batman. They brought him back in a cool one shot, then spun out Cry For Justice, and then ended it with him dead and made the character better off sitting on the bench. This is an example of bench cleaning, getting people off of your bench permanently. In sports it’s simply cutting players from your active roster, in American Dad it was driving a bus filled with every one shot side character ever off of a cliff.
When Brian Bendis took over the Avengers, the first thing he did was change the Scarlet Witch’s powers and drive her to insanity. Between Avengers Disassembled and House of M she would sporadically appear in Excalibur, but once he had her say “No More Mutants” she essentially ceased to exist (save for a bad issue of New Avengers where she had sex with Hawkeye) until the Children’s Crusade. He made her such an insanely toxic character that she had to be set aside until such a time came about where she could be safely used again without the stink of editorial mandates using her as a plot device. Of course, to bring back such a toxic character you need a good hook to get that taste out of the long term readers mouths (and you wait so that there might be enough turnover in the reader base that people initially frustrated by the happenings aren’t around anymore), and this tends to lead to even sloppier retcons. Like how Dr. Doom is guilty of everything that Wanda did between Disassembled and House of M. So now Wanda can come back and be an Avenger again and be a hero, because she came off the bench with an absolution of all sins card.
Kinda like Hal Jordan, only he wasn’t ever benched so much as killed and then rebranded.
So the reason why this all really came about is what happened a few weeks ago in Avengers Vs. X-Men, where Charles Xavier was killed. Xavier went on to the bench after House of M when he lost his powers, returning shortly after to get his powers back in Rise and Fall of the Shiar Empire, and then moving over to X-Men Legacy after Messiah Complex. Since that brief run as the lead in Legacy we’ve seen Xavier used sparingly if at all, he would appear just often enough to make sure people remembered he hadn’t died, but it had been years since he had done anything of any true significance. When Cyclops got the push to be the featured character of the X-franchise, Xavier took a seat on the bench to wait for his return.
The problem was that he was pulled off of the bench just to be killed off. Had he been around more the past few years than there would undoubtedly be a better emotional impact for readers, but his virtual non-existence the past several years just hampered it. Did I care? Well, I grew up with the Professor, so there will always be some nostalgia there for me. However, if I were a new reader? Someone that just started reading X-Men in the last handful of years? I’d be lacking on reasons to really give much of a damn that he died.
That’s an issue, hell, that’s the entire issue that brought me to writing this in the first place. You can take a character off of the bench for a shock value death, it’s half of what the bench is for, but you can’t bank on emotional impact. If you want readers to care that a character has died, then you should make them care about the character. Don’t expect everyone to have the same nostalgia the writers have, that’s absolutely foolish. Imagine with every issue that someone is reading that hasn’t before, make people care. Don’t give us a guy showing up to call someone boy a lot and try to mind rape them, and then expect immediate sorrow and sympathy when the ridiculously powerful target winds up killing him.
Hell, don’t bring him back a few weeks earlier in an issue of Avengers that goes so horribly that the character, Xavier, mind wipes every character present just so people don’t remember he showed up.
On the rare occasion he came off the bench the past few years he was handled like the worlds biggest prick. Now he’s dead and it really does seem like USA Today cares more than any of the readers.
Then again, USA Today cares about anything Marvel is willing to let them spoil a day before the book goes on sale.
What I read this week:
- Birds of Prey #0
- Blue Beetle #0
- Green Lantern: The New Guardians #0
- Justice League #0
- Nightwing #0
- Supergirl #0
- Sword of Sorcery #0
- Wonder Woman #0
- Avengers Academy #37
- Daredevil #18
- New Mutants #49
- Spider-Men #5
- Ultimate Comics Ultimates #15
- X-Factor #244
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike #2
- Ghostbusters #13
- Revival #3
- Batman Beyond #12
- Smallville Season 11 #17
Top Five Books of the Week:
5. Avengers Academy #37
4. Justice League #0
3. Revival #3
2. Ghostbusters #13
1. Wonder Woman #0
What I Watched This Week:
- White Collar
- Thursday Night Football
- Parks and Rec
- Shark tank
- College Gameday
- Sunday Afternoon Football
- Sunday Night Football
- Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes
- Monday Night Football
- WWE Raw
- How I Met Your Mother
The Worst Things I Saw On Shelves:
For the life of me I have no idea how I’m still reading New Mutants. The book has yet to be truly bad, by any means, but I don’t think I’ve paid attention in the last ten issues. I blame the art….or me simply not really caring about Doug Ramsey. Oh, and also Nate Grey getting nerfed. Still bitter. Still reading the book primarily because he’s in it.
I posted this on Facebook and I feel it deserves a reprint here.
“So what was the point of Spider-Men exactly? Was it so Miles could get a thumbs up from the Spider-Man of a different world? Was it so Bendis could get rid of Mysterio for good despite the character having an awesome showing in Ends of the Earth? Was it because he just realized that for all the Spidey work he’s done he’s never really written Peter Parker as more than a side character outside of Ultimate?
Or was it just an excuse to print money?”
The Best Things I Saw This Week:
Dick’s new Robin suit is perfect. There’s no chance in hell that Bruce would send a kid out in pixie boots and short pants to get shot at, and the new look reflects that.
I love how I can read Ghostbusters and see that the video game is fully in the canon, and then remember that Kylie from Extreme Ghostbusters works at Ray’s Occult Books. As a fan who grew up with anything and everything relating to the Ghostbusters, who has gone out of his way to find more and more and more, this book just speaks to me. Even better? For all the non-movie love it gives out, Slimer is still movie Slimer instead of animated pain in the ass Slimer. Also, for the fans of the game, when the rookie shows up…his jumpsuit still says “Rookie” and they still never bother to name him. I love it.
I like that New Guardians #0 was used to push the new direction of the title instead of retelling Kyle’s origin. The idea of trying to rationalize Kyle’s origin in the five year timeline they have makes my brain hurt.
I absolutely love Revival. It’s creepy, it’s cool, the characters are likable, the concept of the Revivers is freakin awesome. Really really love this book.
Supergirl was awesome and confused the hell out of me at the same time. Why the hell was Superboy on Krypton? Zor-El is the real genius over Jor-El? Fuck, I need to go read this issue again.
I love that the Avengers cartoon just straight up used a Geoff Johns story adaption, Red Zone was an awesome Avengers story that helped get me interested in the product again. It’s a damn shame that once Johns went DC exclusive they went with Austen and Bendis. Just a damn shame.
X-Factor. It’s consistently awesome, never a dull moment, and completely under the radar of the majority of readers. Peter David takes amazing characters that nobody else wants and he makes them must read…and then he makes it last six years and counting. Seriously, Marvel is doing all of their NOW! stuff and X-Factor isn’t getting touched. No renumbering, no creative shake up, not even a real character shake up (PAD has spent his entire run moving characters in and out of his book to fit what other writers needed), just untouched goodness with no end in sight.
Blue Beetle and Birds of Prey are my biggest dark horse books of the New 52. Blue Beetle didn’t grip me at all in it’s first arc, but ever since Jaime relocated to New York the book has found a voice and personality that make it one I look forward to every month. Birds of Prey I bought just because I liked Duane’s Marvel work, and color me surprised, I adore it. He writes the hell out of Dinah and Poison Ivy.
The ending of Avengers Academy is one I’ve been waiting for since the early days, the one character most likely to do something evil or sinister turns into a killer and blames someone else. I don’t feel like they actually became evil, rather, I see an impossible situation that needed an immediate resolution. That received the right resolution. Sometimes heroes have to kill, for the good of everyone else, and while heavy is the head that wears the crown….I see this character having no real guilt.
My Pissed Off Moment of the Week:
I just spent, like, half an hour trying to find an embedable copy of that video and I think I’m completely failing because I can’t find a decent one. Then again, I’m also not looking on Youtube. Anyway, it’s the final play from the Packers/Seahawks game and the horrible officiating that will forever be the legacy of the game. It was insulting to me as a fan of the game.
On top of that, it was the same group of refs that worked the Rams home opener against the Redskins, and while my team may have won…horrible calls cost us two touchdowns, and that very same ref that ran up on Monday screaming touchdown is the one who called a fifteen yard penalty on the Rams for shoving the ball carrier out of bounds.
Top Five Benched Characters of the Last Twenty Years
5. Nate Grey.
The X-Man might not be riding the bench anymore, but he spent a good long time there after his Shaman days. It was long said that his trip to the bench was simply out of the complicated nature of his origin and the whole alternate reality thing. It was a fair point, but one that was thankfully looked past to bring him back. Unfortunately he returned triumphantly from the bench only to be nerfed, so he gets to anchor the list instead of get a prominent early feature.
4. Mitch Shelley.
Come on, show of hands, who thought at any point since Resurrection Man ended that there was any chance at all that we would ever see Mitch get his own series again? Not a cameo or a supporting cast gig, his own ongoing title. Nobody? That’s why he’s a top benched character, he actually got to come back off of it.
3. The Legion of Super Heroes.
Pick a version, any version, they all work. The original Legion wound up on the bench for the Zero Hour Legion, which was then benched in favor of the Waid/Kitson Legion, which in turn was benched for the return of the original. On top of all of this, Geoff Johns wrote an event where all three teams got together to fight Superboy Prime and it was epic. Currently two of these Legion’s are benched, but if there’s one thing we know about the Legion…it’s that they could be subbed out at any time.
The original Spider-Clone, the scarred one, the sometimes evil one, the character that was only used by Tom DeFalco for over a decade while his 616 counterpart sulked in the shadiest corner of the bench wondering if anyone even realized he didn’t die along with Ben.
1. Wally West.
There’s a million reasons for why he’s there now, but not a single good one for why he was put there in the first place. In a world with Barry Allen as the Flash, we really don’t need Wally anymore, but who the hell wanted Barry back in the first place?
The Gold Standard