Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Uncanny X-Men #266

[Jason Powell continues to look at every Claremont X-Men issue. Can you believe we are already at GAMBIT! God I loved that character when I was a kid. A dumb kid.]

“Gambit – Out of the Frying Pan”

More layers of duality emerge here, beginning with the title, which forms two pairs: First with the title of the previous issue (“Gambit” is matched with “Storm”) and then again with the next (“Into the Fire”). The introduction of Gambit himself – who, like Ororo, is a mutant and a thief – creates more parallels. Note how Dr. Shen’s predatorial sexual attraction to Gambit is set up as a mirror with the Shadow King’s for Storm; and that the old-male-mentor/young-female-protégé dynamic has two iterations here (Gambit/Ororo, Shadow King/Dr. Shen) and a third one off-panel (Wolverine/Jubilee).

The plot mechanics of the issue are in keeping with the motif as well, built on a structure of leap-frogging rescues between Gambit and Storm. Claremont’s feminism is at work here, as he attempts to keep the scales in rigorous balance between his favorite girl and the new, “cool” male character (a co-creation with Jim Lee which was plainly meant to appeal to the core, teenage-boy faction of the comic-book-readng audience). Gambit may be allowed to rescue the damsel in distress, but not without the damsel turning around and rescuing him two pages later.

Leap-frogging is occurring on the production level as well, as Michael Collins jumps back over Bill Jaaska to provide fill-in art for Uncanny 266. Given that this is Gambit’s first in-story appearance (his first published appearance having occurred a month earlier in the chronologically misplaced X-Men Annual 14), it seems odd that co-creator Jim Lee was not assigned as the penciller. Collins’ storytelling style is a bit stiff and inorganic here, drawing a bit too much attention to Claremont’s contrived multiple-rescue scenario (thus necessitating Gambit’s self-aware bit of dialogue: “I’ve lost track … who rescues whom next?”).

Still, the point gets across: Young Ororo has found herself a kindred spirit, clearly destined to be a new addition to the X-Men’s cast (and the last major character Claremont would contribute to the mythos).

27 comments:

Arthur said...

As much as Geoff and most of the internet like to make fun of him, I loved Gambit when he first appeared. He was brash and cocky to a level I don't think even Wolverine matched in his early days. He had an interesting power, and hints that something more was going on with him. To wit: I'm surprised you didn't mention the scene where he charmed Dr. Shen. I'd heard (though not from any solid sources) that Collins was specifically told that his charm was regarded as a power.

Any idea why he was throwing green energy from his eyes? Or why he was using spikes instead of cards?

As much as I liked his early appearances here, I'm sad to see that this Gambit hasn't appeared in X-Men Forever. Forever's Gambit actually seems nice. Tame. Even wears a suit. Claremont personally assured me that he wasn't "tame" on the ComiX-fan formums, but, well, I'm still waiting for him to show me.

OTOH, I don't hate Forever's Gambit. I hated Gambit after Claremont left. I don't know if I could even put into words why, he just felt so wrong post-Claremont.

Art

Jason said...

I think I talked more about Gambit in the next blog entry ... I guess we'll find out next week! (I sort of forget what I said until I re-read it here on the blog.)

I know I did mention that I was kind of down on Gambit, but then I read somebody somewhere mentioning that Gambit did fulfill a certain archetypal role in the X-mythos: the Casanova character. Arthur, was it you who pointed this out?

In any case, it turned me around on him, and I do appreciate now what the character brings to the table.

Also, can you link me to the forum where Claremont talks about "Forever"? Sounds interesting. (Actually I may have already been on there, but somewhere along the way I lost the link to it, I think.)

Anyway, yeah, I dig Gambit nowadays -- and I think it's impressive that even at this late stage of the game, Claremont was still creating (or at least co-creating) fan-favorite characters.

neilshyminsky said...

Claremont said that Gambit was supposed to have a Mr. Sinister connection, right? Or even that he WAS Sinister? Am I remember thing right? Because maybe, then, the charm was supposed to be a telepathic power, maybe even something meant to cast suspicion on him as something or someone other than who he appeared to be. But now i'm just speculating.

Jason said...

Neil,

Something like that, I think, yes. Gambit and Mr. Sinister were, I think both supposed to be mental projections of the same mutant child (Nate, who was Scott's roommate in the orphanage). In the same way that Sinister was supposed to be a child's conception of a big, evil villain (with a cliche villain name), Gambit was meant to be an adolescent's idealized, "cool" conception of the perfect superhero. That he is good at EVERYTHING, including charming the ladeez, was a part of that.

(I can't provide a source for much of that, so take it with a grain of salt, I guess.)

James said...

In the 90s I saw a trading card that listed Sexy Persuasion* as a telepathic power Gambit had. I was all, "what is this broken mess?". Trading cards!

*Not the term they used, obviously.

Does Gambit function as a kind of unintentional Fantomex, maybe?

Gary said...

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2006/11/23/comic-book-urban-legends-revealed-78/

A "Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed" dealing with Gambit and Mr. Sinster.

http://www.comixfan.com/xfan/forums/showthread.php?t=40657&page=3

A post from david r on Feb 24, 2008 also adresses this topic, pointing out that the two were meant to be linked back to Nate at the orphanage.

Arthur said...

Jason, no, I didn't point out a Cassandra/Gambit connection, nor do I really see one. (We are talking Cassandra Nova, right?)

The current XMF forum is
http://www.comixfan.com/xfan/forums/showthread.php?t=47238

This is a direct link to the latest X-Men Forever thread, which goes back to November. Claremont comments sporadically. Keep in mind though, it is an XMF forum and the mods tend to want to stick to that topic. When a thread reaches a certain number of posts, it's closed and a new one is started. There's at least one closed XMF thread in the archives. (Glancing at some comments, it's interesting to see what things were planned vs. what actually appeared. Jubilee was supposed to show for Logan's funeral, but didn't. Apparently, Paul Smith just chose not to draw her in and Claremont had to roll with it.) Individual issues get their own review thread upon release, and again, Claremont sometimes posts his comments there as well. There is also a Cordially Chris Forum on Comix-Fan, but it doesn't look like it's used much.

Does Claremont know about your little column here?

It took me awhile to find it, but "Beast" over on Comix-Fan transcribed some information about Gambit's intended origins: http://www.comixfan.com/xfan/forums/showthread.php?t=47501 It's near the middle of the page.

Art
(apainter on ComiX-fan)

Jason said...

"Jason, no, I didn't point out a Cassandra/Gambit connection, nor do I really see one. (We are talking Cassandra Nova, right?)"

No, this guy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casanova

"Does Claremont know about your little column here?"

Sadly, no, I don't think he's interested.

Thanks for the links!

Teebore said...

God I loved that character when I was a kid. A dumb kid

Don't worry Geoff, I think a lot of us are in that boat.

Jason, the duality and feminism on display in the story is something I'd never picked up on before (probably because the art kept me from speeding through the issue as fast as possible so I wouldn't have to look at it anymore).

And good point to whomever pointed out that Gambit fills the Casanova archetype. That does give his character some more depth and meaning.

I'd also suggest that he brings back a little bit of the swashbuckling swagger that's been missing since Nightcrawler's departure.

Yeah, he's (eye-rollingly) too cool for school, but that's kinda the point, after all.

Teebore said...

Correction, that should read "the art forces me to speed through the issue as fast as possible..."

Not a fan of the art in this one, is my point. :)

deepfix said...

Maybe I'm confused, but in what way is Gambit's "coolness" so flawed? I mean, i never really got into him because I was like 16 when he was introduced and quit reading X-Men when CC left. But he always seems pretty self-evidently cool. Is it misuse after CC left that ruined his coolness? He seems no different than Wolverine when he [Wolverine] was first introduced.

Jason said...

deepfix,

I suspect there is more than one answer to this, but I think the thing about Gambit is that his "coolness" feels a bit blatant and calculated. The trenchcoat, the hairdo, the accent, the sex appeal, the glowing eye, the playing cards ... There is a kind of commercial excess at work there that seems a bit cynical -- and of course he debuted at the start of the 1990s, and carries always an association with that decade (which was an apex, or nadir if you like, of cynical commercial excess in superhero comics).

Granted, Wolverine was in a similar place by this point, but one could argue that at least Logan's various "cool" attributes accrued over time. When he first appeared, he was "Jerk with claws," and -- apparently -- was not at all a hit with the readers back then. Peter David recalls that there was a "Kill off that obnoxious Wolverine" sentiment that came across in early X-Men letters pages.

James, Gambit as early unintentional Fantomex ... probably. Geoff could probably answer that one better than I.

Tee, I think you're right about Gambit also filling in the Nightcrawler void. Of course, in the interim between Nightcrawler and Gambit we had Longshot, who also shared traits with both characters. (The Longshot/Gambit connection is an odd one. Their names are basically synonyms, and one character didn't appear until the other one was gone ... they both had agility as an attribute and they both had the glowing-eye motif ... but, as far as I've ever read, this was all coincidence and no connection was ever intended between the two characters.)

deepfix said...

You somehow proved a maybe point I was making. In the comparison, I was referring to Wolverine when he was first introduced and a statement like "...When he first appeared, he was "Jerk with claws," and -- apparently -- was not at all a hit with the readers back then. Peter David recalls that there was a "Kill off that obnoxious Wolverine" sentiment that came across in early X-Men letters pages. " leads me to think that the problem is not Gambit per se but that "...he debuted at the start of the 1990s, and carries always an association with that decade (which was an apex, or nadir if you like, of cynical commercial excess in superhero comics)."

Jason said...

You may be right. As noted, the "cool" traits seemed packed into Gambit right from the start. But perhaps it's really no moreso than any superhero.

I do think that some of the Gambit mockery is undeserved. Somebody somewhere made fun of the fact that he's supposed to be a sneak thief, but he dresses in a costume with bright pink on the chest.

Which kind of makes you say, well, it's superhero comics. Wolverine is a bad-ass killer dressed in yellow and blue. The Sub-Mariner is a powerful monarch in green swimming trunks.

That always struck me as a silly thing to make fun of.

deepfix said...

On a tangent, I'm finally listening to the new Beatles Revolver remaster and am floored. Nostalgia reigns supreme. I like to think I'm of the generation that was one step away from the Wolverine imprint. I subscribed to the X-Men in 1984 and my father wanted me to name a member of the team to justify the subscription. I said Wolverine. Imagine my surprise when my Wolverine was not the blue hairy Beast that I thought he was.

deepfix said...

As a man who cannot seem to make words work for him tonight, pretend we had a face to face conversation that involved Gambit, Jim Lee, 1990s Marvel and DC, and Will Payton's Starman.

Jason said...

I'm losing your thread, deepfix, but "Revolver" IS an awesome album -- I'm with you on that!

Gary said...

http://daveslongbox.blogspot.com/2006/05/why-gambit-sucks.html

A Dave's Long Box post on Why Gambit Sucks.

I do not think Gambit sucks. I am indifferent towards Gambit, though back in the day it ticked me off when Gambit defeated Wolverine in the Danger Room. I particularly liked the way his agility was described - dodging each round as an individual entity, and that slick shot of him using his quarterstaff to intercept every shot Forge fired at him. Good stuff.

Not to mention the excellent, "Let's see how you handle... the WHOLE DECK!" I have no idea why I don't hate that. It must have been well done.

deepfix said...

While that is a terrific example of snark, it still doesn't really explain why Gambit is not cool, it merely shows how far people will go to hide the fact they thought he was cool in the first place.

Evan said...

All of the moments I associate with being defining moments for Gambit come after Claremont left. Pretty much the second Claremont is gone, the new writers really try to dig in and explain this "new" character. In X-men they decide he is romancing rogue and has a wife back in the bayou, and in Uncanny they decide he was the traitor who brings on Bishop's future. It would have been much more interesting to see where Claremont would have taken Gambit, and I'm sure it would be very different from the character we know from 616 or from forever.

Jason said...

"The WHOLE DECK" was brilliant, even though it raises some questions as to how Gambit's power actually works ...

I also love Gambit's using the spike in his leg to pick the lock during "X-Tinction Agenda." (Claremont was even smart enough to leave that page silent!)

Deepfix, you're right, Gambit rules. Let's all stop denying it, people! :)

Teebore said...

I also love Gambit's using the spike in his leg to pick the lock during "X-Tinction Agenda."

That scene isn't just one of my favorite Gambit scenes, it's one of my favorite comic scenes, period.

@deepfix While that is a terrific example of snark, it still doesn't really explain why Gambit is not cool

I'm no Gambit hater, so I don't really care either way, but I would argue that the Dave's Long Box piece made it clear that, snark aside, the biggest explanation for why Gambit isn't cool is because it's reached where a point where Gambit is almost solely defined by his relationship to Rogue. How cool can you be when you're known only as "so-and-so's boyfriend"?

Now, one can certainly quibble with the whether or not Gambit really is solely defined as Rogue's boyfriend, or whether or not being defined as such constitutes being uncool, but from the perspective of the piece itself, the claim it's making is "Gambit is uncool because he's now only known as Rogue's boyfriend, and being characterized as such is not cool".

Gary said...

Teebore hit what I was after: The Richard Gere Factor explanation.

Personally, I have no problem with Gambit's characteristics. He's got neat powers, and replacing those spikes from his first appearance with cards really completed a cool set of abilities. During Claremont's initial run, he was all mystery, which can be a good thing. After Chris Claremont left, did Gambit's quality level drop? Yes. After Claremont left did the X-Men's quality level drop? Oh, yes.

Anonymous said...

Re: the Gambit/Longshot connection - I always wondered about that myself and thought Gambit was supposed to be some kind of "Dark Longshot," with the synonymous name and the glowing (purple?) eye.

Gambit as a clone designed by Sinister to seduce Rogue would seem to explain the resonance. Sinister had already programmed one clone to attract a specific X-Man, so why not model Gambit after the guy with whom Rogue most recently had an ongoing flirtation? (And then give him a really thick accent to match hers, of course.) Maybe not a completely satisfying explanation, but it seems to fit.

This also makes me wonder if, in X-Men #3, Gambit's "Wan' take the risk, l'il river rat?" to Rogue is Claremont's way of hinting that Sinister had made him immune to Rogue's mutant power.

By the way, I'd never read about/heard of Claremont's intended origin for Gambit before reading the comments here. Thanks for the link, Art! And keep up the great work, Jason!

Arthur said...

@Jason how did I read Casanova as Cassandra Nova? (I half wonder if Morrison intended some kind of connection between the two names, for reasons much too clever for me to understand.)

I'm not sure what a "Casanova archetype" is. The cool, suave lover? Surely it must go deeper than that?

2 cool things about Gambit, post Claremont:
1) I liked Nicieza's solo series in the... late 90s? Early 00s? Nicieza gets props for having Gambit make "Batroc ze Lepair's" mustache 'splode.

2) I love using him in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2.

On another subject, and apologies for getting ahead of the game like this, but I've always wondered if Claremont named Fabian Cortez after Fabian Nicieza. Did he see Nicieza as a punk upstart looking to replace his elders? Fabian isn't exactly the most common name, so seeing both a writer and character pop up in X-comics about the same time always made me wonder.

Art

Anonymous said...

I'll admit to being a fan of Gambit.
I wasn't a big fan when he was introduced by Claremont. I was in high school at the time and probably too cynical. But, I think that later writers have actually done a good job with Gambit, at least from time to time. One of the few things about the X-books that actually worked after Claremont, for mine.
Had Claremont been able to follow through on his original plans for Gambit, well, that would've been even better.
I was hoping he'd pick up on those plot-threads with X-Men:Forever, but it doesn't look like it.

I agree completely about the Nicieza series. That was about the only X-book that was readable during the period it was published.
I'm a fan of Hellblazer, and I always thought Gambit was about as close as Marvel would get to the cool, trenchcoat wearing, anti-hero archetype. Remy LeBeau even used to smoke cigarettes.

Jason said...

"By the way, I'd never read about/heard of Claremont's intended origin for Gambit before reading the comments here. Thanks for the link, Art! "

***Seconded. I had heard about the Gambit/Sinister connection, that they were meant to be good and bad halves of the same psyche, sorta kinda, but the stuff about the original persona, Nate, crushing on Rogue, was new to me. Upon reading that, I had the exact same thought as you Anon, that:

"Sinister had already programmed one clone to attract a specific X-Man, so why not model Gambit after the guy with whom Rogue most recently had an ongoing flirtation?"

***Also, Longshot was the "last X-Man standing" at the end of Sinister's fight with the team in X-Men 243, so maybe that also figured into Nate's desire to make a cool superhero persona.

"This also makes me wonder if, in X-Men #3, Gambit's "Wan' take the risk, l'il river rat?" to Rogue is Claremont's way of hinting that Sinister had made him immune to Rogue's mutant power."

***Yeah, I definitely thought that at the time. Even after Claremont left, Jim Lee was dropping such hints. (I'm almost positive there is one such in X-Men #4 as well.)

"I'm not sure what a "Casanova archetype" is. The cool, suave lover? Surely it must go deeper than that?"

***Perhaps ... It was enough for me, but then I'm not all that deep. :)

"On another subject, and apologies for getting ahead of the game like this, but I've always wondered if Claremont named Fabian Cortez after Fabian Nicieza. Did he see Nicieza as a punk upstart looking to replace his elders? "

***Nathan Adler pointed this out to me recently. I had never made the connection before, embarrassingly enough, but now I definitely think it was deliberate. I do talk about it in the relevant blog entry.