Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Uncanny X-Men #267

[Jason Powell continues the homestretch on these issue by issue Claremont X-Men blogs. He may be coming to New York City soon for a visit -- Jason, am I allowed to say why? do you want to say why? Anyway we will finally meet in person. This will be exciting because I think of him as a digital image. One of those pixelated photographs that when you get real close turns out to actually be made up of tiny images of pages of Claremont comics that only look like person when you get enough distance from them.]

“Nanny – Into the Fire”

Debuting so near the end of Claremont’s run, the character Gambit is surrounded by some confusion as to the author’s intentions. The prevailing wisdom seems to be that he was intended as the angel to Mr. Sinister’s devil. Sinister, Claremont has explained, was the alter ego of a mutant child who only aged one year for every ten. Accounting for the character’s outré visual design, Sinister was conceived as the ultimate boogeyman. Gambit, meanwhile, was another projection of this same child, the vision of the quintessential “cool” superhero.

As far as I can remember, I haven’t seen or read Claremont confirming this plan, but if it’s true it explains Gambit’s somewhat ridiculous perfection in every area – wit, charm, style, fashion, and of course, super-powers. Of course, his debut having occurred in the 90s – superhero comics’ peak decade of excess and cynical commercialism – Gambit’s blatant and unabashed wish-fulfillment qualities are just as explainable as the result of greedy corporate calculation.

That said, in either case, someone (and I apologize for not remembering who) has pointed out online that Gambit is actually an entirely reasonable addition to the X-Men cast, embodying a perennial trope that the mythology had previously been missing: The lothario. I quite appreciate this point of view, as it gives me personally a more sympathetic view of a character I’d previously been inclined to dismiss as a bit of cynical pandering. So, whoever exposed me to this more charitable take, please do stand up and take a bow.

(As a sidenote, I was also once quite taken with a theory posted on the X-Universe message board that Gambit was Longshot after passing through the Seige Perilous. Granted, we never saw Longshot enter the portal, but we also were never told he didn’t. And given the two figures’ virtually synonymous codenames, their shared attractiveness to the opposite sex, their similar acrobatic prowess and affinity for small projectiles, and their each possessing a single, glowing eye, it seems not at all unreasonable to intuit a connection. Yet for all of that, I’ve never heard or read anything to suggest that this theory has any basis in fact.)

In any case, Gambit’s staying power is undeniable. Although a co-creation with Jim Lee, Gambit still owes much of his personality and identity to Claremont. The author can claim no small amount of credit for the character’s longevity and success, comparable to that of Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, Rogue and others. It is a testament to the author’s talent that throughout a 17-year run, he never lacked for the ability to create and/or develop popular, durable and ultimately much beloved characters with which to populate the X-Men’s fictional universe.

“Into the Fire” concludes the Storm/Gambit trilogy, and the issue itself is set up with a canny three-act structure that makes its 23 pages feel quite dense with incident. The opening sequence presents the final (for the moment) battle against The Shadow King’s hounds, depicted with intense fervor by Lee (assisted here by Whilce Portacio and Scott Williams). The end of the issue concludes the Nanny thread, tidily explaining the mystery of adolescent Storm while depicting Nanny and the Oprhan-Maker’s final defeat (thanks in part to an Ace of Spades hurled by Gambit – issue 267 marks the first appearance of his signature projectile). Both bits are equally breathless -- gorgeously illustrated by Lee/Portacio/Williams, and nicely choreographed by Claremont.

These two bombastic action set-pieces are linked by a more pensive middle section set in New Orleans. Partly a montage conveyed via narrative captions, the sequence is classic Claremont, conveying a solid sense of both setting and character. (Earlier examples of similarly well-wrought transitional narratives can be found as far back as Uncanny X-Men 101.) This sequence is literally the centerpiece of the issue, selling us both on Gambit himself and his newly forged bond with young Ororo. Without this bit, the action sequences that bracket it – well rendered though they are – would seem like so much sound and fury.

Claremont had little good to say about Jim Lee’s work in Uncanny 267, and while subsequent issues are certainly more confident, the artist acquits himself far better than Claremont would suggest. His talent for big superhero set-pieces is undeniable, and he proves equally adept at selling Claremont’s quieter, more prosaic moments. Thanks to Lee and his assisting artists (along with colorist Glynis Oliver and letterer Tom Orzechowski, who both happily return in “Into the Fire” after a three-issue absence), Claremont delivers his most rousing X-Men story in months, an irresistible pot-boiler that stays engaging from its sexy opening splash page to its final, stand-up-and-cheer line of dialogue.

19 comments:

Arthur said...

I think the closest on-panel link to Gambit and Longshot we ever got is a few issues from this one, where Wolverine notes how Gambit moves like Longshot, followed by a shot of Gambit with a dark sparkle in one of his eyes.

I was rather disappointed by the Siege Perilous. When it first appeared, it made it sound like you were going to a judgment by God, that your old life is over, now it's on to your eternal reward or damnation. So I was surprised that, if you're judged to be "good", you're simply sent back as an amnesiac. Hardly much of a reward.

I wonder if Claremont intended to do more with the whole "invisibility to remote viewing" the Australian X-Team had. It just got ignored after Claremont left.

That was part of the frustrating thing about the X-Men's "death". It was supposedly a way to strike at their enemies with impunity, and make themselves legend in the bargain, but those ideas, like the "invisibility", those ideas just seemed to peter out.

Art

Arthur said...

BTW, what did Claremont have to say about this issue in regards to Lee's work?

Jason said...

I have read it said that Claremont was going to continue the "invisibility" thing if he hadn't left the series when he did. But never from Claremont himself, only via an X-Men "FAQ." No idea if it's true.

As for what Claremont said about this one: "It's funny, but Jim's first issue, X-Men 267, which he did with Whilce Portacio, was totally inconsistent -- but there was some mean stuff in there."

(That's from Tom DeFalco's interview book "Comics Creators on X-Men.")

Jason said...

And Geoff, you may speak freely about why I'll be in New York, if you like.

Arthur said...

And Geoff, you may speak freely about why I'll be in New York, if you like.

Better yet, let the wild speculation begin!

You're signing a book deal with Marvel, right? "Claremont's X-Men, Issue By Issue" by Jason Powell. Forward by Geoff Klock.

Teebore said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
scottmcdarmont said...

You know what I've always wondered? How many decks of cards was Gambit carrying at any one time? Did he buy them by the gross at Price Club or were they of some sort of 'quality' they he had to special order? Did the X-men have to constantly park the Blackbird at the 7-11 on the way to battles so that he could pick up a fresh deck?

Inquiring minds want to know...

And my guess is that Jason is in New York pitching his brand new musical 'X-Men Vs. Thundercats' to Andrew Lloyd Weber featuring songs by Jim Steinman and Jack White.

Teebore said...

@scottmcdarmont: How many decks of cards was Gambit carrying at any one time?

There was a scene in the first episode of the X-Men animated series in which several X-Men were at the mall, and Gambit is seen buying playing cards.

I always thought that was a nice touch. :)

Arthur said...

Teebore, I was about to mention that scene from the animated series.

"You must like to play cards."
"I like solitaire, OK? Unless I got someone... to play with."

I always wondered if they were regular cards, or weighted somehow. I mean, a slight breeze comes along and who knows where the card will go.

Art

Jason said...

"You must like to play cards."
"I like solitaire, OK? Unless I got someone... to play with."

See? Lothario/Cassanova type.

"And my guess is that Jason is in New York pitching his brand new musical 'X-Men Vs. Thundercats' to Andrew Lloyd Weber featuring songs by Jim Steinman and Jack White."

I'm insulted, Scott. I don't need someone else to write songs for me!

Geoff Klock said...

Well now I am going to make everyone wait until my intro next week; it is funny that scott is so much closer to the truth than arthur.

scottmcdarmont said...

My question is was Gambit OCD about the brand of cards? Did they always have to be the same brand? It would make sense with the character and his 'gambling' themes that he would have a 'lucky' brand.

Jason,

My apologies, what I meant to say is with music BY YOU that SOUNDS like it was crafted by Jack White and Jim Steiman... admittedly that's a pretty poor save... would it help if I mentioned that I pictured the entire collaboration being done in cockney accents?

Anonymous said...

It's true that a regular guy like us would throw a playing card and it would travel maybe, like, one inch and then it would get forced down to the ground by the air. But remember that Gambit charges his playing cards (and anything else he can grab) with kinetic energy. I think it's implied that this gives any object he throws an "energy boost" that propels it through the air.

I think that the X-Men lost their "invisibility" through their trips through the Siege Perilous. That being said, Longshot, Storm, and Wolverine should still have this "invisibility effect" on them after all these years since they never went through the portal.

Yes, Gambit became a derided character because of overexposure and bad writing later on. But he was never cooler than in these next few issues. He was so different than anyone else who had come along in the X-verse. I like the view of his character as the X-Men's Lothario. You could also think of him as the team's Han Solo or Lando Calrissian. A guy who is not 100% ethical, a guy who likes to gamble, drink, has an eye for the ladies, he only reluctantly joins a heroic cause, yet under it all has a heart of gold. Wolverine has a few of these qualities but not all, and Gambit fills the niche.

Plus, it was good to see someone pursue Rogue. Yes, she will zap you if you touch her. But, especially as depicted by Silverstri and Lee, she is a stone-cold fox, and it's hard to believe the dudes wouldn't be lining up!

James said...

Anon: No mutant powers required! (Skip to 1:45 if you're impatient)

Very probably post-Claremont, but I remember an issue where Magneto uses his powers to grab Gambit's cards out of the air, so they might've been metal, sometimes?

Jason said...

'I think that the X-Men lost their "invisibility" through their trips through the Siege Perilous.'

Anon, they didn't, at least not consistently. Dazzler and Psylocke were both still said to be invisible after going through the Siege.

Dave Mullen said...

Anon, they didn't, at least not consistently. Dazzler and Psylocke were both still said to be invisible after going through the Siege.

I thought it was perfectly explained by Alan Davis' work leading up to Excalibur #50 where we find out Roma had been engineering the Excalibur team for a specific purpose and needed the X-men out of the way (memory is fuzzy here!), it made sense in the context she would gladly acquiesce to the idea of media/electronic for the team so as to have her ideal Excalibur line up that she needed to defeat Necrom and travel the dimensions as in the Crosstime Caper. Once Necrom was finished and the X-Men publicly reformed (both events circa 1992) after the Muir Isle saga and Claremont/Lee relaunch the spell would have been deemed redundant, in every sense.

And I concur Gambit was a terrific character, the legitimate argument at that time was that while Claremont wrote incredibly good strong female characters his male ones apart from Logan were distinctly lacking in comparison. Gambit is the antithesis to all that as he is both strong, very Independent, ultra confident and very very capable allround - that's what made him so special and unusual at the time, this context plus Claremonts daring and talent for giving characters that certain 'something'.
To this day I still have a fondness for Gambit as originally conceived here.

Jason said...

Dave,

Yeah, good call; the Davis story in Excalibur is the best explanation, I agree. It's never explicitly given as the reason the spell wore off, but it works rather perfectly.

Good point about Gambit as well. On a side-note, a couple years after they both were off X-Men, Claremont and Lee collaborated on some WildCATs issues, where they debuted another ultra-competent badass male character, called "Huntsman." He was going to be spun-off into a solo series, written by Claremont. (At the time, I think this would've been the first creator-owned property at Image whose creator-owner was not an artist.)

wwk5d said...

I always liked Gambit. Yes, he was too cool for school under Claremont, but that was part of his charm. Too many characters had brooding angsty inner monologues by then, so he was something of a fresh air.

The idea of him being the flip-side of Sinister - the ideal, perfect hero as seen by a young kid - as well as a plant by Sinister was a good starting point for the character, and Claremont did drop some hints before he left that Gambit might be a mole...

Too bad the character lost much of his edge. Too much time spent angsting with Rogue, the backstory they X-office gave him was lame (the whole Guilds nonsense), the retcon of his being involved in the Morlock Massacre was just bad. He did have one good scene with Rogue, in Unlimited #3, where the two of them are coming back from a date. It's actually kind of fun, and too bad they didn't have more scenes like that to balance out all the melodrama.

FYI, Nicieza did much to redeem the character. His Gambit series, with Steven Skroce (sp?), is considered one of the better things to come out of the X-office during the 90s, and while it wasn't a smash, it got good reviews.

Jason said...

"That said, in either case, someone (and I apologize for not remembering who) has pointed out online that Gambit is actually an entirely reasonable addition to the X-Men cast, embodying a perennial trope that the mythology had previously been missing: The lothario. I quite appreciate this point of view, as it gives me personally a more sympathetic view of a character I’d previously been inclined to dismiss as a bit of cynical pandering. So, whoever exposed me to this more charitable take, please do stand up and take a bow. "

Finally learned who this was: Gentleman and scholar Stephen Segal!