Jeff (11:14:41 AM): Let me ask you a question.What I would do is no less than a total retcon of the character. Given the sheer amount of bad ideas, baggage, history and histrionics that have been foisted upon the character since his appearance, I think that to salvage a truly workable Gambit you need to do two things: reduce him to his core element and savagely burn the rest.
Erin (11:14:49 AM): Lay it on me, baby.
Jeff (11:15:30 AM): I think I'm going to have Gambit Week next week, because it's kind of bugging me how much Gambit sucks to the point where I want to blog about it.
Erin (11:15:46 AM): And your question is?
Jeff (11:15:53 AM): So, my question is what would you do to make Gambit not suck, working from the principle that there are no bad characters?
Gambit has been the victim of chronic mishandling since pretty much day one, and I think the main reason for this is because the writers tried to stack too much into one character: He's a thief AND a martial artist AND a cajun AND a mutant AND he wears spandex AND a trenchcoat AND throws explody cards AND uses a quarterstaff AND AND AND AND AND it's ridiculous. It's sort of like being a Space Pirate Amazon Ninja Catgirl -- while hilarious when used for comedic effect, attempting to build a serious character upon this house of cards* can only result in mockery.
Plus, he has a stupid costume.
So forget all of that crap. Wipe it from continuity, let us reduce Gambit to his core element and, as Jeff says, rebuild him from there. And what is the core of Gambit's character?
He is a criminal, a thief, a conman and a traitor. He's the skeevy friend you'd never trust with your car keys or your girlfriend, but you could drop him in the desert and within 24 hours he'd find booze, gambling, and strippers.
And from this concept, we begin.
Gambit has a very narrow and very specific power: he doesn't lose games. It's rather like the Scarlet Witch's original power -- he manipulates probability to achieve a very specific "I Win" field. Maybe it's paired with low-grade telekinesis and/or empathy, or whatever, but to paraphrase Joey Q, "It's a mutant power, it just works." Now the schtick here is that this power is ONLY good for games where randomness plays a factor; he couldn't use his power to win a wrestling match, say, because random probability doesn't factor into how well you can suplex an opponent. But if it has that random factor, he can play it and win it, even if he's never played the game before.
Now, if you could win any game you played and you were even the slightest bit unethical, you'd probably try to get rich hustling pool and playing high-stakes poker games. But if you won all the time, you'd get a reputation right quick, either as a cheat or as "that guy who needs to get killed so that the rest of us can win some money", so to survive he had to become quick-witted, a smooth talker, a bit of a fighter and an even better run-and-hider.
In fact, this whole Remy LeBeau identity? A complete fabrication. He's about as cajun as Eminim is black. "Le beau" means "the beautiful one," for crying out loud. Nope, Gambit's real name is Robert Lord, and he actually had a very boring childhood growing up in semi-rural Illinois. Anne Rice's Lestat character was popular in movies and novels at the time he adopted the identity, so his persona (which, after living for about 15 years, is now habit) was crafted to give him an aura of mystery and perhaps a slightly voodoo air.
Dead Mans' Hand
Speaking of the occult, this is where I answer the question, "But how does the mutant ability to win at cards secure this guy a place on the premiere mutant superhero team?" And I say, between gales of riotous laughter, that this is the same team that had Jubilee as a member. But this is a valid question nonetheless, because the entire point of this exercise is to remove le suck from the character, n'est-ce pas?
So let us take a moment to assess what we have: a thief, a liar, a cheat; gambling; the flavor, but not the substance, of New Orleans; and a whiff of the occult. Tell me, how could Mephisto not get involved in all this?
I know, I know; Mephisto is probably over-exposed right now, but bear with me, because this is worth it.
Gambit's entire character is based upon vice, and while he is certainly guilty of the sins of Greed, Envy, and Lust, it should be obvious by this point that vanity -- i.e., Pride -- is his defining characteristic. Yes, he is a thief, but more than that he is a professional thief, stealing not because he wants something, but because he can. Because, if he can take it from you, he deserves it and you don't. This is entitlement -- the belief that he and his desires are more important than anyone else.
Vanity -- the Devil's favorite sin.
Now, I see at least three ways this can logically play out within the setting. The first is the most simplistic: The Devil Comes Down to Nawlins, as it were, to challenge this upstart to a game of poker to see which of them really is the better player. The second (my personal favorite) is that one of Gambit's victims/jilted lovers either knows voodoo, or goes to a mambo to have a curse put on him -- something like, "I want him to know what loss and betrayal are like." The third is a bit heavyhanded with symbolism, but has a Faustian edge to it: Gambit himself summons the devil, just so that he can brag about beating Jack Scratch in the highest-stakes game of poker ever.
Regardless of which option is used, they all end the same way, with Gambit winning. In return for having wagered his soul; he gets all sorts of useful things: a body men would kill to have, increased charisma, the ability to see through all lies and deceptions... and the power to throw a little Hellfire around, in the guise of "charging objects with kinetic energy."
But you see, there's kind of a problem with accepting gifts from the Devil: they're tainted. Sure, he can see in the dark and know when someone is lying... but his eyes are now black with red irises. He can have basically any woman he wants... but it doesn't satisfy any more. He can make things explode...
... but each time, a little bit of his soul is burnt away. Using his powers becomes a Fool's Gambit, but he can stop whenever he wants, and as long as he repents before dying, it'll all be okay, right? Right?
He doesn't wear one. Gambit is, first and foremost, a thief and a conman. A good con job hinges on the victim not knowing that anything is amiss, and a thief doesn't want to stand out at all. No, Gambit dresses is whatever is considered normal for the area, which for most of the western world consists of jeans, a t-shirt, and some kind of work boot.
About the only concession made to concealing his identity would be gloves and something to obscure the face (maybe a bandanna or a disposable dust mask), both of which look innocuous, are easily put on and removed, and blend in with the rest of the garbage if they need to be ditched. And of course, sunglasses to hide his eyes when he's in "secret ID"; it isn't at all unusual for card players to wear shades during a poker game, so as to make it harder to read their expressions.
He still favors throwing energized playing cards as weapons, of course. But that stupid staff is gone. He can beat the crap out of someone with a pool cue, though, if it's really important to you.
How would one use this new Gambit? Put simply, he is the inverse of Nightcrawler. Instead of a demonic-looking swashbuckler with a noble soul, Gambit is a devilishly handsome rat bastard who would betray his own mother if it got him something he wanted. Nightcrawler knows the value of teamwork; Gambit's definition of teamwork is letting someone else get hit instead of him. Nightcrawler has faith, and Gambit has... well, Gambit worships himself.
Why would the X-Men want him on a team, then? The irony of the situation is that even though you can't trust him, he is perfectly suited for espionage and counter-espionage. "Use a thief to catch a thief," as it were... just make sure you can see his hands at all time. You can't trust him, but you can count on his selfishness, and so long as it's profitable for him to be on your side, then you will win. And you will keep winning... until he sells you out.
He's at home on the razor's edge of failure, the heartbeat between coin flips where success and failure coexist. When most people would be paralyzed with indecision -- or worse, forced to choose between two evils -- Gambit is your man. He will call your bluff. He will shoot your hostage. He will do whatever it takes to succeed because, damn it all, Gambit never loses.
Just make sure you and he are on the same side.
* Sorry, couldn't resist.