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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #33

"The Hearts of Thieves"
June 1994

In a Nutshell
A tale of Gambit & Sabretooth's past together

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Andy Kubert
Inker: Matt Ryan
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Digital Chameleon
Editor: Bob Harras
Le Grande Canard: Tom DeFalco

In the past, a young Gambit rescues a woman named Genevieve from Sabretooth in Paris. In the present, Sabretooth stops his retelling to goad Rogue, but she insists he gets back to his story. He tells her how, in Paris, he tracked Gambit to a meeting with his brother Henri, where he explained that he planned to woo Genevieve in order to get close enough to steal a priceless necklace she stole from her husband, thus completing his initiation into the Thieves Guild. Elsewhere in the mansion, Beast ponders seeking Sabretooth's help to track down Mr. Sinister, while Sabretooth continues his story: after Gambit steals the necklace from Genevieve, Sabretooth captures her & Henri, telling Gambit to meet him at Notre Dame. There, he holds Genevieve & Henri over the edge, telling Gambit he'll trade one of them for the necklace. Gambit tosses him the necklace, but Sabretooth drops both, and Gambit saves his brother. Below, a dying Genevieve tells Gambit she loved him, and would have just given him the necklace. The story complete, Rogue goes outside, where Gambit tells Rogue he's a different man than he was then, but he needs her help to figure out what kind of man. Inside, Beast tells Sabretooth he needs to be at a briefing the next morning: he can keep trying to fight the world, or start finding a way to live in it.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue reveals the history between Gambit & Sabretooth (or at least part of it), something which was first teased back in issue #6 when Sabretooth & Gambit encountered one another for the first time on-page. It is framed as a story being told by Sabretooth to Rogue, who came asking as she attempts to square her blossoming feelings for Gambit with his cavalier & occasionally flippant attitude.

Gambit notes that the story Sabretooth tells here isn't the only previous encounter he shared with Sabretooth; it will eventually be revealed that at least one of those other meetings occurred when Gambit, on orders from Mr. Sinister, helped assemble the Marauders (whom Sabretooth was part of) and lead them into the Morlock Tunnels ahead of the Morlock Massacre as shown in "Mutant Massacre", a revelation that will drive a significant wedge between Gambit & Rogue.

Henri, Gambit's adoptive brother who debuted and then died in the first issue of Gambit's limited series, appears in the flashback. It is his last appearance to date.

Beast seeking out information from Sabretooth about Mr. Sinister is setup for next issue's story.

Collection Recollection
This issue served as the inspiration for a short story I wrote in high school (which went on to win some kind of regional young writers award) titled "Only What Were Worth Your Love" (which is a line from a Robert Browning poem).

A Work in Progress
In the flashback scenes, Sabretooth is rightly drawn wearing a pretty close approximation of his original costume, as opposed to the Jim Lee redesigned one.

Upon first meeting Gambit, Sabretooth is able to peg him as member of the Thieves Guild.

Sabretooth uses a "memory image inducer" to show Rogue his past encounter with Gambit, a device that was devised and given to Sabretooth to help him sort through his memories as part of his therapy.

In talking to Rogue, Sabretooth mentions a time he was laying rail from Calgary to Yukon, confirming that, if not Canadian, Creed has at least spent some time there in his past.

He also needles her about the fact that Xavier is working so hard to cure him, while she remains unable to control her power/memory absorption abilities despite having come to the X-Men specifically seeking that help a while ago (and, I mean, he's not wrong...).

The issue ends with Sabretooth watching a member of Graydon Creed being held by Leni Zauber (Mystique's identity when she & Sabretooth conceived Graydon).

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Jubilee is preparing to binge on some 90s TV, helped along by a TV Guide with 90210 on the cover.

Young Love
Young Gambit mentions his looming arranged marriage to Belladonna.

It's in the Mail
Reactions to the Cyclops/Jean Grey wedding in issue #30 prompt a two page Letters Page this issue. Amongst the responses is a plug for X-Men: The Early Years, which makes this as good a time as any to point out that at this point in time, Marvel was publishing two separate series reprinting X-Men stories (three, if you count Sabretooth Classics as well): X-Men Classic is still running, reprinting issues circa Uncanny #200, while the new Early Years started at the beginning with the very first issue of X-Men; it lasts a significantly shorter time than X-Men Classic.

Austin's Analysis
Gambit's past with Sabretooth at the time this issue was published was hardly one of the longest-running or most hotly-simmering mysteries (what with the X-traitor still at large), but it had gotten juiced thanks to the regular presence of Sabretooth in the X-books since he was taken in by Professor X, so it must have been tempting for Fabian Nicieza to craft the reveal of their previous interactions into a Big Deal, something with strong connections to an important event(s) in X-History. And while that will later still come about under other writers, for this issue, Nicieza opts instead for a much quieter, more character-driven reveal, one which is more concerned with speaking to the immediate relationship between Gambit & Rogue than upending years of X-history for shock value.

And the issue is all the better for that. It is, ultimately, a character-study of the young Gambit (and, by comparison, the question of how different he is from Current Gambit), albeit one told from the perspective of an untrustworthy narrator who has an incentive to paint Gambit in the most negative light possible, which doesn't paint Gambit in the most positive light as a youth, nor assure readers he's significantly better in the present. The end result is a story that almost reads like a morality fable, with the question of whether or not the central character has learned the imparted lesson very intentionally left up in the air. While this probably isn't the earth-shaking revelation some fans may have wanted from all the teases, it nevertheless is an affecting, lingering story that ages remarkably well because it's biggest impact resonates with the characters.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, X-Force goes on a hunt in X-Force #35. Friday, Douglock gets a proper introduction in Excalibur #78. Next week, X-Men Unlimited #5.

Collected Editions



  1. How does Sabretooth have a memory of Mystique (as Leni Zauber) holding an infant Graydon Creed? He didn't know about his son until decades later. Unless the memory image inducer displays thought images and not simply memories?

  2. I had stopped reading the X-books at this point, but when I heard years later that (part of) Gambit's past involved his recruitment of the Marauders and leading them to the Morlocks, I was genuinely angry. Stories like the one told in this issue reinforce the "relatively harmless bad boy" persona, building a shady history in order to make Gambit's more recent nobility stand out in relief, but being party to the murder of hundreds of families? Similar to Jim Shooter's decree of Dark Phoenix: you don't come back from that. "Oh, but I didn't know what was going to happen when I helped a team of heartless, well-armed, bloodthirsty mercenaries!" Bullshit. There's a wide grey area between dark past and outright villainy, and the writers/editors threw Gambit over to the dark side in service to a "shocking twist" that directly conflicted with on-panel continuity in the first place.

    I'm not an absolute disciple of Claremont, but I really wish he'd been able to stick around long enough to resolve his plans for Sinister/Gambit.


  3. // Gambit, on orders from Mr. Sinister, helped assemble the Marauders … and lead them into the Morlock Tunnels ahead of the Morlock Massacre //

    … Wow. Sure, I only knew Gambit by reputation and the very occasional dip back into the X-books for a few issues after dropping them long before this, and he’s not made much more of an impression on me reading along now, but that’s just an unconscionable twist for a future creative team to shoehorn into known history. I’m angry on behalf of Bob above, the character’s fans at large, previous writers, and general principle.

    1. Same here. I'd stopped reading the X-books by the time that shocking swerve came out, but once I read it, I just got the vibe that it wasn't anywhere near what Nicieza wanted to reveal (we know what Claremont wanted to reveal, and like Bob, I agree that it would have been better). It really sullied Gambit as a character, and it feels like he's only starting to get back his fan following recently. He's never been a favorite of mine, but he deserved better than, "Oops, I was an accessory for a mass slaughter".

    2. Interesting... I never really thought much about Gambit's role in the Mutant Massacre either way. I seem to recall that my main takeaway from UNCANNY 350 was, "That's it?" I had expected something bigger and more earth-shattering than Gambit basically serving as the yellow pages for Sinister. Maybe I'm callous, but the fact that he didn't actually participate in the massacre pretty much absolved him of any real wrongdoing in my mind, so the big revelation felt to me like much ado about nothing.

      (Of course, I was never terribly keen on the Morlocks in the first place, so their existence as nonentities in my mind is probably part of the reason I didn't care very much.)


  4. Your mention of X-Men: The Early Years, which I’d completely forgotten about, got me to flash on Professor Xavier and the X-Men — the 99¢ series launched shortly after Untold Tales of Spider-Man that retold stories from, uh, the X-Men’s early years. Since you’ve mostly left the new material in Classic X-Men out, and that was AFAIK not just far superior in quality but far more impactful in terms of retcons than anything Professor Xavier and the X-Men might’ve thrown into the mix, you’re probably not planning to cover it here. I suspect you could hit every relevant point about its 18 issues in a single Retro Review down the road… should you somehow get desperate enough for material. 8^)

    1. I thought of that series too, Blam -- I recall that I never had any interest in the actual, original Silver Age X-Men stories, but when I realized PROFFESOR XAVIER AND THE X-MEN was re-telling those tales with modern artwork, I decided to start reading it. Of course, by the time I got on board, the first issue I picked up turned out to be the series' second-to-last installment. So much for that idea!

      (To this day, while I've read a sparse few milestone issues here and there, I've still never actually read UNCANNY X-MEN 1 - 66 in their entirety.)

  5. For the record, this is another "action story within a quiet issue". All the fighting happens in the distant past via flashback. I know I keep beating this drum, but I like to point it out whenever I can because, thanks to Lobdell and Nicieza, it really is the definitive X-Men storytelling style in my mind. This sort of approach wouldn't work for anyone; I think characters like Spider-Man, for example, need "real-time" action, not tied to sub-plots, on a regular basis. The Avengers too -- most of their threats should be external.

    But for the X-Men, the idea that the vast majority of their battles are actually skirmishes with an escaping Sabretooth, quarrels among each other, or battles via flashback to flesh out sub-plots, just feels like the natural way to go for the monthly action quotient. Like I said before, save the "real" fights with honest-to-gosh supervillains for the yearly crossovers (or to set up same, as in current issues of UNCANNY), and populate the rest of the year with "quiet", low-key skirmishes tied to the characters' own internal struggles and interpersonal relationships.


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