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Monday, May 20, 2013 

Kurt Busiek criticizes the characters rather than characterization

For a question posted on his Formspring page, asking if there was ever a character he disliked, Busiek answered:
Sure. I've written lots of characters, including every Avenger or JLAer ever (up to the point that I wrote them, at least), and I don't like all of them. Sometimes you have to write characters because the story goes that way -- it's a craft, not playtime, so you do what's needed.

But if I have to pick one character, I'll pick Gambit, who I wrote in one panel of an issue of AVENGERS, I think. I plotted various X-Men into the panel but left Gambit out because I don't like him and the scene didn't specifically need him. And then George went and drew him in...
Alas, he's making the now classic mistake of deriding the characters instead of how other writers have handled them, and in Gambit's case, no, it wasn't very well. Now it's true that Gambit was surely one of the most abortive of Chris Claremont's creations, mainly because after Claremont left in 1992, the succeeding writers almost immediately turned to disastrous ideas for how to flesh him out like linking him to the Morlock massacre from 1986 (and Remy leBeau may have initially had a minor mental influence that was ignored in later iterations). If Busiek was reluctant to use the character based on the past errors made with him, that might be understandable, but he should bear in mind that the character can't be faulted for the mistakes the writers made with him, including Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza.

In a followup to that query, he admitted it's possible to tell a good tale with the "Ragin' Cajun", but reiterated:
Oh, I wouldn't remotely say no one can tell a good story with Gambit. I just don't like him. That's personal taste, not a judgment on his potential use in stories.
Well gee, he could have said the same with Wolverine years ago, and there were some people who did, until John Byrne and Claremont turned that all around. And if the editors allowed, maybe Busiek could turn Gambit around too. If Mark Millar had the freedom to develop any character in Ultimate X-Men as he saw fit, he missed a big chance to do just that with the Ultimate take on Gambit that turned up in that series, all because of his puzzling misgivings.

If Busiek (or Millar) think it's Claremont's fault for Gambit's poor character development, including the disastrous relations between Remy and Rogue, what's keeping them from just saying "Claremont screwed up and it's embarrassing"? Is it really wrong for one writer to criticize another? Absolutely not. Claremont's a big boy, and I'm sure he'd be able to take any criticism leveled at him gracefully, which is a lot more than can be said for Dan Slott. There's a reason why Claremont's writing prose novels now - something I don't see Slott doing anytime soon - and Marv Wolfman's made his way into a few other mediums like book editing to boot: because they've maintained a respectable image in jobs where the bosses wisely still expect a certain level of dignity.

Sure, it can be personal taste. But Busiek is still missing a chance to lay out a meat-and-potatoes explanation for what went wrong with either Claremont, Lobdell or Nicieza's writing, and say what he thinks is the best way to fix the character of Remy leBeau. I've thought about some of the mistakes made at the time, like the connection to Mr. Sinister and the Morlock massacre. I can understand why anybody might find that appalling, and if it's still in continuity, then you know what? I think it should be expunged. Just like plenty of other fiascos that came down on Marvel since the turn of the century. Until now, Marvel's never rebooted their universe, and I'm not saying they have to, but there is still quite a lot of embarrassments that befell it in the 1990s, even before Joe Quesada took over. And those particular cases are just what the Marvel universe doesn't need. The worst storylines are just what need to go, like the Clone Saga, the Teen Tony storyline from Iron Man and even the Age of Apocalypse could be written out. There's nothing hard about that at all.

In the end, too bad that Busiek has made himself the latest comics writer who won't offer more than a superficial put-down of the characters while missing the chance to say what he thinks is wrong with a past writer's take on them.

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Part of the problem today is that the big publishers, DC and Marvel, will not allow their writers to write what they want. So not only do the writers work with these weird assumptions that the character is to blame for bad continuity, but they have editors breathing down their necks to write more bad continuity. Donna Troy is a good example.

I think Eric Wallace is a decent writer. But his Titans run really pushed Roy Harper through the meat grinder. I don't believe that was Wallace's choice (although he can't say so publicly). I think he was given a limited contract and ordered to destroy the character. Well, if you are a younger writer with a family, are you going to turn down the job? Most would take the job.

Honestly, isn't it better for a writer that doesn't like a character to just leave him or her alone than to force changes onto that character to conform to the writer's tastes?

Especially if that writer isn't going to be writing that character for very long. A character like Gambit isn't huge, but has a solid fan base and is likely to appear in multiple comics at the same time, so a single writer really shouldn't go making changes in the character that won't match up well to readers' expectations or the way the character will appear in other comics.

Now, if the writer has full control of a character or that character has largely fallen off the radar, then sure maybe they should try to improve that character.

Of course, there are people out there who would "improve" Batman by having him shoot people...

Man, Gambit is not only a bad character, he's kind of offensive. He is possibly the worst depiction of a Cajun in any form of media that I have ever seen. It seems as though no writer has ever bothered to do any more research into the culture, personalities, and dialect of South Louisiana Acadians than a drunken screening of Southern Comfort - probably because no one ever felt he was worth it. The character is poorly designed, his back story is laughable (The New Orleans Thieves Guild? Come on!), and his contribution to any storyline has never been anything other than awkward and distracting. Cher.

Chadwick: I'm glad you acknowledge that it's the writers assigned to X-Men and other such titles who have to shoulder the blame for how terrible Gambit's characterization is. From Claremont to Lobdell to Brubaker to goodness knows who else, they've made no attempt to date to redeem the character's personality as a burglary advocate, and as far as I know, they still stick with the stereotypical accent. I've also never understood why they depicted him as being frequently dishonest with the other X-Men. But again, that's all the fault of the writers, and if one comes along who not only wants to change all that and get rid of the worst storylines from continuity, and the editors are willing to allow that, I don't see why he/she shouldn't be given a chance.

Incidentally, wasn't Gambit included in one of the Wolverine movies? If no comics reader had a problem with that (assuming they avoided bad characterization), then I don't see why it's wrong to turn things around back in the comics. After all, DC eventually fixed the errors made with Chop-Chop from Blackhawk, so I don't see why Marvel wouldn't be allowed to do the same, if their editors ever do want that to happen.

As for Busiek whom I notice paid attention to my post, well, I obviously can't argue if he doesn't want to even try to fix damage the way older generations tried to, but I still maintain that the writers like Claremont have to be the ones to frown down at, not the characters.

Bret: you have some good points. I would just add that for many years since his debut, Gambit rarely ever appeared outside the X-franchise, suggesting very few writers on other Marvel books ever cared for him. So it'd just be a matter of whether the editors would take the responsibility of looking over how things were done and assign a writer whose task is specifically to do a repair and redemption job for Gambit. If they did that and publicly addressed all the arguments against Gambit's negative renditions, then they could win over the audience's faith to actually do something better with his personality.

"Well gee, he could have said the same with Wolverine years ago, and there were some people who did, until John Byrne and Claremont turned that all around."
Well what about Larry Hama and Barry Windsor-Smith? Don't they deserve some credit too?

As for the Gambit situation, I'm guessing you can't handle people who aren't 100% morally good or evil?

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