Friday, October 3, 2008

WOLVERINE/GAMBIT: VICTIMS - September 1995 - December 1995


In Harm’s Way

Credits: Jeph Loeb (writer), Tim Sale (artist), Gregory Wright & Digital Chameleon (colors), Comicraft (lettering)


A female detective named Alexandra Davies is working undercover in London to stop a series of murders reminiscent of the Jack the Ripper killings. She becomes the fifth victim. Gambit flies to London to investigate her murder. He sneaks into the office of an Inspector Andrews to get information. When Andrews walks in, Gambit knocks him unconscious with one of his charged cards. Gambit travels to the home of Alexandra Davies’ parents, telling them that she was a friend of his, but he only succeeds in making them suspicious of him. At night, Gambit tries to stop another killing, but it turns out to be a police sting designed to catch him. Inspector Andrews and the London C.I.D. try to arrest him, as a woman screams nearby. Gambit races to the scene to protect the woman from a man in the shadows. The man turns out to be Wolverine. When Gambit asks him to explain the blood on his claws, he can’t.


This is another installment in the “Marvel Select” series, so every issue has a cardstock cover with foil enhancements and costs $2.95.

“Huh?” Moment

Alexandra’s parents don’t seem to notice Gambit’s red, glowing eyes (he even takes his sunglasses off before speaking to them).


This is the start of a prestige format miniseries, the last one in the overpriced “Marvel Select” format, I believe. The previous Bishop and Rogue minis were obvious cash grabs with stories that really didn’t justify the format, so I wasn’t thrilled to see another one come out. This doesn’t turn out to be an important story either, but it is at least successful in creating a mood and utilizing an art style that wasn’t seen in the normal monthly titles. I don’t think the world really needed a Gambit & Wolverine miniseries, but it is trying to do something different. Sale’s abstract art style and heavy shadows fit the story well, and Loeb is able to keep an issue that’s mostly setup pretty entertaining. Little moments, such as Gambit’s longing for a cigarette on his flight, are nice touches. Most of Sale’s art is very impressive throughout the issue, creating a stylized interpretation of Gambit that emphasizes his red eyes, sloppy hair, and flowing trenchcoat (although for some reason Sale draws his face almost like a corpse’s in a few scenes). The story is clearly meant to showcase the art, so the issue’s filled with several giant panels and splash pages. Sale makes good use of the large images, but they make the book feel like too much of a light read.


In Deep

Credits: Jeph Loeb (writer), Tim Sale (artist), Gregory Wright & Digital Chameleon (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)


The London C.I.D. set their sights on Wolverine and Gambit, who are rescued by a mysterious woman who takes them away in a sports car. She introduces herself to the duo as Martinique Jason. After evading the C.I.D. agents, she drives their car into a river. Gambit and Wolverine reappear in a mysterious location, with Martinique’s dead body lying on the floor. Gambit accuses Wolverine of killing her in one of his blind rages, but he denies it. After escaping through the sewers, they run through the tunnels and end up in the same room, only now Martinique’s body is gone. She appears behind Wolverine with a gun, claiming that she only saved Wolverine so that she could claim justice for his victims. He slashes her throat, revealing her to be a robot. Arcade and the real Martinique, the new Mastermind, watch the events from a series of monitors.

Continuity Notes

This is the first appearance of the new Mastermind, the daughter of the original Mastermind. Unlike her father, she can use telepathy to directly insert illusions into someone’s mind.

Martinique claims that Muir Island has been quarantined since Moira MacTaggert’s Legacy Virus infection was revealed. There’s a footnote that points you towards recent Excalibur issues for details, but this hasn’t come up at all in the series.


If the first issue didn’t make it obvious that this mini was intended as a showcase for Sale’s art, this one certainly does. The plot is left literally going in circles, while Sale gets to show off his large, stylized figures on almost every page. I actually don’t mind it that much in this issue, since the story still feels energetic, even if it’s not going very far. This type of comic has become more common over the years, so maybe I’ve just become inured to it. The conflict that the story is trying to sell, Wolverine’s doubts about possibly killing the women, doesn’t really work since it’s so over-the-top you know it’ll be disproven. The story is still able to coast on energy and its stylish artwork at this point, though, so it’s not a major issue yet.


No Way Out

Credits: Jeph Loeb (writer), Tim Sale (artist), Gregory Wright & Malibu Hues (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)


Gambit flashes back to his first meeting with Alexandra Davies. She catches him stealing a painting, but he promises her that it was stolen by the Nazis during WWII and that he’s returning it to its rightful owner. He vows to give her a “bigger fish” if she lets him go. The next day, he’s true to his word and gives her information that allows her to arrest Yukio. Later, he offers to work as her partner, but she refuses. He gives her a final kiss before he leaves. His mental image of Alexandra dissolves, leading Gambit to declare vengeance against Wolverine. Wolverine dreams of his time in Japan with Mariko. He walks outside of their home and is attacked by Gambit. Wolverine retaliates and stabs him in the stomach.


This issue resolves the mystery of how Gambit knew Alexandra, and it manages to do so in a capabale way. Gambit’s charm and light-hearted attitude are attributes of the character that most writers seemed to forget about in the ‘90s, so seeing him charm his way out of this situation and outsmart Yukio is a welcome relief. This interpretation of Gambit I have no problem with. The perpetually gloomy mystery man who’s constantly angsting over his unknown past gets old fast. Having Gambit get into a physical fight with Wolverine seems too obvious, since pairing heroes together and then watching them fight is one of the oldest superhero clichés around, but Sale does a decent job with the fight scene. The Wolverine segment again tries to sell the idea that he might have been responsible for the murders in London, which is a plot thread that just isn’t working. Wolverine’s story is really just an afterthought in this issue, as Gambit gets eleven pages on his own and Wolverine only gets two before their fight.


A Woman Scorned

Credits: Jeph Loeb (writer), Tim Sale (artist), Gregory Wright & Malibu Hues (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)


Mastermind catches a glimpse of Arcade’s subconscious with her telepathic powers. She tells him that she agreed to help him because he told her that Wolverine killed his former assistant, Ms. Locke, but now she’s beginning to doubt him. Wolverine wakes up and realizes that his fight with Gambit was a mental illusion. They escape their cell and fight an army of Wolverine robots while on their way to face Arcade. When they finally reach him, Wolverine wants to kill Arcade for reminding him of the things he’s lost, but Gambit talks him out of it. Arcade tries to escape, but Mastermind uses her mental powers to expose what happened to Ms. Locke. While playing one of their “games”, Arcade killed her after she slashed half of his face off. Unable to admit his guilt, he invented a game to hide his shame. He placed her body on the streets and framed Wolverine by using duplicate robots to commit more murders. Mastermind seemingly disappears, leaving Arcade behind. He’s sent to a mental institution, where he must live with Mastermind’s mental illusion that surrounds him with images of Ms. Locke.


And, after three issues of sparse plots and giant panels, we get a rushed ending. Now that Arcade’s plan is revealed, Loeb also has to work in the fact that Arcade has always resented Wolverine for beating his games, and that he hates him enough to project one of his own murders onto him. It’s obviously a stretch, and the story really doesn’t do a lot to justify Arcade’s motivation. Mastermind is also suddenly revealed to be an extreme feminist, as her dialogue suggests that she only cares about the victims because they were female, even telling Wolverine and Gambit that as men they can’t understand her pain. She did tell Wolverine in the second issue that she wanted revenge, but that issue didn’t get into any gender politics, so it seems odd that it’s suddenly her motivation. Arcade’s redesign, which has half of his face severely scarred, is explained here in a rushed five-panel scene. I don’t mind the revelation that Ms. Locke was responsible, but I never liked this look for Arcade as it seemed to be a forced attempt at making him appear scary or creepy. Arcade’s whole gimmick is that he takes things that appear to be harmless and makes them deadly, so making him look like a monster himself seems to miss the point.

One thing that isn’t resolved is why Wolverine had blood on his claws in the first place, and why he couldn’t remember how it got there. The obvious explanation is that Mastermind manipulated his mind, but there should’ve been a confirmation for closure’s sake. There is a nice scene at the end at Alexandra’s grave, which tries to draw a parallel between Wolverine and Gambit’s reactions to loss with Arcade’s cowardly response. It’s a little cliché, but at least there’s some attempt to use the story to actually say something about the characters. Like the previous installments, most of the issue rests on Sale’s artwork, and he is able to get some cool images out of the plot. Overall, it’s hard not to view this mini as another exploitation of the brand, but the story has its moments and the art is strong for most of the series. This probably would’ve worked best as a one-shot, since the story is fairly thin and the absurd tease of Wolverine actually becoming a Jack the Ripper-style killer gets old after four straight installments.


Fnord Serious said...

This story definitely sounds like a stretch if you had to read it over the course of four months. Looks like good quarter bin fodder, if just for the artwork. It is quite significant, though, as the first collaboration between Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale. I maintain that Loeb's current fame is predicated on the amazing artists that he works with, because it sure isn't his writing.

Peter said...

I think you'll find Loeb and Sale's first collaboration dates back to 1991 when they worked on DC's Challengers of the Unknown, an 8-issue mini-series.

After that they did a Batman Halloween special and then after that they even worked on the X-books twice already before this: a back-up in an annual and of course the sequence about Domino/Grizzly in a Cable issue recently reviewed on this very site.

I do completely agree though, Loeb's a pretty worthless writer who gets to work with guys like Tim Sale and Ed McGuinness, who must like his (lack of) stories because he enables them to really showcase their art.

Anonymous said...

I'll somewhat disagree and say that Loeb is a mediocre writer who occasionally has his moments of quality. However, he is far too famous and well regarded for his actual skill level. And I'm sure the artists love the fact that stories like Hush, Long Halloween and the first arc of Superman/Batman where they get to draw every villain they've ever wanted.

Fnord Serious said...

Oops! That's what I get for not doing my research. Wolverine/Gambit seems like a step down from Challengers of the Unknown in my mind, so I just assumed it was their first multi-issue collaboration.

I agree that Loeb is not the worst writer out there. I enjoyed the Long Halloween, after all, and have heard good things about his Challengers book. I just am amazed that his fanboy's wet dream approach to writing is so amazingly popular. It's like bad fanfic. "I know, let's have Wolverine be a descendant of a tribe of mystical wolves. Cool! And then the Red Hulk can punch out Galactus! ZOMG!!" He is like the writing version of 90's era Image Comics: all flash and no substance.

Kerry said...

Was it ever revealed how scarred-up Arcade got back to looking like normal Arcade, or is that one of those things that's quietly ignored for continuity reasons, such as the "X-Men Forever" mini-series?

Peter said...

I think they said in the Colossus one-shot (1998 or so?) that he just had plastic surgery. I seem to remember him having the gruesome face during his appearance in Green Goblin and then later on it was gone, so my bet is on COLOSSUS explaining it away in a throwaway line.

And oh, I recently read CotU and actually quite enjoyed it. Loeb seemed to have a better grasp on storytelling at the time, somewhat anyway. But it's been getting progressively worse, with both Ultimates 3 and his Hulk being prime examples of his suckitude.

kerry said...

I don't think I can even remember the last time I liked a Loeb comic. "Spider-Man: Blue," maybe? And even that was just going back to the well. And it's a shame, because I still love "The Long Halloween."

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