While writer Kelly Thompson and artist Oscar Bazaldua’s Mr. and Mrs. X has restored Gambit’s reputation (as far as I’m concerned) and given a great deal of depth to Rogue with its character-first plotting and effervescent wit, its seventh issue — featuring the introduction of Mojo — was its weakest. This issue, unfortunately, with a focus on telling rather than showing, does not fare much better.
What’s it about? Marvel’s preview reads:
Spiral jumps into the fray! But whose side is she really on? Will Rogue and Gambit ever get the vacation they deserve?
Regarding the vacation bit: an unequivocal no — this wouldn’t be comics, and especially romantic comics if they did. The Spiral bit, however, is more complicated. Needlessly so. Under the employ (rather, enslavement) of Mojo, Spiral is more sympathetic to the plight of Rogue and Gambit trapped in a never-ending remix of genres and plot beats where Rogue, with her powers still on the fritz, kills Gambit time and time again. She knows a way out for them, and is more than willing to help, provided that ‘ol Remy LaBeau is willing to retrieve something of great value for her. A great hook, written and delivered well. Even if it’s all happening under the guise of a kind of bland Mojo story that doesn’t necessarily reinvent or do anything interesting with a frustrating villain.
Unfortunately, that great hook is then squandered on a ton of exposition and dialogue (the latter third of the book is talking, largely Spiral just explaining things to Gambit and then Rogue) with no weight or action. I care deeply about Rogue’s emotional and physical state after the events of the previous issues that have all lead to this, and I still retain a great amount of faith in Thompson who writes fantastic, relatable characters and dialogue. But I find the various frames utilized to examine her and Gambit’s relationship ultimately ineffective at conveying anything new about them — even with a supposedly bombshell revelation from Spiral. It’s just kind of there…not leaning hard enough into the Mojo-ness, and not doing enough with metacontext to supersede it, either.
Similarly, the artistic effort has so little to work with that a genre pastiche in the first half can’t save it. Bazaldua clearly had a lot of fun imagining alternative versions of our titular hero and heroine, and those moments — a Robin Hood fantasy world, a western Podunk world, and more — really shine. Little else does. This is largely because it’s difficult to convey much in a dialogue-heavy slog such as the narrative demands, but Bazaldua simply doesn’t change things up enough of effectively to keep it interesting. Information is conveyed and we move on. Passable, not praise-worthy like so many previous issues have been.
All in all, it’s a low point for the series. A surmountable one, and one that I fully believe these very capable creators have a plan for navigating through, but one, nonetheless. I’m sticking out this story because the character-first draw is so appealing, and those elements remain front and center, but I wouldn’t fault anyone for having a little hesitancy at this point either.