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Rogue Defined
Rogue's Hair
X-Men as Morality Play

The Fan-Fic Drinking Game
Pros and Cons of Marrying an X-Man
Things We'd Like to See in X-Men
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The Invitation

Introductory Note:
The following was posted on RACMX two years ago, and is my attempt to rise above the extremely heated, at times venomous debates that went on in that forum and elsewhere in the aftermath of the 'trial' of Gambit, debates in which I too had participated perhaps a little too obsessively. The essay was written very quickly and consequently a number of verbs were forgotten, there was a number of typos etc. I corrected (most of?) these mistakes for this archived version, and added a short appendix on Rogue's relationship to Carol Danvers, but I did not try to bring the essay up to date with later developments on the X-Men titles and in the new Gambit series. Whether these later stories addressed the points I noted in 1998 and with what success is up to you to decide.
Tilman Stieve, May 2000

From: (Menshevik)
Newsgroups: rec.arts.comics.marvel.xbooks
Subject: X-Men as Morality Play
Date: 22 Feb 1998 00:53:49 GMT

Your indulgence please for a two-part exposition:

The recent discussion about Rogue and Gambit got me thinking about some of the underlying problems for this acrimonious debate that keeps resurfacing: Should the X-Men forgive Gambit immediately or what?

During the debate I was accused of harboring typical North American WASP middle-class views, of thinking that Gambit was irredeemably evil etc. This did not really bother me too much, since I am neither American nor Anglo-Saxon, nor do I believe in Predestination (the P in WASP usually refers to not just any kind of Protestantism, but more specifically to the tradition of the Puritans and other Dissenters who settled in North America). However, I do come from a Protestant, mostly Lutheran tradition. That got me thinking and so I'd like to share a few thoughts that may help to explain why I seem so harsh to Gambit. I'm not asking you to agree with me, but hope you will understand me better.

Maybe it has to do with Luther's theology, by which redemption is a grace that can only be won by faith because no one is without sin. Where you lead a Christian life and do good deeds because your faith and where you specifically reject the idea of making up for sins by good deeds as if it was a matter of balancing your personal cosmic account.

Now Rogue's story, her journey to forgiveness and acceptance among the X-Men is very much like this transposed into the secular and interpersonal: After joining, she became an X-Man with all her heart and immediately demonstrated selfless heroism for people who made no secret of their hostility (the X-Men) or had shown little more than conventional courtesy dictated (Mariko). She could have died in UXM #173 (had not Logan made her absorb his self-healing factor). But she did not apparently expect to be forgiven for her sins (trying to kill Carol Danvers and Alison Blaire) because of her heroism, even though it went beyond the call of duty. (You could also say that for a long time she had not 'balanced the account': In #173 she saved the lives of the X-Men and Mariko almost at the cost of her life, but then Logan had risked his to save hers. In #178-179 she dissuaded Mystique from killing Professor X and underwent excruciationg pain and risked death in to help heal Colossus, but she had not been able to bring herself to stop the foster-mother she still loved from escaping and blackmailing the X-Men into releasing the Brotherhood). She did not even notice the change in Ororo's attitude, and after she was temporarily overcome by the personality and memories she had absorbed from Carol, after her encounter with Carol's former lover Mick Rossi (UXM #182), she was, if anything, even more obsessed with her primal sin. So gaining the other X-Men's acceptance was a slow and painful process, but as she became a new person she finally did manage to find favor in their eyes, and where they helped her to come to terms with her life. This however did not lead to a situation in which Rogue one day decided "I've done enough not to be bothered about my past anymore." And in that context you'll find the quote that is currently my signature line.

Rogue's sentiments were put to such a test, because after the Massacre Dazzler became her teammate. And Alison Blaire was not yet ready to forgive. Things came to a head in UXM #221, when Rogue caught Dazzler having a Danger Room training session in which a simulated Rogue was cast as the villain. The two X-Women get into the following argument:

"You tried to kill me Rogue -- more than once -- for no reason! That's not something easily forgotten ... or forgiven!"

"What do you want from me?! Ah was crazy in those days, ah didn't know what ah was doin'. You know that. Ah told you ah was sorry."

"And that makes everything hunky-dory okay all right?! No way, 'sugah', it's not that easy!"

"We can't keep on like this, ain't good for the team."

"To blazes with the team! This is personal -- between you and me alone!"

"What's your cravin', Alison -- satisfaction? Lump for lump, bruise for bruise till the scales are balanced?"

"It's a start."

"You're on!"

But before the fisticuffs can begin, they are called on a mission to fight the Marauders in San Francisco. So here we see Rogue wanting to clear the matter up for the good of the team which she sees as hampered by the bad vibes between her and Ali. She therefore pretty much says she's willing to do what Ali wants her to do, and Ali says that 'balancing the scales', which in the literal sense would entail her getting to try to kill Rogue, is a start, i.e. it is not enough. (We hear echoes here of Carol Danvers (Binary) in UXM #171: "Rogue tore my life -- my very soul -- to shreds and those scales can never be balanced. I'm sorry, I'm just not that forgiving.")

Then, during the battle, a Malice-controlled Polaris wraps Rogue and Maddy Pryor in some girders and drops them in the Bay. Dazzler dives after them, but after she cuts Maddy loose and sees that she can get to the surface on her own, Ali is exhausted. She does not know if she has enough energy left to cut Rogue free. In that situation, Chris Claremont lets us read Rogue's thoughts:

"Go on Dazz -- you did your best -- you saved Madelyne, that's the important thing -- now save yourself! Scoot, gal, while you're still able! No sense in both of us becoming fish food. Finally, this way, the scales between us'll be balanced. Be smart for once, Lightengale -- GO!"

And indeed, after looking into Rogue's face and apparently guessing her thoughts, Alison starts her ascent to the surface (rather noticeable for a Claremont story, this is shown in four wordless panels), but then she turns back, deciding that she is "too darn dumb to know when to quit." She turns her laser on the girders that are holding Rogue down, but she uses up her energy and loses consciousness herself. But luckily her effort was enough, Rogue can bend back the weakened girders and save herself and half-drowned Ali.

"Am I dead?"

"Not hardly. You're a hero!"

"I'm an X-Man, Rogue. We stick together."

"Even after all that's between us?"

"That's ... past. What counts is today and tomorrow. I didn't really accept that -- in my heart -- till now."

So here we see Rogue almost welcoming death -- it seems that in her eyes it would serve a purpose if that was the only way to bring her feud with Ali to an end. But Alison, at the end of her strength and in a situation where everyone would have said she had already done her best, discovers that she herself cannot allow her old enemy die without doing something, even if it meant laying down her own life. Rogue had asked for her forgiveness (saying she was sorry, offering to do what she wanted), and as the saying goes, Ali could not give Rogue a stone when she asked for bread. The fascinating thing here is that it is not an act of Rogue's heroism that wins her Ali's forgiveness, but that Ali granting forgiveness is in itself an act of heroism that amazes even Rogue (I think this is the only time I remember her calling someone a hero without undertones of irony).

Now this is what I would automatically compare to Gambit's situation -- Rogue accepted as an X-Man on probation, with everybody knowing what she did, her first going through a (mercifully short) period as the team pariah, facing up to her sins, becoming a better person, finally being granted her teammates' acceptance and from one of the two people against whom she sinned the most -- forgiveness.

Compared to this, it seems that many of his fans want to give Gambit a shortcut to redemption, one that in my view would practically amount to tricking the X-Men into acceptance and forgiveness. They say that even though he hid his guilt when he joined the X-Men and never confessed to his crimes, the X-Men owed it to him to forgive him because they had accepted others who had a shady past (Rogue, Phoenix, Archangel, Sabretooth) and because by becoming an X-Man Gambit had demonstrated he had become a new and better person.

(Whether or not Gambit subscribes or always subscribed to these views is another matter. His defense in UXM #350 could be read that way, but perhaps that is Seagle's fault).

Phoenix had killed the population of a planet, an act in which the X-Men were innocent bystanders, so to speak. However, the X-Men at the time believed her to be Jean Grey under the control of an alien entity, i.e. not acting under her own free will, and this the Shi'ar judgement had not taken into account. The X-Men therefore used the only recourse left to them under Shi'ar law, a duel of honor.

Rogue's sins had been against Carol and Ali, who were no X-Men at the time. They only had closer links to two of them, Logan and Angel respectively, and neither of them was present when the decision was made. Still, Rogue was only admitted on probation and only after a lengthy interview by Professor X that convinced him she needed help and was sincere (was Rogue's joining the X-Men his price for helping her? It is not impossible -- she had only asked for help, not to become an X-Man). It was hard work to convince the X-Men to agree to give Rogue her chance, but he succeeded, and she proved him right. She also, one might say, established a precedent on which Gambit could have insisted if he had chosen to ("I repent, I'm going to be a model X-Man, just give me a chance).

Had Archangel's case been taken into court, he probably would have entered a plea of temporary insanity (his decision to join Apocalypse was made during a period of near-suicidal depression) and probably would have been found innocent or at least been awarded extenuating circumstances. Insofar his deeds affected his teammates, they may have felt some degree of guilt themselves for not being able to help him out of his depression better and showed no hesitation in forgiving their old friend whom they knew since their teens.

Sabretooth's case really makes little sense, as it in effect amounted to imprisoning him and brainwashing him into becoming an X-Man. A grand failure by Xavier, but to give Charles credit, Creed was closely watched, even if that watch in the end proved insufficient. But what were the people who came up with this plot smoking? But it certainly reinforced the point that X-Men about whom the members harbor doubts should at least serve a probationary period.

In the case of Gambit's crime, X-Men were among the injured parties. Remy had been instrumental to the Massacre, which makes him in part responsible for the carnage and repercussions. Among other things it resulted in disabling injuries to three X-Men (Colossus, Nightcrawler and Shadowcat) and in the maiming of then-X-Factorite Angel. But that was by no means all: The Massacre also touched Storm directly, as she was the Morlocks' leader at the time. Because of Kitty's injury, the X-Men came close to entering a permanent obligation to Dr. Doom. Because of his injuries Angel was driven into despair, almost committed suicide, and for a time betrayed his team to become one of Apocalypse's Horsemen. All these were in part consequences of Gambit's acts, so it is only human that the X-Men would find it inexcusable (which is not the same as unforgivable) that he tried to sidestep their opposition and in effect deny them their right to register a protest or, if need be, to leave the team as Binary had done when Rogue joined. Archangel certainly would have liked to have that option. By his subterfuge, Gambit also avoided having to serve a probationary period (or had to serve a much shorter one than the others would have felt appropriate had they known all the facts) and in effect received the privileges of a member in good standing, by having the unsuspecting Storm vouch for him.

Were one to interpret the time from his meeting Storm and the exposure of his involvement in the Massacre as a probationary period in retrospect, how is one to judge Remy's performance? His fans point to his heroic acts in the X-Men and his saving Ororo's life before he joined the X-Men. The question would then be: Did Gambit do enough? And here one would have to take into account a number of factors. For instance, of his deeds in the X-Men, can't one really only count those that went beyond the call of duty, as anything that did not involve unusual self-sacrifice really fell under the job description of his chosen new profession? There is also the fact that Gambit is a well-trained fighter and therefore the threshold for the exceptional is higher (in many countries you only get medals for saving peoples' lives if your own life is in danger in the attempt). And should not the benefits he derived from being an X-Man also be taken into account (a place to live, a steady source of income (probably, at least we never saw him earning or stealing any money while on the team), protection from enemies, allies when he needed them in the Thieves/Assassins feud in New Orleans)? There is also the question of just how much "celestial credit" he can claim for saving Ororo-the-child's life when not to act would have been a sin of omission. Not to mention some of the questionable things he did to protect his secret while a member.

As you know from the earlier parts of this article, I do not believe you can cancel out as big a sin as Gambit's just by doing a somehow to be determined number of good deeds. Gambit is not a Lutheran, but a Catholic, but there too you have the question of repentance, and for the moment it is still a bit of a mystery when he truly repented. In UXM #350 we receive two answers: At the trial he inferred that it was when he witnessed the Massacre, but earlier that issue he told Rogue that he only discovered his conscience when he fell in love with her. In any case, the first real test of his repentance probably did not come before UXM #330, where he saves Psylocke's life even though he suspects she may have found out his secret? And did he not backslide after that (as it were, put his hand to the plough and then withdrew it) because he still was of two minds over whether he should wish for Betsy's survival or her death, and because he did not behave as the better man he said he had become when Rogue asked him to explain the reason for the agonies she was going through after absorbing his memories. Would not saving Betsy's life have been the moment for him to come clean, at least to some X-Man he felt he could trust more than the others? Or, as his Catholicism is now being emphasised more, could he not have sought spiritual guidance about what to do? Had he done something along these lines now, for instance confessed to Rogue when he caught up with her in Seattle, he could have salvaged a situation that was turning precarious. Had he been upfront, Rogue would have forgiven him and defended him, as she later would do with Joseph. But it now became clear he did not have the moral courage to do that -- his giving mouth-to-mouth to Betsy could have been the turning point, for at that moment throwing caution into the wind, but soon after he returned to a mixture of fear of being found out, shame, and self-pity, and so he blew his moment in X-Men #45. Instead of ridding himself of the hold his past had on him, he now began to add new sins to the old, for now his persistent silence needlessly prolonged Rogue's suffering and for a time drove her away from her friends. Later he compounded this by recurrent agitation against Joseph, when it seemed that he half-believed that amnesia provided an escape out of personal guilt, and with talking Rogue into having sex with him when the two should have done what they could to escape. Still, it needed have ended the way it did, with Gambit refusing to come clean until the last, even when it meant inflicting further mental pain on -- even if he had waited until the so-called trial to come out with the full truth, he would have been forgiven.

If the X-Men and Rogue in particular had been written consistent with their previous characterization, I now have to add, for we now arrive at UXM #350, an issue where a lot of characters are in my view extremely badly written, and a lot of what they say and do are written for effect (dramatic turnaround, such as Archangel making high-sounding speeches so that the contrast with his bloodthirsty rage two pages later is bigger) and to suit the end result (Gambit being abandoned by Rogue in the snow and none of her teammates caring -- if people acted in character, the X-Men would have gone back by now. Heck, had she been written in character, Rogue, even under the influence of Gambit's absorbed persona, would have returned at the latest after a couple of hours, once her anger had evaporated, and she would then have dropped Gambit off in the Savage Land or Tierra del Fuego). And so at the trial, Gambit acts as his own enemy, saying things that really only serve to antagonize, to set his teammates against him. So at one point he says: "Dease ain't de people what need t'hear my apology", which is patently untrue in the case of Archangel, and in a wider sense untrue in that of Rogue. Then he says the fact that he did not kill Betsy to protect his secret proves he's changed for the better. The problem is, that at that point the X-Men still believed he had changed for the better, now they realize that all the time Gambit had not been the friend they thought he was and that he did not trust them. They suddenly become aware of the danger Betsy had been in, for who was to say what Gambit would have done had he been certain that she knew his secret? What kind of a warped mind would really think, as Gambit said he did, that he could have silenced the secret *forever* by killing Betsy, when in actual fact all he could hope to do that way was to delay the inevitable? It laid him open to all kinds of suspicions: If the best Gambit can come up with in his favor is that he did not kill a friend when he could have, what kind of a man is he? Up until now we believed he only killed in self-defense, now it emerges he was a cold-hearted killer, in thought or maybe even in deed.

Still, while I think that the X-Men had every right to kick Gambit from the team, it would have been primarily for what he did and failed to do while he was on the team. He let his team and the men and women who thought he was their friend down. That they were not more merciful is largely because of his inept defense. That I seem so harsh is largely because Gambit's fans say that the X-Men *must* forgive him -- I am not against the X-Men, or Archangel, Rogue, Betsy and Storm in particular, forgiving Gambit (provided it is well-written), but they should not be under any obligation to do so, and especially not immediately. Just as the X-Men, Carol Danvers and Alison Blaire were not obliged to forgive Rogue immediately. Thanks for your patience in reading this.


"But ah know in my heart, no matter how much good ah do, I'll never make up for what ah did. Those scales nothin'll ever balance."
--Rogue (Uncanny X-Men #203)

A Few Additional Remarks on Rogue and Carol Danvers (May 2000)

Regarding my assessment of Rogue's early years in the X-Men, I would like to quote one of Chris Claremont's rare statements on the subject, in Wizard's X-Men Special 1999: "Rogue basically was my McGuffin for fixing Ms. Marvel. Once we achieved that, we thought Rogue was a really neat character and we added her to the X-Men, [but] she's always been defined by committing that unpardonable crime [against Ms. Marvel]."

Rogue's feelings of guilt over what she had done to Carol were in fact so strong that they almost got her killed in UXM #269, where the persona she absorbed from Ms. Marvel was separated from her own and given flesh by the Siege Perilous. Even in self-defense she could bring herself to cause the death of her adversary -- who some would claim was not even a real person -- and in the end had to be saved by Magneto.

In my 1998 essay I had to concentrate more on the matter of Rogue and Dazzler because Carol Danvers' grievances against Rogue had not been settled yet. This loose end was left dangling while Carol gallivanted across the spaceways with the Starjammers. The two actually once met in X-Men Unlimited #13, but that story by George Pérez (plot) and Jorge Gonzales (script) ignored the ill feelings Carol had towards Rogue and the guilt Rogue felt towards Binary. They did not hash things out until Carol had changed from Binary to Warbird, when Chris Claremont made their clash the climax of Contest of Champions II #5 (1999). I think the resolution fits in with what I said above about Rogue and Ali: Carol ends up saving Rogue -- rather to Rogue's surprise -- from being possessed by the Broodqueen because she (Carol) is a former Search and Rescue soldier and a hero, and what she did is the right thing to do. ("And we never left anyone behind.") Only after that is established Carol reveals -- of her own free choice, with no prompting from Rogue or anyone else -- that her feelings toward Rogue have changed:

"I don't like you Rogue, I probably never will. But you're an X-Man and a hero, you've proved that much over and over. That's earned you my respect, and a measure of trust. What's between us can't be undone -- but perhaps it can be forgiven."


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