042_rogue.jpgJust the other day, as I was going through piles of papers from the past, I came across my high school geology notebook. I spent a lot of time doodling pictures in that class. Most of those doodles were sketches of my bored subconscious mind wishing it were somewhere else. Fun to revisit, but ultimately not worth saving.

However, on one page I found a lot of doodles of my favorite X-Men characters at the time. In particular Rogue and Wolverine. But it was Rogue I most enjoyed drawing, and seeing my old enthusiasm for her rekindled a few memories from when I was really into mainstream comic books.

For those not in the know, The Uncanny X-Men comic book I’m talking about tells the continuing story of a band of superheroes that are mutants. That is, they were born with their powers because they belong to a new species of human beings emerging in the modern era. They are hated, feared, and misunderstood by normal humans and superheroes because of this.

Many of the stories have to do with the X-Men struggling against persecution and prejudice. They are “good guys” who use their powers to stop “bad guys”, but because of their bad image, they often end up with no thanks or even blame for the crimes they stop. They work for the acceptance of mutants in general society, but it’s a hard struggle.

My cousin collected the comics, which is how I was exposed to their stories when I was a kid. But it wasn’t until I ran into the cover of X-Men #182 that I was hooked, and started to collect comics seriously.

X-Men #182 is focused on Rogue. The cover shows her standing over a wounded comrade, standing firm against a hail of automatic gunfire from some unknown foe.

What struck me was how determined she looked. She was dressed in some sort of tres-chic punk outfit, and had a white stripe painted through the middle of her hair. The image she presented was one of confidence and individuality. I had to buy the comic and find out what was going on! From there I started collecting back issues to find out what Rogue’s story was.

Rogue’s mutant power is the ability to absorb another person abilities. When she touches them with her bare skin, the person goes into a coma for an amount of time equal to a multiple of the time she touched them. While the person is in a coma, Rogue is able to access that person’s memories (useful for finding out secrets), skills (she can suddenly pilot a plane), and most of all—their superpowers.

Rogue can “absorb” more than one person at a time. She can’t absorb the power of heroes who are energy beings, or extreme physical differences (e.g., wings or a tail). Robots are immune to her power.

She was originally a villain. Her adoptive mother was Mystique, the shape-changing leader of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. The Brotherhood was a group opposed to the ideals of the X-Men. They believed the only way mutants could be safe was to rule over normal human beings.

Rogue was just a snotty, arrogant teenager at the start. Her power made her useful in a fight. She could absorb one superhero, then work at absorbing several others. In one fight, she absorbed most of the Avengers and took on Thor!

It was around that time she discovered a serious drawback to her power. If she touched someone for too long the transfer became permanent. The victim’s mind would be wiped clean and Rogue would retain the victim’s personality within her own psyche as a separate personality. This made it impossible for all but the most powerful telepathic mutants to read her mind.

She ambushed Ms. Marvel as part of a plot to “power up” in an attack on the Avengers to free the Brotherhood’s members who had been captured. She needed the powers of Ms. Marvel for a long time so she held on to her victim for a while, making the transfer permanent (but she would find that out later).

Ms. Marvel’s real name was Carol Danvers, and she was an old friend of the X-Men. In those days the Avengers and the X-Men were on-again off-again allies. Carol was a kind of superwoman character. She could fly, had super strength (could bench press fifty tons), was invulnerable to normal harm, and she had a seventh sense that warned her of danger, allowing her to dodge attacks. Looks like that seventh sense didn’t work so well this time.

While Carol Danvers became a Jane Doe at the local hospital ward, Rogue at first reveled in her new stolen powers. But soon the Carol Danvers personality started taking control of Rogue whenever she was exhausted or daydreaming. Rogue began to lose her mind, finding herself living two lives.

Worse, she found herself losing control of her absorption power. The slightest skin-to-skin contact would trigger a transfer, and the risk of another permanent transfer seemed to have increased. She no longer had the willpower to assert her own wishes against Carol with additional victims in her head.

Her adoptive mother Mystique couldn’t do anything for her, and her Brotherhood buddies were not the empathic type. So she turned to the X-Men for help. This was a controversial move for the X-Men and a real test of their ideals. Could they take in an enemy, someone who had tried to kill them and had essentially murdered one of their friends by robbing her of her very identity?

Rogue was allowed to join the X-Men, but she wasn’t trusted. Carol Danvers (who had been hanging out with the X-Men as part of her recovery) decided to sever her ties with her old friends over the decision. Worse, since they were now harboring a criminal mutant their already poor image took a hit.

Despite all that, Rogue put her life on the line for her new companions. She proved herself again and again until her teammates began to reluctantly trust her. When she started to lose it again with her personality battle, the leader of the X-Men gave her the strength to trust her own power again. Rogue discovered remorse for what she’d done as a villain and for the first time began to allow herself to feel.

All this came back to me, looking at my doodles. A complicated character with a tough cross to bear, cool powers, and awesome outfits. She changed my conception of what a superhero could be and how much you could develop a character over time.

I flash back to the good scenes:

  • Rogue standing in front of Mariko (a normal person), taking heavy laser fire for her because of kind words, sacrificing her life to save someone she would have let die a month earlier. Eliciting sympathy from Wolverine who swore he’d cut her to pieces, letting her absorb his super healing power so she doesn’t die.
  • Rogue and Storm talking to each other about Rogue’s recent suicidal leanings. Rogue confessing that the first time her powers manifested was when she was making out with a boy in her bedroom. The terror it made her feel. And Storm, who had once fought Rogue with every ounce of her being in a scuffle at the Pentagon, offering her bare hand in trust to Rogue to show her she could control her power.
  • Rogue standing on the bridge where she stole Ms. Marvel’s powers, reliving the awful moment of tossing Carol’s comatose body into the river below with a bellow of victory, and breaking down in tears at how wrong she had been. Realizing she’ll have to live with her shame for the rest of her life.
  • Rogue being the last of her teammates standing in the face of the indestructible, unstoppable mutant-hunting robot Nimrod. Her teammate Shadowcat touching Rogue’s cheek just before she passes out to tell her how to beat Nimrod. Rogue absorbing all the X-Men at once, and using their combined powers to beat Nimrod to a standstill and force the robot to flee. Damn that was phat!

Hearts for Rogue, all the way.