Friday, September 17, 2010

Review: Gambit Classic, Vol. 1

Review Gambit Classic Volume One Chris Claremont Howard Mackie Bill Jaaska Mike Collins Jim Lee Lee Weeks Uncanny X-Men Storm Marvel Cover trade paperback tpb comic bookWriters: Chris Claremont and Howard Mackie
Artists: Bill Jaaska, Mike Collins, Jim Lee, and Lee Weeks
Collects: Uncanny X-Men #265-267 (1991) and Gambit #1-4 (1993-94)
Published: Marvel, 2009; $24.99

As I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before, I think Gambit is an incredibly stupid character. It’s become strangely fashionable lately for comic book creators to claim there are no bad characters in comics, just bad stories – but that’s a lie and everyone knows it, especially if they’ve ever read a comic featuring Gambit in any capacity whatsoever. So why, of all things, do I now find myself reading and reviewing a book called Gambit Classic, Vol. 1? I don’t know, to be honest. Maybe I was hoping to be proven wrong. Or maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment – and punished, I truly was.

The story begins with Storm (who has for some reason regressed mentally and physically to childhood) robbing criminals in Cairo, Illinois. Since the character originally hails from Cairo, Egypt, I guess this is supposed to be ironic or something. I’ve never found Storm particularly interesting as a solo character, and the amnesiac child angle in these issues is exceptionally boring. The story is written by Chris Claremont, who has always seemed to think (incorrectly, most of the time) that he excels at writing strong female lead characters. He also has an unfortunate tendency to reuse certain villains to the point that they’re no longer the least bit menacing – in this case, Nanny and the Orphan-Maker, two characters who are about as dumb as you might guess based on their names.

At this point, you may be wondering: where exactly does Gambit fit into all of this? The short answer is that he doesn’t, really. He just happens to show up as Storm is getting a beat-down courtesy of the minions of the Shadow King (another incredibly lame character), and he helps her escape. He doesn’t speak too much, other than to exert his “Cajun charm” to try and persuade the Shadow King and his mind-slaves to let him and Storm go. Aside from that, he mostly just chain-smokes and occasionally blows things up. At the end of the third issue, he and Storm (who is no longer amnesiac, but still a child) head off to join the X-Men.

Now, here’s where Gambit Classic becomes really frustrating. Instead of reprinting the issues where Gambit becomes a member of the X-Men and we actually get to know something about his character, there’s a page of text explaining his activities over the next few years before the book skips ahead to the four-issue Gambit miniseries from 1993. I suspect the reason that his appearances in X-Men and Uncanny X-Men were omitted is that many of them have been reprinted elsewhere (namely, in the out-of-print trade paperback X-Men Visionaries: Jim Lee), whereas the ones with amnesiac-child Storm have not. But while I understand Marvel’s desire not to collect the same material a hundred times over, this book is still the first volume in a series called “Gambit Classic.” To my mind, that means it should collect the character’s early appearances rather than being some sort of career-spanning “greatest hits” compilation.

This leads me to the same fundamental problem I had with Deadpool Classic, Vol. 1. In both that book and this one, so many of the character’s early issues are omitted that I felt out-of-the-loop by the time I got to the later stories. That’s an even bigger problem with Gambit Classic, since the 1993 miniseries is basically a sequel to a crossover story that took place in two issues of X-Men and another two issues of Ghost Rider – none of which, of course, are collected here. (Interestingly, those issues were collected in a trade called X-Men & Ghost Rider: Brood Trouble in the Big Easy – a book which has been out of print for nearly twenty years.)

Even if those issues had been included, though, I doubt they could have salvaged my lack of enjoyment for the miniseries. The story is so mundane, it’s barely even worth summarizing; all you really need to know is that the Assassins’ Guild and the Thieves’ Guild are at war in New Orleans, and Gambit is the cause of it (sort of). The Thieves’ Guild apparently has some deal with a perpetually half-naked immortal French woman named Candra, who supplies them with an elixir each year that gives them longer life. But now the Assassins want the elixir, and so does Gambit, and so do some other people, etc. – you get the picture.

The story isn’t so much bad as it is astoundingly boring. I suppose that’s sort of a compliment when you’re talking about anything written by Howard Mackie, but I’d like to think my taste in comics is exponentially better than even Mackie’s least offensive work. The miniseries’ only (slightly) redeeming quality is that it’s drawn by Lee Weeks, an artist whose work I normally like very much. Even that doesn’t save it from mediocrity, though, since Weeks’ art is only occasionally good in this series; most of the time, it’s mired in over-the-top, vein-popping ’90s ridiculousness.

It’s worth noting that even by 1993, it’s clear that no one really has any idea of how to write Gambit. Half the time he sounds like he’s auditioning for Hamlet, and the rest of the time like he has some sort of speech impediment; the animated X-Men show was the only time I think anyone has ever gotten his accent quite right. It’s also fairly obvious that Gambit’s “mysterious” past is just a cover for the fact that the writers have no idea where he came from or what to do with him. Readers at the time were apparently eating him up, though, so I guess it’s hard to blame them for trying to capitalize on that.

In short, don’t be like me – don’t read this book, for any reason. I can’t even think of a single nice thing to say about it, honestly. I just hope that Marvel never releases a second volume, if only because of the remote chance that my curiosity may get the better of me again.

Rating: 1 out of 5


  1. HA!! Great review, Marc! As a kid I thought Gambit was the greatest comic book character ever... I think that Gambit mini-series was probably the point in which my younger self realized that besides the look and powers, Gambit had NOTHING going for him!

    I pretty much agreed with most everything you said here, from Nanny and Orphan Maker being incredibly lame to Chris Claremont's ANNOYING habit of trying(and failing)to write compelling, strong female characters. One quick question, what's the deal with Howard Mackie? I can't recall reading a lot of his work, so where's the hate come from?

  2. Thanks for the comment, X-Man! I think every comic book reader has had a "Gambit phase," especially if they read his early appearances or watched the TV show when they were younger. Kids are easily influenced, after all!

    I actually distinctly remember going over to a friend's house around the time the miniseries was coming out, and seeing the first issue lying on the floor. I went to pick it up and look at it, but my friend told me not to all these years later, I'm wishing I had taken his advice!

    As for Howard Mackie, he's mediocrity incarnate. He was pretty much Marvel's go-to guy in the '90s, writing everything from Spider-Man to Ghost Rider to X-Factor. My ire towards him stems mostly from the Clone Saga (Mackie was one of its main architects) and his not-so-great relaunch of Amazing Spider-Man in 1998. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing offensively bad about his writing... "offensively boring" would probably be a better way of describing it. :)

  3. Haha I love the line "Don't be like me, don't read this", that's awesome. That just sounds AWFUL though, I'm surprised you didn't burn the comic or donate it to a Nazi or someone who should have to sit through bad writing.

    That's it, you, X and I are gonna write at least ONE good Gambit story, effectively getting us hired as writers for taking a lost character and making him great again...then X will do the podcast!

  4. Glad you enjoyed the review, JT! At least someone has been able to derive some entertainment out of me reading this awful book!

    And a "good" Gambit story? No such thing. :P

  5. Haha, we can write one! We can even get Dylan to read all the Gambit dialogue! Man that podcast clip was hilarious.

  6. I'm pretty much floored to learn there is something called "Gambit Classic". That's right there with "Essential Dazzler" in the gallery of oxymoronic comic book titles.

  7. @JT: Haha, I'm happy you liked it. I'll have to put up a post about it at some point so everyone else will know what you're talking about. :)

    @matches: That's how I felt when I first heard about the book as well. As a matter of fact, I still feel that way even after having read it.

  8. Marc,I'm wondering as I read this, do you buy all the books you review, or are you able to get some of them out of the library?

    Great review as always, I'm glad that you still give stuff a fair shake even when it's this bad. Marvel has just gone reprint crazy in the last few years, and it's getting out of hand.

  9. Hey Kello, thanks for the comment! I buy most of what I read, although I do sometimes get stuff from the library too. It doesn't really affect the reviewing process since I actually consider my time more valuable than money these days, which puts everything on a pretty level playing field whether I've paid for it or not.

    And I think everything deserves a fair chance, no matter what your preconception of a character or writer or what have you. Unfortunately, books like this one tend to prove our preconceptions right more often than not!

  10. I've never seen the appeal of Gambit... and I can't imagine anything worse than a Gambit comic written by Howard Mackie. So there's no danger of me ever reading this book, I guess.

  11. Hey Rol, thanks for stopping by! And consider yourself lucky, because absolutely no one should read this book -- heck, not even if they are a fan of Gambit!

  12. You know it's kind of horrifying to see that the poor excuses for human beings Morrison wrote in the Douchebags leather edition are praised as the best things since sliced bread (Diamond whore, Dicklops, Tony the tiger's crack smoking cousin & crawling fetuses much?) while you seem to pan an actually GOOD character .
    Yep , you heard right. A GOOD character .
    I can understand not being a fan of his ,but to say he has no substance? I'm honestly mystified by this , because out of most of X-characters he's one of those that has developped a personality & nuances . And if you think he has no depth, you're just ignoring it.
    As for the suit, well at least he does not wear his underwears on his trousers & it's the least offensinve one since anyone .

    See, Gambit for all the "coolness" that you seem to hate him for , well ... has paid dearly for that. Guy has the luck of Donald Duck after seeing hi backstory so I can forgive him for acting cocky .
    Once we knew the past of the guy, well, it's no wonder he acts like that because otherwise he would have become Charles Manson (but he ended up as John Silver ... go figure ). The whole kidnapped from an orphanage, rised as Artful Dodger , had basically the entire Assassin clan after his head & making a deal with Sinister to save his life . That makes him a PG version of John Constantine

    NO GOOD Stories ? HERE
    - Gambit V3 (all 24 issues & both annuals , this is THE DEFINITIVE Remy, & I really wish Nicieza got the opportunity to have finished his 50 issues before Claremont botched it...)
    - Gambit V4 (By Layman /Jeanty, This was an oasis of unadulterated fun while the core books sucked on toast, this & canon for me (except for Colossus who stays dead & buried...)
    I would add that M. Liu managed to bring the real Gambit back since 2004 while Whoreverine & Dicklops were busy hogging all the spotlight while letting the kids turn into dead meat (sooo... Gambit is bad , but these 2 are okay ? Really ?)
    & I would say that even his part as a teammate was pretty good since despite the mistrust he managed to do what he was asked to do, so the guy has earned his place .
    The whole 90's bashing is kinda old , since deep down it's no more ludicruous than the 80's & less offensive than stuff from the 00's.
    Let the last word for the Ragin Cajun himself :
    " OKay... So Snoopy ? you really love to bash me ehh? Well just remember:Qui sème le vent , récolte la tempete alors ne tire pas le diable blanc par sa queue, tu le regretterais amèrement."

    Nicieza , Simonson , PAD & Lobdell are the greatest writers & this is said without any nostalgia ( 2 years are really enough to compare all the runs & to know what you'll like...)

    Le démon acadien et anti-héros extraordinaire ; hiphiphip hourra !

  13. You know, Gambit may be a "tool" as you all seem to think. But at least he isn't Marvel's cash whore to prostitute out on every damned thing they slap an X on. Let's see. Who would that be? Hmm. Oh yeah. WOLVERINE.

    Besides seeing how biased your review is, I don't think you exactly have your finger on the pulse of what is "cool" , so I don't really regard your opinion in any great standing.