Uncanny X-Men (1st series) #385

Issue Date: 
October 2000
Story Title: 
Shell Game

Chris Claremont with German Garcia, Michael Ryan, and Randy Green (Script), Panosian, Pepoy, Ketcham (Inks), Richard Isanove (Colors), Richard Starkings and COMICRAFT’s Albert ‘n’ Saida (Letters), Mark Powers (Editor), Bob Harras (Editor-in-Chief)

Brief Description: 

In Madripoor, the captured X-Men join forces with the Goth and the Crimson Pirates to capture more slaves in trade for their own freedom. In truth, though, it is a ploy by Gambit until he can figure a better way to defeat the Goth. The quintet of X-Men still at-large break into the building and find themselves battling their fellow X-Men. However, they still find it too hard to fight friends and hold back. Eventually, though, the free willed X-Men are defeated but not before Gambit can convince Rogue that he has a plan. The X-Men take the captured X-Men to the Goth, but discover that Tullamore Voge was in charge the whole time. The X-Men are betrayed by the Goth. Phoenix, Psylocke and Beast go through with their part of the plan to deactivate the slaver collars and succeed. The Goth defeats the other X-Men, which leaves Rogue with no other choice but to kill him after absorbing Gambit’s powers. After the other bad guys are captured and the prisoners freed, Gambit consoles Rogue, who feels that she has betrayed the values of the X-Men.

Full Summary: 

For as long as people can remember, there have always been pirates on the island of Madripoor. One reason the British built a navel base here was to keep the pirates in check and to protect the China trade. Several attempts by pirates to invade the island were ended by the locals, who taught the pirates that if they want to bother Madripoor and its residents, they do so at their own peril.

On the island, anything goes and everything is for sale. You are either the prey or the predator. If you are not one, you are condemned to be the other. Before, the trade used to be flesh and ivory, rubber and teak. Now, it is microchips and the information they carry.
One major city in Madripoor is Hightown. It is a representation of human arrogance. The people hold contempt to nature, just like the buildings. The people believe they are invincible. That will be their downfall. Today, however, their fate is no longer in their hands. On a stormy night, a party is going on the top floor of a skyscraper and the attendees, who think so highly of themselves, are unaware that they are about to become victims.

In the middle of the dance floor, the crowd looks in awe as a swirl of blue energy appears. Standing in the middle are the X-Men: Cable, Colossus, Psylocke, Gambit, Storm, Archangel and Thunderbird, as well as Beldame of the Goth and Bloody Bess of the Crimson Pirates. The X-Men are all in their uniforms, not the suits they wore as prisoners of the Goth. Bess raises her gun and starts to shoot to scare any thoughts of resisting out of the people’s minds. Beldame hopes to herself that someone will rebel, as she loves violence. Cable comments that, between Bess’ gunfire and Storm’s lightning, they pretty much have everyone’s attention.

Psylocke turns to Gambit and tells him that she prays he knows what he is doing. Gambit asks her if she would rather end up as a slave or for once stand with the winning side. Sarcastically, Archangel says he thought the X-Men were the good guys. Rudely, Thunderbird tells the winged man that times have changed and Warren needs to move with them or be overwhelmed. Archangel snaps at Thunderbird, saying that he does not want an opinion from a rookie, but Storm cuts him off, telling the two men that they are committed to Gambit’s decision and will see through it to the end.

Storm orders Cable to shut the doors with his telekinesis, while she creates a monsoon outside to stop the local authorities from interfering. Beldame comments to herself on how she cannot wait to taste Storm’s soul. Cable reminds Beldame that the X-Men are her allies now. Innocently, Beldame asks what is wrong with having a friend for dinner. Beldame turns back to business and orders Cable to knock a man out.

Cable uses his Psimitar to knock out a man in a suit. Cable thinks to himself that the man is not even a mutant. The Psimitar will shield him from pain and make sure the man will have no memory of the encounter. Cable does not like playing the game like this, but Gambit sure does. Cable tells Beldame that the man is ready for transport. Behind them, a transmat portal opens and a Sea Dog come in ready to put a slave cowl on the unconscious man.

The Sea Dog puts the cowl on and takes the man back through the portal. Cable turns to Beldame and says that she is staying close to him, because she does not trust the X-Men. Beldame says she is staying close, because she adores him. She then asks Cable what he would do if their positions were reversed. Cable turns his attention to the glass wall and tells everyone that they have company.

Four motorcycles break through the wall. Rogue flies as Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Beast and Phoenix ride the cycles. Wolverine tells the others that the homing devices on the cycles they stole from Sanguine worked. Rogue, however, is in disbelief as she sees that the X-Men are working with the Goth and the Crimson Pirates. Phoenix tells them that she is sensing no mental coercion and that the others are voluntarily helping the slavers. Beast tells them to save the questions for later and to just save the day.

Thunderbird sends out a ray of solar plasma at Nightcrawler’s motorcycle. As his bike explodes, Nightcrawler teleports onto Beast’s bike, which is then immediately crushed by Bloody Bess. The two mutants are flung forward as their bike comes to an unexpected halt.

Storm flies to Phoenix and tells her best friend that her telepathy gives her an advantage. However, the telepathy is of no use if Storm gives Phoenix something else to worry about. Storm summons her winds to raise the grit off the floor and into the cyclone around Phoenix. Phoenix begins to choke since she is now breathing only grit. Nearby, Cable attacks Wolverine with the Psimitar, though Wolverine is not worried about it. Cable tells Wolverine that he will be surprised what the staff can do. He goes on and says it is nothing compared to the man who wields it.

Gambit jumps on Rogue, who is in the air, and says she looks nice with her new hairstyle. Rogue asks Gambit what is going on because, at the moment, he looks like “another low-rent thug.” Rogue tosses Gambit off of her, but is surprised that Storm catches him with her wind. Rogue questions what Storm is doing, but Gambit says that Storm is as much of a thief as he is. Gambit charges up his playing cards and throws them at Rogue. The cards detonate with full force when they hit Rogue. Rogue realizes that Gambit is not fooling around. If she were not almost invulnerable, the cards would have done serious damage to her. Of course, Gambit knows that. However, while they are fighting, the Sea Dogs are grabbing more prisoners.

Below, Cable and Wolverine continue their fight. Cable tells him that Wolverine has to know his limits. His claws are only useful if Wolverine can get close enough to use them. Cable’s telekinesis will make sure that never happens, though. Cable calls Wolverine an old man and says that he is out of his league.

Rogue flies straight at Gambit, who is charging up his staff. Rogue thinks to herself that the X-Men know each other too well, so they can anticipate each other’s moves. They are also holding back since they do not want to hurt their friends. However, Rogue thinks that has got to change. Gambit slams his staff on the ground and sends kinetic energy into the air. Rogue realizes that Gambit is one step ahead of her. Rogue is blinded, but knows what is coming next, as Gambit smacks her away with his staff. Angry, Rogue says that she is going to pay Gambit back with interest.

Beldame comes up behind Storm and compliments her on how she is using her winds to stop Phoenix from using her telepathy. Beldame complains, though, that Storm is being far too gentle. Beldame grabs Storm, and immediately the weather goddess’ powers go out of control. She herself is hit repeatedly by her own lightning, while the winds that kept Phoenix away gain the speed of hurricane winds. The winds disappear and Phoenix falls onto the ground with a force that rattles her bones. Bess takes advantage of Phoenix’s vulnerability and affixes a slave collar on the woman.

One thing about a fight like this is that, when people can fly, you must watch out for threats from any direction. When Phoenix’s mind goes blank thanks to the slave collar, Beast runs to her rescue. He jumps onto Archangel’s back and puts him into a wrestling hold. Archangel can no longer say aloft and falls. Beast guides the millionaire right into Bloody Bess. Beast then grabs Beldame and tosses her above him to Nightcrawler. Kurt does a series of teleports, which strains his body, but is absolutely brutal to any passenger, in this case Beldame.

Still, the X-Men find it hard to fight one another. Thunderbird aims his hand at Rogue, ready to take a shot when he stops to think about what he is doing. Thunderbird stops and refuses to hit Rogue, no matter what kind of game Gambit is playing. A Sea Dog sees this and immediately activates the slave cowl Thunderbird is wearing.

Beast notices what happened to Thunderbird and realizes that the X-Men are being forced to aid the slavers. Beast continues to pick the lock on Phoenix’s cowl when Colossus comes from behind. Beast jumps into the air and tells the Russian that his speed and agility will never match his own. Colossus tells Beast that he will have to land sometime and, when he does, he will be ready to break the ground beneath him. Beast decides that since he cannot land on the ground, he will land on Colossus’ head.

Colossus is staggered and Beast lands behind the Russian, unaware that Psylocke is right behind him. Psylocke tells Beast he has left himself open to attack as she uses her telekinesis to hold Beast in place. Nightcrawler teleports behind Betsy, grabs her by the wrist and then trips her with a low kick. Kurt reminds Betsy that he and Beast have been X-Men far longer than she has.

Colossus comes charging towards the two furry mutants. Beast leaps on Colossus’ left arm and pulls the man down. Nightcrawler grabs him and they send Colossus flying towards Psylocke. Against Psylocke the telepath, this is a brilliant strategy. However, her telepathy is now gone and replaced with telekinesis. Psylocke has not mastered the art of telekinesis, so when she repels Colossus, it is simply instinct. Colossus is pitched back towards Nightcrawler and Beast and the two are knocked down.

Cable asks Wolverine if he wants to quit. Rogue knocks Cable aside and tells him that the X-Men don’t know the meaning of the word quit. She tackles Gambit, who was behind Cable. Rogue is fed up with the battle and tells Gambit that one touch and he is out of the battle. Gambit charges some cards, but Rogue grabs his wrist. He tells her that she is making a mistake. Rogue asks him how he plans on stopping her. “Trust me,” says Gambit. “Always, Remy,” replies Rogue.

Cable takes advantage of Rogue being distracted and blasts her in the back with the Psimitar. Rogue goes into a spasm and knocks the charged up cards out of Gambit’s hands. The cards go flying into the ceiling and detonate. The X-Men take cover and when the dust clears they see that only one person is left standing on the other team: Wolverine.

Gambit tells the others to watch out as Wolverine is more dangerous when he is alone. Suddenly, Wolverine collapses to the ground. Cable rejoices that they won, but suddenly realizes that the X-Men are his family and friends and that something is wrong with him if he is happy that he defeated them in battle. Cable thinks to himself that he felt glad when he attacked Rogue and when Wolverine fell. He realizes that it has nothing to do with Gambit’s caper, but with something wholly inside of him.

Thanks to experience in hundreds of other raids, the Sea Dogs are able to transport the rest of the prisoners in no time. After everyone steps through the transmat portal, they find themselves in a giant underground cavern underneath China. The caves were built during wartime when locals had to hide out in the majestic caverns. They were forgotten for almost millennia, but the pirates have taken them over now.

The prisoners are ushered through a processing unit to be identified and also to mark them for a sale price. They are then tossed into a stasis module and stacked with the other prisoners. The mood is good in the cavern since this has been the best raid ever. Plans for a return visit are already in the works.

Gambit walks into the chamber of the Goth and announces the return of the X-Men. Gambit carries Rogue over his shoulder, Cable drags Wolverine, Beldame has Storm and Archangel has Nightcrawler. Far in front of them on a platform are the Goth, Killian, Tullamore Voge and some hounds. Beldame belongs to the Goth. Though Killian and the Goth have done all the work, they are merely the hired help. In truth, this whole time, unbeknownst to the X-Men, Tullamore Voge was the mastermind behind the plan.

Voge is proud and begins to talk about how any one of the X-Men alone is worth more than the rest of the prisoners combined. Gambit walks up to the Goth who has sat down. Wanderer and Sanguine are at his side. Wolverine and Storm have both awakened. Goth tells Gambit that he can see why Voge likes the thief so much. Goth turns to Sanguine and asks for some refreshments. Sanguine turns to Colossus and asks the mutant to step forward so he can transfer some of Colossus’ energy to the Goth. Colossus starts to walk forward as Gambit asks what is going on.

Sanguine begins to transfer the energy to the Goth. Gambit complains that the X-Men and the Goth had a deal. With a smile, the Goth tells Gambit that he just broke the deal. He tells Gambit to feel free to complain. In the meantime, the fat man continues, the X-Men can rejoin the rest of the X-Men as slaves.

Nearby, Beldame and Psylocke return from Madripoor with Beast and Phoenix, both wearing cowls. Beldame apologizes for being late to Voge and tells him that they had to pull out the two X-Men from a pile of rubble. Beldame leans forward and thrusts her body towards Voge, who says he is getting some anomalous readings from her. Beldame says that what he said sounds naughty as she starts to seduce the blue man. Beldame says that rules are meant to be broken. Suddenly, she punches Voge right in the face, knocking him out.

Beldame takes away the telepathic illusion and reveals herself to be Phoenix. The captured Phoenix was actually a captured Beldame and Beast was not really wearing a slave collar. Phoenix tells Betsy and Hank that from what she saw in Voge’s mind, the punch was the least he deserved. She comments on how in moments like these she hates being a telepath. Betsy reminds her that it was those telepathic abilities that allowed them to get as far as they did. Jean agrees and then tells Beast that the next step is up to him.

Beast takes out some picks and begins working on the console that controls the slave cowls. As he works, he tells the two ladies that one advantage of working with a telepath like Jean and inventor like Forge is that once Jean psychically connects the two of them, Forge and he can solve anything. Case in point: how to deactivate the slaver collars individually. Beast and Forge deactivate the collars and Beast tells the ladies that they are in business. The X-Men are now free.

Colossus suddenly snaps back to attention after being fed on by Goth and gives Killian an uppercut. Tullamore enters the room and tells the Goth and the Crimson Pirates that the collars are now inoperative and orders them to kill the X-Men. The X-Men are unfazed by the order given by Voge, as it is something they have heard numerous times.

Rogue takes charge and orders Storm and Thunderbird to attack Wanderer and Sanguine, respectively. At first their attacks don’t seem to do much damage but in moments the two members of the Goth fall. Rogue, meanwhile, takes down the Sea Dogs.

In the next room Beast says that things are getting lively. Phoenix says that you can always tell where the X-Men have been. She then turns to Psylocke and tells her that she and Beast have done their part, but now it is up to Betsy to finish the job. Phoenix tells Psylocke that they have to take the transmat ring out of commission permanently. “You mean I get to break things?” asks Betsy, “Not a problem.” The ultimate manifestation of Psylocke’s telekinesis is her katana, a sword backed by her own will and power. Betsy puts it to good use as she stabs the katana into the ground. A wave of telekinetic energy is shot forth and destroys the transmat ring. Beast applauds the trick, but Psylocke asks what to do for an encore.

The Goth hears the transmat ring being destroyed and tells the X-Men that he will just order another one. Voge notices that the Goth is glowing and that he is supersaturated with energy. He asks the Goth what will happen when he reaches his limit. Gambit takes out a playing card and decides to find out.

The Goth gets up, glowing green, and releases a wave of energy that knocks down all the X-Men. He tells them that he is the source of life for his followers and that he is the font of power. He dares the X-Men to attack, but says he will return their attack a thousand-fold. Gambit is thrown into Rogue as he drops his card. The Goth then threatens to drain their lives and then lay waste to their souls. When the X-Men are nothing but hollow vessels, the Goth will them fill them with his corruption.

“Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” says Rogue. Rogue gets up and wishes that she got a dollar for every time someone said what the Goth just spoke of. Rogue tells the Goth that he has an impressive mouth as she picks up Gambit’s card. She tells him that he may have zapped Gambit, but he did not notice her steal Gambit’s powers as he fell. Rogue charges up the card and tosses it at the Goth’s forehead, asking him if he can handle a little more energy. The card hits the Goth and he screams as he exceeds his capacity for energy. Kinetic energy flies everywhere.

Shortly afterwards, Rogue does not move. She just sits there and stares at the charred body of the Goth, the playing card still in his forehead and still glowing with energy. The X-Men round up Voge, the Crimson Pirates and the rest of the Goth. They also free the captives and make arrangements to get them to the proper authorities or to their own homes.

Rogue goes up to Gambit, who is lying down and lies on top of him. Rogue laments over how she killed the Goth. She tells Gambit that, the moment she touched him, she knew it was the only way. Gambit consoles her and tells her that it was his plan. “You call that a plan?” asks Rogue. He tells her to let the blame fall on his shoulders.

Rogue does not accept what Gambit says and tells him that it was indeed his powers, but she was the one who charged and threw the card. She tells him that murder gives lie to everything the X-Men stand for. Gambit tells her that as a result the X-Men live to fight another day. Rogue says she should have found another way. Gambit tells her that if she wants to feel bad, it is her privilege just as it is his to hold her as long as she wants him there.

As it turned out, it was a long time indeed.

Characters Involved: 

Archangel, Beast, Cable, Colossus, Gambit, Nightcrawler, Phoenix, Psylocke, Rogue, Storm, Thunderbird III, Wolverine (all X-Men)

Bloody Bess, Broadside, Killian, Sea Dogs (all Crimson Pirates)

Beldame, Goth, Sanguine, Wanderer (all Goth)

Tullamore Voge and his Hounds

Various guards

Various prisoners

Story Notes: 

This issue is the conclusion to the first meeting between the X-Men since the Six Month Gap. It is continued from X-Men (2nd Series) #104. In that same issue, Gambit struck the deal with the Goth.

Issue Information: