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
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 ...
"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."
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
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
"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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