The Stranger Inside
Written by Jennifer Heddle
Summary: Remembering the advice of Professor Xavier, Rogue starts a diary. Carol Danvers, whose consciousness has recently been overtaking Rogue’s body, also keeps pages in the journal. Rogue resents Carol’s intrusion into another aspect of her life, but eventually sympathizes with Carol’s pain. Carol writes a message to Rogue, telling her that she’ll try to hate her less. Rogue, following Carol’s advice, begins to grow closer to the X-Men.
Continuity Notes: The Continuity Guide places this story concurrently with Uncanny X-Men #243-246 (April-July 1989), during the days the X-Men lived in a ghost town in the Australian outback. Rogue feels distressed at the start of the story following the events of “Inferno,” which had her touching Apocalypse’s evil while kissing Archangel, and later facing the demon N’astirh. (Uncanny X-Men #243 was actually the last UXM issue of “Inferno,” so really the story can’t begin until UXM #244.)
Review: I’ve always loved the status quo that had Rogue and Carol Danvers sharing a body. Allowing Rogue to keep Carol’s powers but pay no emotional toil for her actions was kind of cheap, so I’m glad Claremont eventually hit on the idea of Carol spontaneously taking over Rogue’s body at certain times. Now, Rogue literally can’t forget about her greatest sin, and she’s forced to acknowledge that the X-Men actually like Carol more than they like her. There’s enormous story potential here, and presenting the narrative as Rogue and Carol’s alternating diary entries is pretty smart. The most touching moment of the story comes when Carol realizes that she can’t remember the last time she saw her brother. She remembers him as a child, and she knows he died in Vietnam, but her final moments with him are gone. Perhaps Rogue’s powers permanently erased some of her memories, or Rogue’s actually cruel enough to intentionally keep the memory from her. The way Heddle uses the existing backstory to humanize Carol and dramatize the current hell she lives in is admirably good writing. There’s no real resolution to this mystery; it’s implied that Rogue wouldn’t do such a thing because she has genuinely reformed, but the idea is actually left out there dangling.
Jennifer Heddle seems to be basing most of her story on a scene in Uncanny X-Men #244, which had Rogue smashing up furniture that Carol bought while in control of her body. Rogue’s only peace in life has come from within herself, due to her inability to touch others, and now even that’s gone. Carol, on the other hand, has lost everything and sees the face of the person who stole it all in the mirror every day (or at least on the occasions her personality becomes dominant). As I said earlier, there’s great potential for conflict here, and it’s a shame that Claremont didn’t do more with the idea. That’s one of the advantages of a retro-anthology; a writer can pick up on a concept that still had some life in it and give readers a worthy “lost tale.” This is precisely the kind of story I wanted to read in this anthology. I was sure we’d get a Silver Age nostalgia piece with the original team, an Xavier solo story, and something with Kitty Pryde as a rookie X-Man, but I wasn’t expecting to find a specific continuity point from a somewhat obscure era in the X-Men’s past addressed so poignantly.
Once a Thief
Written by Ashley McConnell
Summary: Gambit visits the Saint-Chinian region of France. He runs into a fellow thief, Richard Reynaud, who dares Gambit to steal the wedding rings of a newlywed couple. Gambit refuses, but soon discovers at his hotel that the rings are missing. Gambit’s friend, the waitress Madelaine, is accused of the crime. Gambit clears her name by invading Villa Reynaud and reclaiming the rings. After the rings are returned to their rightful owners, Richard Reynaud confronts Gambit and tells him he isn’t a true thief.
Continuity Notes: “Once a Thief” takes place “in the general vicinity” of Uncanny X-Men #275 (April 1991), during Gambit’s earliest days as an X-Man. I would place it closer to the first issue of the second volume of X-Men, since the narration mentions Cyclops while Gambit is mentally reflecting on the X-Men.
Review: I’ve never quite understood why Gambit attracted such a dedicated following of female fans, nor have I fully bought into the idea that he’s a refugee from a romance novel who ended up in X-Men comics. Consequently, I’m not the target audience for this story. It’s not a “romance” in the way the word is commonly used today (Gambit flirts a lot but doesn’t get involved with any of the female characters), but the story is filled with starry-eyed descriptions of France, loving accounts of Gambit’s innate charm and masculinity, and the stakes simply involve the reunion of a young couple with their wedding rings. McConnell is attempting to tell a story that bridges the gap between Gambit’s days as a thief and a hero, which is a nice premise for an “untold tale,” but at no point did I really buy into the narrative. Gambit’s rival is just broad enough to justify for mustache-twirling status, and the waitress and newlywed characters are strictly ciphers. Some of Gambit’s inner monologue does feel true to the character, but I can’t say that’s enough to maintain my interest in the story. It is mercifully short though, unlike the robotic dog story from a few chapters ago that lingered endlessly.