COMMENTARY TRACK: James Asmus On "Gambit" #1

SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers for "Gambit" #1 lie below.

Writer James Asmus knows a thing or two about what fans do and don't want from Gambit. As fans who have been following along with the Marvel Comics launch of the roguish X-Man's new solo series can attest, the ongoing title has billed itself as high on the charming thievery and low on spooky talk of the New Orleans Thieves Guild.

With "Gambit" #1's debut this week, Remy LeBeau has set out on a course for burglary and adventure that will intersect with pieces of the Marvel Universe both seen and unseen. Starting his run by swiping a mysterious scarab from the high-tech vault of an unfriendly billionaire named Cich, Gambit is already caught in a web of intrigue that includes new villains, new ladies and new ideas.

To catch readers up, CBR News invited Asmus to give a tour of the debut with a commentary that goes inside his motivations for divorcing Gambit from the X-Men's world, his amping up the character's sexy fan service factor, the new cast members that will help expand a Marvel Universe role for the gentleman thief, the new art style from Clay Mann that completes the package and the sci-fi twists that will carry the story forward.

CBR News: The marching orders for this "Gambit" solo series seem to have been A) to not do a series that relied on Gambit's New Orleans background and mythos and B) to play up his life as a thief outside the X-Men's world. Did you start with those ideas and build the book out from there, or did you start with this thief adventure and try to stay away from the other stuff as you went?

James Asmus: When they called me to ask me about taking the reins for this project, they were interested in a Gambit book that builds him out rather than rehashing the same stories we've gotten over and over again. Those are Thieves Guild, Bella Donna, Mister Sinister, Rogue...which have made up so much of his past solo series. And the few times he gets a spotlight in the X-Men, the stories inevitable end up being about one of those four things. In the meantime, we've let Wolverine or even Deadpool at this point build out to the Marvel Universe at large and have a bigger, more diverse mythos around them.

So Marvel and I were both really interested in all of those things. Namely, we wanted to go back to what's most interesting about the character to begin with and then driving that into new relationships and places in the Marvel Universe. And hopefully we'll give him a broader significance at Marvel. I'll be forthcoming when I say that my hope for this series is that he becomes a Marvel Universe character in the way Wolverine or Deadpool have beyond just being an X-Men team player.

So this is the first issue of the series, and when starting a series, first pages are important. You start yours with Gambit naked. [Laughter] But the character has always had this kind of fan service aspect to him, particularly amongst female fans who grew up watching the '90s animated series. Did you want to tip your hat to that part of the readership, or was this simply the most literal way to have him jettison the past?

It was both. I wanted a metaphorical representation of the fact that we're stripping the character down - even if it's a blunt, unintelligent metaphor. [Laughs] But we're stripping him down to the core of what's cool about the character and taking him from there. So I wanted to have him reject his pink costume for the purposes of thieving...because if you're a thief, you should probably dress more subtle.

But the sexiness part of it was totally in there. It's my declaration that we're having fun here. That's especially because when I was offered the book, I mentioned it to some friends of mine, and every girl, every single girl, that was there squealed and said, "I LOVE Gambit!" And none of them read comics, but they all knew who he was, and they had a shockingly visceral reaction and a passionate reaction to how much they liked the character. I kept hearing this from people, and I realized that he's got this strange sex appeal that most male comic book characters just don't have. I was thinking about this as "Catwoman" #1 and the "Red Hood & The Outlaws" drama was still fresh in my mind. I thought, "Let's tie this all together and create a declaration of purpose that also does some equal opportunity fan service and sexiness. So hopefully, I'm accomplishing a few things at once there.

Clay Mann is drawing this series, and while he's done a number of X-Books over the past few years, his line work and the overall quality of the visuals seems a bit softer here than the kind of big action that came with a crossover like :Age of X." Did you anticipate that shift in his art coming in?

I was surprised to the extent to which he put a delicate touch on this book, and it's a level which I feel is pretty thematically clever for a book about thieving. I do think it's a pretty true extension of the character. He's delivering what I'd hoped for when I heard he was coming on this book, particularly compared to a series like "X-Men Legacy." He drew a totally handsome Gambit there, but he also creates a totally believable world. His redesigns of all the characters were the most practical, honest, believable costumes you'd seen on superheroes in a long time. And this was a book I wanted to plant a few steps outside the spandex and code names part of the Marvel Universe. I wanted to have it exist in the part of the world where there are real people who have to go to the bank or whatever. And then Gambit robs that bank, and there are death robots in it. [Laughs] So Clay's approach to this creates a humanity and a more subtle version of things that totally fits what we were going for.

We meet some new supporting cast in this first issue, including this mystery woman who becomes Gambit's alibi and his accomplice. We're light on details now, but is she going to be a major player across the life of the series?

She's a huge part of this first arc, and she and our villain in this first issue are going to weave in and our of the first few arcs. Most of what we're doing in the first year spins directly out of Gambit's choice to rob this place that he does in the first issue. A lot of this becomes a rapidly unspooling thread. With her, their relationship will continue to unfold in some increasingly surprising and complicated ways. I'll be honest, it's all part of my attempt to play with something I think made Gambit really attractive when he first appeared - that you weren't told explicitly who he was and why he was doing this. There was a bit of intrigue and flirtation, and I'm trying to create that same sense between characters since we've come to know so much about Gambit. There's a way to do that by saying, "We're unsure how this relationship will unfold and the real intent of the person who he's letting into his life."

At this point, the only possible clues we have to her background are the tattoos she has, if that. Is there more detail to come on her soon?

I'll admit, in this first arc you only learn a bit more about her. You certainly see them start to define a relationship between each other - albeit an uneasy one - hopefully in the vein of the classic crime story where you've got a woman you can never trust but can't help but move closer to. We are going to delve into more about who she really is in a subsequent arc. I know who she is! [Laughs] And we'll tell you soon enough, but we want to tease out the intrigue for Gambit himself if not the reader.

The standout detail for me with the robbery itself outside all the fun thief gadgetry is the fact that people know who Gambit is. Are you trying to embrace the idea that he doesn't have the luxury of undercover thieving?

Absolutely. I think it's always a bit silly when comics try and pretend like people don't know who these people are. I mean, they would have to be the celebrities of this world. When you're on television for saving the planet or almost destroying it because you've been possessed by some force - people would know you! I certainly think the criminal world would know both sids of Gambit's story. So for the ongoing series, one of the big things I want to play with in this first year is the fact that, especially people in the know on either side of the law, are aware of the two poles that have dominated his life on this path - his past as a superhero or his past as a career criminal. The first year in particular is about Remy trying to figure out if either of those poles is more true than the other and how society perceives him - society, villains and especially heroes. I really want to get into how much thieving he can get away with before it has a massive impact on the way he's perceived by his fellow good guys.

We get this giant splash page in the issue of Cich's vault which has old planes and Sentinels and Doombots. This seems like an invitation for Gambit into the larger Marvel U. Can we expect a lot of stuff beyond X-Men villains as this series goes along?

Absolutely. It was really important for me to figure out some way in the first issue to declare, for lack of a better term, the breadth of spectacle that I am reserving the right to use in this book. I wanted to find a way to represent the idea that this world he'll be running through has actual science, pseudo-science, science-fiction, magic, superheroes and every other piece that makes the Marvel Universe heightened. Very often, you see in Marvel Comics that the Fantastic Four won't come up against magic often or Spider-Man doesn't go into space all that commonly. I wanted to reserve the right for Gambit to thieve his way through any of these heightened aspects. Essentially, I want him to be allowed to fight science-fiction, I want him to be able to time travel, and I want him to be able to go to Asgard. They should all be equally allowable in this book. It's on me as the writer to declare that up front as part of my contract with the read so they know what kind of book they're getting up front.

Another character that seems important is Remlik - the head of Cich's security. He seems like the type of foil who will be playing a bigger role. Am I right in assuming that?

Yes. He'll be coming back, and actually, we'll be having more fun with Cich and the fact that, certainly, he's not going to be happy with Gambit causing him all this trouble just to blow off some steam. You always want to come up with threats for your hero that works in a different capacities. Cich is a master planner where Gambit is impulsive. He's the intellectual side of things. We're going to play with and reveal some things about Remlik in a later story where you'll see how he's maybe more of a formidable match for Gambit in a different sense - more of a physical confrontation. But it always a strange thing to create characters in a Marvel Universe that's overrun with massive lists of guys not being used who fans want to see. But in the idea of trying to build Gambit out in a new direction rather than just recycle, we wanted to do some creation. So Remlik we'll play with a bit more, but we'll also start pulling in some known characters from the Marvel U as soon as the second arc.

Finally, we wrap with a cliffhanger involving this starfish-birthing scarab. [Laughter] That's definitely a more mysterious element of that big room. Is this a whole new thing, or does it hold some connection to the Marvel U at large?

This will be a new little unturned stone in the Marvel Universe that we're using in these first couple of issues. It's funny to me in that it's so risky to be launching new books or trying to sell readers on a new book at the big companies. My hope is that readers' love of Gambit and our trying to really pay off on what we love about his character will keep people on board as we start playing with new things and throwing surprises in front of him. We will start threading in other things people want to see as we go on, but it was really important up front if we said we wanted to build him out to use all new characters and settings. We wanted to add to the history and tapestry of the Marvel Universe, not just go back to the well worn spots.

And after this final splash, can we expect a Noomi Rapace in "Prometheus" kind of scene in #2?

[Laughs] It's not going to quite go to the Cronenbergian body horror that one might be fearing from this. We're still going to be on a track for a grand adventure and heisty tendencies. We're not taking that turn into grotesque transformation just yet. I've got to keep him cute as long as I can!

"Gambit" #1 is on sale now from Marvel Comics.

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