Bizarro Back Issues: How Gambit’s Wife Got The Ghost Rider Possessed By Aliens (1992)
Like a lot of people my age, I have a lot of affection for early '90s X-Men comics. Their combination of bright colors, superpowers built entirely around punching things with knives or making them explode, overblown personal conflicts and the least subtle metaphors ever committed to paper made them almost scientifically designed to appeal to kids of that decade. Of course, they're also some of the dumbest comics in history.
Don't get me wrong, that's part of their charm, but there's really no getting around it, especially if you're reading about the time that Gambit's wife showed up and dragged everyone into a crossover with Ghost Rider where they fought aliens.For those of you who may have dodged it when it hit shelves 21 years ago -- oh my God I am so old -- this particular story came from X-Men #8 and 9, at the height of the X-Men's '90s melodrama. Chris Claremont had recently departed after scripting the franchise for 17 years (he'd be back before too long), citing creative differences with editor Bob Harras, leaving scripting duties to Professional Comic Book Writer Scott Lobdell. Jim Lee, at the time one of Marvel's hottest young artists, took over plotting the book, but he was on his way out too, gearing up to leave Marvel and become one of the founders of Image later that year.
As for the melodrama on the page, it's only slightly more confusing than what was going on with the creators. I'd say that this story takes place at a weird time for the X-Men, but if we're honest with each other, it's been a weird time for the X-Men pretty much constantly since the middle of 1975. Still, everybody was dealing with a whole bunch of nonsense.
Wolverine was grumpy (grumpier than usual, in fact) because he'd just found out about some memory implants and had a big fight with Omega Red and his MUTANT DEATH FACTOR!, Bishop had just come back from the future and decided that he needed to kill somebody because there was A TRAITOR IN THEIR MIDST!, Jubilee was there for some reason, and Cyclops was walking around drooling over Psylocke's Pikachu swimsuit, which pissed off his world-destroying fiancee to no end:
Incidentally, that page is the source of around 62% of the fond memories people my age have of this run. Welcome to puberty, Marvel comics readers -- hope you survive the experience!!
So yeah, all that was going on... and then there was Gambit. The fact that these two issues focus pretty heavily on everyone's most tolerated Cajun X-Man should be the first clue that it's not exactly going to be a classic, but you have to remember that this was a time when doing Gambit-centric stories was considered fashionable. In retrospect, it seems pretty apparent that they were trying to give Gambit the same kind of mystery-man badass mystique that had worked so well for Wolverine, complete with a forbidden love interest in Rogue and a shadowy past that was revealed in bits and pieces over the years. If you had a nickel for every time someone expressed shock that Gambit was working "on the side o' the angels," you'd be able to swim in a money bin like Scrooge McDuck.
The problem is that it all felt really artificial, probably because of stuff like this story, where Bishop shows up and immediately starts yelling about how Gambit is SERIOUSLY SUPER IMPORTANT YOU GUYS SO YOU BETTER PAY ATTENTION TO HIM BECAUSE HE'S REALLY IMPORTANT OKAY? Incidentally, this is a serious conversation about the fate of the world as we know it that takes place over the course of a pie fight:
With all that in place, it should come as no surprise that this issue dropped yet another shocking piece of Gambit's backstory, when said pie fight was interrupted by the arrival of Mrs. Gambit, Bella Donna...
...which promptly sent the comic's use of a written Cajun accent into critical mass.
Seriously: I don't know if Lobdell was trying to ape Claremont's infamously overwritten scripts and use of dialect because that's just how X-Men scripts had been written for the past sixteen years, or if he was trying to parody his predecessor, but it's enough to make you wish that the concept of accents had never developed. Throughout the next two issues, dialect is beaten to within an inch of its life. My particular favorite representations of "Cajun" from Lobdell? "Act'l" for "actual" and "'trupt" for "interrupt" Not to be outdone, Howard Mackie drops a "ju'" (for "just") in the half of the story that appears in Ghost Rider.
Oh right, Ghost Rider's in this story. Why? Because it was 1992.
That's pretty much all the explanation you're going to get: Bella Donna hasn't just shown up to call Gambit out on his attempted polyamory and tell us how he killed a man in a sword fight on their wedding day (?!), she's also having a little problem with the Brood showing up and dragging the Assassin's Guild's equivalent of the Junior Woodchucks down to the caves underneath New Orleans.
The idea of this vast, unexplored cave complex is one of the things that's usually cited as the dumbest thing about this story, and I'm not really sure why. It's not like a mix-up in local geography and a dry cave complex existing at sea level is any harder to swallow than, you know, a kinetically charged boysenberry pie being thrown at a mulleted soldier from the future who dresses like a postapocalyptic cowboy and shoots lazer beams out of his hands, but here we are. Point being, the X-Men head down to New Orleans to settle things with Gambit's juggalo family, and the next time they show up, the s has hit the f:
A few things about this page:
1) The sideways double-page splash (aka The Liefeld Special) was never a good idea.
2) Holy crap that is a lot of words.
3) I am legitimately surprised that in the history of the X-Men franchise, X-Mammals has never taken off as an ongoing series. If I ever get to do my proposed Marvel crossover, Marvel Dinos, in which Stegron the Dinosaur Man turns all the heroes into dinosaurs, the X-Mammals will be the next stage of evolution, sworn to protect a cold-blooded world that hates and fears them.
Also, you may have noticed that Ghost Rider has been turned into a Brood, which raises a whole lot of questions about how demonic possession and alien reproduction work when they're in conflict. If it's Danny Ketch who's possessed by Noble Kale, does the possession transfer over when he becomes a Brood? Does he transform when innocent Brood blood is spilled, or is he still concerned primarily with human blood? If it was Johnny Blaze and Zarathos, would the Satanic vengeance powers override this stuff? Also how do you impregnate a skeleton that is on fire?
Sadly, these questions are beyond the scope of this issue, which is mostly focused on stabbing and talking.
So much talking.
While the rest of the team is dealing with "sleazoids" (racists) and trying to figure out how to do the most photogenic flexing, Psylocke and Cyclops end up wandering off on their own so they can continue their weird "Cyclops Has A Boner For Telepaths" subplot. This whole storyline was already bizarre for a number of reasons -- most notably that anyone would even want to bother seducing Cyclops -- but it goes to new heights of weirdness when Psylocke straight up tries to get to the Bone Zone in the middle of a life-or-death battle with a bunch of CHUDs:
I realize that the Eisner Award for Best Lettering has basically been the Todd Klein Award For Being Todd Klein for the past 25 years or so, but if Tom Orzechowski didn't at least get a bonus in his paycheck for figuring out how to visually represent a grown man's voice cracking, then we are living in a fallen world.
Eventually, they return to the rest of the team, where everyone has stabbed, kicked, exploded or Jubilee'd enough Brood that the only real threat left is Ghost Brooder. Fortunately, now that Psylocke's back, they can solve that little problem too:
Because I guess being turned into a Brood is a mental problem? That can be solved by being stabbed in the brain with a psychic knife? But being possessed by a ghost that usually wants to beat people to death with chains is cool with everybody? Sure, why not.
Sadly, the battle is not without its casualties, as Bella Donna herself dies because of reasons that elude me, even though I've read the page where it happens ten times in the past five minutes. She beats up Ghost Rider's Brood Soul (did I mention she was telepathic? Neither did Lee and Lobdell) and then just shoots Kirby Dots out of her eyes while Gambit gets sad, leaving us with all the memories we have of her from the 20-odd pages that she has existed:
Oh relax, she eventually came back and, according to a brief Wikipedia search, was very successful in the world of adult films. For now, though, she's downright doornailesque, so the team swears vengeance against the Brood Queen and stomps off down the catacombs into the next issue of Ghost Rider after a generous amount of posing:
To be honest, I had a lot of fun with these issues, but if you really want an accurate picture of what it was like to read Marvel comics in the '90s, that last panel pretty much covers it.