As far as odd projects go, this has to be up there with the weirdest. Found in someone’s drawer during an office move, “Gambit and the Champions” was apparently conceived as an inventory issue for Gambit’s solo series from a decade past. More importantly, though, the book also serves as the last published work of artist George Tuska, who is perhaps best known for drawing “Iron Man” for most of the 70s, and for his work on various Golden Age comics before that. The original script has been misplaced, so Scott Lobdell has stepped in to write new dialogue based on the art.
As if that origin story wasn’t weird enough, the story itself sees a pre-X-Men Gambit teaming up with The Champions. It’s hardly a natural fit, particularly given the logistical calisthenics required to make sure he doesn’t end up meeting Angel and Iceman prior to the time it happened in-continuity. Still, the creators have taken a pretty good go at it, and while it’s far from an undiscovered gem, it’s an entirely competent Gambit-meets-the-Champions story. There’s not much life in that concept, but this story does at least squeeze out every drop.
For those who are unaware, the Champions was a team which operated out of Los Angeles comprised of Hercules, the Black Widow, Angel, Iceman and Ghost Rider. Indeed, throwing Gambit into the mix isn’t exactly upsetting a finely-tuned balance, and by coming up with a Worthington-sponsored charity ball that Gambit has to steal a scroll from, there’s at least some reasonable explanation for their paths crossing. In an attempt to add some color to an otherwise straightforward plot, Lobdell peppers the script with comedic moments, but stays the right side of campy (most of the time, at least).
As you might expect, it’s a bit of a retro experience in terms of execution, and there are some odd moments. MODOK appears to have been plucked out of a hat to be the guest villain, and there are elements that suggest Tuska wasn’t entirely sure who Gambit was – not least the fact that he’s sporting a goatee for the first few pages which disappears halfway through and gets explained, retroactively, by Lobdell’s script.
That said, if you’re buying a story called “Gambit and the Champions,” you should already be expecting some oddness. The real selling point, Tuska’s artwork, is as enjoyable as it ever was.
So, while few would argue that this is a must-buy, it is, nonetheless, special for being Tuska’s final story. The fact that it’s actually a decent Gambit story to boot is just the icing on the cake.