Pig Pen Part 1 - Muddy Waters
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (plot/script), Steve Skroce (plot/pencils), Rob Hunter (inks), Shannon Blanchard (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)
Summary: In the past, fifteen-year-old Gambit aides his twelve-year-old cousin Etienne in Etienne’s Thieves Guild initiation assignment. They’re apprehended by the Pig’s men, who take them to the heart of his child slavery operation. During their escape attempt, the Pig knocks them off a cliff. Gambit survives, but Etienne drowns in a river. In the present, the Pig targets Gambit’s family after they grant asylum to two members of the Tokyo Thieves Guild -- Zoe Ishihara and her mutant brother Shirow. Gambit attempts to rescue Zoe and Shirow from the Mengo Brothers, but all three are captured when the Mengo Brothers cause a building to collapse on them.
· Teenage Gambit wears the same purple-and-black armor he wears today.
· Etienne’s initiation challenge is to steal from Candra. Based on her dialogue, she’s already had a run-in with a time-traveling Gambit. Her guards are henchmen provided by the Pig, who presumably turns teenagers into faceless goons for supervillains.
· Speaking of which, Viper (“Madame Hydra” at this point) later shows up in the flashback to scrutinize Pig’s soldiers for sale.
· The Pig is blinded in one eye by teenage Gambit, who’s still learning how to use his powers. Etienne steals a deck of cards from one of the child-prisoners, which leads to what we’re told is Gambit’s first use of playing cards as weapons.
· Fontanelle visits the dreams of Kimberely Purcell, the sister of Mary Purcell, a.k.a the Green Mist Lady that’s living inside Gambit.
Review: The first page of this story promises “The Little Rascals meets John Woo,” and it pretty much lives up to it. Plus, the origin story of Gambit’s playing cards is revealed, which is a nice surprise. Now, has anyone explained those tiny spikes he used in his first appearance?
Gambit’s past with the Thieves Guild isn’t usually fertile story ground, but Nicieza did use a teenage Gambit in X-Men #33’s flashback tale, and that’s potentially the greatest Gambit story ever written. If there’s anyone you want writing a story about fifteen-year-old Gambit helping his little cousin steal from an External, it’s Nicieza. Sadly, this is too rushed to give you the same impact as X-Men #33, even though it’s still an entertaining caper story with an unexpectedly dour ending.
For the present day scenes, Nicieza and Skroce also get some mileage out of the Thieves Guild with the introduction of Tokyo members Zoe and Shirow. I don’t know how exactly the idea of foreign Thieves Guilds gels with the specific origin given to the New Orleans chapter, but previous writers have established foreign members before (Storm’s mentor was retroactively made one), so it’s fair game I suppose. Building on the series’ ongoing continuity, we discover that young Shirow generates the mind-controlling gas seen in the previous issues, and we’re also made privy to the utterly disgusting way the kid expels it.
Zoe and Shirow don’t really have to be Thieves Guild members in order for the story to work, they could simply be a random mutant and his sister Gambit runs into one day, but the creators are trying to find some way to make the Guild material work. Gambit isn’t only helping the kid because he’s a mutant; his family has an obligation to him. Plus he’s being chased by a known adversary of the Guild, someone responsible for the death of Gambit’s cousin. Gambit’s drawn into all of this even though he was disowned years ago. Nicieza and Skroce are trying to make this a story about familial obligations in general, while downplaying the cornball elements that made the Guilds easily dismissible in their early appearances. At this point it works, but later on in the series I think Nicieza tries too hard to legitimize the Thieves Guild as individual characters. The extended time travel arc that details the past of this allegedly great secret society is also one of my least favorite elements of the book’s second year. But for now, things are good.