I'm a big fan of the Gambit character, whether he's popular or not. I've been a fan since I was about 15 and suspect I'll always be a fan. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't like to see some real growth and great stories for the character. Unfortunately James Asmus and Clay Mann's "Gambit" #1 starts out by treading the same ground we've all seen before for Remy LeBeau.
Asmus's plot, whether of his own making or inherited, is absolutely rote. It's your basic heist and attractive ladies story that is exactly what you expect to see Gambit doing in his X-Men downtime. It's also a story of which readers have seen far too many variations over the years.
There are two shining moments in how Asmus reveals some of Gambit's thief tricks and the ending, which leaves one at least curious enough about what's next to pick up the next issue. For his part, Asmus seems to have a good handle on Gambit's voice overall, and there are a few good lines, including one that actually got me to chuckle out loud, but it's just so much of what we've seen before with this character that it's hard to keep the boredom at bay. I wish the powers that be could have pulled out all the stops and done something truly unexpected both visually and character/content wise, as we saw with "Hawkeye" #1 last week. That book was well considered from tip to tail -- it felt fresh and new, modern and yet classic -- all while being smart and entertaining. "Gambit" #1 feels old and repetitive, and not unlike something I might have read fifteen years ago.
What to say about Clay Mann's art? Disappointing is the best word for it. Mann is a talented illustrator that has a style I personally like very much. He's also a solid storyteller and pays wonderful attention to small details like clothing and hairstyles -- the kind of stuff that gives a story great visual depth. But this is a huge departure from what we've seen from him in the past and it's just not working. The art in this issue has a painterly quality, with few, if any, hard lines or black, and the result is a slightly blurry mess. It's almost like looking at something with someone else's glasses on. Nothing stands out or pops, nothing draws the eye, or has any discernable definition, and some of it even ends up looking sloppy. Gambit's makes a new "friend" in this issue and her arm sleeve tattoo, which starts out interestingly enough, is by the end of the book just a wash of muddy colors.
It's clear the art team was trying to go for something different here, but it falls incredibly flat and feels particularly ill considered since there's nothing about the style that makes tonal sense for the book anyway. Given that Mann is an artist I always feel excited to find drawing a book I'm reading, this was a huge let down. It's hard to tell how much of this is driven by Mann (whose storytelling is still pretty on point and whose figures are nice on the whole) and how much is the fault of his inker and colorist (Seth Mann and Rachelle Rosenberg, respectively), but I'm not sure it matters. This was obviously a deliberate decision that comes off as a huge misfire, both for the book and for the artists involved.
The ending of "Gambit" #1 has some promise about where this series could be headed in the future -- i.e. a much less stereotypical story, but this first issue is best ignored. Everyone on board can do better, which I hope will be reflected in future issues. I'd love to see Remy LeBeau in a regular series that's as good as I know that character can be.