Why I will no longer oppose Gambit of the X-Men

And certainly not with the wrong approach

November 22, 2007

By Avi Green

Several years ago, I used to dislike Remy LeBeau of the X-Men, because I found his characterization dreadful.

But the problem with this is that Ė I was basing my judgement then on the character, not how he was written, or how the writer/writers were doing it!

Itís been about three years since DC Comics put out their loathsome Identity Crisis, which was just the tip of the iceberg in ruining a considerable amount of their universe by killing off, villifying and demonizing many good characters, as well as Marvel Comicsí similar steps since they put out their loathsome House of M, and this has all gotten me to thinking.

One of the reasons why many books and characters end up being ruined, from what I can figure, is because we, the audience, seem to be basing our judgement of a characterís personality and other stuff like that on the characters themselves, as if they were real people, without even taking into account that, if thereís something wrong with their personality, itís because the writers may have led to that.

For example, during the late 60s-early 70s, when Roy Thomas was writing some of the stories for Marvel featuring Rick Jones, he gave him some rather annoying dialogue. As talented a writer as Thomas could be, and heís got a very good amount of writing to his credit thatís well worth considering, there were still IMO some things he did that were embarrassingly bad, including a 1988 reworking of a story that Paul Levitz first did starring the Justice Society of America in 1977, something Iíll have to elaborate on further someday, even if itís on my comics blog where Iíll do it (hey, thatís where the majority of my work ends up today!). What I will say for now is that it was in the Secret Origins anthology where Royís big blunder took place. Years later, writers like Peter David improved considerably upon that characterization of yore, and Rick once again became a more palatable guy.

Now, with that told, letís get back to whatíll be the primary subject of this article for my personal website now: Gambit of the X-Men.

Remy LeBeau, he who would come to be known as the ďRaginí CajunĒ, which must have what to do with his superpower, first appeared in Uncanny X-Men #266, August 1990, as a young man from New Orleans, Louisiana whoíd been raised as a crook since childhood, and was the creation of Chris Claremont, who was probably more successful with the girls heíd introduced than any male character he ever did. Remy was an orphan per se whoíd been abandoned in the care of a hospital because of his bright red eyes, and was later abducted by members of a local crime racket called the Thieves Guild, who passed him on to the care of their leader, the Antiquary, as a tribute. In their view, they saw him as someone who could someday unite the warring Thieves and Assassins Guilds in Louisiana. He was later taken under the wing of a bunch of street thieves, and later, with the skills they taught him, he tried to pick the pocket of Jean-Luc LeBeau, the patriarch of the Thieves Guild himself. So flattered was this high-ranking member of the racket that he took Remy in and officially adopted him as his son.

But if they thought that he could unite that crime syndicate with the other one called Assassins, which he tried to do by marrying Bella Donna Boudreaux, granddaughter of the founding head of Assassins Guild, they were proven wrong after heíd been challenged to a duel by her brother after the wedding, in which, even if it was unintentional, Remy killed the brother, leading to his divorce from Bella Donna and exile from New Orleans.

His mutant power was to set objects afire with kinetic energy that could explode if he threw them at other stuff (in early stories, he may have had a power to influence people to liking him, but it was ignored by later writers), and he took to making his trademark form of attack explosive card-tossing. His entry into the X-Men was when heíd first met an amnesiac Storm, and recuperating, she brought him to the X-Mansion where he was accepted, at least at first.

Gambit would go to have a crush on Rogue, though with her uncontrollable power, she was resistant to take to his charms for fear of injuring him with them. A couple years after Chris Claremont had left, it was revealed that the Raginí Cajun was indirectly responsible for the massacre of the Morlocks conducted by the gang of Mister Sinister, for whom Gambit had once done some errands. However, he had never meant for the Morlocks to come to any harm, and did try to stop the onslaught, but for the most part failed, and only managed to rescue one young child, Sarah, who grew up to become Marrow.

I've done some thinking about it, and done a little research on it, and I'll have to admit the idea he'd even unwittingly lead the Morlocks to disaster is an embarrassingly bad storyline. Even though Remy was presumably written as a crook with a code of honor, the whole retcon still has the effect of making him like a really pathetic case. Another problem is that the way writers continued to depict him even afterwards made it harder to fully credit even that part: he would be depicted as doubling back onto his corrupt ways, as seen in X-treme X-Men, and even continuing to be dishonest with the rest of his fellow X-Men, and that he even later rejoined with Bella Donna was probably a mistake too. And his relationship with Rogue did turn depressingly angsty, as they would agonize over the fact that Rogueís powers undermined any ability to have a full-fledged, physical affair together.

(Let me also note that I do have a problem with the gang he was raised by being called "Fagan's Mob". Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist was a nasty, stereotypical little screed, and while it's possible to write that the gang and their leader were probably just influenced out of insanity to take up the name, it's still very tacky.)

That, I guess, was why Gambit turned out to be so appalling as a character Ė because they did not write any solid direction that would depict him convincingly as a hero, or an anti-hero.

But hereís the really challenging question: is it Gambitís fault if heís a crook who doesnít prove convincingly that he can reform and be a more honest crimefighter? The simple answer is Ė no. Quite the opposite, itís the writerís AND the editorís fault, for not doing a good job, and for not maintaining a bit of order around the place, something that even Chris Claremont has to shoulder some blame for, sad to say, but then, while I donít consider him the worst writer around today, there are reasons why heís taken flak from some readers for what heís done since the turn of the century. Come to think of it, it's also the writer's fault - but mainly the artist's - for Gambit's having a goofy costume! For that we can blame Jim Lee, who began his career at Marvel.

Actually, now that I think of that too, it's not that bad a costume per se. The only problem is that, when you look upon it as someone familar with the southern states in America, the big duster coat Gambit wears does come across as absurd and bizarre. But, looked upon as but a product of the surrealistic world, it's really not as bad as it seems, and I can guess where it's inspired from: coats worn by cowboys in some other parts of the US during the 19th century. Indeed, now that I think of that too, it does make a fair amount of sense. As for the "semi-mask" he wears, that's not new to me; it's been worn even by Jean Grey in years past.

But now, just think: if it hadnít been for all the bad characterization that dogged Gambit under the pen of Scott Lobdell, maybe Gambit would have had a better chance of being appreciated by those who disapproved. Alas, the X-Men had become a neglected franchise, all because the editors stopped caring about really good writing and only cared about moneymaking at the expense of a still dwindling fanbase.

In any case, there you have a little of why, in all this time, Iíve decided that, simply put, I do not dislike Gambit for having a crummy personality. Rather, I dislike that heís been given a crummy personality by sloppy writers and editors who never gave a damn about good story quality and characterization. This is a fictional character weíre talking about here, after all, and no fictional entity can be faulted for having such awkward personality traits as Remy LeBeauís had in the past 17 years since he was first introduced. Nor can he be faulted for the story that tied him in with the Morlock Massacre. That awful tale was the product of terrible writers like Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza, and it's them we should be disappointed with for foisting it on the audience.

What led me to this decision, you ask? Well...letís say that it had what to do with what certain left-liberals were voicing. Namely, what a certain comics columnist for the MSM was doing, which was to write all these arguments on an old website heíd once had, in which he talked about how he disliked Gambit, but never actually seemed to criticize the writers for poor characterization, and made it almost seem as though he considered Gambit a real person. Pretty weird, huh?

Also, when I read his commentary on Gambit, I got the strange feeling I got that he was looking for an excuse to dislike some character, any character, regardless of writing quality for the sake of it.

That, if you ask me, is not the way to go. I think itís ridiculous to criticize comic book characters, or any such fictional beings in literature, as if they were real life people. And itís defeatist to look upon a character as irredeemable simply out of dislike. Thatís what I think led to the disaster of Identity Crisis, Avengers: Disassembled, Batman: War Games, House of M, Infinite Crisis, 52, Civil War, World War Hulk, Amazons Attack, Countdown to Final Crisis and goodness knows what other crossover stories that involve character assassination, all because the characters involved are supposedly rock bottom.

It should be noted that quite a few of the characters in the aforementioned crossovers were beat up on for even less than what Gambit had about him, and by that I mean characters who werenít artistically damaged in any way. But if you ask me, the very mentality I seek to criticize is still what led to this, even indirectly: those who complained about characters they didnít like instead of how they were written indirectly played into the hands of an uncaring, contemptuous editorial, which includes such people as Dan DiDio and Joe Quesada, and gave them the ideas to either put some characters with potential, in the grave, or, worse yet, to subject them to fates worse than death.

And thatís something thatís got to change, IMO. Even if we donít like the characters, we still have to acknowledge and bear in mind that they are but products of the imagination, fictional people and such who are but complete automatons that can only do what the writers, artists and editors make them do. Thus, itís not their fault for anything we deem wrong.

And thatís why Iím not going to oppose the existence of Gambit anymore. Besides, there are more important things that I have to worry about now. And I guess what that means is thatÖitís time to move on. Put the characters in limbo, but don't put them in the graveyard, for heaven's sake.

In fact, over the past few years, I'd also gotten to rethinking my exact positions on Wolverine, and also Bishop. If there's anything poor about their characterization, that too is simply the result of bad writing, pure and simple. And if that's the case, why then, can't those of us who find it bad just say, "I wish they were better written than they are." Is it really that hard? Plus, I'll have to recall that, during the Bronze Age, when Wolvie first appeared, he did have some good storylines that are well worth trying out.

Meanwhile

As of this writing, I want all those who arenít sure to know that yes, I do know that in X-Men #184, Peter Milligan turned Gambit into a ďhorsemanĒ of Apocalypse, in the storyline titled ďBlood of the ApocalypseĒ. And that heís even taken anew since then to working for Mr. Sinister. And that Remyís got a new look as the minion called ďDeathĒ. (And lest we forget, that Sunfire is another character to go over to that side.)

Do I like this development? Not really, as IMO, it is possible to redeem Gambit through simpler writing steps without having to make him into a villain, and even if the writers have done this as a step towards redeeming him, which one could assume was the case, I still donít think it was necessary (though if this news report is any indication, he's back to normal? Let's hope so). And I might also point out that the upcoming Messiah CompleX story involves some elements that spin off from the horrible House of M. If so, is it any wonder that I may feel discouraged from reading it, knowing that they're still submerging themselves in ideas that stem from bad crossovers done for the sake of political correctness?

(But who knows if they really do intend, for now anyway, to ever redeem Gambit? From what Iíve learned so far, it seems as though Milligan may have injected some criticism into his plot, by having Cable later comment on how Gambitís accent seems forced!)

Itís amazing that this actually happened in the past year, but how Iím of mixed minds at best about it now. A couple years ago, I mightíve embraced the idea of turning Gambit into one of Apocalypseís minions with pleasure. Now, I kinda wish it hadnít happened.

Why? Simple. Because as Mark Gruenwald once said, ďEvery character is someoneís favorite. You shouldn't kill them off lightly, or worse yet, ruin their old appearances in retrospect.Ē The former fate certainly makes sense here as much as the latter can, albeit in the form of a fate worse than death. And I know that there are those out there who surely donít approve of this. And today, I understand how they feel. And thatís why, while I may not praise Gambit, Iím not going to condemn him as a comic book creation either. Because heís fictional, and so, it is not his fault for anything thatís wrong with him. And, as another writer in the industry may have once said, ďthere are no bad characters, only bad writers.Ē Absolutely correct, and no matter what you and I may think of Gambit, his dreadful characterization is simply the result of bad writing, for which any or all of those whoíd taken to writing him may be responsible for, and theyíre the ones who deserve the criticism, not Gambit.

Having thought this over, I took to editing and reworking just about all negative comments I may have had about Remy LeBeau on this website, because no longer am I going to look so foolish as to make it look as though my dislike for a character is based on they themselves and not what the scriptwriters did. No way. From now on, I know where to base my arguments, and itís not on the characters. Most definitely not alone. Nor do I want to be overly influenced by the mainstream media anymore, which, I fear, is also what influenced my opinions on Gambit the wrong way to begin with.

To any and all who dislike the character: donít base your judgement solely upon the character alone, but rather, on the way heís written. And donít turn your dislike into an outright grudge, as easy as it may seem. Because if you do, itíll only leak over into other books and take its toll even on those who werenít written badly. And believe me, thatís not what the industry needs, nor the audience.

Trust me, itís quite possible to build a criticism thatís based upon how the scriptwriters Ė and the editors Ė handle things, and that way, if work hard, we can shape things for the better without having to dislike a character for the sake of it. And then, just like with Rick Jones, maybe with Gambit too, we can result in obtaining better characterization.

And I think that picture I put on the side with Rogue and Gambit locking lips is the perfect way to conclude this discussion!

Copyright 2007 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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