Retro Review: Gambit (1993)

The 90’s were a different time for the X-Men. It was the apex of mutant popularity. Any comic with an X in the title was almost guaranteed to fly of the comic store shelf. The craze produced a number of spin-offs, all of varying degrees of quality, and in the maelstrom of mutant hysteria a number of characters received their own chance at starring in their own book.

Cyclops and Jean Grey, Storm, Rogue, Deadpool, (Yep, even in the mid-nineties Wade Wilson was just beginning his solo adventures) Cable, Bishop…

… And then there was the ragin’ Cajun Gambit. Gambit was a something special to the X-Men universe. He was mysterious and dark. No one really knew much about his background; except that he spoke in a Louisiana drawl, and was quite the charmer when it came to the ladies. So when Marvel announced a mini-series about the card throwing mutant fans were ready to take a trip down to the big easy and learn more about their favorite Southern thief.

Remy Lebeau has been called back to the bayou, as the series starts with a training exercise with Rogue being interrupted by the appearance of Gambit’s brother; Henri. No sooner does Henri tell Remy that he needs to come home than Henri is shot in the chest with an assassin’s arrow. Dying in Gambit’s arms Henri tells his brother that the two warring factions; the Thieves guild and the Assassin’s Guild have broken their peace treaty and are now returning to war with one another. Upon Henri’s death Remy swears revenge and takes after the killers.

Remy tracks the assassins to his first surprise from his past, as Gambit faces down his once-dead brother-in-law. It’s this return that gives Remy another major shock as Julien (the thought to be dead brother-in-law) tells Gambit that his wife; Belladonna is still alive. (Rumors of being dead seem to run throughout Belladonna’s family) The two men fight, but Julien disappears after being wounded by the Cajun. Remy decides then and there that it’s time to go home.

Meanwhile in New Orleans the two factions, the Thieves and the Assassins are preparing for a ceremony that happens once every seven years. An event called the tithing. During the ceremony the thieves receive a gift of three elixirs that grant long life when mixed. Gambit breaks up this ceremony in pursuit of saving his wife. From there Gambit’s father denies him help and Remy is forced to track down the elixirs.

It’s this journey to procure a cure that takes up the bulk of the mini-series. What plays out next is more akin to a Shakespeare play than an X-Men comic. Remy is thrust in the middle of the two warring factions, and in the end strings are pulled by another woman from Gambit’s past that end up uniting all fronts against the Cajun.

Remy is forced to make life and death choices for those closest to him time and again. Does he chose life or death for Belladonna? Does he choose between Belladonna or Rogue? Does he want power or long life? Does he have the ability to walk away from his past and into an uncertain future? This is not exactly the subject matter for children. This was a complex tale of love and betrayal that is befitting the mysterious mutant charmer.

What Howard Mackie wrote back in 1993 is a storyline that could be played out best on a stage on Broadway. I’m not kidding that the layers of betrayal in this storyline could easily reflect the works of Shakespeare; if you’ve removed the mutant powers and extraordinary abilities. This story, once it is stripped down of its fantastical elements is a tragedy that is befitting of the stage. Remy is forever haunted by the loves of his past, forced into exile from his home, and always on the hunt for his next victim; be it a victim of the heart or of the wallet.

Gambit is a character that is destined to never find happiness. By the end of the series he has been banished by his father from New Orleans. He has pushed Rogue away. Belladonna is saved but no longer remembers him and her past life with Gambit. His brother is dead. His fate is uncertain.

Lee Weeks provides a wide array of visuals for this series, from subtle to sublime. This series came along before weeks would refine his style, as it still has design elements that look like influences from famed X-Men artists, the Kubert brothers. Weeks would come to perfect his own unique look later in his various projects with Marvel, but here the art is dynamic and impactful.

My one major gripe with this series is the sub-standard coloring. This was a bane for books before digital coloring was used industry-wide. Often colors bled into adjoining panels or lines. Often the shading of characters was so poor by today’s quality standards that it was jarring to look at. I understand that when reading and grading older titles you have to take into account the tech and style of the time period, but it was distracting in places… which is funny, because colorist Richard Starkings went on to become a very celebrated name within the comic industry. But even a master like Starkings had his limitations with the old way of coloring comics. Thank goodness we have evolved past this.

While the age of the art may show, the weight and impact of the storyline is still effective. Human emotions abound in this tale and this series still stands as one of the best insights into Gambit as a mutant and as a man. Great stuff!

Final Grade: 4 out of 5 Stars.

Gambit (1993) Issues: 1-4
Publisher: Marvel
Story: Howard Mackie
Art: Lee Weeks
Inks: Klaus Janson
Colors: Buccellato
Letters: Richard Starkings


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