I know at this point it just seems like I’m dogpiling on this poor Excalibur book. I railed about how irked I was with Rogue’s unjustified and sudden change of heart about children. I’m also sure I’ve taken little pot-shots at the book in other articles.
To be honest, so far, it’s been more about my disappointment than anything else. So far. Excalibur has, not one, but two of my favorite comic book characters in it – those being Gambit and Rogue. I wanted to like this book. True story.
Regrettably, due to odd pacing, and offensively off characterizations of basically every subject within the title – I don’t find it enjoyable. The book is simply hard to follow from one panel to the next, and there are times when the dialogue just doesn’t match up with the art.
This is unfortunate because Marcus To’s art is the best part of the book. His lines are smooth and action sequences are masterful. His work has been so consistent and attractive, it’s most likely what’s keeping the natives at bay. That and possibly questionable taste.
Tini Howard’s interpretation of Betsy Braddock has got to be the stiffest in X-Men history. Jubilee is barely there past running after her adopted son (I thought humans weren’t allowed on Krakoa?). Rictor is… passable. Apocalypse behaves and speaks like a caricature of himself, and Rogue…
By far, the biggest head-scratcher has been Howard’s handling of Gambit. From the first issue of this title, I sensed something was off. Especially concerning his interactions with Apocalypse. For those who are unaware, Gambit was once one of Apocalypse’s horsemen. Specifically, his right-hand, Death.
Unlike other horsemen, Gambit agreed to join Apocalypse of his own free will, but not to serve him – to keep an eye on him and funnel information back to the X-Men. Stupid plan, yes, I know. One that I blame on another less than impressive X-writer, Peter Milligan.
Gambit would eventually free himself of the physical and mental transformations forced on him, thanks to the efforts of Mister Sinister. That was the last interaction Gambit had with En Saba Nur up until Excalibur, so Howard at least got Gambit’s loathing of him correct.
What doesn’t make sense is how Gambit could ever allow himself or his wife to partner with him. However, perhaps maybe that could be attributed to how strangely all the X-Men have been acting throughout Dawn of X. I’ll give her a little pass, there.
What I cannot hand wave away is Gambit’s moron-a-thon. After witnessing Rogue get fridged, Gambit threw a punch at him. A punch. He. Tried. To. Deck. Apocalypse. In terms of tact, Gambit’s not exactly Cyclops – but in that same breath, he’s also not Hellion. That was stupid.
There are only a handful of X-Men strong enough to even attempt hand-to-hand combat with Apocalypse, and Gambit, being the veteran X-Man that he is, should know he isn’t one. Watching that scene unfold coupled with the horrid Apocalypse one-liner – he doesn’t do those – disturbed me.
That was just the second issue. It didn’t get any better from there. Understandably, Gambit had to put up with his wife in a less than pleasing state – but it’s not something he hasn’t endured before. Having to suffer his pouting, as a reader and fan for several issues, has been akin to torture.
From that point on, we watched Gambit get talked down to by insta-teen-mom, Jubilee, Betsy, and even Rictor. #@$#% Rictor? A C-lister X-Man on his best day with a fraction of Gambit’s experience, and even less character development, was depicted calling Gambit an ‘idiot’ while rescuing him from falling. FALLING.
Gambit – one of the most agile and supernaturally coordinated X-Men in history – needed to be saved by Rictor from falling into a hole. Depicting Gambit as clumsy goes against character as much as saying Rogue doesn’t want a family after having a bad dream.
He can dodge bullets, outmaneuver Iron Man’s scanners, and battle the likes of Daredevil and Spider-Man – but ineptly needed to be saved from falling into a chasm during battle. By Rictor? Give me a break on the character assassination. Just a bit, please.
All this is multiplied with how the rest of the cast treats him. Like he’s actually a bumbling idiot. And honestly, yeah, that’s exactly what he’s been portrayed as. In the later parts of issue #5, Gambit and Apocalypse finally have it out and the Cajun lost – as he should. That’s not the problem though.
Diplomat or not, when Jubilee, Rictor, and Betsy – another victim of the Death seed – saw Apocalypse and Gambit go at it, at the very least they should have intervened. Betsy, now that she has the power of Captain Britain, on top of her vaunted omega-level mutant powers, is one of the most powerful beings on Earth.
There’s no question that she should have been able to easily break up the fight. But what does Howard do instead? She has the character validate Gambit’s buffoonery by having her say aloud that Gambit was in the way. So I suppose that meant it was ok to nearly be killed.
The next bit of “what the #$#%” arrived during a hot tub ‘conversation’ between Gambit and Rogue. During which she dropped an “I don’t think I want kids, now” bomb. Let’s be straight here. That’s not out of bounds. What was, is how it was handled and presented.
Rogue coming to that conclusion should have been handled as a huge turning point for the character. Not just for her, but the marriage she’s a part of. By no means should Gambit have attempted to pressure her – but he didn’t even have an opinion. That’s not a realistic reaction from anyone.
It’s a more Stepford Husband-like depiction of how a modern-day feminist thinks a man should react to a decision like that. Howard effectively relieved Gambit of all agency and just “yes, deared” it away because it’s “her body.” That’s not how marriage works. It’d be like Gambit getting a vasectomy without Rogue’s input.
I could look at a lot of these as isolated incidents. The product of a writer getting used to her characters. That is until I saw a preview of Excalibur showing Gambit brushing his wife’s hair… There’s nothing wrong with pampering your significant other. I’ve done it, myself.
However, this, stacked with everything else I’ve mentioned has painted a picture I didn’t want to see. For a couple of years, many of my friends have been less than enthused by Gambit’s usage since he and Rogue reconciled in Rogue & Gambit and then married in Mr. and Mrs. X. Personally, I enjoyed Kelly Thompson’s writing.
However, what we’re seeing with Howard has become the worst-case scenario. While Thompson’s writing was admittedly Rogue-centric – at least Gambit was still himself. He was clever, resourceful, and calculating, for the most part.
Under Howard’s pen, he’s been little more than Rogue’s whining, doting husband. And she’s barely been in the book! One would assume with Rogue being sidelined it’d be a great opportunity to flesh Gambit out or at least establish his role. Perhaps that’s exactly what Howard has done.
If she intended to solidify his role in this book as the comic relief, the damsel in distress, or Apocalypse’s inept foil – then mission accomplished. I cannot for the life of me understand what readers are enjoying here.
This sorry version of Gambit (and most of the other characters) is the poorest I’ve ever witnessed outside of those silly one-panel recaps of him being cartoonishly decked by Captain America in Avengers Vs. X-Men. Like so many of my dear friends, I’m just waiting until something better comes along for the Cajun – because this ain’t it for me, fam.