A couple of years ago, comic book writer Fred Van Lente was asked to pitch a Gambit series.  Van Lente took to Twitter and asked his fans, “What do I need to know to write Gambit?”  Unsurprisingly, Van Lente didn’t get the assignment.


Perhaps he should have asked comic book veteran Kurt Busiek.  Several years earlier, there was a rumor that Busiek was going to be offered the X-Men books.  I don’t know if there was any truth to the rumor but a couple of fans asked him about it on his website.  One queried, “What does Gambit need to become a good character?”  Busiek curtly replied, “A hole in the head.” 


Clearly, Gambit has his detractors.  Admittedly, no character is universally admired.  Yet Gambit seems to incite especially intense loathing.  As a Gambit fan, I’ve long tried to figure out why. 


I suspect that some of it is generational.  Older comic book fans detest Gambit the same way that older music fans dislike Nirvana or the same way that older baseball fans complained that Mark McGwire didn’t measure up to Roger Maris. 


On a related note, I suspect that a lot of fans viewed Gambit as a Johnny-come-lately when he first joined the X-Men in 1990.  Gambit was the first new X-Man since Dazzler, Longshot and Psylocke were added to the team in 1986.  However, those other heroes had already been introduced and established in other titles so they weren’t exactly rookies when they joined up.  Gambit was the first brand-new character to join the X-Men since Colossus, Nightcrawler and Storm were recruited as part of the All-New, All-Different team back in 1975.  A lot of other characters have followed in Gambit’s footsteps since then but it wouldn’t be surprising if some residual resentment stuck to him.  


Yet I don’t think those explanations go far enough.  If one asked a Gambit detractor what they don’t like about him, they would most likely point to three identifying features: his accent, his trench coat and his history as a womanizer and a thief.


I can’t really defend the accent.  Or, at least, I can only defend it half-heartedly.  When Len Wein and Chris Claremont introduced the All-New X-Men in 1975, they used accents and colloquial phrases like “Bozshe Moi” and “Zum Teufel” to add a bit of character to their international heroes.  But comic books had generally become more sophisticated by 1990 (Claremont deserves some, though certainly not all, of the credit for that).  An accent was no longer adequate shorthand for indicating a character’s different background.  Unfortunately, X-Men writers- including Claremont himself-used the accent as a crutch instead of a tool.   It became an impediment to a lot of fans, as well as a reason for ridicule.


Even so, I don’t think the accent is unsalvageable or unmanageable.  When viewed as part of a historical continuum, it’s entirely understandable.  It’s the descendant of Nightcrawler’s butchered German and Colossus’s bad Russian.  And, when used sparingly, it can add a bit of spice to Gambit’s dialogue.


A historical perspective of comic books is also a key to understanding, explaining and defending Gambit’s trench coat.  When Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel first created Superman, they needed a way to visually demonstrate his powers.  They instinctively added a cape to his costume.  The cape could be used to show movement, speed and even flight.  We all know that Superman is flying fast when his cape flattens out behind him.  We know that he’s slowing down for a landing when it billows up.  The cape served a crucial purpose in the early days of comics. 


In the Golden Age, a cape was de rigeur for any superhero worth his stripes.  However, over the years, the cape lost its lustre.  During the Silver Age, the cape was slowly phased out while artists like Steve Ditko, Gil Kane and Wally Wood introduced sleeker, simpler designs.  Yet the issue of indicating movement didn’t disappear. 


X-Men artist Jim Lee devised a new approach.  He gave Jubilee a bright yellow raincoat, in imitation of Robin’s yellow cape.  The raincoat similarly billowed out behind her when she jumped off of a rooftop.  And he gave Gambit a dusty brown trench coat in imitation of Batman’s dark cloak.  It’s actually pretty clever.  Lee took a common fashion accessory- one that was in vogue at the time- to address the age-old issue of indicating movement.  It trailed behind Gambit as he delivered a spinning kick.  It flowed behind him as he ran.  And it even helped him blend into the shadows, Batman-like, when he needed to hide. 


I’ve heard all the complaints.  “Why does Gambit need a big, warm trench coat when he lives in New Orleans- one of the hottest cities in the US?”  Well, Gambit’s first appearance came when Storm was having difficulty controlling her powers and Cairo, Illinois was beset by the bad weather of fog and cold.  Then, when he joined the X-Men, he moved to Westchester County, north of New York City.  It shouldn’t be surprising that someone from the south would dress more warmly than most.  I admit that it doesn’t make sense for Gambit to wear a big trench coat every time he goes home.  It’s more of a trademark thing for the fans than an in-story consideration.  Yet, even in New Orleans, people wear lightweight trench coats including the main character in the New Orleans-based “A Confederacy of Dunces.”  That’s probably not the best model for Gambit, but it does show that the fashion isn’t as inappropriate to the location as Gambit’s detractors insist.


Finally, there’s Gambit’s background as a womanizer and a thief.  This objection surprises me more than the others.  There’s a long history of popular thieves in fiction from David Niven in “The Pink Panther” to Michael Caine and Steve Martin in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”  And there’s a long history of heroes who are also womanizers, most notably James Bond. 


Yet the character with the closest correlation to Gambit is none other than Han Solo.  They have practically the same profession.  Solo is a smuggler, Gambit a thief.  They both have a sly, ribald approach to women.  Han Solo famously tells Princess Leia, “You like me because I’m a scoundrel.  There aren’t enough scoundrels in your life.”  They both initially join the side of the heroes for selfish reasons.  Han Solo declares, “I expect to be well paid.  I’m in it for the money.”  Yet, when the chips are down, they step up as true heroes.  They’re the kind-hearted rogue- the scoundrel with a heart of gold. 


If Fred Van Lente had asked me, “What do I need to know to write Gambit?” I would have told him, “Write him as if you’re writing Han Solo.” 


Despite the accusations of philandering, Gambit has been remarkably faithful to Rogue.  All of his indiscretions occurred before they met.  They only become complications when Rogue learns of yet another prior liaison.  Yet, despite their reputations, Rogue is the one who’s strayed- not Gambit. 


Gambit’s past as a thief also shouldn’t be an issue.  He’s not exactly unique in that regard.  Storm was a pickpocket and thief before becoming an X-Man.  Banshee robbed a bank as part of Factor Three and Rogue was a member of the Brotherhood of Evil.  Plenty of X-Men have shadows in their past.  At this point in his life, Gambit is more like Robin Hood or the cast of “Leverage.”  He uses his skills for good, robbing super-villains of critical components for their super-devices. 


I don’t expect that I’ve changed anyone’s mind about Gambit.  I doubt that a Gambit detractor has suddenly become a fan.  But maybe, just maybe, I’ve offered a new perspective and a Gambit-hater or two can perceive the visual cleverness of the costume design or at least appreciate his standing as a classic rogue character. 

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I happen to like Gambit. I agree with your Han Solo comparison, and thought he added a roughish charm to the X-Men. I also like the accent and the coat. No one really talks like Wolverine, with his "bubs" and whatnot, and no one really has hair like that, but they are all part of his image. 

I thought I read somewhere that Gambit was intended to be an over-the-top character, and was created as the image of what a small child would come  up with if he was making a superhero. Anyone know of this?

I'm not a Gambit fan but not for the three reasons you mention. I've no problem with the accent, the trenchcoat or his past. And there was the pathos in his relationship with Rogue. I appreciated that he stayed with her so long even though they could not touch. The 90s cartoon had a neat and tender bit where Rogue would put her gloved hand over his mouth, then kiss her own hand.

But he was supposed to be charming but I always found him annoying, trying too hard to be "the Bad Boy with the Heart of Gold".

And I never understood his powers. Anything he touched, exploded and he threw playing cards! Havok and Boom Boom were more effective, IMHO.

And Marvel kept wanting him to be a solo star or the next Wolverine. Almost to the point of shoving him down our throats. And it never succeeded.

Mostly though, he was the first X-Man who was more cool visually than as a character. But unfortunately he wouldn't be the last.

I'm a very "visual" guy in some ways,  I hated his costume, and found the character insufficiently interesting to overcome this.

I stopped reading X-Men right before Gambit arrived, so I never really understood the hate for him. I've heard those criticisms, but they don't really wash (for the reasons you mention). My feeling is that it really stems from the fact that Gambit was dating Rogue, and the readers weren't.  The "He's not good enough for her" feeling seems to rub up against any love interest for a popular female character, particularly Wonder Woman. Steve Trevor  and Tom Tresser both got that treatment from various fans, and I'm pretty sure Trevor Barnes did, too, though I wasn't reading WW then. And, of course, there's Donna Troy and the much-maligned (deservedly so) Terry Long.

Love interests for characters are one of the things we're most critical of. Gambit, with his cheesy accent and his unseasonal trenchcoat, made an easy target, and his history gave readers the satisfaction of feeling superior to that guy -- he's the bad boy girls fall for instead of the so-called "nice guys." In that context, he was basically built to be hated.

I don't have a problem with Gambit wearing a trenchcoat. If John Constantine can wear one, even when he's consorting with the likes of Swamp Thing in Louisiana, why not anybody else. (But then, I didn't mind when the Avengers wore bomber jackets, either.)

I never had a problem with his trenchcoat, but I never understood why a thief would be wearing what seems to be a shiny metal chest plate & shiny metal boots--not exactly stealthy.

I agree with you, CK.  I liked the Avengers' bomber jackets.  It worked especially well for the Black Knight and Sersei.  It looked good on Captain America, too.  The only Avenger who couldn't really pull it off was Crystal.  She looked like she was a high school cheerleader wearing her boyfriend's lettermen jacket. 

ClarkKent_DC said:

I don't have a problem with Gambit wearing a trenchcoat. If John Constantine can wear one, even when he's consorting with the likes of Swamp Thing in Louisiana, why not anybody else. (But then, I didn't mind when the Avengers wore bomber jackets, either.)

I never took to Gambit because I was SUPPOSED to.
He was the most hyped X-Man for years! - Possible Summers brother!? - Future Traitor to the X-Men - all that stuff AND hard arse Rogue went ga-ga over him!?

I stopped reading before he showed up in the comics, but I was never that impressed with him in any of the cartoons.

Good article, Chris.  I've actually never had a problem with Gambit myself. Visually, I like him, and his powers are decent enough for me. Bad accents don't really bother me. I've heard enough of them in my time.

Good article, Chris. I've always liked Gambit. I suspect a lot of people in my age bracket were first exposed to him on the X-men cartoon in the early/mid 90s, where he was a prominent part of the cast.

The cartoon bothered me when they adapted comic book stories with Gambit and Rogue instead of Nightcrawler and Colossus. It would if there was a Star Trek cartoon and they did "Space Seed" with Kirk, Spock, Data and Geordi.

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