In the Marvel Universe, being an X-Man is who you are. As mutants born with superpowers that make them feared and hated by humanity, many members of the X-Men can't really be considered heroes in the most traditional sense of the word.
Take Gambit, a character introduced in 1990, whose mutant gift allows him to transform an object's potential energy into kinetic energy, creating an explosive result. When first introduced, he was using this gift for his own benefit as a thief. While Gambit's record with the team was often spotty, he's served the team with distinction and has most recently become a teacher at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning run by Wolverine's faction of X-Men.
However, Gambit hasn't forgotten his life of crime. This August, he'll plunge headfirst back into his old life when writer James Asmus and artist Clay Mann kick off a new ongoing "Gambit" series, which finds the former thief pulling off a heist with unintended consequences. CBR News spoke with Asmus about the project, announced at Marvel's Next Big Thing Panel at the C2E2 2012.
CBR News: James, you're known for your work on X-titles like "Generation Hope" but this will be your first time writing Gambit. What do you find most interesting about the character?
James Asmus: Like most people though who came to the X-Men in the '90s, I'm a fan of the character, both from the cartoon and the book. They made him cool and intriguing. The anti-heroes and the imperfect heroes have always been cooler than the straight arrow guys, but the thing that I love about Gambit is that unlike most of the antihero characters he has a smile on his face and a joie de vivre. Most antiheroes like a Wolverine are pretty consistently dark, haunted and brooding. Gambit certainly has those aspects, but he makes all of his exploits so much more fun than the average antihero.
For your series you're taking Gambit back to his antihero roots by examining his skill and penchant for thievery. He currently has a pretty stable life as a member of Wolverine's X-Men and a teacher at the Jean Grey School. What drives him back to a life of crime?
At first, he just does what he thinks is a small, self indulgent heist to scratch that itch and to help him feel like himself again. Then what we set up is a big chain of dominoes that just plunges him deeper into trouble and as you'll see his solution to most problems is to steal again. Most thieves admit they're addicted to the thrill of it more than anything else.
Why isn't Gambit able to substitute that rush with the action he sees as a member of the X-Men?
Certainly there's a thrill to fighting villains like Apocalypse, but I think that's still a role that doesn't completely make sense to him. It's just not the sort of life he had envisioned for himself. So I think slipping off on his own and performing some thrilling acts of thievery feels like slipping on a pair of comfortable shoes.
The past has shown that Gambit is not a killer, but is he like Wolverine in that he would kill someone if he felt it was necessary for the greater good? Speaking of killing, do you have any plans to address the Death Persona that Apocalypse gave Gambit?
For most thieves the goal is to not even come in contact with the opposition. You want to perform a heist without running into anyone. If you are in a situation where you've got to fight someone you've already messed up. My take on Gambit in this series is that he's not going to be someone who would kill lightly, if at all.
As to the Death persona, I'm not planning to delve into that for the foreseeable future. We're really trying to make this series accessible for people who haven't been regularly following the X-Men books. So I'll really be selective in what previous stories we want to draw from. There are subtle ways to acknowledge those past events, but tell stories that exist on their own. And the things from continuity that we do tackle, we're going to introduce slowly and as if you don't know them. So his relationships with Rogue and the Thieves' Guild will start to be introduced gradually and in a way that builds their significance rather than cashes in on it.
What can you tell us about your inaugural "Gambit" story?
It's actually a heist story that goes right but leads to some complications Gambit wasn't ready for. It sets up a chain of wide-ranging and powerful dominoes. Basically everything in the first year of the book will be a chain reaction from his choice in the first issue to just let himself go and be a thief again for a day. After all, Gambit's great at getting himself out of trouble -- but the way he does it often launches him into a different kind of trouble...
We understand that Gambit steals an artifact in his first foray back into thievery. What can you tell us about this item?
It's beautiful, but just might kill him. But based on most of his girlfriends, I'd say Gambit's into that kind of thing.
Who are some of the supporting characters in "Gambit?" Will this title feature a regular group of supporting players like Gambit's teammates on the X-Men, or will it have more of a rotating supporting cast based on where he is and what he's doing?
The cast will change as we tell different stories and there are definitely some recognizable Marvel U characters that we want to bring in. For the first arc though, we'll be introducing a new female character that I hope to set up as a foil for Gambit that will fuel a bunch of stories we have in mind going forward. You wouldn't be right if you were going to classify her as a hero or a villain. So there's definitely a bizarre story behind her that will hopefully be fun for readers to try and figure out and experience as it unfolds.
When Gambit crosses her path, sparks will fly and things will move forward from there. I love those "can they or can't they trust" each other style relationships. And they are such integral parts of crime films and fiction that I had to mix Gambit up in one with a beautiful, mysterious lady.
Also we'll see some of the characters associated with the thief archetype. We'll meet his fence; the guy who sells his stolen goods. And we're even opening it up to look at how some of the criminal businesses in the Marvel Universe work. We'll get into that and some of it will involve new characters with ties to existing Marvel villains.
Speaking of villains, who are you pitting Gambit against? What kinds of villains make the best adversaries for the character?
Actually, the adversaries I'm most looking forward to giving him are Marvel Heroes. I think they really help bring out the shades of gray in his character. I'm not talking about traditional "slug it out before teaming up" fights. I'm actually going to pit his interests against some heroes and government agents.
We're going to see him overseas in the second arc where he'll run afoul of one of my favorite foreign Marvel organizations that I wanted to see back in comics. We'll leave that dangling for the message boards to have some fun with.
And to answer the final part of your question, a good antagonist for Gambit is someone who is as wickedly smart as he is, but a little more organized. Because as clever as Gambit can be, he doesn't really plan ahead [Laughs]. You need a chess master style villain to really create an uphill battle for him. So we'll have some variations on that.
It sounds like if we were to describe your new "Gambit" series in movie terms that it would "Oceans 11" meets "Indiana Jones" set in the Marvel Universe. Is that a good way to describe it?
It is. In developing this book Editor Daniel Ketchum and I have definitely been referencing what we love about certain films and what we're not seeing in comics. Those films are absolutely "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Oceans' 11," and some of the better "Mission: Impossible" movies. So if you take that adventure/espionage approach and you unleash it in the Marvel Universe where you have aliens, magic, advanced technologies and environments like the Savage Land, it gives me all these tools to tell these fascinating and fun high adventure stories.
You'll be working with artist Clay Mann to bring these stories to life. He knows the character of Gambit really well from his work with Mike Carey on books like "X-Men: Legacy." What do you feel his other artistic strengths are?
Let's be honest. He draws sexy people. These are extremely evocative characters so he's perfect for this kind of book. Gambit is one of the few characters that lights up the face of every woman I talk to and Clay definitely brings the eye candy. Beyond that though, he has a phenomenal sense of design. Along the lines of what Bryan Hitch did with "Ultimates," Clay almost seems to effortlessly ground these fantastical worlds and disparate elements and ties them together in way that makes you believe this all can exist together. And he's done a great redesign of Gambit's costume.
What can you tell us about the tweaks you guys are making to Gambit's costume?
When Clay and I were offered the job the first thing each of us asked was, "Could we change his costume?" [Laughs] There are already some alterations that have been happening, but I wanted to make sure we got away from the pink metallic chest plate and the head frock. None of that makes any sense to me. The idea that a thief would conduct subterfuge wearing bright pink makes no sense to me. The idea that he would wear a mask that covers everything but his face and hair is gone. That also didn't make any sense to me.
A lot of the visual cues that keep him Gambit are still there though. I think it preserves his identity and character but supports the ideas of what he's actually doing a bit more. Clay's designs are all about practicality.
Right, readers of the "Age of X" crossover between "X-Men: Legacy" and "New Mutants" got to see a lot of Clay's fantastic designs.
Absolutely. I think he's a perfect example of why it's great to create new characters and worlds because he brings so much to the table in terms of detail in the character. So once I heard he was on board I knew we had the guy who could help ground our crazy stories with some real humanity, tension, and subterfuge.
Wrapping up, you're about four months away from the August release of "Gambit" #1. How does that feel? What's running through your mind?
As a writer, sometimes you feel pressure to live up to your characters. There's a lot of pressure find a sufficient source of the characters' marquee qualities in myself. For Gambit -- I really need to up my own cool and sexiness. So if people want to start sending me pheromones and aphrodisiacs I would appreciate it. [Laughs]
"Gambit" #1 hits stores in August.