The gambling industry and the entertainment industry have become so intertwined in recent years, that you won’t have any problem finding a movie or TV show that features gambling in one form or the other. It is also easy enough to find casino games inspired by movies or TV shows, or specific characters in a popular film.
Poker, in particular, has become a favourite among those who develop content for the entertainment industry. It has been featured--and continue to be featured--in various entertainment platforms and in various ways. One form of entertainment that has seemingly adopted poker as an integral part of its content is the world of comic books. And when one talks about poker being an integral part of comic book content, one cannot help but talk about one of the most popular Marvel characters of all time, the villain-turned-superhero X-Men member, Gambit.
The History of Poker in Relation to Comic Books
The game of poker has been around long before the first comic books were ever written. It is believed to trace its roots back almost a thousand years, encompassing several cultures and continents. Some historians say the game’s origins can be traced to a domino-card game that was played by a 10th-century Chinese emperor. Others say the game descended from the Persian card game called “As Nas”, which traces its origins back to the 16th century.
In Europe, poker’s closest predecessor is a game called Poque. The game became popular in France in the 17th century. It also has a German equivalent, which is called Pochen, and both versions are said to have been based on the 16th-century Spanish game called Primero. This game featured three cards dealt to each player, plus bluffing as a key part of the game. It was the French who brought the game to North America when they settled the lands, and English-speaking settlers anglicized the game into poker.
Comic books first became popular in the United States and the United Kingdom in the 1930s, although comics itself--the art form featured in these publications--traces some of its origins in 18th century Japan. The first modern comic book was released in the United States in 1933. It was actually a reprinting of newspaper comic strips, and the compilation of comic strips later came to be known as comic books.
As the popularity of poker grew, poker-themed content started to become more and more prevalent. There are poker-inspired TV shows, poker-themed movies, and even movies that may not be entirely about poker, but feature the game prominently. Poker has also managed to find its way into comic books and was made more famous in Marvel’s “Floating Superhero Poker Game” that was first introduced in a May 1979 two-in-one issue.
The Marvel poker game always took place at the Avenger Mansion, the Fantastic Four Headquarters, or Ben Grimm’s (a.k.a. The Thing) apartment. And because it typically involved both human characters and superheroes, a good number of Marvel superheroes came to be closely associated with the popular card game. But there is one Marvel character whose name has become almost synonymous with poker--the villain-turned-superhero named Gambit.
Gambit is, in fact, wholly inspired from playing cards. This is probably quite obvious, given the character’s villain/superhero name. Remy Etienne LeBeau, who later came to be known as the mutant Gambit in the X-Men series, is unique because he does not have a straightforward superpower, unlike the other mutants. Where other mutants had super strength, optic blasts, supersonic flight, and the like, Gambit has indirect powers. He taps into the kinetic energy of objects and uses those objects against his enemies.
The fact that Gambit can throw things with great accuracy makes him extremely dangerous. It also means that playing cards are deadly in his hands. He can flick them so fast that he’s deemed one of the most dangerous mutants in the Marvel Universe. And because a deck of cards is so compact, it’s easy for Gambit to carry several decks on his person. He is therefore able to pack more firepower than a military tank.
Gambit started out as a villain, working for Mr. Sinister. But he later became a full-fledged member of the Uncanny X-Men. Throughout his comic book history, it didn’t seem to matter whether he was a villain or a superhero; fans just loved the character. In fact, he remains to be one of the most popular Marvel characters to date, and he is also considered among the coolest. This is why the character was included in the movie, X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Gambit only had a cameo in that movie where he meets Wolverine--also a fan favourite--as he was playing poker in a dark room in New Orleans. The ensuing fight scene between the two characters is one of the most admired fight scenes by Marvel fans all over the globe. And Gambit did so well in the cameo that a spinoff entitled X-Men Origins: Gambit was even considered.
Every time the word ‘poker’ is mentioned in relation to comic books or films based on comic book stories, Gambit is always the first name that comes to mind. That is how connected the character has become to the card game. One of the most exciting things about Gambit is how he uses playing cards to cut down his opponents. Considering how knowledgeable he is in card-throwing techniques, it isn’t that far-fetched to imagine that Gambit would be a formidable opponent in a poker game as well.
Gambit’s personality, in fact, is very much what you would expect from a pro poker player. He is always alert, and always careful not to reveal too much. Marvel fans have even voted him to be the likeliest to be the best poker player of all Marvel superheroes.
Gambit is not the only Marvel character known for his affinity with poker, nor is he the only superhero in all of comic history to have a fondness for card games. But he is one of those whose connection to poker is so strong that an online casino operator actually licensed them from their respective creators and developed online slot games based solely on the character.
Poker may have been around much longer than comic books, and it may have become popular long before the first comic book as we know it today ever hit the market, but it’s characters like Gambit who made the card game cool for a lot of people.
Other Comic Book Characters Associated with Poker
As mentioned, poker holds a special appeal for those who create our well-loved comic book superheroes and villains. And they have drawn inspiration from the game not only for Marvel’s Gambit, but also for a host of other comic book characters. What makes these characters interesting is that they are almost always complex and strategic, yet at the same time, volatile and unpredictable.
Besides Gambit, here are a few of the comic book heroes and villains with links to poker who have made their mark with fans all over the world:
1. The Thing (Marvel)
The affinity with poker is a lesser-known part of The Thing’s character, especially for those who have only ever watched the movies and never read the comic book stories of the Fantastic Four. But fans, who have been with the character since the first F4 issue came out, know how much this particular character loves poker. In fact, The Thing is always ready to throw in his stake for a hand or two, and he has an inscrutable face that makes him the perfect player--a master at concealing his emotions from his opponents.
On the 13th anniversary of Ben Grimm becoming a mutant, The Thing even organised a poker tournament to celebrate his ‘Bar Mitzvah’. It may be said that his skills as a poker player are a bit rough around the edges, but many of his superhero companions have been known to let him win for fear of his temper.
2. Iron Man (Marvel)
Tony Stark is the comic book world’s ultimate gambler, and as such, he certainly knows his way around a casino. This makes it a lot easier for him to flaunt not only his wealth but also his love for the finer things in life. In the movies, we see Stark playing craps, but in the comic books, he is actually depicted as being a deft hand in poker. He even succeeds in scoring big-time on several occasions.
With his superior intellect and strategic thinking ability, Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man, can certainly give all the other superheroes a run for their money. His gambler’s mindset even serves him well when he’s in action as Iron Man. Many of his successful ventures were the results of how he reads situations, kinda like how poker players achieve success at the tables.
3. The Joker (DC Comics)
Other than Gambit, the Joker is perhaps the one comic book character whose name is almost synonymous to poker. This enigmatic and unpredictable villain truly lives up well to his playing card counterpart, as he definitely is a wildcard among villains. Even in the way he relates with Batman, you can really see how his mind is ticking, testing all possibilities before deciding on a specific course of action meant to catch Batman by surprise.
It is no wonder, then, that despite the insane behaviour he often exhibits, the Joker remains to be Batman’s most cerebral opponent and possibly his best match ever. When he sees the perfect time for a good bluff, the Joker always pulls it off very well, getting exactly what he wants from his unsuspecting and unfortunate victims.
4. Cannonball (Marvel)
Perhaps not as closely linked to the game as Gambit, there is another member of the X-Men who has an affinity with poker, and that is Cannonball. He has often played in poker tournaments organised by other Marvel superheroes, and every time he does so, he typically feigns ignorance of the game, with the goal of getting his opponents’ guards down. We really don’t think that tactic would work on someone as savvy as Gambit, though.
Despite the ignorant facade he adopts, Cannonball actually manages to leave the tables with considerable amounts of money whenever he is seen playing poker. This clearly points to him having well-developed poker skills, contrary to what he makes other people believe. He probably feigns ignorance of the game precisely because he does not want to draw attention to his advanced poker skills. This is perfectly in keeping with his generally humble and well-mannered personality, which he developed through his southern, rural upbringing.
5. Wolverine (Marvel)
In the comic books, Wolverine is known to sit down for a game of cards every once in a while. In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, his on-screen version does the same thing. The filmmakers even raised the bar by having Wolverine play with one of the world’s most popular real-life poker players, tournament veteran Daniel Negreanu. The scene has the superhero playing poker with the veteran, with the game being rudely interrupted by an enemy.
The above list of superheroes and villains with links to poker clearly shows how highly regarded the card game is in the eyes of those who created the characters. Knowledge of the game of poker is almost always depicted as a sort of advantage in terms of personality as well as in the way a character handles situations. The characters’ association with poker is a constant reminder that it is always a good idea to have a few tricks up your sleeve at all times.
If you agree with the comic books and believe that developing your poker skills can give you a lot of advantages in life, then you may want to become just like Gambit and any of the other characters on our list. The easiest way to do that is to enhance your poker skills by getting valuable information and tips from books or online content. In time, you may even start participating in poker tournaments, or perhaps even organise your own superhero-themed poker tournament, just like they did in the old comic books!