With “X-Men” #1 now on stands and, therefore, in your hands, I thought this was as good a time as any to talk about Rogue. But there are six awesome women on the team, all written by Brian Wood better than they have been in years, and all getting the A-List art treatment from Olivier Coipel, Laura Martin and Mark Morales. Heck, Rachel Grey is getting the most attention in forever thanks to being on this team. And Storm’s going through something of a relevance renaissance thanks to her new upfront attitude and the return of the iconic mohawk. So what’s so special about Rogue?
I think she just became my favorite X-Man ever.
Comic book fans keep a running tally of their favorite characters going in their heads, and I’m no different. Believe it or not, keeping track of my favorite characters is somehow the one thing I don’t keep a spreadsheet for (I can’t say the same thing about me from 15 years ago, though). Favorite characters have a way of sneaking up on you. Some of my old standbys have fallen out of favor, like Nightcrawler ever since his death. Some come back after lengthy stints away, like Deadpool ever since Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn began their excellent run. Some become favorites because of a movie (Black Widow) or because of an ongoing series (Captain Marvel), or because of a movie and an ongoing series (Hawkeye).
But all of these feel more like fair-weather fandoms, ones that change along with the quality of their appearances. Granted, I’ll always love Nightcrawler, Gambit and Madrox, and I don’t foresee any DC character dethroning Ted Kord. But only one character feels vital to me right now, just as she did when I first started reading comics twenty years ago. I realized recently that that character is Rogue.
This love goes way back, which for me is a necessity to be considered a favorite character. I vividly remember watching the first episode of “X-Men,” “Night of the Sentinels,” when it first aired on Fox way back in 1992 and immediately gravitating towards Rogue. Well, Rogue and Gambit (it turns out that cool jackets might also be a favorite character necessity of mine). Rogue has so many snappy lines in that episode that have stuck with me for years (“You look as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockin’ chairs!”), and she got to do a fair share of fighting and heroing in the show’s first season. Rogue was both the group’s powerhouse and its heart. It probably didn’t hurt that she had an aggressively Southern accent, which I could relate to, being from Tennessee.
The first Rogue comics I remember reading captured her essence well, especially Chris Claremont’s “X-Men” #1, which explored the character’s relationship with Magneto and featured approximately a dozen fantastic hero shots illustrated by Jim Lee. I was also a nine year old, completely swept up in the romance between Gambit and Rogue. Trust me, “X-Men” #24 was a must buy for me. Kid me really understood ‘shipping in a way adult me just can’t comprehend. I’m just really glad that Tumblr didn’t exist back in 1993, or else I would have left a very large Rogue/Gambit digital footprint.
My definitive Rogue story was actually found in one of the first trade paperbacks I ever owned: “From the Ashes.” The trade contains issues #171-#173, which cover Rogue joining the X-Men and her first adventure with them. She was my first introduction to character growth in comics; the brassy bombshell from the cartoon had apparently started out as a terrified teenager, and a super villain to boot. I had learned of Rogue’s early days with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants through trading cards, but to see her rocky origin play out in issue form was something else entirely. The X-Men threatened to break up if Professor X allowed her to join the team! Kitty Pryde and Storm threw a fit! Wolverine threw her unprecedented levels of shade! This version of the character was so far from where I knew she’d end up.
But Rogue’s transformation into a full-fledged X-Man was right there in the two-parter centering on Wolverine’s doomed wedding. After all of the X-Men were poisoned, only Rogue and Wolverine were left ready to find the culprit and a cure. Paul Smith captured a Rogue in transition between frightened teenager and competent superhero, most notably in a barroom brawl in “Uncanny X-Men” #173. She goes from leaning back on a bar, calmly watching Wolverine do what he does best, and then goes from startled to a powerhouse when she’s attacked from behind. The issue ends with Rogue taking a laser blast for Wolverine’s bride-to-be Mariko, and Wolverine loaning her his healing factor to save her life. That’s a hero moment.
Like with all favorite characters, though, my relationship with Rogue hit a rough patch that lasted from 1998’s “Search For Xavier” all the way until Mike Carey’s run on “X-Men” began in 2006. Rogue’s powers became ill defined, changing drastically depending on which writer was using her. She appeared in three X-Men films, all played charmingly by Anna Paquin, but lacking the character’s signature spark and instead focusing more on her history as a tormented teen. It really felt like she had disappeared from the X-Books completely for years, only because writers had no idea what to do with her.
When I think about this dark period, it helps me understand why I love Rogue. To me, Rogue will always be a character defined by one of the first things I ever saw her do: punching a Sentinel in the face. Rogue should be a character that, no matter what power set she has, musters up the courage to do something like punch a giant, mutant-killing robot in the face to protect her teammates. That is quintessential Rogue. She’s a protector and a friend; she recognizes the trust and kindness others show her and pays it back tenfold. She’s a character that overcame a rough childhood and an unwanted career of super villainy to become one of the most prominent and experienced heroes on Earth. Her real super powers are her guts and her heart.
Mike Carey invested a lot of time and pages in “X-Men: Legacy” rehabilitating the character, redefining her powers and reworking her place in the X-Men. He understood what made the character work and fashioned a team of X-Men, and later a whole comic book series, around her. The character I loved as a kid was finally back.
Rogue’s getting fantastic attention on a regular basis in Rick Remender’s “Uncanny Avengers,” and now in Brian Wood’s “X-Men.” Both writers have fashioned Rogue as the brawler of the team, which fits perfectly in line with what I think makes the character special and makes perfect sense given her history. Remender used Charles Xavier’s death to trigger the change, which works considering that Xavier gave her a home and family back in “Uncanny X-Men” #171 and helped her finally gain control of her powers in “X-Men: Legacy” #224. The Rogue I’m reading right now is filled with the same charismatic confidence that I respond to, and she’s fiercely loyal to her friends.
Also in “X-Men” #1, she stops a train by digging her feet into the ground, which is as cool as punching a Sentinel in the face. Rogue’s back, and she’s my favorite X-Man.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).