Where the Wonder Women Are: #2 Rogue

Rogue was the first Marvel super heroine I discovered, thanks to the animated X-Men series of the early 90’s (which I’m currently rewatching with my daughters).

I adored that series, but could never find the comics to match it – I had a fairly scattershot approach to comics buying and reading in those days, and was limited by what I could find in second hand bookstores and our lone comic shop (later there were TWO in Hobart, then one again, and I remember the thrill of the chase when I got a rare chance to travel around the other state and find OTHER shops selling comics). Before the internet, wikipedia and an arsenal of graphic novels in the local library, finding comics with specific characters was HARD.

I know now that the TV series I loved was based pretty heavily on the X-Men comics of 10-15 years previously, and that the Marvel comics of the 90’s were famously quite continuity-heavy, which explains why whenever I picked one up, it was full of completely different characters, involved in complex storylines I didn’t understand.

So for a long time, my Rogue was the young woman I saw in the TV series – and there was plenty for me to latch on to as a teen viewer. She was angsty, angry, and powerful, she had a flirtatious romance with the brooding/banterific Gambit whom she couldn’t even kiss because of her powers, and no one understood her! Thinking about it now, I probably also empathised a lot with her streaks of white hair in the brown, as mine was doing the same thing before I left high school. I soon gave up on hunting X-Men comics, but I still collected ones I found with Rogue, and even bought her mini-series brand new when it was released.

One of the big differences between the DC and Marvel comics “universes” is Metahuman vs. Mutant. DC has never really explained why its universe produces so many “metahumans”, instead coming up with a separate, specific reason for each super-powered character whether that be alien origins, laboratory accident, power rings, and so on. While Marvel has its share of these specific origin stories, it also includes the ongoing story of the mutant gene, and the idea that humanity is producing a large number of natural and spontaneous superhumans – a fact which freaks many people the hell out.

All manner of consequences to these mutations have been explored in the Marvel Universe, in various interesting narrative ways. Tolerance and bigotry are themes that come up over and over again in relation to the Marvel mutants in general, and the X-Men in particular. The mutants themselves tend to form factions, most famously divided by the rhetoric of Magneto, who believes mutants are superior to humans and should replace them, and that of Professor X who believes mutants and humans should co-exist in harmony.

Rogue is in a tricky position. On the one hand, her mutant power is awesome in combat. She can drain the power and abilities of anyone she touches, which enables her to not only weaken her opponents, but also to use their powers against them and others.

The downside, of course, is that touch humans at all, because she drains everything from them – as she discovered the first time she kissed a boy back home, putting him in a coma forever. And she can’t touch mutants other than in combat situations for the same reason – as Gambit discovers in the animated series, the time he “steals a kiss” and ends up flat on his back. (I shipped these two like crazy in my teens but on rewatching the first few discs of the cartoon can’t help noticing how much of their “romance” is based on him harassing her, and her being angry and frustrated at his teasing because she knows she can’t actually have a physical relationship with anyone… which makes his behaviour pretty offensive, really. Damn it, past self!)

Anyway, Rogue’s situation leaves her angst-ridden and lonely, covering herself in skin-tight clothing and gloves, a symbolic barrier between her and the rest of humanity. She has serious psychological issues, mostly brought on by the mental influence/invasions of the people whose powers she has borrowed/stolen, as well as the other traumas that have come her way. She also has some pretty messed up associations with romance and sex, which is understandable. What I always liked about her was that she didn’t take it on the chin – she got well and truly angry, and expressed her anger with the world in general. And yes, Gambit is pushy and behaves badly around her, but she gives as good as she gets, yelling at him and fighting with him, calling him on his bullshit. I like to think that it’s this equality between them that made me ship them as a pair, and not JUST his Cajun accent and swishy coat.

The Rogue I loved as a teenager is snark and fire, anger and untapped, uncontrolled power, rage and angst. I still love her, though I haven’t thought about her and how much she was my favourite in a very long time – so many great female comics characters have eclipsed her since then.

Aspects of the Rogue I think of as “mine” were reflected in the character depicted in X-Men movies of the Noughties. This Rogue, played by Anna Paquin before True Blood, is very young and unsure of herself, deeply conflicted about her powers, but lacks quite a bit of the fire and anger that I associate with the character – a little of that can be seen in the first movie, which I enjoyed very much, especially in her tempestuous friendship with Wolverine, but she becomes noticeably more muted as the movies continue. I was really gutted by the third movie (which as we know made awful decisions about almost all the characters) which had Rogue choose to remove her powers as a resolution to her storyline… and that was it.

See movie Rogue mope.

Yes, the consequences of her powers suck severely, and it’s obvious that she would be tempted to give them up – as she often was in the animated series and indeed in the comics – but to show a young girl voluntarily choosing to give up her power, and the thing that makes her different, seems the height of irresponsible and unpleasant storytelling. To me, Rogue’s character arc is not about getting an easy fix to her problems, it’s about fighting against them, never giving in.

What I didn’t properly understand about Rogue until long after I had fallen for her as a character was a) she started off as a villain and b) the reason she had the power of flight and superhuman strength as well as her absorption power in the animated series and the comics was because of a backstory involving Ms Marvel (Carol Danvers), in which Rogue had completely absorbed not only Ms Marvel’s powers, but her personality, who lived on inside Rogue’s head.

Indeed, there was a whole era of the X-Men comics in which Rogue and Carol took turns with Rogue’s body, revealing that it was possible to control Rogue’s absorption powers – Carol could touch people without hurting them if she chose, but Rogue could not.

Rogue’s origin as a villain was also tied up with another iconic Marvel woman: Mystique, who took Rogue in as an adopted daughter after she first left home, and turned her to the side of Magneto and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Okay, morally problematic, but how awesome that Rogue’s backstory is one big messy successful Bechdel Test?

Several of the more recent animated series have portrayed Rogue in interesting ways – I liked her especially in X-Men Evolution (the X-Men are all high school students) where she was portrayed as an angry goth chick with Mystique issues, a tendency to cross over to the dark side (AKA the Evil Kids High School) and a Daria-like attitude. More recently I have begun watching Wolverine and the X-Men which again puts an older but no less cynical Rogue through angst, betrayal, bashing people up with their own powers and shouting at her friends in her loud Southern accent. All the things she does best.

Too often, super heroines are portrayed as (or thought to be) perfect, head girl types: Hermione Granger in a swimsuit. And while I have a great fondness for many of these glamorous, competent characters like Wonder Woman, Storm and Jean Grey, I do still kind of love a heroine who gets messy, yells at people and make mistakes, but is honourable enough to sweep up the glass afterwards and apologise. That’s the thing I find it hardest to forgive about the X-Men movies… Rogue wasn’t given a chance to fix things, or to complete her story arc. Her character was sacrificed to the plot, as the example of the mutant who wished her power away, because she didn’t trust the boy she liked (Bobby/Iceman) to choose her over a girl he could touch.

*My* Rogue would never do that. She would go kicking and screaming, punching and swearing, and even if she lost her powers (which has occasionally been the case in the comics), she sure as hell would stick around to find some other way of getting in on the action, and helping out her friends. While making snarky comments. Her name says it all: she’s the wild card, not the conformist.

[comic by Kate Beaton from Hark a Vagrant]

Where the Wonder Women Are:
0: Introduction
1: Black Canary
2: Rogue
3: Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman
4: Black Widow

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5 replies on “Where the Wonder Women Are: #2 Rogue”

  1. Grant says:

    I’m a big fan of Anna Paquin’s Rogue in the first two X-Men films. What they did to her character in the third film was appalling. (X-Men: The Last Stand is a weird film – anything they developed exclusively for that film, like Kitty Pryde, is outstanding, while anything intended to tie up plot threads from the previous films falls flat on its face.)

  2. tansyrr says:

    I liked Anna Paquin’s Rogue in the first movie but I think they were losing her even by the second – it was like they had suddenly realised that the Wolverine/Rogue friendship was the most interesting thing in the first movie and they panicked about it, and tried to keep Rogue away from the main storyline most of the time.

    Or maybe it’s just that I loathed Bobby.

    The thing I was most outraged by in the third film – and there are many, many reasons to be pissed off about that film – was the cavalier writing out of Cyclops. He’s not my favourite character. He’s so straight & uptight & dull – but James Marsden played him PERFECTLY and getting rid of him made no story sense at all after building up the great chemistry between Wolverine-Cyclops-Jean. It was like they threw away two movies of set up in order to get one shock moment. Bleh.

    Those movies were so well-cast, though, for the most part. I really loved their Jean Grey, their Nightcrawler, and there was so much more they could have done with their Kitty Pryde. I would be interested to see if we get some of those versions of the characters again. For instance, is there anyone who DOESN’T want Ian McKellen’s Magneto to turn up in the Avengers franchise? (yeah yeah different studios, whatever)

    Likewise, the one thing notably missing from the Avengers movie was a cameo from Wolverine giving the finger to Tony Stark.

  3. Grant says:

    I quite liked the Bobby/Rogue romance.

    The Cyclops death was ridiculous, mainly because (if the rumour mill is true) Fox insisted on it because James Marsden *dared* to take a role in Bryan Singer’s Superman film when he (according to Fox) should have been directing X-Men 3.

    And since then Fox’s X-franchise has become faintly ridiculous: two prequels, both of which are supposed to be in continuity, neither of which make sense either in relation to the previous trilogy *or* each other. Why they didn’t just make X-Men 4 is beyond me.

  4. Kevin says:

    X-Men Legacy has been a Rouge-led book from about issue 226 onwards. Might be worth checking out.

  5. tansyrr says:

    Thanks, Kevin! I appreciate the heads up.

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