‘If time is a circle, then everything must happen all at once…’
That is the sentiment that opens Rogue & Gambit #1, accompanied by a vast collage of different scenes and eras from the history of these two iconic mainstays of the X-Men world.
It’s a nostalgia-fest of an opening: but it’s so effective, and those words – and the idea contained in them – is powerful enough to hook you into this comic book literally from the very first moment.
I wasn’t sure whether to read this title or not. I’m a big-time 90s X-Men guy, so I have a history with these two characters and their on/off romantic history.
But I wasn’t sure whether this would be a worthwhile title or not.
Two things swung it for me: (1) my natural inclination is to want to read anything that Rogue is in, and (2) I really love Kelly Thompson‘s recent track record with Marvel titles.
So I went for it. And boy, I’m glad I did. Rogue & Gambit is a whole lot of fun.
That said, in terms of dynamics, it’s pretty much what you’d expect: there’s endless Rogue/Gambit banter, personality clash and sexual tension. And it’s all good, nicely written. There’s also a very clever premise: which is that Kitty wants the two of them to go investigate a bunch of missing mutants at a ‘therapy retreat’ on a remote island.
The catch – and the premise for the whole series – is that she wants Rogue and Gambit to pose as a couple in need of couples’ therapy. It’s clever because it kind of makes sense, but it also allows a storyline where the two of them really do get to explore their connection to each other.
At the same time, although they’re putting on an act, the counselling sessions actually become real: in as much as that they are basically an (on/off) couple with a lot of baggage and issues. That’s what also clever here about this whole premise.
Rogue’s initial reaction to Kitty’s suggestion (“Why don’t you and Colossus go?”) is perfect, as is Kitty’s response. There’s nice little tidbits here, like Gambit being obsessed about Rogue’s kiss with Deadpool (in the pages of Uncanny Avengers: see here). That’s a nice little detail to remember and to include in this, allowing all these characters and their experiences to feel real and interlinked.
While the following books are essentially a slowly unfolding investigation of what’s going on at this ‘wellness retreat’ (obviously, it’s something sinister), all of that is really just dressing: the central theme is all about these two characters resolving their relationship, their past and their connection.
It’s nice to see Rogue and Gambit on an investigation, at any rate: their dialogue never fails to sparkle, while – as the story progresses – we get more and more intrigue and questions. Discovering a secret room with unconscious bodies hooked up to machines. Later, discovering physical versions or clones of themselves from various stages in their past. What’s going on?
Rogue & Gambit #2 also has the two of them being counselled, but each of them providing a different explanation of how they first met. We get two different recollections set in the past, Rogue’s one telling a different story to Gambit’s. It’s fun and it also plays to the nostalgia element, grounding this story in long-past X-Men yarns.
This is essentially the format for the rest of the installments too: and it’s a winning formula, to be sure. The nostalgia-feeder goes into overdrive, for example, in Rogue & Gambit #4 when he get a flashback to the wedding of Scott Summers and Jean Grey.
That sequence is really lovely, actually: the way it’s drawn and coloured to perfectly match the style of that classic book (from the mid-1990s), and the fact that this is essentially a new piece of character material being retro-fitted to a very old story we already know so well (but which fits so nicely).
The discovery of their multiple doppelgangers in Rogue & Gambit #3 (each from a different point in their pasts) is kind of creepy. And when those various past Rogues and Gambits attack them, it’s just the right amount of absurd and funny. It’s also – let’s face it – a deliberate and clever way of depicting the core theme of this entire series: the theme of Rogue and Gambit confronting their past history and connection (in this case, literally confronting versions of their past selves in combat!). I love it.
This third installment also reveals the villain of the piece (‘Lavish’).
Rogue & Gambit #4 is a highlight. It gives us some very good past-tense material, like the aforementioned Scott/Jean wedding sequence. It’s also fun to see Rogue and Gambit beating the crap out of doppelgangers of each other: literally, Rogue takes on the Gambit clones and Gambit takes the Rogue clones (“now this is therapy”, quips the Cajun).
However, they also find that they can see things – memories, past experiences – through each other’s eyes when they connect with their doppelgangers. In other words, they both suddenly know what it’s been like all these years to be each other in this relationship: naturally then this whole bizarre experience seems to be creating a new empathy between the two of them.
We learn that ‘Lavish’ has been creating these doppelgangers somehow by absorbing Rogue’s and Gambit’s memories – all the memories they’ve been reliving or talking about to the Doctor during counselling. In Rogue & Gambit #5, we also find that the Doctor isn’t real at all but is just another ‘golem’ created by Lavish – which is actually a pretty good twist that I hadn’t seen coming.
Even more so, the second twist: that ‘Lavish’ is also a ‘golem’ and not really present at all, raising the question of where the hell ‘she’ is or if she even exists.
The way this has been left here, one suspects we haven’t heard the last of ‘Lavish’ and that this is going to rear its head again at some point.
For now, it takes full-power Rogue to overcome the enemy and resolve the situation. As a finale to five books of plot, I’m not sure this vague ending really works that well: then again, there’s a lingering element of mystery that is quite nice in its own way, so maybe it’s a reasonable end-point (with more to be picked up some time later).
But, as I said earlier, this series really is more about Rogue and Gambit as characters in relation to each other: and, on that front, this run has been really solid. Their relationship is really well written, the wit and charm is endless, the grounding of this story in their comic-book history is really effective, and – all in all – this is a really enjoyable diversion.
I don’t think you even need to be Rogue or Gambit fans necessarily to enjoy this: it’s just fun, endearing comic-book material.
Also, I didn’t realise when I started reading this title that Rogue & Gambit is actually paving the way for what appears to be a longer-form series called ‘Mr & Mrs X’.
If that series is anything like as good as this one has been, sign me up.