Most die-hard Pinoy comic book fans know that Bishop — a time-traveling, energy-absorbing mutant in the long-running comic book series X-Men — was originally supposed to be Filipino.
His co-creator, comic book artist Whilce Portacio, revealed another quirk in the superhero's origin story: that he was inspired by billiards great Efren 'Bata' Reyes when he was conceptualizing the character.
At a panel in the Supermanila comic book artist convention, Portacio recounted the events that led to Bishop's first comic book appearance back in 1991. Tasked by his editors to create a character who could go toe-to-toe (power levels- and popularity-wise) with Wolverine, the Filipino artist wanted someone who could personify what he called the Pinoy "ugali."
He saw that same ugali in The Magician, who at the time was already taking the billiards world by storm. "Efren 'Bata' Reyes would go up against these big American guys and give them this look," the comic book artist said. He wanted to infuse that same never-say-die spirit in his creation. "That's who Bishop was," he said. "He was born with the skills and the DNA to fight and survive. In the daytime he would fight off Sentinels, save other mutants, and then he would [go] underground at the end of the day, [and ask], 'Saan ba yung next party? Saan ba yung handa?'"
Portacio also cited Gary Valenciano as another unlikely inspiration for Bishop.
When the time came to launch the character, Bob Harras, his editor on the X-Men books, asked Portacio if Bishop could be black instead. There were so many African-American kids sending in X-Men fan mail, Harras explained, and he wanted a hero who could also inspire these young readers. "Understanding as a minority, I couldn't say no," Portacio recalled. "I was already operating in the mood of being Pinoy, diba? Learning about our ugali. And that's another part of it. Pagbigyan, diba? There's always another time."
Later in the 90s, Portacio would become a titan in the comic books industry, helping launch Image Comics with other superstar artists like Jim Lee and Todd McFarlane. 'Bata', on the other hand, would cement his place as a billiards legend. The character he helped inspire, Bishop, is still going strong: last we heard, he's joining a team of seafaring mutants in this month's Marauders #1.