C2E2 2012: Marvel's Gambit Gets Back To His Thieving Roots With Writer James Asmus [Interview]

When writer James Asmus wrapped up his first ongoing run on a comic with Generation Hope #17, the big question was: what’s next for the new Marvel writer? The answer was finally revealed at C2E2 2012, as we discovered Asmus would be writing a new, ongoing series focusing on the Rajun Cajun himself, Gambit, along with fan favorite artist Clay Mann.

During the Con, we chatted with Asmus about the book, what he’s revamping (hint: the costume and accent), and what’s coming up for Rogue’s former beau:

MTV Geek: Let’s talk Gambit, James. What’s the one thing you want people on the fence about the series - or who are just intrigued - to know about it?

James Asmus: The biggest that I think that I would love for people to know about ‘Gambit’ is that we are really trying to make a book that is a blast for everyone, including lapsed readers. There’s a lot of people I know and talk to who, when the name Gambit comes up, they get really excited. They go, “Oh, I used to read X-Men,” or, “I loved him in the cartoon, and I wish they’d done more with him in the movie...” I think there’s a fandom for him that is separate - or maybe even above and beyond the general X-Men fandom.

While this takes place in continuity - there’ll be some ties to it - for the most part we’re designing this so that anyone can pick up the book and read it and get the full story. Any information they need to know will be represented... It’s as if we’re making our own Gambit TV series, where you want to throw in things for fans that tie into other stories, but you can just tune into this and get the complete package.

Geek: I’m interested to hear you’re taking a TV approach to this... How do you execute that on an issue by issue basis?

JA: My Editor Daniel Ketchum and I have really gotten into the idea of each issue being a complete story. Elements are going to carry forward - but if you read this one, you see set up, problems, complications, resolve and then, “Oh crap, this is what’s next!” We will still have story arcs - the first four issues are mostly going to be one continuous problem that goes through stages, and locales that change from issue to issue. But I want you to be able to pick up a random issue, understand it, have a blast, and you get your money’s worth.

A single episode of any tv show still has to deliver enough story and enjoyment for you to come back next time. Too many comics have stopped offering that guarantee each issue. I also don’t want to make stories that feel like "part three of four.” It’s not the set up, it’s not the pay off... I don’t want to make people wait two months between consequence or action.

So we’re approaching it like it’s an accelerated TV show, in that each issue is an episode, and each arc ends up tying together to the bigger thrust of things.

Geek: Just to continue this metaphor for a bit--

JA: Well, it’s an inexact metaphor, but there are some reasons, stylistically, that I equate it to some other mediums, including the look of the characters... We’re not having him wear pink spandex. [Laughs] That was actually the first question I asked when I got the job, was, “Can I change his outfit?” Apparently Clay Mann said the same thing.

Geek: What about that weird head thing he wears?

JA: No! No! I HATE the head sock... Okay. Okay. I love Gambit, and I too was a huge fan of him from the beginning, that’s was totally my era of coming into comics, and the X-Men. But the idea that someone would wear a mask that would cover everything except your identity parts is one of the most frustrating choices.

This may be out of sequence to say, but the book focuses on Gambit as a thief, as the preeminent thief in the Marvel Universe... This takes him beyond the X-Men part of the Universe, and into the larger Marvel U. Everyone loves a good heist, right? They’re sexy, fun, and exciting, and Gambit is sexy, fun, and exciting. But this gives you the chance to do heist stories with Asgardian magical items, and with alien technologies. Having to crack an alien safe goes deeper, and further, and gives you something new for that genre. Or even just to rob super-villains, giant evil robots in the middle of it, or Kirby death-monsters... Any of this stuff just sweetens the heist pot.

With that in mind, if you’re centering it on a thief... Why would a thief wear bright pink? [Laughs] Why would someone who’s goal is subterfuge be wearing the most ostentatious outfit possible? We’re trying to reign it in.

Geek: You know, the other thing... His power isn’t exactly the most subtle thing in the world...

JA: [Laughs] That is very true.

Geek: Are you going to be playing around with it at all?

JA: There’s definitely a couple of gags in there, when he realizes, to use his power sort of undermines the whole art of being subtle. Making things explode, making them bright pink... These can all undermine your efforts to not be noticed. But luckily, he’s a man of many skills. He can lockpick, he can skulk around with the best of them. In truth, he’s such a rich character that the first draft of my first issue, he didn’t use his powers at all. And I realized, oh... That’s a mistake, so we revised that.

Geek: So now there’s just one page where he’s like, “Mutant powers!”

JA: “By the way reader, I can do this.” And it’s just a flashback. [Laughs] At the same time that came to me in the revision process, that we need to establish this... It made me realize just how much there is to the character that I think is interesting, and worth playing with batting around, that wasn’t the most exciting part to it. A lot of superheroes begin and end with what their powers are... He is not that. Chris Claremont was really loading this baked potato of a character. The accent, the background, the bo staff. There are even other powers they reference him having in the first issue that went away.

Geek: And the eyes, right? Did they ever explain the eyes?

JA: No, they never explained the eyes! But I have a story that I kind of want to do ultimately that would explain the eyes... We’ll see if we get to it. After they offered me the job, I wrote back to Daniel Ketchum with twelve plot ideas. [Laughs] And he was like, “Okay! Well, we apparently hired the right writer, I’ll see if we get through all these.”

Geek: Going back to the first issue, is there some sort of inciting incident, something that happens that makes Gambit say, “Ah, screw it, I’m not completely a hero.”

JA: There’s two prongs of that, that I’ll get it. In terms of what prompts it, my take on all this, and what we touch on, and we’ll delve into a bit more as the book goes on is that, even when he signed up with the X-Men originally, it wasn’t to be a teacher. The ground has shifted beneath him, where now he’s a professor, and a role model... And all these things that don’t fit. And he’s still willing to do it with a home, and a set-up, and a family, but I think he’s chafing against those.

The start of the book is that he decides to commit one act of thievery, that he thinks he can get away with, just to stretch those muscles, and feel like himself. It’s a messed up version of “me time.” But who he chooses to rob sets off a chain of events that kicks the whole series into motion. The first year of the book has this domino effect, where making this one choice is what’s going to cause all of these other situations to arise for the first year of stories.

The other thing, too is that I’ve been doing some research, and people who are professional thieves speak of it as much about an addiction as anything. The thrill, and the challenge for themselves - when you start reading these autobiographies of these guys who refer to it as a depression, or anxiety, or some feeling of incompleteness if they don’t pull a job in a while. I love that idea, that some act of bastardy needs to happen for him to feel right every once in a while.

The truth of it is, if you look at Gambit, he’s never just been a hero. He’s been more complicated, he’s betrayed the X-Men, he has lied, he has kept secrets, turned on his friends. I think that’s important, and that’s true, and it helps motivate a series like this a lot. But what I love about him is that unlike most anti-heroes, he still has fun, and has a sense of humor. It’s not a constantly brooding Punisher, it’s a guy who’s conflicted and is going to do the wrong thing... But is also going to seduce a lady, and crack a joke while he’s at it. That makes him really unique in the comic book landscape, in a really great way.

Geek: We were talking about this a bit before, but everybody - apparently - has been asking you if Rogue is going to be in the book... I’m actually more curious to know if you think Gambit can be defined - at this point - without Rogue.

JA: For me, he always could be defined without Rogue. That was never the part I was most into. But I know a lot of people love their relationship. I will end up using herin the book, but she’s not going to be a focal point, she’s not going to be a regular character. She’s going to be a lot of fun to bring in a little bit later in the game, once you’ve established a very different status quo for him, and maybe one or two other ladies, that she can come in, and be the complication.

Look, she’s obviously a very powerful figure in his life, so there’s a ton of great story potential for that. An uncomfortable, unresolved, ex-girlfriend is always a great story element. [Laughs] But it’s not going to be about her. This whole series is really going to be about building him out, and putting him into the larger Marvel Universe... So especially for the first bit, it’s not going to be heavily tied into X-Men history. It’ll be about breaking new ground. You’re more likely to see him with the Fantastic Four, than with the X-Men in the series.

Geek: How about the accent? How much of that are you going to be doing?

JA: I’m glad you asked! No one’s asking that, and it’s something I feel pretty strongly about. I’m going to end up calling this out in the book, a couple of issues in, but I’m happy to say it up front: my answer to his accent, and how widely it varies is... He’s a con artist, it’s a tool he uses, as much as anything. He uses it to lower people’s expectations, to act like a yokel. He’s dials it up and down for purposes of charm, or manipulating what people perceive of him. So there will be times he lays it on a bit thick, and other times it’s just about a dropped g with an apostrophe.

I actually lived in Louisiana for four years, and I spent some time with friends of mine who grew up in the bayou, and went home with them... No one really talks the way they have him - the classic Claremont. I spent a week on the bayou, no one ever said “chere!” Cajuns will drop some French - I think it’s a great part of his character, and it’ll be fun to use, but my take will be much more dialed down, and deliberate, and based on actual Cajuns. [Laughs]

Geek: Can you talk about the redesign a bit? What went into the look for the new costume?

JA: There’s a lot of visual references to his original costume that change it. So for example, where he had sideways pink stripes on his pants, he’s going to have some little pouches. And this is a character where I will actually have him using his pouches. It will not be a mystery! If you need lockpicks, it makes sense to give that guy pouches, right?

He also has the protection guard things, but unlike a solid piece of metal that is so narrow at the ankle you don’t know how his foot got into it... These are very practical designs. If you saw Clay Mann’s work in Age of X, you know he has a great, evocative sense of design that captures something that’s cool about the character, with a very practical, real world achievablity to it. I’m really excited to get him designing some new characters, or changes to some characters we will be bringing in. In general, I want this book to feel a little more real world. Again, because I think focusing on thievery, this aspect of his character that could happen... It should be more of an adult, sophisticated, but fun and sexy romp.

Our touchstones for the book - in film - have been a sort of Indiana Jones meets Mission Impossible approach to continuous action, some real humanity to it, not just untouchable heroes, but flawed heroes who made the wrong move and then have to get themselves out of a situation they made worse.

The comic stuff that I love... If I can capture any of the sophistication and fun of something like Daredevil... I think that’s a fantastic book that you don’t have to be reading everything else to understand, but if you have been reading everything else, you understand what he’s reacting to, and how it relates to the character, and the greater Marvel Universe.

Geek: I don’t know how much you can talk about this, but is it set after Avengers vs. X-Men? I’m guessing Gambit survives, right?

JA: So far, there is no specific reference to it, and the first two arcs have been designed to be happening places, and with characters who wouldn’t be involved in that. I like to think of the book as counter-programming [Laughs] in terms of launching in the middle of all of that. My understanding is, I can be doing everything I’m doing with him, it could be concurrent, or after. I don’t know to what extent I’d be spoiling everything to say that obviously, yeah, he’s not going to be killed during AvX - or if he is, they’ve really lied to me in calling this an ongoing series! [Laughs] I’m really going to have to change his status quo as Ghost Gambit.

Geek: I’d read that.

JA: Well, hey, maybe we can make that happen.

Gambit #1 hits comic book stores in August from Marvel Comics!

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