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Jan 3


Posted on Tuesday, January 3, 2023 by Paul in x-axis

GAMBIT vol 6 #1-5
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Sid Kotian
Colourist: Espen Grundetjern
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Editor: Mark Basso

What do you do with Chris Claremont, if you’re Marvel? On the one hand, he’s the defining writer of the X-Men, the man whose run made it the biggest comic around. On the other… well, that was over thirty years ago now, and there have been a couple of abortive comebacks since then, with decidedly mixed results. Plus, the Krakoa era is the least Claremont thing imaginable.

So… the nostalgia circuit, then. We’ve got this Gambit miniseries, set at around the time of his debut, when he was hanging out in Cairo, Illinois with a pre-teen Storm. And there’s also an X-Treme X-Men revival mini to follow. X-Men Legends but on a larger scale.

Fair enough, I guess. If there’s one thing you can say about Claremont’s run, there’s a lot of gaps and dangling plot threads that he can actually go in and clear up. The specifics of Gambit and Storm’s time together isn’t all that important… but it’s a gap, for all that, and they had the sort of relationship where other stories were always kind of implied. Come to think of it, why is this billed simply as a Gambit mini? Why not Gambit and Storm, except maybe that Storm fans might be a bit disappointed by getting a kid?

It’s a slightly oddly structured book. Issue #1 is based on a minor altercation with the Shadow King – who was the villain in the original storyline – but the book then heads off in a different direction. After a car crash, Remy and Ororo are taken in by ex-marine Marissa DeCastro and her doctor mother, who are embroiled in a feud with one of those aggressive property developers that are trying to intimidate people into selling up. Remy and Marissa fall in love, she gets dragged into his world, and it all goes horribly wrong as things escalate towards the finale. Which, I guess, is indeed primarily a Gambit story – although there’s a fairly major subplot of Ororo being trained in her dreams by one of her ancestors.

What it does well is to recapture the sense of Gambit as a slightly smug, one-step-ahead Robin Hood figure, exasperating Ororo by running rings around her. The basic infuriating charm of the guy comes across well, which was a big part of his appeal in those days. It does have a lot of the feel of the late 80s period.

On the other hand, Claremont seems keen to tie Gambit into a lot of other concepts from his back catalogue. I get the desire to revisit some other concepts while we’re here, but early Gambit had a whole mysterious thing. And tying him to a bunch of familiar or semi-familiar names, whom he apparently knows well, doesn’t really fit with that. It anchors him in stuff that’s familiar. Granted, Gambit’s back story is pretty well defined by this point, but I’m not wild about filling his address book with characters he doesn’t really have any connection with.

So Lila Cheney gets an outing here. Which… well, she’s a thief, I suppose, so that makes a degree of sense. Bounty, on the other hand, is a character from Claremont’s late-90s Fantastic Four run who never really worked; there’s a big gap between how cool she’s obviously intended to be, and how generic she actually is. And the Bacchae, from a later Claremont return to the X-Men, get a walk-on too. Actually, they make more of an impression here, because the original story just had them as a random bunch of all-female mercenaries with connections to the Olympians. Here, they’re more of a sort of global urban Amazon street gang, which feels like it might actually work.

For the most part, I like Cotian’s art a lot. It’s nicely traditional, in a way that makes eminent sense for a late 80s throwback book; it feels about right for the period, but reminds me a bit of Lee Weeks. His characters have plenty of expression, his locations have a lot of character. The dreaming training sequences are lovely; the shaded monochrome and the lack of backgrounds really work. I’d like to see more of him. There are issues, though. There’s a horribly botched reveal of Marissa’s costume in issue #4, where the proportions are absolutely all over the place, and generally the last few pages of that issue feel a bit rushed. He struggles a bit with Bounty, too, until he seizes on using her bandana as the visual hook. And Gambit often looks like he could use a haircut. But the positives outweigh that.

What this mini promises is Chris Claremont revisiting the early appearances of Gambit and doing something distinctively Claremont with it. And that’s what it delivers. These projects don’t always succeed in recapturing the feel of the original stories, and they can be decidedly patchy – but on that metric, this is one of the successful ones.

Bring on the comments

  1. Si says:

    I have no memory of this coming out. Which no doubt says something about its cultural impact.

  2. Josie says:

    “Which no doubt says something about its cultural impact.”

    Or perhaps it says something about the majority of Marvel’s new releases being five-issue miniseries.

  3. Luis Dantas says:

    To be fair, it is not remarkable to fail to notice a few books among the many that are published each and every month. And I would think that the marketing efforts directed at this series were not particularly strong.

  4. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    I remember that between the announcement of this mini and the first issue actually coming out I didn’t see anything about it – to the point where I was convinced it had to be quietly cancelled.

  5. Mark Coale says:

    Did Storm really live in both Cairo, Egypt and Cairo, Illinois? If so, that’s pretty funny.

  6. Adam Farrar says:

    Given how much of his X-material was in his Fantastic Four, it feels right that he’d bring his FF characters into his X-material.

  7. Aaron Elijah Thall says:

    Any chance he can KEEP his X-Characters away from the FF going forward? His run is one of the most abysmal I can remember, and I’ve read pretty much ALL of them as an FF super fan.

    That’s right. You can take Caledonia too! And that useless Puppy!

  8. Nu-D says:

    Did Storm really live in both Cairo, Egypt and Cairo, Illinois? If so, that’s pretty funny.

    At the time, Orono had been reduced to adolescence and her memory had been wiped by Nanny. She wound up in Cairo, IL because she had faint memories which drew her to the place name. There was also some Shadow King meddling going on which was never fully developed.

  9. Daibhid C says:

    Caledonia is such a mess of ideas. She’s Alysande Stuart as a Scottish Captain Britain, except she was actually kept as a slave by the Captain Britain Corps, except she’s somehow an epic swordswoman who could certainly take down a couple of no-name Captain Britains like the ones oppressing her in her first appearance, except we’re not actually going to address the idea that the Captain Britain Corps keeps slaves. Pick a lane, Chris!

  10. alastair says:

    Marvel really needs to stop the nostalgia books, they are getting almost as bad as DC for publishing books that don’t count (although mainly for keeping Claremont and David employed.) At a time with AXE and Dark Web, you are getting for the first time in a while a tight link between the core lines filling the shelves and unlimited with Gambit and Maestro seems a bit odd.

  11. JD says:

    @alastair : What’s wrong with publishing “books that don’t count” ? They clearly serve their own audience, keep veteran creators employed when they’re no longer a fit for mainline books, and have no negative impact if you’re not interested in them.

    Sure, there’s something to be said about Marvel flooding the market with too many titles, but that’s something they’ve nearly always done anyway.

  12. Mark Coale says:

    Arguably, Elseworlds books “don’t count.”

    But with everyone multiverse obsessed, everything counts I guess.

  13. Thom H. says:

    I mainly buy Marvel/DC books that are outside of the main continuity. I’ve been burned too many times by crossovers ruining a good story. Or artists being replaced halfway through. Or writers leaving for undisclosed reasons (thanks, Hickman). Give me a solid mini-series written and drawn by the same team from beginning to end, and I’m happy.

    Nostalgia books like this aren’t really my thing, but I know a guy who loves him some reheated Claremont. There’s room in superhero comics for all kinds of books.

  14. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    On a related note, the first issue of Peter David’s Joe Fixit miniseries dropped this week.

    And fair enough, if I recall correctly Hulk’s been bustin knees in Vegas for some time before we actually see him there. The space is there for ‘a lost Joe Fixit story’. Is the readership, now, that’s the question.

  15. MasterMahan says:

    A Joe Fixit miniseries *might* have an audience. He played a part in Ewing’s Immortal Hulk, and I can see fans of that wanting to see more of him.

    A Maestro series, though – I can’t see that appealing to anyone who’s not already a PAD fan. Miguel O’Hara is in the next Spider-Verse – why not get Peter David to write some new Spider-Man 2099 that isn’t drowning in his own continuity?

  16. Josie says:

    “Marvel really needs to stop the nostalgia books, they are getting almost as bad as DC for publishing books that don’t count”

    I’ve got an even better proposal: you don’t have to read them or care if they’re being published.

  17. Josie says:

    “A Maestro series, though – I can’t see that appealing to anyone who’s not already a PAD fan.”

    Marvel published two of them, and to be fair, this was not long after Marvel brought back the Maestro for Secret Wars and a Contest of Champions series.

    “why not get Peter David to write some new Spider-Man 2099 that isn’t drowning in his own continuity?”

    He did that too, in 2015.

  18. CalvinPitt says:

    It seems like Marvel knows these long-established writers have a built-in fanbase, especially if they get to do a story set in some time period they’re associated with, so they put out these mini-series for that section of the audience, and leave the main line to at least a somewhat newer generation of creative talent. It doesn’t seem like a bad strategy, beyond the chance they’re overwhelming the market (which never seems to be something Marvel worries about, anyway).

    I’m more likely to buy a mini-series like this than go anywhere near their latest Important Event Book, that’s for sure.

  19. ASV says:

    The portrayal of Cairo in this series, MY GOD. I recall the old UXM stories being fairly inaccurate, but the first page showing Cairo as a city that looks like Brooklyn was stupefying. Cairo has never been big, though it was once an important river port, and is currently one of the most depressing places on the face of the Earth. The population has dwindled to under 2000, and the city is largely abandoned and/or in ruins. It’s also not located across the river from St. Louis, but a solid couple of hours south.

  20. Mark Coale says:

    Trying to remember when it’s been in pop culture in recent times other than American Gods.

  21. Omar Karindu says:

    Fun fact: Cairo, Illinois, is actually pronounced as “KAY-roh” by locals. Illinois also has a ton called New Berlin, locally pronounced as “Noo BUR-lin.”

  22. Nu-D says:

    I don’t recall Cairo being given much panel space at all in the original run. Maybe a scene of the Shadow King and Val Cooper on a sidewalk bistro? A few nighttime rooftop B&E scenes?

    I’ve only been there a handful of times, en route to Jackson Falls in the nearby national forest. It’s the definition of Nowhere, USA. Which is not meant to be derogatory; it’s a small town in flyover country, which means it has interesting idiosyncratic local culture.

  23. Nu-D says:

    Correction: after looking at a map, I realize I haven’t been to Cairo (that I recall). I was thinking of Marion, and maybe the tiny town of Vienna, both away from the river but on the interstate.

  24. ASV says:

    Marion is very much as you describe. Vienna is basically nothing but it’s at the end of like a 16-mile stretch with no exits, so it gets stops. Cairo you can’t really get to unless you’re going there or you get lost after getting off the freeway. (Source: lived in Carbondale, 15 miles west of Marion, for 10 years)

    I haven’t read the original run in years, but I seem to recall de-aged Storm initially being found and brought to a hospital there and it was at least implied that it was a city, if not the big city setting that this Gambit series shows.

  25. Nu-D says:

    I visited the area a half dozen times between 2005 and 2010 for the rock climbing in Jackson Falls. There’s a roadside gas station outside Vienna which has killer BBQ sandwiches. Just don’t look in the kitchen or bathrooms, or you’ll lose your appetite.

    I just skimmed the original Cairo scenes in UXM 253-266. There are basically five settings shown:

    Ororo first appears on top of a dike during a flood. The rooftops of small homes in a residential neighborhood are visible above the water. It seems like the kind of place that probably exists in Cairo, even if the flood waters are unrealistically high.

    The second is the hospital. Outside it has at least six stories, which might be a bit ambitious for a town that size, but maybe not, Inside, we see the subbasement, a wet dark system of tunnels and infrastructure, more like a subway or sewer network, akin to the Morlock tunnels. You might blame the artist for that.

    The third setting is two houses of ultra-rich people, indoors, on the rooftops and in the courtyard. Could be anywhere.

    The fourth setting is in a mall, which looks more upscale than I would expect to find in Cairo. There are multiple stories, a lot of glass, and a fountain. Claremont describes it as “the same as any mall from Southern California to southern England.” But in my experience, that’s more upscale than you tend to find in Nowhere USA, particularly in the late 1980’s in a dying town.

    Finally, there’s a derelict airfare base, which is drawn as a mess of scores of rusted out airplanes in a literal junk pile. To be honest, I doubt anyplace like that exists anywhere in America. I don’t think anyone is just junking hundreds of decommissioned airplanes in a big pile to rust into the ground. But again, this might be an artists’ runaway imagination more than the writer’s script.

    There’s one aerial shot which looks about right in terms of geography and street layout. Then there’s a radar image which correctly locates Cairo on the map relative to the rivers, but shows Ororo located 15-20 miles away, in Kentucky.

    All in all, I don’t think it’s a completely unrealistic portrayal of a town that size in that time and place. Maybe a bit more thriving in Claremont’s imagination than in reality, but not completely unrealistic (except for the airfare junkyard).

  26. Nu-D says:

    Here’s a google maps link to a street view of Main St. in Cairo:

    Looks quite similar to the flooded neighborhood in UXM 253.

    Here’s a photo of an abandoned hospital in Cairo Il, not as tall as the one in UXM, but similar in scale:

    I couldn’t find anything about an airforce base in that region.

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