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Wednesday, February 5, 2020

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #45

"The Enemy of My Enemy..."
October 1995

In a Nutshell
Gambit confronts Rogue over the memories she absorbed from him.

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Pencils: Andy Kubert
Inks: Cam Smith
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Kevin Somers & Malibu Hues
Editor: Bob Harras

As they make their way towards Seattle, Iceman continues to push Rogue to discuss the memories she absorbed from Gambit, but she relents. Meanwhile, Gambit arrives in Seattle himself, hoping to find Rogue and settle things between them. He tracks down Iceman at a local college bar, shortly after Rogue flew off, exposing her and Iceman as mutants. In New York, Graydon Creed watches a news report on Gene Nation's attack, and toys with the idea of running for President. In Seattle, Gambit & Iceman track Rogue to an rundown theater, a place she was led by Gambit's memories. Gambit tries to convince Rogue to return with him to the X-Men, but she refuses, saying she needs to find out for herself what the memories she took from Gambit are and why they cause him so much pain. When she presses Gambit to tell her about the memories, he won't do it, fearing it would destroy everything he's attained for himself. But he does offer himself to Rogue completely, extending a hand to allow her to touch him once again. Rogue, however, turns away. They both declare their love for one another, but Rogue says she needs more time away to settle her feelings, and flies off. Gambit tells Iceman to return to the mansion, but remains in Seattle himself for a few more days to clear his head. During his wanderings, Mr. Sinister appears, telling him that nothing is settled, and he'll need to reckon with their past together eventually.

Firsts and Other Notables
This is Fabian Nicieza's last issue of the series, ending a run which began with issue #12 and ending his association with the X-books (which went back even further than that) for now (he'll return towards the end of the 90s to work on some limited series and satellite series, including the solo Gambit book where he'll tie off some of the loose ends left by this issue). Accounts vary as to the rationale behind his leaving, but in general, it seems as though some level of disagreement between Nicieza and editorial/Bob Harras about the direction of the series he was writing led to his departure. In Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, he is quoted as saying regarding his departure, "that his sizable paychecks weren't worth the lack of creative satisfaction and perpetuation of mediocrity" (p369).  

A past between Mr. Sinister and Gambit is teased in this issue, the details of which won't be fully revealed until that aforementioned Gambit solo series (but would, in the meantime, prove to be further grist for the "Gambit is the Third Summers Brother!" rumor mill). Meanwhile, the big secret at the center of the drama in this issue won't be fully revealed until Uncanny X-Men #350 (when it turns out that Gambit assembled the Marauders for Mr. Sinister and led them into the Morlock tunnels ahead of "Mutant Massacre"; the Gambit series will then reveal Gambit did this in exchange for Sinister helping him get his powers under control).

Rogue effectively leaves the X-Men this issue (even though she’s been away from the team on her road trip with Bobby since the return from "Age of Apocalypse"), though she’ll still make occasional appearances between now and her return circa “Onslaught”.

Gambit is worried that if Rogue ever figures out his secret, it’ll end both their relationship and his time with the X-Men (something that will prove to be true, for a time, when his secret does come out).

Graydon Creed’s run for President, a plotline that will feature in the X-books for the next couple years, begins here.

As with Uncanny X-Men #325 this month, this issue is ostensibly a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the "All New, All Different X-Men", though the events of this issue have very little connection to anything involved in that (the closest we get is that, eventually, Gambit's big secret in this issue is tied into "Mutant Massacre", and the other anniversary issue also referenced that story). It also gets a triple gatefold, foil-enhanced cover and extra pages as a result (with the novelty here that the larger cover is meant to be viewed vertically).

Collection Recollection
For whatever reason, I have very specific memories of purchasing this issue - I bought it at my local comic shop after biking there with my best friend. It was lightly raining that day, so I took care to make sure the issue was fully wrapped in the store's bag before putting it in my backpack, just in case any rain seeped through my backpack. We then biked back to his house and I was so excited to read it after all the hype about how it would finally reveal Gambit's secret that I read it in my friend's bedroom while we were ostensibly hanging out (he wasn't into comics, and was probably playing a video game or something while I tore through it).

And, after all the hype leading up to its release (my memory is that Wizard teased this issue relentlessly), I remember this issue as being one of the first cracks in my previously-unwavering wall of belief that anything and everything the X-office did was great and awesome and all part of a grand plan. Upon finishing it, my first reaction was "that's it? That didn't reveal anything!", the first time I can recall every being that disappointed by a single issue, a disappointment born of the way the books would string readers along promising big reveals without really revealing anything, in a way that certainly had happened before (like with the non-reveal of Cable & Stryfe's relationship at the end of "X-Cutioner's Song"), and would definitely get worse in the years ahead, but to which I had been mostly oblivious to/accepting of prior to this.

By no means did my reaction to this issue stop me from reading or buying anything at the time (if anything, my consumption was only to go up after this), but I do still look back on this as being one of the first issues when I realized, however fleetingly, that it was possible for Marvel to release an X-book that I didn't immediately fully embrace without question, and that sometimes, the machinations of marketing could overwhelm even the best of creative concerns.

A Work in Progress
Iceman is using his powers more like his AoA counterpart, riding a pillar of ice high into the sky and being more willing to abandon a fully humanoid shape while iced up.

Rogue points out that when she first joined the X-Men, she used her absorption powers more casually, something that is certainly true (Rogue’s angst over not being able to touch anyone is very much a 90s thing).

Rogue rightly points out that Iceman is running away from his own problems just like she is.

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Thanks to its connection to the grunge scene of the early 90s and the emerging "coffee culture" of the mid 90s, this issue's Seattle setting gives it a somewhat dated feeling that was likely unintentional at the time.

Young Love
As Rogue leaves, she and Gambit declare their love for one another.

Human/Mutant Relations
When a group of college students who were previously ogling Rogue learn she and Iceman are mutants, they turn on them.

Austin's Analysis
Let's get this out of the way right away: as tenuous an anniversary celebration of the "All New, All Different" X-Men as Uncanny #325 was, this is even less a celebration of that, connecting in no discernible way to the events of that issue, its callbacks to notable X-Men history, or the launch of the "All New" X-Men. This issue is also stunningly underwhelming in terms of meeting any expectation of paying off the Gambit/Rogue conflict simmering since the return from "Age of Apocalypse". In fact, it's a masterclass in narrative wheel-spinning and the illusion of plot progression: with it's fancy cover and extra pages, it certainly feels like something important happens in it, but by the end, everything is more or less the same as when it started: Rogue is still away from the X-Men, she's still in love with Gambit but mad at him for a secret she doesn't fully understand, and the readers are no closer to knowing what, exactly, drove her away (and what Gambit is so terrified of keeping secret) than before (with the possible exception of now knowing Mr. Sinister is involved, which, let's be frank, was probably a pretty safe assumption to make in 1995 anyway). Iceman is going back to the X-Men now, though, which is nice, I guess.

All of that said, when released from the weight of its expectations, this isn't a bad issue. Kubert is on point throughout, taking advantage of the extra pages to do some really nice, impactful double page spreads, which makes everything feel bigger and bolder than the narrative actually is. And this issue is a great example of that staple of superhero comics, the "characters deal with their feelings via expressions of superhero violence" story, as Rogue, Gambit and Iceman fight their way into, through, and out of a derelict theater while shouting about their feelings in the emo-est city of the early-to-mid 90s. As any kind of anniversary celebration, this is without a doubt lacking, and it is by no means the turning point in the Gambit & Rogue relationship it was billed to be. But if you can move past all that, it's quite fun and well-crafted.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, X-Force battles Mimic in X-Force #46! Friday, Wolverine hits the bar in Wolverine #93. Next week, Generation X #8!

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  1. "In New York, Graydon Creed watches a news report on Gene Nation's attack, and toys with the idea of running for President."

    Here in Brasil, this part of the story wasn't published.

    Love Andy Kubert's in this issue, it's better than the previous ones.

    At this point, Mister Sinister was my favorite X-enemy. Gambit's misterious connection with him was a big deal at the time.

  2. Okay, I was going to ask if this issue was originally advertised as revealing Gambit’s secret, because my recollection was that it was, and the non-reveal here disappointed me at the time in much the same way it did you. Glad to see my memory was correct.

    I wonder now if perhaps the issue actually was originally conceived to have a revelation in it, but changed at some point. That was certainly a thing that happened around this time; one only needs to recall the fact that the stories immediately post-“Onslaught” were advertised, essentially, as the beginning of “Operation: Zero Tolerance”, with the X-Men driven from the mansion and on the run from Bastion — but the actual stories didn’t resemble that premise at all, and OZT was pushed back a year to become the next linewide event.

    So yeah, while well-written, this is a pretty unsatisfying issue overall, especially for a big anniversary special. Kubert’s artwork is great, though — I agree with Cesar that it’s some of his best. He always seemed to enjoy drawing Gambit and Rogue, so this was right in his wheelhouse.

    I know I sing Comicraft’s praises often, but putting Gambit’s internal monologue into those playing card-shaped caption boxes, while a cool idea for the character, gets really old, really fast, and I found that they actually distracted from my enjoyment of the story when I read it last night.

    Anyway, all my criticisms of this one aside, I will say that even today, the kid (teen) in me still gets some chills at the appearance of Mister Sinister at the end. Even now, I love those random enigmatic appearances. (Plus, knowing in retrospect that this tease does actually eventually lead to something helps.)

    This is Fabian Nicieza's last issue of the series, ending a run which began with issue #14 and ending his association with the X-books (which went back even further than that) for now…”

    Even if he did leave on somewhat bad terms, at least he got to write a little goodbye note for the letter column. And he really never seemed to have any bad feelings about it overall. He wrote a post on AOL or something back then about how he’d just handed in his final script and it felt good. I believe he thanked the X-Men for paying for his daughter’s eventual college education, but also said that the only issue he legitimately enjoyed writing was the wedding in #30, which is kind of said to know, since I loved so many of his issues at the time.

  3. I think this is a fantastic 20-year anniversary issue!

    Which one was 20 years old in 1995 ... Gambit, Rogue, or Iceman?

    1. Wellll... Rogue goes to a college bar and says everyone there is "her age", so I guess maybe she's around 20? (Jason, are you qualified to distribute No-Prizes?)

      Joking aside, I neglected to mention this in my comment above. I know Claremont had intended Rogue to be around 18/19 back in the "old days", but it was jarring to see her imply here that she's still college age.

      In fact, all the X-Men tend to read older (to me, at least) around this time. Don't get me started about Mark Waid having Cyclops suggest that he's 25 a few issues from now! That drove me nuts as a teen. If you'd asked me back then (and probably still now), I would've guess that Rogue was 25 and Cyclops was around 30 (along with Jean and Archangel, which would fit with Beast having turned 30 earlier in Nicieza's run).

  4. This issue was absolutely advertised to reveal Gambit's big secret, because I remember being just as disappointed as you guys. In fact, I immediately read it a second time because I thought I missed something. In retrospect, though, although the Sinister reveal at the end was extremely vague, it was still pretty cool.

    In a lot of ways, this reminds me of The X-Files in the 90's. Every once in a while they'd promote the hell out of one of those "important" episodes which would contain shocking revelations. None of those episodes ever contained shocking revelations.

    And Matt, I remember the advertisements for OZT same as you. They were hyping it up as taking the X-Men away from all of their advanced technology and Shi'ar BS and basically having them as a gang of outlaws on the run relying on nothing but their wits and powers. Save for the mansion being gutted for all of five minutes, I don't believe this ever actually happened.

    I still have fond memories of this issue, though. And holy lord can Kubert draw Gambit. To this day this strikes me as one of the last issues where Gambit looked genuinely mysterious and potentially menacing. Some of those panels of him in shadow with a cig... yeah, I could totally see X-Traitor.

    1. I never watched THE X-FILES, but I remember reading an interview several years ago with the producers of FRASIER, where they complained about something similar. Every time an episode had a hint of Niles and Daphne getting together, NBC would hype it up with these big "will they or won't they" ads, when the actual episode had nothing to do with it. The creative folks apparently hated that because they felt NBC was stringing the audience along when their intention was nothing of the sort.

      As far as OZT goes, my understanding is that Scott Lobdell's original idea is what you described above: he wanted to get the X-Men away from the mansion, away from the Shi'ar tech, and on the run -- and he wanted to do it immediately coming out of "Onslaught", when they would be at their most vulnerable. And I guess initially Marvel was on board, because they let him speak about it in interviews and hyped it in the Bullpen Bulletins (or X-Facts or whatever). Then they changed their mind.

      I assume it had to have been the all-powerful Marketing department, the same folks who kept prolonging Spider-Man's Clone Saga, who handed down that directive. They meddled in everything back then. I'm sure they got wind of OZT and ordered the X-Office to make it the next annual crossover, which pushed it back a year and led to some major changes in the storyline.

      As I understand it, OZT then became the last straw for Scott Lobdell, who quit X-MEN, UNCANNY, and GENERATION X due to creative differences -- but I'm sure that will be covered in-depth when X-aminations gets there.

      (Larry Hama left WOLVERINE at the end of OZT as well, but must have remained on good terms with the X-Office, as he soon moved to GENERATION X.)

  5. Yeah, the X-Men comics were simply paddling from one mega crossover to the other. Writers were avoiding to do anything meaningful because of that. Those big anual crossovers killed the X-Men comics for me.

    1. While I do agree there’s definitely a lot of padding and wheel-spinning between crossovers in the 90s, I also think it was that padding that allowed the writers to develop the soap opera. I’ve said it before, but there are way more “quiet but not quiet” issues in this era than ever before. Lots and lots of stories where there’s no real villain to speak of, and the only action comes out of internal conflicts among the X-Men themselves (and sometimes their “houseguests”, whether that means Revanche, Emma Frost, Sabretooth, or Juggernaut). I actually like it. It feels more “realistic” to me somehow than fighting a random bad guy every month. Plus, the between-event padding is where Scott Lobdell truly shined with his character-focused stuff.

  6. It could have been worse, I guess.

    Sinister reveals Gambit is REALLY Scott Summers and that Cyclops has been the clone the entire time!

    This issue was a huge bummer to young me and about when I realized that the X-books kinda stunk.

  7. Nicieza started with issue no. 12 of X-men Vol.2 . (The Hazard story)

    1. Ah, that's right. I had it mixed up with Kubert's start issue, I think. I've corrected it, thanks!


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