Asmus Puts "Gambit" in MI-13's Crosshairs

[EDITOR'S NOTE: This interview was conducted prior to the release of "Gambit" #4.]

The dangerous world of a professional thief becomes infinitely more perilous in a place like the Marvel Universe where the fantastic is a part of every day life. That's because items and cash can be protected by high tech, super powered, or even supernatural defenders. Even if a thief successfully swipes an item he runs the risk of opening himself up to a nasty swarm of unintended consequences, exactly what happened to the title character in the debut issue of the new "Gambit" ongoing series by writer James Asmus and artist Clay Mann.

In an effort to recapture the thrill of his old profession Gambit (AKA Remy LeBeau) stole an artifact from a powerful collector and inadvertently embroiled himself in a scheme to bring ancient, god like aliens back to Earth. That scheme came to a close in last month's "Gambit" #4, but the ex-thief isn't done dealing with the consequences of his initial act of larceny. In November's "Gambit" #5 Asmus and artist Diogenes Neves kick off a new arc that finds their protagonist forced into a heist in England that will make him a target of the country's super powered intelligence service, the fan favorite group known as MI-13. Comic Book Resources spoke with Asmus about his plans for the newest arc and the title's future.

CBR News: So James, "Gambit" is a book where the title character gets to show off both his super abilities and his skills as a thief by pulling off fantastic heists. How much fun and how much work is it to plan out Gambit's acts of thievery?

"Gambit" #5 cover by Terry Dodson

James Asmus: Imagining all the possibilities is tons of fun. Working out and choosing logistics is less fun. [Laughs] The joy of this being a "heightened" heist story taking place in the Marvel Universe means there's always an opportunity for me to just make something up. [Laughs] I have done quite a bit of research though on actual thieves, though.

Right. You're also writing "Thief of Thieves" for Image as well. So I imagine there's an interesting counterbalance between the two books?

Yeah. Both of these jobs were offered to me right around the same time, which makes me wonder why people think of me when they think of thievery.

It's nice being able to do one type of research for two different projects. And I've been very mindful to keep Gambit's adventures within the crazy aspect of the Marvel U. It helps me differentiate the book.

Gambit's initial act of thievery in #1 led to his team-up with a mysterious femme fatale character. From the clues you've dropped so far in the first three issues we know this character has a past full of regrets, a fear of spiders, and is pretty handy with a pistol. Will we find out more about her going forward?

You'll get her name in the fourth issue! It'll also give a bit more of a sense of her emotional reality and what she's after. She'll come back in Clay's next arc, and we'll start to unravel her mystery a little more. I want to tease out her intrigue, but we'll give you much more to hold on to and really put Gambit in the crucible in terms of their relationship.

Is there a reason why you held back on revealing her name until issue #4?

That's a good question. I did it because it felt nice to mess with our audience in the way she's messing with Gambit. For people who go on to message boards to have to debate what to call her let alone who she might be felt like we were going the extra bit with our mystery! That was fun for me at least.[Laughs]

At the end of "Gambit" #3 Remy LeBeau's mysterious traveling companion uses an ancient relic to summon a monstrous, dragon-like being. What can you tell us about this being and the culture it's attached to? From the mechanical and almost high-tech nature of the tomb the artifact was in I'm guessing this being is more alien than supernatural?

Absolutely. My intent on this is they're essentially opening a gateway, sort of a stargate, if you will, to a different world. The idea being that when an ancient civilization connected with this other world -- these giant creatures inspired the Quezacotl mythologies. But in the way that "Raiders of the Lost Ark" doesn't get into how the ancients built giant boulder traps, we'll be skipping the historical "how-did-it-all-get-here?" and go right for the visceral fun of it all. If Gambit were an archaeologist rather than a thief, maybe I'd lay out more of the imagined history (that I actually wrote up). But I figure he isn't the kind of guy to get bogged down in that stuff -- so the book won't be either.

So these beings are a new creation? You're not borrowing from any pre-existing Marvel characters or continuity?

We really wanted this book to forge its own path and add to Gambit's mythology. So we wanted to include all-new characters and situations for this first arc, especially.

In the next couple of stories we'll have some fun with the existing parts of the Marvel Universe. For this story though we only wanted to add to it.

While we're on the topic of new characters let's talk about another one that you introduced in issue #1, the mysterious Borya Cich. Cich is interesting to me in that he doesn't appear to be your typical Marvel Universe style criminal mastermind. He appears to be a combination of the Kingpin, Ernst Stavro Blofeld from James Bond, and a collector type you would see in a pulp horror story. What inspired the creation of this character?

I really wanted a James Bond style villain for Gambit, one who can outthink him and has greater resources. And making that person a backer of criminal activity lets Cich feel like he inhabits the same sort of world that Remy came from originally.

Plus I loved the idea that a regular man might view the Marvel Universe as an arms race. The types of power in that world can be so bizarre and sprawling. A typical Bond villain is trying to secure massive amounts of money or nuclear weapons and in this case we have a villain who wants things like the Mandarin's rings, ancient magical scrolls, and nanotechnology. The idea was that this character's response to living in the Marvel Universe where he is surrounded by all these supernatural and super powerful things is to create an arsenal of his own as a way of combating the fact that's he's just a mortal.

Cich is still a danger that looms large in Gambit's world, but as we discussed, the current threat he faces is a race of dragon like aliens trying to invade our world. So what can you tell us about Issue #4, in stores October 24? The cliffhanger of issue #3 suggests this will be the most action packed issue of "Gambit" yet.

Completely. This is the explosive finale to the first arc. As you may have noticed, in this series I have a penchant for six or more panel pages. I try to pack as much into $2.99 as I can -- and we do real tight, claustrophobic scenes when we're heisting things.

But the fourth issue really opens up and we've got some giant splashy work from Clay and some real gutsy action. The story also dove-tails directly into our next arc in a way that harkens back to the first issue. A lot of our stories and conflicts are going to keep spiraling out of the choices Gambit made in the first issue.

We understand your next story which begins in "Gambit" #5, on sale November 14th, finds Remy in England and forced into a mission to steal the legendary sword Excalibur. The last time we saw the sword it was in the possession of Faiza Hussain, a member of England's super powered intelligence service MI-13. Does Faiza still wield Excalibur when this story begins?

Faiza still has Excalibur. That has not changed, but it will once Gambit shows up. [Laughs] Faiza will be in the arc along with Pete Wisdom. I think we'll get a little bit of the Black Knight in there as well.

What made you want to revisit the MI-13 characters? Were you a fan of writer Paul Cornell's "Captain Britain & MI:13" series?

I loved that book. The original "Excalibur" series is one of the most influential comics to me and one of my favorite comics. It was the first X-Men book I ever got and I followed it through its various permutations. Probably the biggest highlight of the book's later years was Pete Wisdom, as created by Warren Ellis.

So the Paul Cornell-Leonard Kirk run of "Captain Britain & MI:13" was one I really enjoyed and wished lasted longer. We actually got Leonard Kirk to do some extra pencils setting up the next arc. So all that's left is for me to give Paul Cornell my job writing "Gambit" and the tribute will be complete! [Laughs]

We know Captain Britain has gone on to be part of the Avengers and you mentioned Faiza, Pete Wisdom, and the Black Knight. Can you talk about anyone else who might be on MI-13 now?

For our purposes I'm going to keep the focus on those guys. There are still plenty of agents and some cannon fodder to be taken down by Gambit, but I'm more interested in hitting the right notes with all the characters rather than filling the page with a lot of wallpaper cameos.

What else can you tell us about the plot and themes of Gambit's adventure in England?

I think of it more as a high stakes espionage story. He's being forced to do something against his will, and do it up against a much higher stakes adversary in the form of foreign intelligence agency. The idea that he's going to have to more explicitly and publicly play the bad guy is seeding very strongly into where we're going with this first year.

Does this story have any other important supporting players that you want to hint, tease, or mention?

No, but I did want to say that I have not seen anyone on the internet correctly identify the inspiration for one of the new characters Clay Mann created for this series. It's a very specific inspiration. So I challenge people who have not yet figured it out to put it together.

While we're on the topic of art we understand Clay provides the pencils for issue #4 and then will be back to do the third arc of "Gambit." Your collaborator for the second arc is Diogenes Neves. What do you feel he brings to the book as an artist?

He's finished the first issue and is hard at work on the second one. He did a year of "Demon Knights" for DC -- WITH PAUL CORNELL! [Laughs] Look at the blatant poaching of his career that I'm doing.

Actually that was a surprise from editorial, but I'm very very happy to have Dio, on board. I think his art is a great transition from Clay's style. I wasn't exactly sure who we could get to balance that out, but Dio's pencils are really selling a lot of the same values that the book established. His stuff is a little more slick and angular, which I think works really well for shifting into a more James Bond/"Mission: Impossible" kind of story line.

Let's finish up by talking a little bit about those future stories. I believe Gambit will be busy in England for the rest of 2012, but what about next year? Can you tell us any of your plans for the series in 2013?

The first issue after this arc is going to be a standalone story that ties into our debut issue in a way that I don't think anyone will have expected. It's going to be a real, fun, crazy story and it's going to take Gambit to a big and established Marvel U location.

That issue is one I've been looking forward to doing from the beginning -- and thrillingly, Pasqual Ferry is doing the art! So you know it's going to look amazing. Issue #8 is us having a grand old time right before we really start turning the screws on Gambit.

In this market launching a new series and having it continue beyond an initial arc is a pretty impressive feat, let alone for a second or third. How does it feel to be able to continue to write "Gambit" in 2013?

It feels great! I've been so thrilled at the number of people reaching out on Twitter to say that they haven't read comics in years but started reading "Gambit," or they just haven't read X-Men or Marvel Comics in years but jumped in because they love the character and just couldn't put it down. Also, this is the first comic I've written where more than half the fans I hear from are female! That makes me tremendously happy and makes me feel we're doing something right.

I want people who've liked Gambit to know that we're having a great time and they can join the party whenever they want. I try to make sure the book as welcoming as possible in each issue. Knowing that a lot of folks didn't even know we launched, and the first issues kept selling out, I want folks just finding out about the book to be able to dive in wherever they get a chance! I also have to say how much I appreciate everyone who has picked up the book so far. It means the world to all of us on the book, and we've been beating the expectations that Marvel had for it. So hooray us! [Laughs]

"Gambit" #5 is on sale November 14.

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Tags: marvel comics, gambit, diogenes neves, pasqual ferry, james asmus clay mann

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