This month, A Beautiful Perspective is exploring touch in all its forms and contexts. Click here to read more stories from the TOUCH Issue.
When Kelly Thompson first saw Rogue, “it was love at first sight.” The Marvel Comics writer had never read a comic book when, as a teenager, she came across Fox’s X-Men: The Animated Series and caught her first glimpse of the mutant superhero. “My brother and I turned on the TV one Saturday morning, and we turned the channel and it was literally this moment of Rogue flying through a mall and then punching a giant robot in the face,” she says. “It was a really powerful, indelible moment for me as a kid.”
Thompson, who’s now one of Marvel’s most prolific writers, took her love of Rogue into her professional career, writing the miniseries Rogue and Gambit earlier this year and currently penning Rogue’s ongoing adventures (along with fellow mutant Gambit) in the Mr. and Mrs. X series.
Rogue herself debuted in a 1981 Avengers issue (created by writer Chris Claremont and artist Michael Golden), but she soon joined up with the X-Men, and she’s been a key part of Marvel’s mutant mythos ever since, including a prominent role in the X-Men movies, played by Anna Paquin. Although her powers include the flight and super-strength that Thompson witnessed in that formative TV episode, Rogue’s main abilities involve the absorption of powers (and memories) from others, which she acquires via skin-to-skin contact—whether she wants to or not.
Rogue can’t touch anyone without being bombarded with their abilities and memories, potentially harming them in the process. Her origin story involves putting her teenage crush into a coma, when her powers manifest during their first kiss. As many Rogue fans do, Thompson connected with the character’s sense of solitude and separation. “Like a lot of us, I felt very alone for one reason or another, and Rogue is a character who by nature of her powers is very isolated,” she says. “She had a very different way in which she was untouchable, but I felt very untouchable, too, and sort of shunned by whatever.”
Although Rogue is often literally unable to experience intimacy, she’s also part of one of the most iconic, long-running romances in the Marvel universe, with fellow Southern-born X-Men member Gambit, a Cajun mutant whose powers involve kinetically charging various objects. “She was a very dramatic character, as was her relationship with her on-again, off-again paramour Gambit,” Thompson says of what first drew her to Rogue during the character’s animated TV appearances.
In current Marvel Comics continuity, Rogue and Gambit are married, and Thompson’s career as a Rogue writer has involved chronicling the relationship between the two. In Rogue and Gambit, they cemented their partnership after years of intermittent romance, and in Mr. and Mrs. X, they’re working together as a married pair. “Even though they’re the sexiest characters in the Marvel universe—let’s face it—their relationship is about a lot more than just how incredibly sexy they are,” Thompson says.
Another aspect of Rogue’s history that Thompson has tackled head-on is the inconsistency of her powers, which have gone from completely uncontrollable to the opposite, and back again, over decades of stories from dozens of different writers. “As a fan, and as a writer, I felt a little let down by how [previous writers] solved her problems and gave her control,” Thompson says. “Because then people came around after that, and the narrative became that she’s lost control, I thought that there was a good opportunity to tell a story there, about her dealing with that, and why that maybe didn’t stick the first time around.”
In Thompson’s hands Rogue continues efforts to control her powers as an important issue in her relationship with Gambit, attempting to reconcile intimacy issues with the passion she has for her now-husband. “I think a lot of readers picked up on one of my favorite things about Rogue and Gambit getting married while her powers are sort of in flux, [which] is that he doesn’t care,” Thompson says. Their relationship is strong not in spite of their struggles, but because of them.
“She had a very different way in which she was untouchable, but I felt very untouchable, too.”
The nature of superhero comics is such that those struggles will probably never go away. “I see fans getting caught up sometimes on, ‘Well, I just want her to solve this forever.’ And I thought, that’s such an odd way to think about it,” Thompson says. “Those things follow us our whole lives, and I feel like that’s it for Rogue. I don’t know that there will ever be a time when readers should expect that anyone has solved this problem and it’ll just never be an issue for her again.”
The way Thompson sees it, Rogue is a stronger and better person for all the challenges she faces. “[She’s] someone who’s a hero despite all the things she has backed against her: where she came from, the way she was raised, her early experiences, the ongoing on-again, off-again of her power, which is a kind of isolating thing that would break far lesser people,” Thompson says. “And yet she rises up, and she’s a hero, over and over again.”