I recently began working on an erotic novel based on the XXX-ploits of Gambit a.k.a. Remy LaBeau a.k.a. the X-Men's resident Cajun casanova. Unfortunately, certain narrative deadfalls endemic to superhero storytelling prevented me from getting past the opening chapters of my book, Gumbosexuelle: The Case of The Quivering Quarterstaff.
First off, a little explanation is in order. I first mentioned Gumbosexuelle earlier this week. Since penning that one-sentence treatment, the notion of an erogenous tome (that's an industry term) starring Gambit has percolated around my skull like Emmanuelle Plays Arkanoid (my other billion-dollar idea).
But why a trouser-dropping treatise about Gambit? I have a twofold motivation — the first is pecuniary. Given that I work for a website that covers futurist trends, most of my salary is in legal tender that doesn't exist yet. As a result, I receive 87% of my gross pay in IKEArcology SuperKronas. A book deal would supplement my income, which is predicated on speculating on speculative currencies.
My second reason is out of allegiance the character. Growing up as a Franco-American in the 1990s, I had very few role models, anthropomorphic starch notwithstanding. Gambit was the rare exception. Unlike every other X-Man, he made being a mutant look like a 24-hour cologne ad, not an allegory for civil rights smushed club-sandwich-style between a hologram cover. 1993's X-Men: Survival Guide to the Mansion offered a rare glimpse into Gambit's bed chamber. Look at that room. It's a goddamn Patrick Nagel painting with a Commodore 64. This is clearly a man who is followed by the omnipresent strains of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" wherever he goes.
Gambit's lothario status somehow made sense in the fuzzy miasma of prepubescence, but only after watching Waterworld a few times did I realize how much of a farce the guy's sex life really was. For one, he only seemed to pursue Rogue, whose death touch precluded any intimacy outside of those body condoms from Naked Gun.
Would a guy like Gambit squander his prodigious sexual talents staying chaste for a belle with the strychnine caress? Goodness, no. These two were only paired off because they talked like a summer stock production of A Streetcar Named Desire and dressed like homeless aerobics instructors.
To make matters worse, in X-Men: The Animated Series, he reeked with the sleazy desperation. Also, his accent slips into Tommy Wiseau territory with alarming frequency.
So Gumbosexuelle is my attempt to honor Gambit's squandered virility, a reclamation of his wasted years and monastic nights on a stagnant waterbed. But could a superhero romance novel actually work? In theory, yes (and we're going to table Larry Niven's famous critique for a moment).
At first blush, a superhero romance novel may sound totally gauche, but it's no worse than superhero franchising as it exists currently. For example, Marvel announced this week that their comic book roster would shill for Williams-Sonoma. For those of you who have no idea what Williams-Sonoma is, it's the cookware retailer where my vivacious Italian uncle goes when he's in the market for a mortar and pestle.
Also, Subway recently gave Aquaman's rogues gallery hoagie-induced glossolalia. So yeah, superhero romance novels are on the low end of the Bill Watterson Conniption Scale.
At least there's a precedent for superheroes dabbling in narratives tailored to 21st-century Madam and Monsieur Bovaries — in 2006, Marvel teamed up with the daytime soap Guiding Light for an immensely questionable crossover catered to two demographics whose Venn Diagram resembles a model of heliocentric orbit.
So I thought Gumbosexuelle could easily dethrone such romance classics as The Very Virile Viking. But what I didn't anticipate was that the narrative topology of the mainstream superhero comic really can't be crammed into the mass market potboiler.
What do I mean? Here's the fourth chapter. You'll see that my task is absolutely impossible. PS: Don't blame me if you get a case of the vapors.
Gumbosexuelle: The Case of The Quivering Quarterstaff
Chapter IV - A Bayou Too Far
The August moon leered over the fecund stretch of Louisiana bayou, throwing a sinister glimmer over yawning fauna and skittering critters. It was a bad moon, but sometimes a bad moon feels so good.
Remy LaBeau knew this well. He was currently laying low in his swampside bungalow, sidled next to a cold Sazerac and a hot ticket named Suzanne. Sue had the look of a yé-yé ingenue and three Jacks.
"Very nice, cherie," drawled Gambit. "But I've got somethin' better." LeBeau plopped down a quartet of Queens. "Five Queens."
"Dat rye must be going to your head, Monsieur LeBeau. I only see four Queens."
"Not from where I'm sitting."
Suzanne smiled. "Oh my, Monsieur LeBeau. I do believe you have left me all abashed."
"What can I say? A good hand opens my mouth."
"A good hand opens my legs."
Gambit cracked his knuckles. "Well, good thing I got two."
He eyed her up hungrily, pure heartthrob in repose. And then the doorbell rang.
"Who could be calling at dis hour?" grumbled Gambit, inadvertently transforming his Sazerac into an anise-flavored carpet stain. "It like nobody live by the Napoleonic code anymore."
Gambit swung the door open, only to find his old friends Spider-Man and Wolverine shuffling their feet and goggle-eyeing the cobwebbed corners of his porch.
"Fellas, what you doing in my neck of the swamp?" Gambit yawned. "Is Sabertooth robbing a bank in Baton Rouge or somethin'?"
"Uh no," muttered Spider-Man.
"Well den what you doing knee-knockin' on my porch?"
"We have absolutely no clue," grumbled Wolverine.
"You guys been drinkin'?"
"No, we honestly have no clue what we're doing here," whispered Spider-Man, his mask's eyeholes suddenly moist with the midnight mist.
"Bub, sometimes me and Spider-Man get the urge to just wander around and visit other superheroes. The psychological term for it is Team-Up Induced Wanderlust."
"Yesterday I borrowed the Fantastic Four's experimental spaceship and flew across the galaxy to watch Rocket Raccoon wash his delicates," Spider-Man choked. "When I returned to Earth two week later, my first impulse was to observe Captain America eat a turkey reuben for 45 minutes."
"I'm praying for death at this point."
"I haven't slept in three months."
"Well, some o' us are tryin' get some shut-eye. Bonne nuit, gentleman," growled Gambit as he slammed the door.
"We'll be back in 9 hours," murmured a muffled Wolverine. "We'll be hanging out with the Son of Satan as he pays his student loans."
"De nerve of those two, cherie. De tink they're the center of the universe," gasped Gambit as he sauntered back to Sue, whose silhouette was made of 100% sacred geometry.
"Oh, no worries, babe. I was just admiring this sword on your fireplace. Where in the blazes did you get it?"
The doorbell tinkled again. "Bedder not be those two gloryhounds."
But it wasn't. Rather, a grey-haired bespectacled man stood grinning on Gambit's bungalow porch. His smile was so bright it could pulverize diamonds.
"DOES SOMEONE FROM THE MERRY MARVEL MARCHING SOCIETY NEED TO KNOW THE OFFICIAL ORIGINS OF THE MANDARIN'S KATANA?"
"Qu'est-ce que c'est?"
"IN TALES TO ACKNOWLEDGE NUMBER THIRTY-TWO, THE TREMENDOUS TONY STARK GAVE THE MALEVOLENT MANDARIN THE OL' ONE-TWO WHAT-FOR! IN THE MIX OF THAT TERRIBLE TUSSLE, THE MALICIOUS MANDARIN'S KILLER KATANA FLEW FROM ITS SCABBARD INTO A ROILING RIVER, EVENTUALLY LANDING ON THE SHORES OF MY FAVORITE VACATION DESTINATION, MONSTER ISLAND!"
"Sir, I do bel-" stammered Gambit.
But it was for naught, as the avuncular yeller steamrolled past his protestations.
"THERE IT WAS FOUND BY THE DREADED MOLE MAN, THE SHORT SQUAT TERROR OF TERRA FIRMA! HE USED THE BLADE TO TAME FIN FANG FOOM IN PUNISHER: SCARE ZONE TWELVENTY-SEVENTY, AND WASN'T THAT A GAS!"
Gambit could have stood for eternity, listening to the elderly myth-spinner wax loud.
Fortunately, Sue intervened, smashing the door shut and draping herself around her beau LaBeau like a magnolia vine entwining some totally nondescript (yet metaphorical apropos) pole.
"Don't worry babe," she cooed. "I'm here. Luckily for you, I'm non-canonical."
Her silken hand dipped past his chiseled thigh, poised to pique his rising curiosity...
And just as things were getting good, my narrator camera swung outside the bungalow and focused on the over-excitable man lecturing the closed door. He looked you and me straight in the eye and opened his epiglottis with force of Tsar Bomba.
"GOOD GRAVY, TRUE BELIEVERS, WASN'T THAT A TALE OF TITANIC TITILLATION? I HAVEN'T SEEN SUCH RAVISHING ROMANCE SINCE MILLIE THE MODEL MET MACHINE MAN, THAT MAESTRO OF METALLIC MAGNETISM! WILL OUR RAGING CAJUN SEAL THE DEAL WITH THAT DASHING DAME? TUNE IN NEXT MONTH FOR CHAPTER FIVE OF THIS VERBAL VALENTINE, GUEST-STARRING CAP'S KOOKY QUARTET, THE PERVERSE PUPPETMASTER, AND THE SENTINEL OF THE SKYWAYS HIMSELF, THE SILVER SURFER!
"BOY, WHO COULD WAIT UNTIL NEXT MONTH? I KNOW I CAN'T! SO IF YOU MUST SATE YOUR TASTE FOR SALACIOUS SCENARIOS, PICK UP DEVIL DINOSAUR IN THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, FEATURING THAT WONDERFUL WOLVERINE! SO UNTIL EGO THE LIVING PLANET STARTING SENDING LOVE LETTERS TO THE PLANET VENUS, MAKE MINE MARVEL!"
Top illustration by Greg and Tim Hildebrandt.