Tag Archives: Gambit/Remy LeBeau

Remembering Stan “The Man” Lee

Stan Lee Confirms Three Upcoming Marvel Movie Cameos

As many, if not most, of you know by now, Stan Lee died on the morning of November 12, 2018. It was sad news for all the Marvelites who had enjoyed his universe and characters since childhood. We knew that someday Stan would have to go on the Great Adventure all his heroes were preparing us to face in the future, naturally, but we put all thoughts of his departure as far from our minds as possible.

This made it a blow when we got the news that he had passed through the curtain to the Other Side. I hope his wife and his second daughter were waiting for him when he got off the train. But as with my own fate, what has become of him now will remain a mystery until it is my turn to go through the curtain.

To say that Stan Lee and his friends at Marvel impacted this blogger’s life enormously would be an understatement. Without him and his compatriots, most of whom predeceased him, Thoughts on the Edge of Forever would not exist in the form you know it, readers. The first post I wrote here focused on Marvel’s The Avengers, the big box office hit of 2012 that kicked off roughly ten years of cinematic fun. And as long time readers know, most of the criticism on this site has been aimed at Marvel’s current hierarchy precisely because they were dishonoring Stan Lee’s legacy before he had even said his last, “Excelsior!”

None of this is to imply that Stan Lee was perfect. That would be ridiculous; he was a man, a fallen, flawed human being like me and everyone else in this world. I don’t think he was perfect. Perfect isn’t the point. He was a good storyteller and a good friend to all those who loved his and his company’s work, whether they met him in person or not.

Without his heroes – his flawed, human heroes – lots of people would have thrown in the towel on life and limb a long time ago. Captain America, Hawkeye, Spider-Man, Wasp, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Storm, Cyclops, Rogue, Gambit, Wolverine, Mirage, Black Widow, Falcon, Sunfire, Luke Cage, Namor the Submariner, Hulk, Thor Odinson, Black Panther, Professor X, Silver Sable – they all inspired someone. They all faced evils we could relate to, or could see ourselves encountering some day. They could have turned back from fighting evil lots of times under Stan’s leadership, but they didn’t. They all thought, “I can’t hang on much longer…!” only to come to the conclusion that they had to hang on longer, even if it killed them. Without their strength, many of us would have stopped holding on and fighting years ago.

So I will be forever grateful to Stan Lee for bringing these characters to the world, and for each story he wrote, approved, or spearheaded. Quaint or odd as it may seem, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without his help, distant though it was. Keep on going “ever higher,” Stan. We’ll be rooting for you until it’s our turn to finally glance over our shoulders, give everyone behind us a thumbs up, and say: “’Nuff said.”

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Spotlight: X-Men – Rogue/Anna Marie

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Recently, I found a number of posts dealing with a topic I have addressed on my own blog. Apparently yours truly is not the only one to notice and take umbrage with the current fascination for creating so-called “strong female characters.” There have been a couple of articles on other sites dealing with the subject. I have read them and they have gotten the gears in this cranium turning, which lead me to today’s subject: the X-Man Rogue.

First off we will go down the list of Rogue’s abilities. Those familiar with her history in the comics and television will have to bear with me, because I am going to rehash some old storylines to keep everyone in the loop.

The Marvel newcomer who is not entering the multi-verse via the poisoned comics will find Rogue in the X-Men films. This version of Rogue is close but not quite the same as the one found in older comics and cartoons. There is no slight intended when I say that the film portrayal of the character is actually a poorer presentation than the original. Anna Paquin does a good job as Rogue; it is the writers and director(s) of the X-Men films who have mishandled the character.

Anyway, if you “met” Rogue in these films, then you know that her mutant ability is to absorb the memories, talents, and/or mutant powers of anyone with whom she comes into skin contact. You also think she got that white streak in her hair after Magneto force-fed his abilities to her before the final battle in the first movie, but she had that from the moment she appeared in the comics. (I do not like how they gave it to her in the films; it takes away from her character – in my ‘umble opinion.)

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I have stated many times that I do not like the X-Men films, so I am going to stop talking about them here and go straight to Rogue’s comic book and cartoon histories. Similar to the films, Rogue’s mutant power manifested when she and her boyfriend, Cody, were having their first kiss. Rogue was thirteen at the time and so she was more than a little frightened when Cody suddenly passed out mid-smooch.

Rejected by her family for being a mutant, Rogue ran away from home, afraid to make skin contact of any kind with anyone. Mystique, in a guise other than her real blue-skinned, red-haired form, found Rogue and recruited her into her latest cabal of mutant trouble makers. She practically adopted Rogue as her own daughter….

…But she treated her as a secret weapon, using Rogue to her advantage in fights with the X-Men. Rogue was completely loyal to Mystique because she had taken her in and given her direction when no one else had and when no one else would give her the time of day. She rarely balked when told to use her absorption abilities on an X-Man, security guard, or some other person Mystique wanted knocked out or who had information she desired.

The one instance I know of in the comics where Rogue refused to use her power was when Mystique told her to absorb Angel’s abilities. Rogue was afraid that she would grow wings like his, so she did not want to touch him. As you may know from watching the films, readers, the powers Rogue absorbs eventually fade away. The memories and skills she “downloads” along with them remain like “ghost files” in her head, but they do not (usually) bother her after a while. Prior to 2015, the writers made it possible for Rogue to “recall” individual powers and abilities she had previously stolen from people, something I consider cheating. But in the case I mention above, Rogue did not have that power and she feared she would be stuck with Angel’s wings permanently if she touched him, so Mystique did not get her way in that episode.

Eventually, Rogue’s servitude to Mystique led her into a fight with Carol Danvers. At the time Danvers’ codename was still Ms. Marvel, and so her uniform consisted of a black swimsuit with a yellow lightning bolt emblazed on the front. Because her suit had no sleeves or pants, she was a perfect target for Rogue’s absorption abilities.

Thinking Danvers would be easy enough to overcome, Rogue grabbed hold of her and started draining her powers.

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But unlike Rogue’s other opponents, Danvers did not immediately pass out. Since her powers come from Kree DNA that was somehow bonded to her body, Danvers possesses almost as much physical strength as Ben Grimm. She also has the ability to fire bolts of energy from her hands, sub-supersonic flight, indestructability, a ferocious Kree temper, and a precognitive “seventh sense” that allows her to see her opponent’s next move before it happens. I have never seen this last power demonstrated – and the number of times that Danvers has been smacked, thrown around, or otherwise hit makes me think she does not actually have this power.

Anyway, the Kree DNA kept Danvers awake longer than any of the other people Rogue had touched. It also fueled her anger and she started fighting back. Frightened by Danvers’ unexpected reaction to her powers, Rogue tried to let the woman go and make good her escape.

But Danvers would not let Rogue go. The two struggled for an eternity of minutes before they crashlanded. Once that happened Rogue discovered that, not only was she physically unharmed along with Danvers, but the other woman was out cold at last beside her in the dirt.

After this, Rogue found she had absorbed Danvers’ capabilities of flight, indestructibiliy, and superhuman strength. These powers did not fade over the next two or three days, as all her other “borrowed” powers had, and it looked like they were hers for keeps.

But she soon discovered that these fantastic powers came with a terrible price. Her prolonged contact with Danvers’ meant that she didn’t just have the woman’s memories and powers; Danvers’ psyche was stuck in Rogue’s mind and body at the same time Danvers’ own body remained in a hospital in a coma. Her personality – almost her entire being – was seemingly just as much Rogue’s property now as her powers were.

This unintended arrangement left Ms. Marvel less than pleased, and Rogue soon found she didn’t like it either. If Ms. Marvel really made an effort at it, she could commandeer Rogue’s body. Rogue would black out in one place and wake up in another, sometimes wearing Danvers’ suit or accoutrements and surrounded by the things Danvers enjoyed. This was more than a little frightening and upsetting for her, and it brought her to the realization that she had practically committed murder by absorbing Danvers’ mind into herself.

As Rogue’s guilt grew, she asked her “Mama” to find a way to make Danvers go away or to transfer her out of her body. But Mystique did not know how to do that and, what is more, she did not want to do that. She might have thought that Rogue could adapt to having Danvers in her mind or something like that, too, because she wanted Rogue to go on using her powers – despite the fact that her “daughter” was sharing space with another woman who could take control of Rogue’s body at the most unexpected or unwelcome moments.

This led Rogue to run away again. Knowing the X-Men as well as she did, she went to them for help in removing Danvers’ psyche.

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Her reception was not a warm one. Danvers had worked with the X-Men on more than one mission, so they considered her a friend (for what reason, I have no idea). Wolverine was especially upset, since he and Danvers were particularly close. (Again, I have no idea why they were such good friends. Danvers should have driven Wolvie half crazy ninety percent of the time, but this did not happen, probably because the writers were working overtime to make their “uber woman” more acceptable to their audience through her acceptance by the other characters in the Marvel Universe.) Aside from the Professor, no one on the team saw anything likeable about Rogue, and she was a virtual outcast in the team she had sought out for help, as well as to begin to make amends for her past misdeeds.

But Rogue did finally earn full acceptance by the X-Men, becoming one of their most valued members and friends. Wolverine ultimately thawed to her as well, to the point that he became her informal protector and mentor during her early days on the team. She has since become one of the most recognizable and loved characters in Marvel Comics, as evidenced by the fact that yours truly is a fan of her.

What does Rogue have to do with the push for feminization in fiction? For a long time in the comics and cartoons, Rogue’s most apparent abilities were the ones which she had stolen from Danvers, to the point that I, as a young viewer, thought they were her actual mutant powers. Throughout the 1990s comics and cartoons, Rogue would punch or throw the villains into walls, knock down buildings, or hold up heavy pieces of buildings during different battles.

This meant that she was able to shake off resultant punishment in a battle as well. While fighting several Sentinels in the 1990s pilot, one of the robots hit Rogue in the back with his fist, sending her smack into the floor. Lifting herself up on her hands and knees at the bottom of the crater, Rogue shot the robot a smile and chided it for its bad behavior. Then she flew up, grabbed it under the arm, and threw it to the floor, where it promptly flew to pieces.

That is a pretty impressive display of strength, you have to admit. And I was young enough that such displays excited me. I happily rooted for Rogue whenever she pulled off an amazing feat of strength like that. I was a young, impressionable child who loved superheroes. I wanted to be strong when I grew up, strong enough to fight evil the way that I saw my heroes fighting it every Saturday morning. It is completely normal.

I do not know when it happened, but after a while Rogue’s apparent superpowers stopped being the main reason for my interest in her. It might have been the episode where she and Nightcrawler learned they were related through Mystique, or it might have been a different show entirely. All I know is that, after a while, I liked Rogue for Rogue and not for her superpowers.

Again, you ask, what does all this have to do with the strong woman trope we are having forced on us in fiction today? Some people have said that the feats of strength Rogue pulled off in the ‘90s might have been overdone.

This is entirely possible, even probable, but I would like it if these critics would keep a few things about her in mind. Some of the reasons Rogue’s fighting style in the ‘90s (and before and after in the comics) may have looked improbable were because Rogue herself did not actually know how to use her strength, or she was relying on Danvers’ understanding of how to use increased strength during a battle.

And, because she had Danvers’ indestructability, Rogue might have thrown herself into certain situations for no other reason than to protect a teammate who would squish far more easily than she would. These are possibilities I would suggest for any maneuvers the writers had her perform which people find hard to believe. I think they should remember that, from Rogue’s point of view, these maneuvers might have seemed totally normal or reasonable to her, given what she knew of using her super strength. Rogue did not have the best education, which we’ll cover in more depth below, and so she did not and does not know as much about physics as readers/viewers and others do.

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The other thing viewers and readers should keep in mind when they watch Rogue fight is her absorbing ability. If she suddenly acquires the strength of the Unstoppable Juggernaut and begins throwing him around, it can look a little silly to us. Here is a girl who barely comes up to Juggernaut’s hip whirling him around over her head like a ragdoll. Under normal circumstances, it is totally implausible and stupid looking.

But Rogue is not normal, especially when she absorbs the powers of others. If she absorbs Juggernaut’s power, then she has his strength. Whether she has it in proportion to her size, weight, and height does not matter; you could drop a building on her while she has Juggernaut’s powers and she won’t even get a bloddy nose, for the simple reason that he would not get a bloody nose. Unfair? Maybe, but this is fantasy we are talking about here. We enjoy it precisely because it allows us to imagine stuff we cannot actually do.

The other thing to remember is that Rogue cannot just activate the powers she steals willy-nilly. She has to access the memories of the people who actually own these powers so she can avoid blowing up the countryside or flooding Manhattan. If she wants to use Juggernaut’s own strength against him, she will rely on his memories – muscle and conscious/subconscious – to make the best possible use of his powers. Juggernaut’s fighting style is not Rogue’s, nor should it be. But when she immerses herself, however shallowly she does it, in his memories this means that we will see her fighting the way that he does. It looks ridiculous, but when you keep this aspect of her powers in mind it becomes understandable and allowable.

Now this does NOT mean the writers should not be held to a high standard when they portray her pulling off these feats, but it does mean that it behooves us, as the audience, to remember the McGuffin that allows Rogue to survive these battles and/or perfom these stunts. It is a balance between the writers knowing their craft and the audience accepting the parameters of the story they are telling. Writers who abuse or talk down to their audience must rightly be called out for their arrogance. But an audience that will accept a good story with thousands of impossible McGuffins scattered throughout it should not throw stones in glass houses. That is my opinion, anyway.

Now we will discuss why Rogue is not an “SFC” or “Strong Female Character” in the vein that Carol Danvers, Thorette, and Thundra are.

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Long story short, Rogue does not qualify as the modern strong woman. First, her character design has fluctuated since the ‘90s and she no longer has the muscle structure of Ms. Marvel. Rogue is nothing like Carol Danvers, Thundra, or Thorette. These female characters are cardboard cutouts designed to appease and appeal to the Femi-Nazis, who are forever unhappy and whose hunger for the destruction of Western culture is utterly insatiable. It may appear from her 1990s debut – and, for all I know, some of Marvel’s newest stories – that Rogue qualifies as a “SFC,” but the fact is that Rogue is not a cardboard cutout, nor is she a strong woman in the sense that she is faster, smarter, and stronger than the guys.

One of the first people to admit that she is not smarter than almost anyone you could name would be Rogue herself. She is capable of outwitting an opponent and she is not stupid, but she is not a scholar, or a mechanic, or a super genius, or any of the other “SFC” tropes. What is more, she does not – or did not – pretend to be any of the above when I watched her on television and knew her in my limited way in the comics.

Most of the knowledge that Rogue possesses of higher mathematics, scholarly enterprises, etc., is knowledge that she stole from others. In the comics, Rogue ran away from home when she was thirteen. She spent years on the road after this, and a few more years under Mystique’s “guidance” before joining the X-Men. I do not think there was a lot of time in there for regular schooling, do you, readers? No, there was not. So this means her formal education ended, practically speaking, after she left home.

Now Danvers went through all the schooling necessary to become an Air Force pilot and Jane Foster – who used to be a perfectly respectable character – had to go through extensive schooling and training to become a nurse. We are just supposed to accept that Thundra, being from an alternate universe where women are the dominant sex (ignore the barfing sounds on the other side of the screen, please, readers) is naturally smarter than any man on this Earth or her own – though it is funny how she never shows it.

None of the above applies to Rogue. Everything she has learned since she discovered her powers has been taught to her by circumstance and by the consequences of her choices; her smarts were earned in the school of hard knocks, not in a brick and mortar building. Danvers, for all her supposed superiority to men, learns nothing from the battles she takes a part in. The evidence of this is that she is one of the few Marvel characters with no ability to resist telepathic control for even a fraction of a second. Rogue has had to learn to be tough to survive; Danvers survives through the writers’ stubborn intent to keep her alive.

In moments of downtime in the 1990s series, Rogue also had a generally cheerful demeanor. She smiled, laughed, and joked regularly; this showed that she was someone who genuinely loved life, despite the numerous punches she had been dealt by it.

In contrast, Danvers’ sense of humor is thinner than cellophane plastic. When she teases or jokes, it sounds tinny and unreal; when she smiles, it does not soften her features. It makes her look like she is stretching her face to the breaking point.

Something else that differentiates Rogue from the “SFC” trope is that she is vulnerable. I read a book some time ago by Fr. Dwight Longenecker called The Romance of Religion. One of the interesting things he mentions in the book is that hero(es) of stories tend to have a fault or a wound that they must bear as they do their duty or carry on their quest.

Looking out over most of fiction – and especially Marvel – I have to think he is on to something here. From Spider-Man to T’Challa, from Captain America to Punisher, from Hawkeye to Ben Grimm, most of Marvel’s characters have some sort of emotional injury that they carry with them wherever they go. And ninety-nine point nine percent of them have character flaws they have to either overcome or continually wrestle to control – although by now, that fact is out the window. In Marvel’s – and our – brave new world, flaws are to be embraced, not resisted. They are natural to us while self-control is just an artificial restraint society uses to keep us down. (Yes, I am being sarcastic, readers.)

In the original stories, Rogue’s great emotional weakness was her inability to make skin contact with another human being – or any other being, for that matter. She had to wear longsleeved shirts and long pants, as well as gloves, all the time. She could not pat Wolverine on the hand with her own bare hand. She could not let someone brush up against her arms if her shirt, jacket, or suit somehow lost its sleeves – and she could never, ever kiss a man for more than a few seconds. And even the briefest of kisses would be dangerous for him.

This last was particularly painful for her because, during the ‘90s, Gambit was actively courting her. Oh, he would flirt with plenty of other girls during the series, but the one he consistently went after with every ounce of charm he could muster was Rogue.

Usually, Rogue would flirt back, but that was as far as she could and would let it go. Aside from two different times that I know of where Gambit kissed her, Rogue had to put her glove over his mouth and kiss that to show her feelings for him. On more than one occasion, her frustration with her inability to safely touch someone, anyone, would drive her to anger and/or cause her to make an avoidable mistake.

This was Rogue’s greatest vulnerability, but she had others. When captured along with the other X-Men by Mr. Sinister and his Nasty Boyz in the ‘90s TV series, Rogue admitted to Gambit that she was scared. Sinister had found a way to block mutant powers in this episode, which meant that both Rogue’s innate absorption abillities and the powers she had taken from Danvers were suppressed. “I don’t know how to fight these guys without my powers,” she admitted to Gambit.

Now, readers, can any of you name one single time that Carol Danvers has admitted that she is afraid of something/someone? I cannot. To the best of my knowledge, Danvers has never once shown fear. She might – MIGHT – show concern, but most of the time when she is captured or in a situation that looks grim, she just becomes angry. Thorette seems to be going the same route, while Thundra has always had a demonstrable temper and no real sense of, or respect for, fear.

Rogue certainly has a temper, but in this episode, anger was the furthest thing from her mind. Her primary emotion was fear because she did not know how to fight without using her powers. What “SFC” shows or admits to fear? I do not know of any, but if you can name me one, readers, I will look into her.

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In the series that followed the ‘90s X-Men, the writers changed Rogue’s appearance. They dropped Ms. Marvel from the series’ storyline and left Rogue to rely on her absorption ability alone. They also gave her and the rest of the teenage X-Men close combat and weapons’ training.

While this was a plus for Rogue, leaving her a way to protect herself if she could not somehow bring her mutant powers to bear, in my opinion the writers did make one mistake with her characterization in this series: Evolution showed Rogue as an anti-social teenage girl who was into Gothic makeup and clothing. Forget that her makeup would not have lasted five seconds in battle (yet it somehow lasted the entire series), the change in her demeanor was not something I think was really necessary. Rogue did well in the series but I did – and do – miss the cheerful zest for life she exhibited in the ‘90s.

Personally, I suspect the writers gave Rogue more angst because they thought it would sell. It must have, because the series lasted four seasons. Her tendency to brood and lose her temper did not detract from her willingness to help others, which was good, and this demeanor did give her a chance to connect with Wolverine as a father figure. While this last was especially nice, I still miss her earliler deportment a lot. If Marvel ever rights itself and starts telling good stories again, I hope they give Rogue back the joi de vive she had in the ‘90s.

One other good thing about Rogue’s appearance in Evolution was her shorter hair. It is a well known fact that sexual predators target women with long hair because then they can grab hold of it and use that hold to force the woman to go where they wish. Such a hold is painful – if you do not believe me, readers, try it on yourself. (Trust me, it hurts.)

One of the strange things that writers for modern films and stories – including comics – keep doing is they are sending their heroines into combat with long hair. This is silly, as it can be a weakness; the heroine’s hair could catch in a machine and suck her down a hole, or her opponent(s) could grab it and use that hold to keep her still. Your heroine may look great with long hair, but remember, readers and writers, that even Princess Leia’s hair was done up in such a way that a Stormtrooper couldn’t grab it and yank her back. There was also no chance of her long locks getting caught in the Millenium Falcon’s inductors because it was pinned up and out of the way.

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Allowing men into combat with beards is no more practical than sending women into a fight with long hair. (Yes, I AM looking at Cap’s beard in Infinity War.) One of the reasons the Romans shaved was so that, when they got into personal combat with an enemy, he would not be able grab the Roman’s beard and hold him immobilized long enough to behead him. Ask the Romans how they know about this.

Now most stories are fantasy, of course, and in some cases you can actually excuse the female characters’ long hair (who is going to be able to get close enough to Storm to grab her hair, I’d like to know?). However, Rogue’s shortened hair is not a problem for me, nor is her more feminine muscle tone.

This is why I do not and cannot see Rogue as the Feminist ideal of female superiority. Rogue is a normal woman with a power that she sees, with justification, as a curse rather than a gift. She has insecurities and fears; she makes mistakes and she is not well-educated outside of life’s hard lessons. Her strength does not come from her superpower or the powers she steals – it comes from her williness to fight evil. It comes from her desire to protect her friends and to make up for her errors in judgement. It comes of her willingness to consistently choose to be a heroine, even when doing so hurts her the most.

This is why she is one of my favorite X-Men and one of my favorite Marvel characters. This is why I cannot consider her a member of the “SFC” club, at least in her previous portrayals in the comics and cartoons. These days I can believe that Marvel would erase her from its canon if the banana brains in charge thought that would get them new subscribers and buyers. If they are going to try and make her the big, strong female character stereotype, they will ruin her as they have ruined all the other characters they are abusing.

But there is nothing I can do to stop them from torturing themselves like this. And at this point, telling them, “Hey, your company is bleeding money all over the place,” appears to be a waste of breath. If they want to bankrupt themselves, then nothing I say or do will stop them. I can only hope that when that happens, someone who loves the characters will buy the company and that they will hire good writers to clean up the mess. And yes, I would volunteer to be one of those writers in a heartbeat.

I hope it does not come to that, but it looks like it might. But if there is one thing Marvel’s myriad heroes have taught me, Rogue included, it’s that even when you get punched in the teeth, it does not mean the battle is over. It just means you got punched in the teeth. That is no reason to give up the fight.

So no, I do not intend to stop fighting. Only dead fish go with the flow, and I do not intend to be a dead fish. There is more than one way to fight, and the best way to fight Marvel’s current hierarchy is to introduce potential new Marvel fans to original Marvel fare.

In the interest of doing that, I recommend that you look up the 1990s X-Men televsion series, readers. Then study up on the characters in it, along with Marvel’s other heroes and heroines. Read between the lines; it is not the battles the characters take part in that are important, or the powers they wield, or the atrocities the current writers are making them commit –

It is who they are as characters that is important. This is what Marvel has decided to forget….

…..So this is what we have to remember and pass on to others.

EXCELSIOR!!!!

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Spotlight: An Introduction to Marvel’s X-Men, Part 1

The X-Men at the end of Marvel's X-Men: Evolution

The X-Men at the end of Marvel’s X-Men: Evolution

Greetings, readers! By now, most of you are aware of the fact that I am a Marvel fan, and I really enjoy Marvel’s Avengers, inside and outside of the theaters.

But in all my talk about the Avengers, I have let my old favorites, the X-Men, go by the wayside. Mostly, this is my own fault, but I would say that part of the reason is how Marvel’s writers – for the comics and the films – have been treating the X-Men over the last few years.

As I said in previous Spotlight! posts, the X-Men and Spider-Man were my first introductions to the world of Marvel Comics. Up until a few years ago, I thought that they were the only characters Marvel owned, aside from the Fantastic Four (who I knew of peripherally for many years) and the Hulk.

Much has been said in favor of the X-Men films, but for my part, I detest them. Where Marvel’s Avengers films have a clear roster, clear origins, and tie back easily to the earliest Marvel Comics, the X-Men films are less understandable. The roster for the X-Men franchise is almost always in flux and new mutants are constantly coming and going – even within the same film! There are literally thousands of mutants in Marvel Comics. I only know a few of them. How can I possibly be expected to keep up with all of the characters popping in and out of an X-Men film?

Plus, there have been so many different versions of the X-Men that the relationships in the films are not the relationships which I grew up with. Even a dedicated X-Fan like myself ends up with crossed eyes after catching a glimpse – a glimpse, readers! – of an X-Men film.

So today I thought I would give a little history on the X-Men I know about, where they come from, and who their main enemies are. If you are already well versed in X-Men lore (and know who everyone in the films are the moment they appear) then this list is probably not for you. If you are a newcomer to the Marvel Universe, feel free to consider this a semi-crash course in X-Men lore. Others can tell you more, but I can tell you what I know. So, readers, this is where we start:

What are the X-Men? The X-Men are a superhero team made up entirely of mutants. What is a mutant? Well, unlike real mutants, the mutants of the Marvel Universe are people – men and women – born with an advanced X gene. This advanced X gene is what gives them their powers. These people, thought to be the next stage in human evolution, are called mutants.

A mutant’s power(s) usually manifests itself when they hit their teen or pre-teen years, but some can use their powers from the time they are born. Some mutations in the Marvel Universe are obvious, others are not. Jean Grey, one of the original X-Men, is an example of the latter. Her mutant powers are telekinesis and telepathy; she looks completely normal but is in fact beyond average. Other mutants have very obvious mutant traits that make them stand out in a crowd: fish features, skin that has turned to crystal, wings, twisted faces, fur, or strangely colored eyes and/or skin.

Mutants are known in the Marvel Universe as Homo superior and some people hate them simply for being different, almost the way they hate the Hulk. Some of these people hate mutants because they think that, in time, mutants will outnumber normal humans, who will become extinct as a result. I have never truly bought into that idea myself; but that is what these mutant haters say they believe.

In response to these haters, some mutants have formed radical terrorist groups that say mutants should rule over normal humans. Many mutants simply want to be left alone, and their fear of the haters on both sides of the argument leads many to either hide their mutations or disappear into the sewers – literally.

The X-Men stand in the middle. They believe that mutants and normal humans can live side by side the same way that normal humans have managed to live together since the beginning of time. Those who hate mutants and those who hate normal humans often find the X-Men standing in their way; the X-Men’s job is to promote peace between mutants and humans, and that means protecting both sides from those who hate them. This brings up the next question…

Who are the X-Men? There have been a great many X-Men over the years. Even with all the time in the world and all your patience, readers, I could not list them all, simply because I do not know them all. But the ones I do know I will list here:

 

Professor Charles Xavier/Professor X: Regarded as the most powerful telepath on the planet, Professor Charles Xavier – better known to us X-Fans simply as ‘Professor X’ or ‘The Prof.’ – is the founder of the X-Men as well as the “School for Gifted Youngsters.” This school is both the headquarters of the X-Men and an actual school where young mutants are taught regular academics, as well as being trained in the use of their powers.

A geneticist with knowledge of many other sciences, Professor Xavier suffered an injury in his early adolescence which crippled him. When he saw how humans and mutants were not getting along, often over simple things or a lack of understanding, he decided to do something about it.

Professor Xavier assembled several young mutants and taught them how to use their powers for good. Then he sent these youths and adolescents out to do battle with the forces arrayed against peaceful coexistence between mutants and humans. He has had to rebuild the team from time to time – his first students hit adulthood and decided to retire, or at least take a leave of absence, leaving their cause largely undefended. The Professor then had to find new mutants to take up the banner. Much like Merlin of Camelot, the Professor has been the grounding force for the X-Men and the voice of wisdom they all turn to – even the sour-tempered ones!

 

Scott Summers/Cyclops: The first youth to be recruited by Professor Xavier, Cyclops’ mutant powers are as much curse as gift. When he hit his early teens, Cyclops began having headaches and, one day, beams of force projected from his eyes. He could not shut the beams off; only closing his eyes stopped them. The Professor took him in and equipped him with a set of ruby quartz sunglasses, as well as a visor with a ruby quartz lens which could be lifted to allow Cyclops to project his “eye beams” in directed, physical attacks. Only ruby quartz is capable of containing Cyclops’ “Optic Blast.”

The sheer power of the force beams Cyclops projects can burn through most any substance on Earth and probably a few extra-terrestrial metals as well. Super-powered beings or mutants with healing factors/super strength can withstand his power, though it hurts those with healing factors. Otherwise, Cyclops’ “Optic Blast” can destroy almost anything and kill practically anyone.

Because of the danger of his power, Cyclops is somewhat stoic and withdrawn. With no way to shut off his power, he feels cursed, and this drives a wedge between him and most everyone else but the Professor and the love of Cyclops’ life: Jean Grey. Despite all this, “Cyke” is an excellent tactician and field commander, with natural leadership skills and tendencies. He may not be as personable and likeable as Cap, but the X-Men trust him about as much as the Avengers trust Steve Rogers. (I never really took to Cyclops myself, but I literally cannot think of anyone else leading the X-Men into battle.)

 

Jean Grey: Jean was recruited by Professor Xavier not long after Cyclops was. The two quickly started doing the “Romance Two-step” and Cyke has never really loved anyone but her. A powerful telepath and telekinetic, Jean was the daughter of one of Professor Xavier’s friends. Kind, and with a personality almost as interesting as Cyclops’ (yawn), Jean acts as the Professor’s voice in arguments between the X-Men on the field and in the school. She’s no spitfire, but you do not want to get her angry, either.

Jean’s history with the X-Men is beyond complicated. I do not know all the details myself, mostly because it is all so confusing! Jean is typically kind, friendly, and always willing to help out. But I never really liked her or thought she was the cat’s meow. Still, I cannot see anyone else by Cyclops’ side, seconding for him in the midst of a battle, or breaking up fights as easily as she does.

 

James “Logan” Howlett/Wolverine: Known as Wolverine or “Logan” since he first showed up in the comics, Wolverine has to be the most recognizable member of the X-Men, in no small part due to the fact that he is central to the X-Men film franchise. When exactly he was born I am not sure, though recent rewrites put his birthday somewhere around the 1820s or 1830s!

Traditionally, Wolverine has been a Canadian, but now I am not so sure the writers have left even that part of what little history he had outside of the X-Men alone. For all intents and purposes, though, as far as I know he is a Canadian citizen.

Logan’s mutant power is a healing factor that allows him to survive the worst wounds – up to and including nuclear explosions – and is constantly regenerating his flesh. A side benefit of this is his enhanced, almost animal, senses. He can hear, see, and smell as well as the animal he uses for a codename. His healing factor is also the reason for his longevity, not to mention his apparent “youth.” After all, he does not look like a man who has lived two hundred plus years, now does he?

One other thing Wolverine’s mutant power has given him is a set of three bone claws in each forearm. These claws extend from his forearms and slide out of the skin on the back of his hands, locking into place just above his knuckles. His skin has to heal closed every time he retracts these claws.

Subjected to an experiment at some point in his past, Wolverine’s skeleton was coated with adamantium, a fictional metal in the Marvel Universe which is heavy but as durable as vibranium, the metal which was used to make Cap’s shield. (Interestingly, Cap’s shield was originally made from an experimental mixture of vibranium and adamantium; recent re-writes have made it a purely vibranium weapon.) This is why Wolverine’s claws appear to be made of metal; they are bone coated in metal.

Wolverine’s metal skeleton adds to his near immortality. The guy is extremely hard to kill, but he has come to the brink of death more often than even Rocket Raccoon. Like Rocket, he does not enjoy pain and has to psych himself up to take extreme punishment in battle; the adamantium in his body should also kill him, as so much metal in the body is toxic to a normal human.

But once again, Wolverine’s healing factor keeps him alive despite the metal bonded to his bones (which makes him weigh a lot more than he should and makes it hard for him to swim, not to mention the trouble he would have going through metal detectors).

Sometime after the experiment which gave him his metal skeleton, Wolverine’s memories were wiped from his mind. He can – or could – only recall fragments of his former life, one of which was the moniker “Logan.” Always a tough guy, the fact that he could not remember anything about himself and the fact that he regularly survives things which should kill him, makes Wolverine an unhappy guy you do NOT want to irritate to the point of anger. He has a temper to at least match the Hulk’s lowest anger level – and no one knows just how low Hulk’s rage can go.

Wolverine snarls, growls, and is prone to animal, berserker rages when he is incensed or the pain – physical, mental, or emotional – becomes too much for him. He is hard to get close to but he is not above being gentle; Wolverine has mentored at least three girls in his tenure as an X-Man.

Honestly, I think Wolverine’s penchant for being gentle toward these girls, as well as his never-leave-a-friend-behind sense of honor and loyalty, are what endeared him to me. It is too bad he is so often shown slashing and hacking people to bits in the films; I know he is capable of doing it and has done it in the comics, but it was always a side of himself that he hated and tried to suppress, or at least control. That said, Wolverine is definitely an X-Man you can trust to watch your back. He will growl and snarl about it, but he will not just let someone die. This is the Wolverine I know – or knew, rather.

 

Ororo Munroe/Storm: I thought Storm was one of the coolest members of the X-Men. Born in Cairo to a Kenyan princess and an American photographer, Storm was orphaned at the age of four when her parents’ apartment building was accidentally bombed. Trapped in the rubble for days afterward, Storm’s greatest weakness is her claustrophobia. She is terrified of small spaces and will either collapse as her fear overwhelms her or try to bust her way out of her enclosure.

Storm’s powers manifested when she was roughly thirteen years old. She can manipulate weather patterns, a power known as “weather warping,” in order to generate storms of all kinds, high winds, tornadoes, rain, and she can even cast lightning bolts out of a clear sky. By this method she can also move weather patterns around enough to ensure clear skies for a day or two, though she does not do this very often, as far as I know.

Unlike Thor, who can make new weather patterns out of thin air, Storm is only a “weather witch.” She needs existing weather patterns to generate her storms, and if she pulls too much moisture from one area or too much dry air from another, she can upset the balance of the weather in a region for months, if not longer.

Storm’s powers are closely linked to her emotional state. If greatly angered or frightened, the weather quickly turns wild as she starts whipping up storms, often without clear intention. When trapped in a small space, Storm will unleash her powers in order to blast her way into the open again. If that does not work, she collapses and becomes weak, unable to take being confined as she was when she was a child.

In order to keep her powers under control, Storm is often the center of calm in battles of will among the X-Men. This adds to her regal bearing and motherly tendencies. I cannot recall one X-Man who has ever been afraid to go to Storm about a problem. She is always willing to talk, listen, or be a motherly figure to one of the younger X-Men.

That being said, Storm has the temper Jean Grey so conspicuously lacks. She is not averse to telling someone off for bad behavior – even Wolverine has received lectures from her! And if Storm witnesses an injustice or an act of evil, she will act to correct it – immediately. The more severe the act of evil, the more likely she is to react with extreme prejudice. She is not a lady you want to cross!

 

Remy LeBeau/Gambit: A former thief from Louisiana, Gambit is a great hand at cards. He’s an even better flirt, able and willing to charm the ladies in a heartbeat (think Fandral, but with a Cajun accent and dark brown hair). How Gambit came to be an X-Man I am not sure. But at some point, he met the X-Men and decided he liked them better than thieving. So he joined the team and became one of its most valuable members.

Gambit’s power is the ability to charge any object with kinetic energy.   Gambit’s power accelerates an object’s molecules so that they are going as fast as they can go. As long as he holds the object, everything’s fine. But once he releases it – BOOM! The object will explode, and the bigger the object, the bigger the explosion.

Gambit’s trademark weapons are a thin staff he can use to channel his ability and decks of playing cards. (Hey, he didn’t get the name “Gambit” for nothing!) The cards are what he uses most, charging and throwing them like grenades. They make remarkably high-yield explosives; Gambit has blasted down doors, vehicles, and numerous other objects with his cards.

When he uses them against people, Gambit generally lessens the explosive impact of his “grenades.” At least, I have never seen him blow someone up and turn them into a pile of ash. Knock them down, stun them, yes, but I have never seen him kill anyone, which is one of the reasons why I am so upset at Marvel’s writers (see my post “Poker: Gambit Style” for more on that).

Gambit is a thief and a scamp, but at the end of the day, he is an honorable man who will do the right thing – with his own style and flair, mind you!

 

Anna Marie/Rogue: Growing up, I had four favorite X-Men: Storm, Wolverine, Gambit, and Rogue. I did not know a lot about Rogue there for a while – I was really young when I started watching the X-Men, so a lot of stuff flew over my head – but there were a few apparently “obvious” things about her. She was a Southern Belle who could fly, was nearly indestructible, and could hit with the force of a freight train.

Only, those are not actually Rogue’s natural mutant abilities. She stole them from Carol Danvers, who in the 1990s still went by the moniker Miss Marvel. Miss Marvel ended up with Kree DNA in her system and, as a result, gained the above abilities (as well as a few others). Donning a costume, she became the heroine and part-time Avenger Miss Marvel (in the comics, she worked with the X-Men on occasion and was good friends with Wolverine).

Rogue’s actual mutant ability is far more deadly. When she makes skin contact with a person, Rogue absorbs their memories, abilities, and a portion of their psyches. Mostly, this is described as a “life-force” draining ability. I have always preferred to think that her power makes her something like a human computer. Other people are the CDs, discs, or “documents” to her; she touches them and sort of “downloads” their files.

The longer Rogue keeps skin contact with a person, the more she drains off. A light touch knocks someone out for a few hours, maybe a day; a longer one, several days. If she does not let go, odds are good the person she touched will end up in a coma – or dead.

Rogue first discovered her power when it manifested. She and her boyfriend were having their first kiss and suddenly he passed out. He was in a coma for a few days, but eventually recovered (according to the TV series, the comics have a different take, I think). But Rogue did not recover. She still had a “copy” of his mind in her head; what is more, anyone else she touched got “downloaded” into her head as well.

So she ran away from home and was found by the mutant villain Mystique who, learning about what Rogue could do, took her in and trained her to use her powers…but this was in order that Rogue might be used to aid Mystique in all her plots and schemes, one of which landed Rogue in a fight with Carol Danvers.

During the fight, the two made skin contact. Rogue tried to break free when Danvers’ overwhelming power and anger scared her but Danvers, her Kree DNA whipping her into a fury, did not let go until she passed out. Whereupon Rogue discovered she had absorbed a good portion of Danvers’ powers. Instead of fading away, like all the other powers and talents Rogue had absorbed previously (the powers she absorbs never stay for more than a few days), Danvers powers appeared to be hers for keeps.

Unfortunately, so was a good portion of Carol Danvers’ mind. Danvers’ body remained in a coma but her psyche was largely trapped in Rogue’s mind for years. The separation made Danvers a little loopy (in the cartoon series); she would furiously “attack” Rogue or take control of her. Rogue had learned to deal with the copies of other people’s minds in her head; they eventually faded to phantoms she could barely hear. They had no control over her. Danvers did not fade, and she could take control of Rogue, and Mystique both could not and would not help Rogue get her out of her mind.

At the same time, Rogue began to break down as she realized just what she had done to Danvers. Stealing the woman’s powers was one thing, but she had also locked Danvers in her own mind and body, leaving Danvers’ real body in a coma. She had practically committed murder.

The remorse was too much, and – coupled with the fact that Mystique wanted her to go on using her absorbing powers – drove Rogue to run away again. She ended up with the X-Men, using her actual powers only when the team needed information or it was necessary to help others. For the most part, she relied instead on Danvers’ powers. As a footnote, it is largely because of Rogue that Gambit joined the team. Used to stealing, Gambit was unprepared when a thief named Rogue stole his heart.

 

Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler: A mutant from Germany, Kurt’s mutation is one of those “Hi, I’m a mutant!” gifts. From the time he was born, Kurt has had two toes on each foot, two fingers and a thumb on each hand, a tail, blue fur/skin, yellow eyes, and pointy ears. His overall appearance makes him look like a demon, and so he was persecuted for many years for his appearance.

But his “terrifying” features did not dissuade a German couple from adopting him after they found him practically out in the middle of nowhere. Kurt’s mother abandoned him after he was born, as she was accused of having a “demonic” child. It was years before he knew who she was; as far as I know, he never has tried to find his father.

Kurt’s appearance has ever been at odds with his personality. Instead of being dark and broody, Kurt is often the sunshine on the team. He cracks jokes, smiles, laughs, teases, all with the aim of cheering up his teammates and friends. He has often been called “swashbuckling” and is a very chivalrous, kindhearted fellow. Although beat up, mocked, and screamed at by everyone but his adopted parents as he grew up, Kurt is one of those rare people who turned out just fine despite the persecution he underwent.

His mutation’s physical effects are obvious, but Kurt’s mutant power is not. He is a teleporter who can disappear and reappear up to two miles from his particular position – but only so long as he can clearly visualize where he is going. Otherwise, things get complicated. His ability takes him through another dimension at the speed of, well, thought I guess. Going through and coming back means he leaves behind a puff of smoke and there is usually a “bamf!” sound as air fills the place he left behind.

Nightcrawler’s body is also perfectly formed so that he can almost instinctively pull off gymnastic and contortionist tricks. In a battle, Nightcrawler will often teleport around an opponent (it is not hard for him to teleport short distances), striking and disappearing before his enemy has time to catch him.

As things turn out, Rogue is Kurt’s adopted sister. Mystique is Kurt’s birth mother, and because of his obvious resemblance to her and his also obvious inability to hide his mutation, as she can, she felt she had no choice but to abandon him.

Despite all this heartache, however, ‘Crawler has remained one of the X-Men most loyal to Professor X’s dream of peace between mutants and humans. He is well liked by most every other hero and heroine in the Marvel Universe (including Wolverine), and the fans are not far behind those heroes. I have to say, Nightcrawler never struck me as very demonic-looking. Maybe the first time I saw him, but not after I got to know him. I still wonder how people in the comics and cartoons see him and shout, “Demon!” Or, just as bad, “Monster!”

Tsk, tsk. Don’t judge a book by its cover, people!

 

Peter Rasputin/Colossus: A big farmboy from Soviet Russia, Peter Rasputin is a warrior only because he needs to be. An expert painter, Colossus is said to have a “poet’s soul,” and despite being six feet five (or more) inches tall, Peter is generally a gentle giant.

But get him angry at your own peril. Colossus’ mutant power is to turn his skin into an organic metal. Metal “plates” will suddenly start appearing on his body when he activates his power. Soon, from the top of his head to the soles of his feet, he is entirely made of metal. Depending on the TV series you find him in, Colossus can be laconic or open, friendly, and willing to talk. For the most part, in the comics he was an easy, charming, innocent fella who had a knack for walking smack into trouble.

He is loyal to a fault and kind to the point that he is often easily taken advantage of. But he is an X-Man through and through.

 

Katherine “Kitty” Pryde/Shadowcat: A Chicago girl, “Kitty” Pryde was inducted into the X-Men at twelve or thirteen years old, after her powers manifested.

What is her power? Kitty can destabilize her molecules so that she can pass through solid objects. Called “phasing” by everyone in the Marvel Universe, she essentially becomes insubstantial. In this state she can walk through walls, bullets, or even opponents, all without coming to harm.

Her power can also be used offensively. Although I cannot recall her using her power to internally hurt people, Kitty can phase into a person, turn a part of her body solid, and whack her opponent wherever she can reach. I am not sure just how she does it, but she uses a similar trick to fry computers and other machinery. This either leaves the tech sparking and useless or preps it to blow up. If she concentrates, when she is holding on to someone or something, she can “phase” the other person or object through solid walls – or bullets – as well as herself.

Kitty has learned a great deal since she entered the X-Men. She is one of their top fighters, has excellent leadership skills, and is quite capable of taking care of herself. But that has not stopped her from being a friendly, open lady who follows in the footsteps of her “battle mother,” Storm. The two kind of adopted each other in their years as X-Men; Storm still occasionally refers to Shadowcat as “Kitten,” a play on her childhood nickname “Kitty.”

She is one of several heroes who went through a number of codenames before settling on one. In her case, the codename she stuck with is “Shadowcat.”

 

Warren Worthington III/Angel: The Tony Stark of the X-Men, Warren is a typical rich gentleman. He has the looks, the money, the charm, the manners, and the heart-throbbing smile of a knight errant. As well as a pair of six foot or so long wings which he was literally born with.

These white-feathered appendages gave Warren’s parents no end of headaches. Being a well-to-do family (Warren has his own private jet!), they could not exactly let the whole world know their son had wings! Can you imagine the tabloid headlines on that, I ask you?

So they spent most of his youth making sure Warren’s wings were well hidden. I cannot say how Warren feels/felt toward his parents; they loved him just fine, it was his wings they had a problem with. Anyway, Warren was eventually recruited to be one of the first X-Men by Professor Xavier, and he made a dashing addition to the team.

But, even more so than Tony Stark, Marvel’s writers put Warren through the wringer. In one battle, Warren’s wings were seriously damaged. His father had them amputated, both to save his son’s life and to get rid of those troublesome appendages once and for all. Distraught, Angel tried everything he could to regain his wings. When that did not work, he considered jumping off a building instead.

Archangel

But one of the X-Men’s worst enemies got hold of him before he could do that and gave him what he wanted so badly, a new set of wings, made of metal and capable of shooting out knife-like “feathers.”

The new wings, though, came at a terrible price. Angel, now called Archangel, was enslaved to the man who had given him his wings and was subsequently further altered. He now has blue skin and deals with a “dark side” this enemy programmed into him; though he has control of it by and large, he is not the debonair knight errant with the kind heart that he used to be. I can’t think of him without feeling sincerely sorry for him.

 

Henry “Hank” McCoy/Beast: A scientist and lover of Shakespeare’s works, Hank McCoy’s mutation was not very noticeable for a good portion of his life. Early on, he just looked like a meaty, muscled, ape-framed fella who had a nice face and the keen mind of a scholar. He was a great football player, too.

Beast had all the strength and agility of the ape he physically resembled – that was his mutant ability. But after a while, Beast got tired of being a mutant. He wanted to be a normal man. So he whipped up a serum which was supposed to get rid of his mutant abilities.

Only, the serum backfired. Big time. Instead of losing his mutant powers, Beast accidentally increased them. He grew blue fur, fangs, his senses of hearing, smell, and sight increased – and he gained, for the first time, animal instincts. As well as a new, animalistic fury that can nearly match Wolverine’s berserker rage.

That is the Beast from the comics and some of the newer cartoons. The Beast I knew in the 1990s cartoons certainly looked the part, but he rarely went into an animal rage. Mostly, he was the calm, philosophical scientist who quoted Shakespeare as he knocked a couple of helmeted goons’ heads together.

When he is not in a temper, Beast is as kind and friendly as he was before he took the serum. Unable to lead a perfectly normal life anymore, he stays at the X-Men’s headquarters when not involved in a mission or a battle. He is an amazing teacher and most everybody on the team, even Wolverine, respects and likes him. Unofficially, he is also considered to be one of the smartest guys in the Marvel Universe, just below the “three smartest” heroes and villains in Marvel history. (Interestingly, he briefly served as an Avenger and was trained in hand-to-hand combat by Captain America.)

 

Robert “Bobby” Drake/Iceman: Bobby was in his mid-teens when the Professor recruited him to be one of his first X-Men. Iceman gets his name from his mutant power: he can freeze moisture in the air to form snow or ice. He most often makes ice, covering himself in a thick layer of it as extra armor. Thus Iceman is, obviously, as immune to the cold as Loki.

Iceman also learned to make Hot Wheels type “ice tracks” which he uses to get around. If I had to compare him to another Marvel character, I would say he is probably a lot like Spider-Man. He makes wisecracks, is usually genial, and started out as one of the greenest rookies on record. But he is a tough opponent to beat, even if his enemy has heat powers to challenge his cold, and is a fairly able commander.

 

Jubilation “Jubilee” Lee: Jubilee was the youngest member of the X-Men in the 1990s cartoon. A California girl who was taken in by foster parents, Jubilee’s powers manifested not long after she moved into her new home. She has the ability to shoot streamers of plasma from her hands (I always thought she shot fireworks out of her fingers). The plasma stings, apparently, and can wreck machines even better than Kitty can.

Lost and confused after her powers manifested, Jubilee fell in with the X-Men and, even after a misunderstanding that saw her shoot Wolverine in the back, managed to become part of the team. And odd as it may seem, Wolverine took her under his wing not long after; for most of the series, the two were virtually inseparable.

WHEW! I am wiped, readers! I think you are probably as tired as I am. I am going to sign off now, then come back with a second post detailing the X-Men’s main enemies. I will try to make that list shorter, but I cannot guarantee anything.

See ya around!

The Mithril Guardian

The Purpose of Heroes

Assemble!

Hello, Marvel Writers!

      “A man needs heroes.  He needs to believe in strength, nobility, and courage.  Otherwise we become sheep to be herded to the slaughterhouse of death.  I believe this.  I am a soldier.  I try to fight for the right cause.  Sometimes it is not easy to know.

      “But I do not sit back and sneer in cowardice at those with the courage to fight.  The blood of good men makes the earth rich, as it is here.  When I die sword in hand, I hope someone lives to sing of it.  I live my life so that when death comes I may die well.  I ask no more.”

Sackett’s Land by Louis L’Amour

So wrote Louis L’Amour, best known perhaps for his novels of the Old West such as Hondo, Last Stand at Papago Wells, The Quick and the Dead, The Californios, and numerous others.

Stan Lee started something great when he penned the first Fantastic Four comic book.  He gave readers a glimpse of a universe with heroes, human in that they had flaws and foibles, but magnificent in how they rose above those things when necessity demanded their utmost in courage.

They had, and have, tempers.  They got and get sick, they broke and still break bones, and they retired and still retire (at least for a time) when they were and are emotionally drained.  And yes, they made and continue to make mistakes.  They fought and still fight with each other as much as with their enemies.

But despite all that, they were still heroes.  That’s why people continue to read about their adventures; why they go in droves to view the movies at the theaters.  If these flawed, breakable people can stand up to an evil, no matter the pain they’re in, no matter how tired they are, and say, “No.” – then why can’t we, the fans, do the same?

Yes, Iron Man, Cap, and most definitely Thor, are not real.  No one is going to be walking down Fifth Avenue and have to jump out of the way of a battling Yellowjacket and Ultron.  But what if one of us readers or viewers someday ends up with a choice between helping someone or saving ourselves in a crisis?  What role model will we have to steady us as we say, “No, I will do what is right.  I will help.”

Not all of us have great real life role models.  There are many fortunate people who do, but what about those who don’t?  What are they going to have to inspire them?  The answer is heroes.  Even if they are fictional – and there is no shortage of them inside or outside of comics and theaters – they are characters we can relate to more strongly than we can relate to actual flesh and blood people from time to time, especially in hazardous situations.

I’ve already listed several of the Marvel characters whose behavior of late has been less than inspiring.  None of it sounds particularly heroic when compared with earlier Marvel stories, does it?  So far Captain America has been the only hero to stay anywhere near heroic on and off the battlefield.

But how much longer is that going to last?  He’s already been ‘killed’ once, and he has been changed into at least three different animals in the same number of stories: a wolf, a tyrannosaurus rex, and don’t get me started on the incident where he ended up a spider.  That plot line was absolutely and completely disgusting.

How long can this go on?  How long will readers pay to read comics that spin their wheels in amoral mud?  And if the movies become as depressing as the comics, only the television shows will remain.  How long will it be before those are gone as well?

What I’m trying to say, fellow writers, is that people don’t need stories by ‘artists.’  It’s nice, and they’re great reads.  However, art usually comes about when the author isn’t striving for it, but for story and character.  Moreover, readers don’t want ‘stories’ that ‘delve into the human psyche.’  Psychologists are available if people want a psych evaluation.

What readers and viewers want – and what they need – are good stories well told with heroes who espouse morality and great ideals.  That’s all they want.

And unfortunately, my friends, right now we’re not getting it.

Sincerely,

Mithril (A Troubled and Frustrated True Believer)

Poker – Gambit Style

Gambit

Hello, Marvel Writers!

Bonjour.  C’est la vie, as the French say.  And the Cajuns of Louisiana – which brings us to the next Marvel character under discussion here: Remy LeBeau, a.k.a. Gambit.

The first introduction I had to Gambit was in the 90’s television series.  His back story there is one I have often found to be a likeable twist of storytelling: a thief (or other sundry character) joining a team of good guys to be reformed into a real hero.  It was great to see Rogue and Gambit fight – as much with each other as with the bad guys!  Because of her powers, Rogue wouldn’t let Gambit get close to her, but it was clear that he really did love her, and vice versa.

Now that you see how the TV series shaped my opinion of the character, imagine my consternation when I began reading about his comic book history.

Much of it makes very little sense to me, I admit: the few X-Men comics I have are fragments of story arcs, and the ones that include Gambit have him pretty close to what I saw in the TV series.  So the winding maze of his life events in the comics are lost on me faster than a cat would get lost in a pile of yarn.  The two things that did jump out at me were: a) his assistance in the slaughter of the Morlocks (aside from one small girl he purposely rescued), and b) his expulsion from the X-Men.

To both, all I can say is, “What?  How did this happen?  Why did this happen?”

Gambit has always had a soft spot for children (as shown in how he treated Jubilee in the TV series) which has been more likeable than his tendency to flirt with every lady he meets.  If there is a list out there of the top ten flirts in Marvel Comics, I hereby nominate Gambit for first place!

To get back to the point, I can easily see Gambit working to protect a Morlock child from death; but aiding and abetting the killing of countless other Morlocks, several of whom were also undoubtedly children?  That’s not the Gambit I came to know.  He wouldn’t have helped; he’d have turned on his employer (Mister Sinister, I believe it was, in these comics) first, and died before he got too far into the tunnels rather than commit murder.

As for his expulsion from the X-Men, it’s uncharacteristic of the X-Men on its face.  The X-Men have accepted Wolverine as a teammate, Archangel, Emma Frost, and even Mystique at one point.  Wolvie’s record is far from clean; Archangel has been used by several bad guys to kill numerous innocents, and more perhaps when he’s ‘lost’ himself in misery or pain; Emma Frost is constantly shifting between good and bad, and DO NOT get me started on Mystique.  So after accepting these and other less-than-good citizens of the Marvel universe into the fold, suddenly the X-Men decide that Gambit’s not good enough for the team, after all he’s done for it?  That’s a bit out of character, isn’t it?

And sending him back to work for Sinister is just plain wrong.  Once bitten, twice shy.  Sinister is trouble, and being a thief for as long as he was, Gambit would know better than to risk his neck by running with a man who wouldn’t think twice about slitting his throat.

To top it off, the whole fiasco has thrown a giant monkey wrench in the romance that he and Rogue had going.  Talk about a sad thing.  After Jean and Scott, Rogue and Gambit were two of the X-Men who deserved to be together romantically.  Getting them married would also have been a big plus, and a way overdue event for the team.

Why do this to Gambit at all?  Was it to make him a more complex, or appealing, character?  He was already both with his easy manner, which hid a genuine distaste for his past actions and a desire to leave them behind.  Was it to make him a really dark, really noir protagonist?

Why?  All it’s done is to ruin him as a hero.  Gambit was an intriguing member of the team for his remarkable desire to be good cloaked in nonchalance.  Now he morally resembles the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

With all due respect, fellow writers, he really didn’t need a slime bath.  He was just fine the way he was, and readers are going to miss the old Gambit, as they are going to miss other wrecked characters, several of whom I have listed in other letters.

So au revoir, fellow writers!  The aces are in your hands. All we True Believers have got at the moment are a set of black eights.

Sincerely,

Mithril (A Troubled True Believer)