by Mark Mitchell and Ryan Mogge
Mark: There’s a thin line between romantic pursuit and creepy, unwanted attention, and fan favorite X-Man Gambit falls too often onto the “creepy” side of that line in Kelly Thompson and Pere Perez’s Rogue and Gambit 1.
The math between putting these two X-Men powerhouses together in their own title adds up nicely: they’re beloved by fans, they have a long romantic history, and they both have strong, interesting personalities. But though readers who are already familiar with Rogue and Gambit might already be aware of their histories, Thompson is also responsible for catching up new readers who need a quick introduction to the world in as few pages as possible, and it’s here that Gambit’s portrayal gets complicated. The intention, most likely, is for Gambit’s pursuit of Rogue to imbue the character with a je ne sais quoi of hound dog charm, but moments like Gambit sneaking up on Rogue in a shadowy hallway after she already brushed him off gives Gambit the unfortunate appearance of a predator stalking his prey.
Almost every panel in this scene presents a new red flag, and the dialogue, matched with Rogue’s alternately skeeved out, annoyed, and resigned expressions basically create the portrait of an abusive relationship. “You’re still my best friend. I can’t have dinner with my best friend?” is such an emotionally manipulative thing for an ex to say. And how depressing is Rogue’s “It’s never just dinner?”
But maybe Gambit’s strong Mother, May I Sleep With Danger vibes are unintentional, because much of the rest of the book works to sell us on the zaniness of Rogue’s whole ordeal. Kitty Pryde needs some X-Men to go deep undercover to a couple’s therapy retreat so they can investigate some mysterious mutant disappearances, and who better to send than a couple with an actual romantic history — Rogue and Gambit. It’s a classic sitcom trope, seemingly headed for a classic sitcom conclusion, but instead of rooting for Rogue and Gambit to get back together, I’m actively rooting for Rogue to run far, far away.
In the final pages, Rogue’s doe-eyed gaze initially imbues Gambit’s words with the enchantment of everlasting love.
But then I remembered the splash page at the end of the issue’s brief prologue…
…which doesn’t strike me as the image of a couple destined for happiness together.
Look, I feel like the likelihood that Marvel is willing to team-up these incredibly popular characters with the intention of telling a story about a troubling and potentially abusive relationships is infinitesimal. Plus, the moments where the book works overtime to sell us on the humor of the situation, like the smash cut at the end of the issue to Rogue and Gambit tied to gurneys, also undermine that reading. But there are so many otherwise weird choices in this issue that I can’t shake that feeling entirely.
What’d you think, Ryan? Is this more screwball comedy than stalker drama? Am I just reading way, way, way too much into things?
Ryan M.: First off, I should probably admit that Rogue/Gambit was one of my first ‘ships. Their banter was the platonic ideal of flirting to my 10-year-old self. I mean, sometimes there was French in it, ooh la la! Put them in their own book and my enjoyment was pretty much a fait accompli. That said, I agree that the dynamic between Gambit and Rogue presented in this issue is problematic. However, I think that Thompson is using that to underline themes of history and growth.
Both Gambit and Rogue are stuck in the past. They fall into their old patterns with Gambit as the aggressive flirt while Rogue is guarded and reluctantly charmed. She even has Storm run Danger Room training with Sentinels. Her powers are out of her control and she deals with seeing Gambit by literally running away. This is not a woman who is comfortable with looking forward.
For his part, Gambit doesn’t want her to. He wants to roll into town, pick up their old dynamics and see if they can get back to a relationship that may never have been functional to begin with. It may be a sitcom-worthy plot turn, but Thompson’s choice to put Gambit and Rogue in couples therapy is a nod to the fact that this is not a healthy dynamic for either of them.
I’m probably wearing my ship-goggles, but the one-on-one hallway scene didn’t read to me as quite as creepy as it did to you, Mark (though excellent use of a Whoopi gif). Gambit is using his old strategies; the same ones that broke down her walls before. When he calls her his best friend, it felt both earnest and a little pathetic. He isn’t ready for her more subdued and cynical attitude. It points to a reason that their dynamic here isn’t working. Rogue used to give as good as she got. Time and life have worn her down and she no longer has interest in sparring with him. He genuinely is trying to go back to something that may already be lost.
Or maybe not. Rogue is not happy in this issue, but she has one moment of amusement. She even offers a half smile as she teases Gambit about Deadpool’s kissing skills.
It’s not much, but it is at least a sign that her sass is still there somewhere. As much as I want Rogue to grow and move forward, I’m really hoping for a sass renaissance.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?