Saturday, August 3, 2013

Still Seeking Balance

Gambit:  Volume 2 -- Tombstone Blues
Written by James Asmus
Illustrated by Clay Mann, et al.
Published by Marvel
3 1/2 Out of 5 Stars

This series continues to be frustrating for me. Just when I think it's going to work, that they've finally gotten a handle on the character and on the type of narrative that could make a standalone Gambit series a success, they lose momentum or veer in another direction. Even more frustrating is the announcement that #17 will be the final issue for a Gambit that began to show signs that it was finding itself. 

The weakest story involves Gambit's rescue of a team of archaeology students in Forever City, but then the story brings the return of the femme fatale only known as Joelle. Gambit's encounter with the thief Joelle was the cornerstone of the issues collected in volume 1, but her sudden disappearance left more questions than answers as to who she is and what her motivations are. Feeling that Joelle is a lost soul who may be in over her head, Gambit decides to play the gallant hero to humorous effect, his miscalculation of Joelle's capabilities blinding him to the fact that she's no damsel in distress.

Initially, I was pleased to see Joelle's return as she seemed like an intriguing character (despite being dressed like some Lara Croft ripoff). Revelations about her motivations--that she's taking some serious risks in an attempt to save her daughter--offer some surprises as we learn that Joelle is more than a tattooed hussy with sticky fingers. However, her loyalties are called into question, giving her some complexity--is the daughter a sob story she feeds Gambit while hiding more sinister intentions? Despite some promise as a character, Asmus unfortunately shortchanges Joelle, never giving enough of the story over to her. Further exploration of her background could have made her a character with some staying power and a formidable foe/ally for Gambit.

One thing Asmus does well is Rogue's incorporation into the story. While their relationship is a thing of the past, it's obvious there's still some spark between Rogue and Gambit, even if it's only the respect and admiration evident between two adult with a shared history. Coming to Gambit's aid only to find him in a compromising moment with Joelle, Rogue and Gambit's banter is fun and witty without being bitter.

The main problem with Gambit is that it's all over the place. Does it want to be an X-Man narrative (which, fortunately, it's largely dodged), an Indiana Jones-esque story, a slick James Bond thriller? Some consistent blend of all three might have worked, but jerking Gambit in and out of various genres makes you feel as though Asmus is treating the story like Goldilocks trying bowls of porridge until she finds the one that's just right. I do, however, appreciate his humor (for this reason, I look forward to his work on Valiant's Quantum and Woody) and there are some definite aspects that finally begin to "click" into place. 

The artwork throughout these issues is often inconsistent, but when Clay Mann is at the helm, it has a mature, somewhat minimalist look that I love.

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