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Alternate Cover - 17th January 2006

Alternate Cover

So, this is really the first real week of the (almost) all-new Alternate Cover format. As established last week, I'll be spending this column looking at a randomly selected issue from my collection, doing a review of it, then writing a bit about the period it came out during and generally musing on how and why it ended up going from the creators' brain to my collection.

To ensure proper pseudo-randomness, I get my glamorous assistant Nikki (my girlfriend, who knows about as much about comics as I do about handcraft) to select a box, and an issue within that box. Then, for better or worse, that's what I've got to work with. It's fun for me, let's hope it'll be fun for anyone reading this as well. Remember, as ever, even if it's a load of tedious rubbish, you'll still get your mini-reviews after the main feature.

I can tell you're dying to know what the comic's going to be, so without further ado, let's take a look. The first ever comic I'll be examining is:

Gambit #25

Gambit (Vol. 2) #25

February 2001

Publisher Marvel • Writers Scott Lobdell (Plot) & Joe Pruett • Penciller Georges Jeanty • Inker Sean Parsons


The issue opens with a pre-pubescent Gambit stealing a gem from Mambo Mastiff, a wealthy New Orleans businessman, as he sleeps. After almost falling foul of the guard Alligators (after all, this is the Bayou...) Gambit is captured by Mastiff's guard, Hercule (or rather, 'Ercule) while making his escape. Confronted by Mastiff, Gambit offers to replace the gem which he lost while escaping. Mastiff is initially skeptical and orders Gambit to be thrown back to the 'gators. However, convinced by his daughter, Mastiff instead releases Gambit on condition that he one day repay him for sparing his life.

Cut to the present day, and Gambit defuses a hostage situation at a charity ball in New Orleans, accepting the praise of the guests despite having only attended in order to steal a rare piece of artwork. He is shocked to be confronted by Hercule, who brings him to the now destitute and grossly overweight Mastiff. Mastiff's beautiful, now-estranged daughter has literally had her heart stolen by someone using voodoo magic, and now lies at the edge of death. Mastiff suspects his Daughter's lover DuCreste, and calls in his debt, asking Gambit to track down DuCreste and save his daughter.

Gambit patrols the city looking for DuCreste until he chances upon a girl being abducted. He loses them in the crowd, but after being confronted by, and defeating one of DuCreste's henchmen, he gets an address for his hideout. Inside he discovers a giant green voodoo-powered heart in a tank, surrounded by a number of smaller hearts, each labelled with their victim's name (Good job DuCreste is apparantly the anally-retentive type.) After a brief fight with the super-powered DuCreste, Gambit destroys the giant heart, causing DuCreste to disintegrate and every heart to disappear from the surrounding jars. A few days later, Minnie and Gambit are holed up in an apartment together. The phone rings - it's her father calling again, but this time, neither intends to answer it.


As far as Gambit stories go, there's virtually nothing remarkable about this one. It utilises just about every basic element of the character there is, such that it ends up a feeling a bit too cliche. Gambit steals things, it's set in New Orleans (We know, because it features alligators, voodoo, bad accents and possibly Mardis Gras) and it features him hooking up with a woman we'll never see again. It's Gambit-by-numbers. Admittedly, it's got no glaring flaws, and besides a single line of dialogue and his costume, this could've been published at almost any point in Gambit's history without causing any problems. It's inarguably filler, but if you want to read a single-issue Gambit story then this is going to tick all the boxes and be a decent enough read at the same time. Artwork for the issue is by Georges Jeanty - it appears generally rushed but does the job even if it's not the best the title has looked in its time. It's double-sized for no other reason than the fact that it's a "25th Anniversary" issue - unless you count the fact that it's also the final issue of the title. The story itself doesn't remotely justify double the pages, nor the increased price that goes with it, especially when only really big Gambit fans are going to get their money's worth out of it



No disrespect meant to any creators involved in this, but some comics just scream "phoned in." Under the circumstances, though, it couldn't have been anything but. With Joe Quesada having recently replaced Bob Harras as Editor-in-Chief, he almost immediately turned his attention towards the X-Men titles, declaring that there were far too many series with no clear identity and taking to them with a veritable machete of cancellations. Gambit was one of them, as was Bishop - both were replaced by a worse-selling Gambit and Bishop limited series.

At this point, Gambit was actually a pretty good seller - for reference, this issue outsold the same month's issue of the Incredible Hulk title - however, in order to reduce the number of pointless X-Books, it had to go. The regular creative team of Fabian Nicieza and Yanick Paquette was fired after bringing their storyline to a premature end in issue #24, and somewhere along the line this issue ended up being comissioned. Scott Lobdell, who enjoyed a period on the X-Titles in the mid-90s, was at this point virtually Marvel's X-Title whipping-boy, turning up to "plot" this issue - that is, write all but the dialogue - as well as bridge the gap between Claremont's departure and Grant Morrison's arrival by writing a few issues of the core X-Men titles.

It may have been an inventory story, or perhaps an annual shoehorned into the final issue, but you can see the financial sense in sending out the series with this rather than ending at #24. The cover, however, suggests some rather bizarre things. For instance, above the Gambit logo, it proclaims "The Story Starts Here!" to which you can only say, No, It Does Not. It may be a suggestion that this issue was going to lead into Gambit and Bishop Alpha, or perhaps start the title's third year with a new storyline, but it certainly doesn't do either of those things. Cancellation these days was swift and brutal, so it's no surprise to see something like this happen.

Still, that's the behind the scenes stuff. What about the story? Well, to my knowledge, Mambo Mastiff and his Daughter, Minnie Mastiff, never appeared again, and Gambit's "leadership" of one of the X-Men teams (something that span out of the X-Men: Revolution revamp a few months prior) that was mentioned during the issue was quickly and quietly brushed away mere months later when Gambit joined the X-Treme X-Men team, as was the terrible costume redesign he'd been using since then. Not to worry, though - fans of this issue will be pleased to know that 'Ercule 'imself did turn up once more, in Gambit & Bishop: Sons of the Atom #2, providing taxi services. Gambit tells Bishop it's because "[Hercule's] employer" owes Gambit one. Funny thing to say, really, because half the page count of Gambit #25 was to establish that Gambit owed Mastiff one and that he was now calling in his favour....

This title came out at a particularly tumultuous time for the X-Books. When #25 was released, I had been buying the title almost a year following a lot of positive word-of-mouth. I was never entirely captivated by the title and I'd considered dropping it when I found out it was being cancelled, and decided to stay until the end. I didn't pick up the subsequent mini series, or any other of the subsequent Gambit solo titles.

Would I buy it again?

No. Ultimately, it's too generic a story, and one that doesn't provide anything of sufficient interest to make it worth coming back to. The cast of the issue is well-rounded enough that they could potentially be revisited, but unless I end up writing a Gambit series myself one day, I doubt I'll read this again for a long time.

Where are they now?

Georges Jeanty is working on Joss Whedon and Dark Horse's forthcoming Buffy "Season 8" comic series. Scott Lobdell hasn't been seen at Marvel since, but did write the 2005 Tommy Lee Jones film Man of the House. Joe Pruett started his own company, Desperado Publishing.

Flick-Through Reviews

Phonogram #4 - Gillen/McKelvie
Quite possibly the best issue yet. Not just of Phonogram, but quite possibly of all comics ever. In this one, Kohl enters an astral landscape constructed of memory and metaphor to try and find out what's happened to Britannia. Helped along by McKelvie's art, the story moves effortlessly from cameo to commentary, with appearances galore from the big names of Britpop, and some harsh-but-fair appraisal of the britpop movement itself. You will find no finer comic on the shelf this, or indeed any other week. At least until issue #5 comes out. I'd wager that most people reading this all bought Parklife or What's the Story? and if I'm right, then you should be buying Phonogram too.

Nightly News #3 - Hickman
The initial buzz of the series has worn off, but it's still proving itself to be an excellent series. I'm having some trouble reading it because the material is incredibly dense and the design-based work means that it has a tendancy to blend together. That said, this is definitely going to be worth buying in trade but the only way to ensure a trade is to prove enough interest in the single issues. To back up my word, I'll be buying every issue of this series and then re-reading it properly - as a complete work. Hickman is incredibly innovative and it's a shame that each issue isn't a little more accessible, because that's all that's preventing it from a constant A-Grade.

Thunderbolts #110 - Ellis/Deodato
Mother of god, how I've waited for this one. Ellis' take on the Thunderbolts turns out to be slightly more down the middle than most people expected. So far, it's remained faithful to the original series while quickly establishing its own tone. Ellis seems like a natural fit for a character like Moonstone, so it's especially good to see her out of her coma and back on her feet. Certain elements of the book have tongue firmly in cheek, but it works because it's actually funny. Marvel seem to have finally but their full weight behind Thunderbolts, following years of half-hearted attempts to keep it afloat, and as a fan since issue #1, I'm incredibly pleased with the results.

About this entry


Actually, Gambit #25 was announced as the first of a *run* by Lobdell/Jeanty. Then someone made the decision to interrupt the Gambit and Bishop: Last X-Man series by doing a Gambit/Bishop mini, which would lead into a resumption/relaunch of the individual titles. Then the G/B mini sold like crap, and got rewritten-by-demand enough times that it made no sense.

Unsurprisingly, the solo series didn't return.

By Somebody
January 18, 2007 @ 1:14 pm

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Ah, interesting. That explains the "The Story Starts Here!" nonsense. It's kind of a pity Lobdell disappeared from the X-Verse, really, because despite his plotting flaws he wrote some really excellent character moments of the kind you can only really find in X-Factor these days. A pity he's gone, really, he made the best of a bad situation and ended up with an unfair reputation that persists to this day because of it.

By James H
January 18, 2007 @ 3:49 pm

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S'funny, issue 4 has divided the audience (but then we knew it would). People either love it, or are confused by it.

By Jamie McKelvie
January 20, 2007 @ 9:19 pm

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I assume any confusion is because it needs a fair chunk of interpretation of the dialogue and imagery to be done on the readers' part and not everyone's interested in that sort of relationship with their comics. I'd think anyone who's made it 4 issues in would have the necessary enthusiasm and background knowledge to get something out of it, though. For what it's worth, I found it an incredibly rewarding issue - it's a rare comic that you can find yourself reading twice consecutively out of sheer enjoyment.

Thinking in terms of music, I'd suggest that it's something like when Radiohead released Kid A - half the fans didn't know what the fuck was going on, and the other half saw that maybe it wasn't instantly accessible and gave it the approach it deserved (this analogy only works if you liked Kid A, and indeed, Radiohead, of course) - then to extend the comparison a little further, I'm sure when the next couple are out, the added context will serve to improve people's understanding and enjoyment of the work.

By James H
January 21, 2007 @ 4:51 am

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I enjoyed #4, but mostly for the crowd-pleasing cameos more than anything (I've already rushed out and told my Haines-obsessive fans that they need to be reading this immediately, while the lifelong Blur fan in me - the one that is, in fact, currently re-reading 3862 Days - loved the identity of the King, in addition to the quite wonderful cover). I definitely think #3 is the standout so far.

But it's all unmissable stuff.

By Seb
January 22, 2007 @ 5:12 pm

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By "fans", I of course mean "friends". I don't have fans. Yet.

By Seb
January 22, 2007 @ 5:13 pm

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