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Sep 28

Gambit #15-17 – “No Opportunity Wasted”

Posted on Saturday, September 28, 2013 by Paul in x-axis

That’s the title for the final trade paperback, if you’re wondering.  Because, yes, it is time once again for the X-books to indulge in the Cancellation of Gambit.  We had it in 2001, we had it again in 2005, and now here it is again.

In some ways it’s surprising that Gambit hasn’t been able to support a title better than this.  On paper, he ought to be one of the most suitable X-Men to sustain a spin-off book.  He’s a loveable rogue adventurer who has ample excuse to go off and have his own stories.  He wasn’t specifically conceived as a team player; if I remember rightly, his creator Chris Claremont originally planned for him to be a recurring guest rather than joining the team.  He’s got a back story and mythology of his own, which has nothing much to do with the themes of the X-Men and might even be better off explored in its own book.

But it’s never really worked, commercially at least – though Fabian Nicieza’s first volume did good work with the character, and this series had a good stab at being a fun heist comic.  Perhaps one factor here is that Gambit just isn’t the hot character that he was in the early 90s.  Publishers are always fond of going back to an idea that’s worked in the past, but sometimes a character has his moment, and after that he’s best used as a familiar figure in the crowd.

There’s also the fact that while Gambit does have his own detailed back story and mythology, it takes the form of the bloody Thieves Guild.  A wonky mishmash of vague mysticism, inexplicable secret society, and dreadful clothes, the Guild were introduced in a Ghost Rider crossover back in the early 90s and have remained a bit of a mess ever since.  Nicieza kind of got them to work at times, but I’ve always felt the character would be a lot better off just being a cavalier Cajun rogue.  They are, in fact, one of those rare bad ideas that has arguably done serious damage to the character – as they’re too deeply embedded in his back story to simply ignore.

Hence these final few issues of the current series, in which Gambit is asked by the Guild to choose between being a hero and being a thief.  Naturally he ends up choosing both, though it’s not quite as straightforward as that since the story is fairly clear that his thief identity comes first, and that Gambit will do whatever he can to manipulate both sides so that he never has to choose for real.  You can see how that could have worked as a set-up for the series going forward.

The main plot involves Gambit being put forward as a potential leader of the Thieves Guild – now being presented as a worldwide network of guilds – and being sent to do the usual random heist to prove himself.  Naturally that mission turns out to be a set-up by Gambit’s big rival, which gives writer James Asmus the chance to loop back and put a bit of closure to the book, both by bringing back the main villain from the first year, and by having a bunch of Gambit’s allies turn up to bail him out.

There’s some fairly drastic retooling of the Guild concept and of their trappings here, and moving the focus away from New Orleans may also be part of that.  That’s all for the best, because if you’re going to use the Guild at all, at least this allows the more convoluted aspects to be downplayed. The story still ends with Gambit as their new leader, which is one of those things I might not have done in the final issue of a cancelled series, but what the heck; it’s supposed to be his secret life anyway, so if it never comes up again it’s not necessarily a problem.  And the story also wisely makes a point of positioning Gambit as the pragmatic guy who rejects many the Guild’s more ridiculous mystical traditions.

Had the series been able to go forward with this idea, Asmus’ revamp of the Guild under Gambit’s leadership might well have been an improvement.  But the Guild itself remains a difficult idea to take seriously – a secret cult of kleptomanics? – and Thieves Guild stories usually want us to take it very seriously indeed.  Why couldn’t Gambit just have been a career thief?  What did any of this Guild stuff ever really add to his stories?

I’ve largely enjoyed James Asmus and Clay Mann’s take on Gambit, largely because it has played him as simply a thief and not worried about the details beyond that.  But I can see how they find themselves compelled to come back to the Guilds, given that the theme here is about Gambit’s competing identities as thief and hero, and this is the back story they’ve got to work with.  There’s plenty of good stuff here; they’ve got a strong take on Gambit’s character, and the series has generally succeeded in constructing effective heist sequences that are fun in their own right, as well as playing into the story.  The twists in these last two issues have been well played, and there’s a lovely feint halfway through the final issue where the bad guy manages to shoot Gambit (even if the back door used to get out of it is a bit unsatisfying).

It’s been a good series for the most part, which understood Gambit’s appeal and played to it reliably; whether bringing in the Guilds would have been a good move going forward, I have rather more doubts.  But if you’re going to do the thief-versus-hero dynamic – which is surely the central conflict with Gambit – then how long can you really avoid them?

Bring on the comments

  1. Jason says:

    I guess the guild was an excuse to tie him to some New Orleans mysticism without tieing it directly to him. It wasn’t something he had a skill in or had sought out himself, but people he knew knew about it.

  2. ASV says:

    I think you mean “De T’ieves Guild.”

  3. Wrong says:

    I think you mean “De T’ieves Guild, cheré.”

  4. Tim O'Neil says:

    Did you catch that the Assassin’s Guild and Candra made their triumphant return in the pages of SCARLET SPIDER a couple months back?


    Yeah, it was that great.

  5. Mika says:

    I thought Candra was dead? Surely that was a character no one was gagging to see back…?

  6. urbanguy says:

    Was never a big Gambit fan but it’s interesting how much he’s fallen in terms of popularity these days.

  7. Jason says:

    they played the will they won’t they bit with him and Rogue for to long until even their biggest shippers were sick of it, and if they wanted to read about them they’d read fanfics. Since Rogue/Gambit stopped being a viable writing strategy for them Rogue has had some missteps but grown well, while Gambit has only had some stuff pasted on for the sake of trying to pitch him as a singles star and it hasn’t really taken.

  8. Jamie says:

    You know the greatest Rogue story?

    Probably Uncanny X-men #275.

    And her general arc before meeting Gambit.

  9. Paul says:

    I can understand someone wanting to bring back the Assassins Guild since at this stage they’re arguably a more credible alternative for the vastly-overused Hand. But Candra? Really?

  10. Taibak says:

    Maybe Gambit is destined to become another Blade: a character who doesn’t work so well in solo comic book stories, but who works amazingly well in movies. He seems like a character where being able to hear his voice, see him charm his way into and out of various situations, and watch him pull off a series of increasingly improbable fight scenes on the way to completing the heist.

  11. Spot on, Talibak. They could totally kill with a film like that – with that John Carter fella, even. Of course, justifying the powers in such a story, without shoehorning in loads of momentum-dragging X-Men references, might be the coin on which the whole toss rests.


  12. Taibak! Sorry!

    //\OO/\\ – new glasses, please.

  13. Anya says:

    IIRC, the first gambit series was a decent seller and was only canceled because Quesada wanted to ‘streamline’ the x titles.

    And I think ‘John carter’ was somewhat unfairly lambasted. When I finally saw it on DVD, it was a perfectly fine movie. :p

  14. Reboot says:

    > Of course, justifying the powers in such a story, without shoehorning in loads of momentum-dragging X-Men references, might be the coin on which the whole toss rests.

    I think we’re at the stage now that you could probably get away with a throwaway “born with’dem” line if it was just about the powers.

    The bigger problem is that the success of Avengers has made cinema superhero universes the “in” thing – Fox are even intending to set their F4 reboot in their X-Menverse, fercryingoutloud! – which might mean the shoehorning of X-Men movie references not to justify the powers, but for the same reason it happens in comics…

  15. Reboot says:

    > IIRC, the first gambit series was a decent seller and was only canceled because Quesada wanted to ‘streamline’ the x titles.

    Well, the series WAS cancelled with #25, but the intent was there would have been a new Gambit #1 (and Bishop #1) after the (terrible) Gambit & Bishop miniseries.

  16. Leo says:

    Well, on the first Wolverine movie they made it a big deal having Deadpool there and his popularity went way up. He was promoted a lot. Gambit was also in that movie but he was there more like a cameo or as a throwaway character. His contribution to the story could have been done by many other characters. So there was no fanfare or promotion for Gambit, how can they expect him to become popular without any push?

  17. Taibak says:

    Yeah, I think he can just say he was ‘born with dem’ to some random (non-Rogue) love interest after she sees him blow something up with a well-placed seven of hearts. I’d be more worried about Marvel hiring a decent dialogue coach.

    Also there has to be a good Gambit/Black Cat story out there somewhere, just waiting to be told….

  18. Huh. Images of Remy making popcorn in his bare hands.

    I can imagine a Gambit/Black Cat walking a fine line between being well thecthy and horrendous. “‘ello dere, mon chere*. ‘member that time you ‘n’I fought Facade? D’we ever learn who dat catfish was?” Love to see someone like Chiang/Martin/Rodriguez draw that, though.

    I mean, I’ve never met anyone from N’awlins, but they can’t possibly even remotely speak like that, can they? YouTube these: tpFDNTo4DNg eeR7Ljv_tPc



    (* – the French word for “cat” being an uncomfortable innuendo in this context, bien sur)

  19. Anya says:

    They do kinda say N’awlins, but that’s about it. He has (very Marvel exaggerated) Cajun accent and most Cajuns don’t live in New Orleans anyway. 😛

  20. Check out Treme for authentic New Orleans and, as correctly pointed out, most Cajuns live outside the city. There are some great episodes where the musicians go out to learn from the Cajun musicians.

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