Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Love Letter to Mike Carey...

To be fair, this is about a year late (if you wanted to be a dick about it, you could actually say it's 5 years late, but don't please...) I realized this week that I've been reading the X-Men longer then I haven't. To be honest, I've been reading about them longer then a lot of my friends have been alive, and I owe all that to Rogue.

I'm not sure why, but the cover to UNCANNY X-MEN #182 just captivated child-me. I had no idea that the woman on the cover's name was 'Rogue'...I had no idea who Rogue was...hell, I had no idea who the "X-Men" were. All I knew was that I had to have it, and have it I did, and I've been a fan ever since.

Rogue's had a rough go at it in the ensuing two decades, most of it due to writers who had no idea how to handle her. A brief history of Rogue in the comics, for those of you who don't know:

Rogue is a mutant with the power to absorb other people's powers and memories by making skin-to-skin contact. She was raised by evil mutant (and all around bitch) Mystique and her lesbian lover Destiny. Under orders from Mystique, Rogue attacked awesomesauce Avenger Carol (Ms. Marvel) Danvers resulting in Rogue gaining all of Carol's powers, memories, emotions, and personality permanently. This lead to her having a split personality, and slowly going insane. Seeking help, Rogue sought out the X-Men. She ended up joint them and slowly coping with her split personality. She was a tragic and strong character who kicked ass and occasionally had a breakdown. She eventually lost Ms. Marvel's personality but kept her powers. You'd think that would make Rogue the greatest character ever, but right about that time she met and fell in love with Gambit, resulting in her becoming nothing but a whiner who spent more time fretting about how she could never touch Gambit. This continued for over 10 years until she eventually lost Ms. Marvel's powers...and got even more useless. I mean for the love of god, Rogue became so much of a worthless whiney bitch that they cast Anna Paquin in the X-Men movie series...

Anyway, that potential was finally tapped when Marvel Comics handed part of the X-Men writing reigns to one Mike Carey. Coming on board with X-Men (volume 2) #188 in 2006, Carey immediately dropped Gambit from the book, made Rogue team leader, and had her start experimenting with her powers in new and interesting ways. Rogue became innovative, daring, and dangerous. Over the next three years, Carey took Rogue on a roller coaster that saw her go insane and lose control of her powers to the point that her touch meant instant death. While Rogue spent the entirety of the massive crossover event "Messiah Complex" in a coma, she came out of it cured of her afflictions and leaving the team to 'find' herself after Mystique risked the life of a rather special infant to bring Rogue's powers under control and restore her sanity.

When she resurfaced, Rogue was faced with all her past decisions, adventures, and mistakes. She went though a mini-Odyssey, the results of which were Rogue's powers finally maturing to the point that she is now able to touch without harming the other person.

Rogue is a fascinating character when looked at from a metacontext and non-fictional point of view. She was created in 1980 by Chris Claremont, a man who wrote the X-Men non stop from 1974 until 1991. Whereas her teammates: Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Kitty Pryde and others were either created by other people, or as a gestalt between Claremont and his art team (who often times served as co-plotters for the story), Rogue was the only member of his team that he could claim sole creative rights. As such, she can almost be looked upon as an in-story presence for the writer. That she was (for the majority of her Claremont penned stories) merged intricately with Carol Danvers - a non-Claremont created character, but one whom he had 'rescued' from a horribly misogynistic and sexist plotline, and therefore felt very protective of, just reinforces that metaphor. In fact, when Claremont found himself under increasing control from editors and pressure from new artists, one of the first things he did was to write the character out of the book where she stayed until he began his swan song on the title a few years later.

When Claremont exited the book, the X-men were at the peak of their popularity. They were Marvel's number one selling franchise. Their Saturday morning cartoon was just beginning, they were showing up on t-shirts, they had their own toy line, and talks of a movie started to pop up. This resulted in a very strict editorial hand that seemed to mandate that while the X-Men could go on adventures, they had to stay in a form that was recognizable to the general populace (on the off chance they decided they wanted to pick up the comic). That meant that the members of the team who were in the mainstreams consciousness (Rogue, Storm, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Cyclops, Jubilee, Gambit, and Beast) were basically frozen in the form they appeared when the cartoon debuted. For Rogue, that meant the whiny conflicted sop who was too in love with Gambit for her own good. Creators on these books continuously tried to begin interesting stories, only to be told at the last minute that they would deviate too far from the status quo, and have to change their endings. This lead to no one really knowing what was going on, and several story lines reading like a complete mess. Even when Claremont came back to the books, his storylines were jumbled and confusing, and seemed to change course in a heartbeat. The character who seemed to suffer the most from this? You guessed it: Rogue.

So where am I going with all this? Well...as anyone who enjoys infinitely serialized fiction of any kind (comic books or soap operas) knows, you don't ever really get change or growth with characters...instead, you get the illusion of change or growth. But with Rogue, under the caring pen of Mike Carey, we've actually gotten real change and real growth. Rogue is still recognizable; Rogue is still an X-Man; Rogue is still a mutant with the ability to touch others and absorb their powers...but she does it on her own terms now. Even better, in the set up to the story that saw her powers mature and reach a point where she has them under control, Carey established Gambit in a way that makes Rogue interested in pursuing a relationship with him, but also keeping him at arms length for the time being. The result is a chance for him to truly explore Rogue's character and develop her as a strong, in-control of herself hero. Rogue is no longer defined by her powers or the limitations they place on her, nor is she defined by her relationship with Gambit. Carey put the character through hell, only to pick her back up, set her on her own two feet, and put her on a path to move forward, a path that not many other A-List fictional characters get to embark on. So, as a lifelong Rogue fan, I wanted to just take a moment of my time to say "Thank You" to the man who not only saved the character from mediocrity, but who also turned the character into one worthy of the label "fan-favorite".

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