Characters Appearing: Bella Donna Boudreaux, Candra, Gambit, Gideon, Jean-Luc LeBeau, Julien Boudreaux, Professor X, Rogue, Storm, Tante Mattie, Tithe Collector, Wolverine
Issue(s): Gambit #1, Gambit #2, Gambit #3, Gambit #4
Of course i'm 100% wrong about this, since Gambit will go on to have many solo series. The longest of those, written by Fabian Nicieza, even gets some fan acclaim. So Gambit does have his fans.
There are several things about Gambit that seem redundant to me (leaving aside any of Claremont's original intentions, which are non-operative). He was introduced as a thief to work alongside young Storm, so basically anything he can do as a thief is already something that Storm can do. Stories focusing on Gambit, including the X-Men's crossover with Ghost Rider written by Howard Mackie (the writer here) double down on the whole thief idea by creating an elaborate thieves guild that has a rivalry with an assassins guild, all operating in the New Orleans area. Providing that backstory to a character that is now hanging out with international high powered mutant super-heroes is like me joining the army and constantly bringing up the fact that i used to play soccer in a rec league when i was in elementary school. So attempts are made to elevate the stakes of this guild rivalry. The Ghost Rider story demonstrated that the thieves and assassins all basically have super-powers, and this story tries to tie the guilds in with the Externals.
Gambit being a "thief" has always felt irrelevant. He's basically got stealth abilities and hand-to-hand fighting abilities to go along with his mutant power. That's fine, but it's no different than Wolverine or Psylocke or many other characters. It makes him a black ops guy but not specifically a thief. This story at one point has Gambit declaring, "Usually I be goin' for the cash, jewels, or maybe some other valuable trash." I mean, sure, "usually" in the sense of "not once since he's first appeared". I guess it might have been interesting to devise a solo story where he really did have to use his thieves' abilities to perform some kind of heist. But this story is just a big battle between the two guilds and the idea that the members of one of the guilds are thieves is not at all demonstrable. Gambit does open a locked door at one point, but he does it by sticking a lockpick into the lock and then using his mutant power to cause it to explode. Which, again: not thief-y.
The story starts off in such a way that makes it really hard to accept that this isn't just a full X-Men mission. You can claim it's a personal vendetta all you want, but once people start getting murdered on my back porch i have an interest and you don't get to tell me i can't follow through.
At a minimum i now have to get one of my X-Men to pull up yet another tree to make room to bury the body. I should get to send a team to make an example of the people that think it's ok to come to my home and kill people.
The one person that does go with Gambit is Rogue. This is despite the fact that Gambit has just learned from the guy that got killed that his wife (and also her evil brother) might still be alive. It's funny because Wolverine advises Rogue that she's got something like he and Mariko had, so she tells Gambit that she's going to go with him because of love, and he's like "Ok but... you know i'm going to see if my wife is alive, right? Soooo...".
The plot of this is that Gambit's wife Bella Donna really is alive, but she's in a comatose state. (Without the trenchcoat, Gambit's costume is pretty goofy looking. What would a thief wear that?)
The one thing that might restore her is the Elixir of Life. We're told that thanks to some ancient tradition, the Thieves Guild gets the Elixir of Life and the Assassins Guild gets an Elixir of Power. The problem is that Bella Donna is from the Assassins Guild, and Gambit's friends and family in the Thieves Guild do not want to give it up for her. There's also a limited supply. It seems to be doled out sparingly by a guy called the Tithe Collector. If i'm being vague here, that's partially Howard Mackie's fault and partially my fault for blanking out during a lot of this. Which is also, in a sense, Howard Mackie's fault.
The Tithe Collector is built up as like some super-baddie.
I assure you that no parents have every tried to scare their children with stories about the Tithe Collector. Well, ok, maybe staunch anti-tax conservatives do. But that's about it.
The Tithe Collector works for the External. Her name is Candra. She's an associate of Gideon.
She's the one that established the Assassins and Thieves Guilds. It seems her motivations are largely about keeping herself from getting bored, although it does become personal when Gambit gets the better of her towards the end.
So Gambit and Rogue are up against both the Assassins and Thieves Guilds as they try to collect the three vials that can be mixed together to form the Elixer of Life.
The quest takes Gambit to Paris, where Candra is based (Gideon is gone at this point; he doesn't factor into the story except to establish Candra's External cred, such as it is). It turns out that Gambit already knew - and, naturally, had had an affair with - Candra, but at the time he didn't really know who she was or her role in the guilds.
Rogue stays with Bella Donna, who is being taken care of by a Thieves Guild healer named Tante Mattie. Rogue considers touching Bella Donna to absorb her psyche and learn about her. She decides not to but Bella Donna seems to reach out and touch her anyway, flooding Rogue with images of Gambit and Bella Donna in love.
Gambit manages to get the three vials. But before he can return to use them on Bella Donna, he's confronted by Bella Donna's brother, Julien Boudreaux. Gambit's origin involves him having killed Julien in a duel over the Romeo & Juliet-like nature of his romance with Bella Donna, but it turns out that Julien survived by drinking the Elixir of Life. However, a small percentage of people that take the Elixer get mutated, and that's what happened to Julien. It turns out that Julien was actually active during the Ghost Rider crossover; he was the lead Assassin in that story.
Gambit gets away from Julien and moves to feed the Elixir to Bella Donna, despite the risk. But Julien returns later and smashes the potion's container before it can be administered.
In between all of this, Candra sends the Tithe Collector after Gambit and later shows up herself. She's angry that Gambit stole one of the vials from her.
The Tithe Collector is defeated...
...Julien is killed and the guilds decide that they're not going to be manipulated by Candra anymore, so she leaves. I'm also glossing over some stuff regarding Bella Donna and Julien's father, leader of the Asassins' guild, and also something about Gambit's adopted father, Jean-Luc LeBeau of the Thieves Guild.
After everything calms down, Gambit squeezes a few drops of the Elixer of life out of the bedsheets (where it landed when Julien smashed the container), and Bella Donna wakes up but with no memories. She's left to be taken care of with her father. Having lost Bella Donna, Gambit turns to Rogue for a kiss but she remembers that she can't touch people and flies away.
Great, give him more to brood about.
I find the whole thing incredibly boring and i think it's a shame to go back to this guild stuff for Gambit's first solo series, because it saddles the character with a big cast and backstory that just doesn't feel interesting. As a "thief" Gambit could be doing all sorts of cool Ocean's Eleven type stuff. Instead whenever the thief part of his character is brought up, it comes with all this baggage. Having an amnesiac wife out there doesn't do much for his romantic potential, either.
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: A footnote confirms that this takes place before Wolverine #75 (i.e. while Wolverine still has his adamantium).
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: Gambit Classic vol. 1 TPB
The point is that Bella Donna is amnesiac because Rogue stole her memories, as we'll see in the Rogue series.
Posted by: Michael | February 14, 2017 7:52 PM
Nice Lee Weeks art, though. I don't recall hating this, so I'm surprised to hear fan reaction was so negative. I mean, it's not actually very good, but surely we've seen worse in the x-line over the last few years.
But then, I'm weird: I don't hate the idea of the Thieves and Assassins Guilds, though I do dislike the fact we never see them steal anything or assassinate anyone. I think in the right hands the concept could work, and it gives Gambit a cast apart from the X-Men who could make a solo series viable. I do enjoy Nicieza's series a few years after this--one of the last x-titles of any kind I took an interest in, in fact, partly because it was less relatively independent of the other books.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | February 14, 2017 8:32 PM
Oops--the "less" in my post above shouldn't be there.
Posted by: Walter Lawson's Eraser | February 14, 2017 8:33 PM
Is that John Workman's lettering? Or just an uncanny similarity?
Posted by: ChrisW | February 14, 2017 9:20 PM
Posted by: Michael | February 14, 2017 9:26 PM
So that's 'uncanny similarity' then. There aren't too many letterers whose work immediately sticks out to me, but John Workman is one of them, and as far as I know he's been almost entirely DC for ages. Thanks.
Posted by: ChrisW | February 14, 2017 9:53 PM
It's an understandable mistake
Posted by: Ubersicht | February 14, 2017 11:48 PM
Updated the historical sig. Thanks Michael.
Posted by: fnord12 | February 15, 2017 8:08 AM
"Usually I be goin' for the cash, jewels, or maybe some other valuable trash." I mean, sure, "usually" in the sense of "not once since he's first appeared"
Actually Gambit was doing that in Uncanny #267. I think he also does it in a few solo guest apperances in other books. And of course this was utelized in his most recent solo series.
Incidentally, not only will Gambit have many solo series, next to Wolverine (and Cable) he's the X-man that the longest one around. Most other X-men would eventually get a series (Storm, Nightcrawler, Rogue, Jubilee, etc.) and all had series that were quickly cancelled.
Also, kinda ironic that Gambit goes to Paris here since Paris is the scene for another significant chapter in Gambit's history (oh it involves more thieving so he does/did do it.)
Finally, as the overwrought narration hints at on the last page there are actually three big tenets to Gambit's character profile. Sure's he's a theif, but there's also his constant status a The Traitor (or at least someone who would easily betray someone) That tension is probably residue left over from whatever Claremont had planned for Gambit and is usually reserved for team dynamics. There is also Gambit's characterization as a lothario and womanizer (which is why having a wife out there isn't a bad development. It's supposed to bring up and test questions of Remy's faithfulness and whether he's stinging a bunch of women along or not.)
Posted by: Jon Dubya | February 15, 2017 10:13 AM
Agreed that very little about Gambit's character makes sense removed from Claremont's original intentions. It's exactly the same problem that Mister Sinister has... which makes sense because originally they were supposed to be different aspects of the same person.
Gambit, as conceived by Claremont, is a ten year old's idea of what a suave, sexy, cool-under-pressure ladies man would be like, which is why he has a cheesy accent, and he's a thief, and he had a complicated costume with a trenchcoat on top of it, and he fights with a staff, and he smokes, and he always has a five o'clock shadow. In other words, he's a Marty Sue conceived by Sinister's real ten-year-old self to seduce Rogue and infiltrate the X-Men. If you know that then suddenly the character, with all his cheesiness, makes perfect sense.
However, once you remove that backstory and make him exactly what he appears to be, now he's just annoying and implausible and overly complicated, especially when you toss in all the nonsense about the Thieves Guild and Assassins Guild.
Posted by: Ben Herman | February 15, 2017 11:17 AM
Well said, Ben.
I really can't lament enough that Claremont's plans for Gambit didn't come to pass. If he stayed long enough to write this, this would be an *awesome* twist. But he didn't... and now we're stuck with a character that doesn't make much sense. Drat.
Posted by: Piotr W | February 15, 2017 12:36 PM
I remember being mildly excited at the prospect of Gambit getting a solo mini when this was first announced, then mostly disappointed by it - my thoughts were basically along the lines of "oh, this is just going to be ALL about that Guilds nonsense? Bleck".
I did rather enjoy FabNic's later Gambit solo series, which also played with that group of characters/setting, but in more of a supporting role, rather than constantly being the main focus of the narrative.
Oh, and it's kind of funny that right around the same time Nicieza is trying to put Liefeld's Externals nonsense to bed over in X-FORCE, Mackie is adding to it here with Candra. I think she's pretty much the only External to appear much at all between this and when the whole business is mercifully ended once and for all later in X-FORCE.
Posted by: Austin Gorton | February 16, 2017 10:01 AM
Which is kinda funny because Fantomex is basically Gambit + Weapon Plus stuff (yes, I know that Fantomex is actually based on Diabolik). And yet nevertheless Fantomex could almost be a parody of Gambit. Which makes it odd that they never really teamed up.
Posted by: Jon Dubya | February 16, 2017 10:55 AM
"Bella Donna! My wife...my love." Ugh, Mackie. This reminds me of that hilariously awful episode of the 90s X-Men cartoon focused on Gambit and the league of Cajun mumbo jumbo. Everybody's using dreadful accents and spouting stupid lines. My brother and I used to get a kick out of reenacting it. "You got me in da guild, Bobby! You made me a teef! I was yo brother!"
Posted by: Robert | March 14, 2017 8:55 AM
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