Wednesday, June 19, 2013
X-amining Longshot #1-6
Sept 1985 - Feb 1986
In a Nutshell
The first appearances of Longshot, Spiral and Mojo.
Writer/Co-creator: Ann Nocenti
Penciller/Co-creator: Art Adams
Inker: Brent Anderson & Whilcre Portacio (issue #1), Portacio (issues #2-6)
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Christie Scheele
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
Issue #1: On another world, an amnesiac man flees for his life, hunted by several monstrous pursuers. By luck, he stumbles across a dimensional portal and enters it, his pursers following. He arrives in New York City and befriends a survivalist named Elliot. Together, they track down a missing woman's baby and learn the child has been kidnapped by the stranger's foes, who intend to sacrifice the baby to return home. The stranger saves the baby, assisted by an odd creature he names Pup, who is actually one of his pursers. Elliot christens the stranger Longshot, and Longshot departs with Pup, uncertain whether he can trust him. Issue #2: Longshot and Pup inadvertently disrupt a movie shoot, after which Pup leaves Longshot. Impressed by his moves, the director of the film offers Longshot a job as a stuntman. In the ensuing days he grows close to fellow stuntwoman Ricochet Rita, but Rita is scared off when she realizes Longshot is from another world. Recalling vague memories of being both a star and a slave on his world, Longshot is attacked by more enemies from his home. Later, Longshot is seriously injured during a stunt. Fearing he'll be blamed for the accident, the director dumps Longshot's body in a river.
Issue #3: A man named Theo tries to kill himself by jumping off a bridge, but he lands on Longshot, who regains consciousness and heals quickly. Realizing Theo meant to kill himself, Longshot tries to prove to him that life is worth living. They decide to steal a shipment of experimental diamonds from Con Ed, but in the process, Lonshot is again attacked by foes from his world. They use the diamonds to return home, but the ensuing battle triggers a blackout in Manhattan. Theo decides to return to his family, while Longshot vows to give the diamonds to the people harmed by the blackout. Issue #4: A news report blames Longshot for the blackout, leading to confrontations with both Spider-Man and She-Hulk. Elsewhere, Mojo, one of the ruling Spineless Ones from Longshot's homeworld, learns of Longshot's journey to the world of real men. He has his servant Spiral transport him to Earth, where the pair track down Ricochet Rita so that she can lead them to Longshot. Longshot later befriends a group of children and has a flash of memory, recalling once leading a rebellion and having his mind wiped. The children take him to a monster they discovered, which turns out to be Pup, grown larger, who attacks Longshot.
Issue #5: Longshot battles Pup, but his heart isn't in it, and he's saved by a fellow rebel from his world, Quark. The pair go to Rita's home, but find her missing, having been kidnapped and driven mad by Mojo and Spiral. Dr. Strange, having noticing the arrival of all these extradimensional beings, speaks to Longshot and convinces him to clean up his own messes. Longshot and Quark track down Pup and defeat him, but Longshot realizes he needs to stop Mojo as well. Issue #6: Mojo and Spiral decide to conquer Earth, while Longshot, pursuing Mojo, remember his past as a genetically engineered slave bred to lead a rebellion against the Spineless Ones. He and Quark confront Mojo, but Longshot is unable to kill him. With Dr. Strange's help, they are able to open a portal between dimensions and force Mojo and Spiral through it. Longshot and Quark follow, in order to free their people and bring them to Earth, and a recovered Rita decides to join them, leaving Dr. Strange to hope that together, they can save Longshot's world.
Firsts and Other Notables
This series is notable for introducing three characters, Longshot, Spiral and Mojo, who will be more or less adopted by Chris Claremont and worked into the X-Men narrative, along with the trappings of the Mojoverse (which the world they hail from will come to be called). He will feature them in upcoming stories to varying degrees, with the concept of the Mojoverse and the characters that are part of it becoming a regularly-visited corner of the X-Men universe during and after his departure from the book, capable of launching original characters (most notably Shatterstar, a longstanding member of X-Force and X-Factor).
Appropriately enough, Longshot makes his first appearance in the first issue of his miniseries. In the course of that series, we learn he is a genetically engineered slave from a dimension ruled by the Spineless Ones. Longshot possess the ability to subconsciously alter probability. When he's doing something good, he has good luck, and when he's doing something with less than pure motives, he has bad luck (his left eye flashes in a star burst pattern when his luck power is being used). Though unstated in this series, later stories will reveal that Longshot has hollow bones and enhanced musculature, accounting for his increased agility and reflexes, and is innately alluring. He also has only three fingers on each hand. Following this series, Longshot will eventually become a featured member of the X-Men during the "Australian Era" and, much later, a part of the reality-hopping Exiles series.
Longshot's signature throwing knives, his weapon of choice, appear for the first time in issue #1. He will continue to use them throughout his X-Men tenure.
The first issue also establishes Longshot's ability to psychically read the history of physical objects (known as psychometry), a skill who uses frequently throughout this series but less so in X-Men (though it does pop up occasionally).
Issue #1 also containes the first appearance of Spiral, a six-armed sorceress and swordfighter who can magically travel through dimensions by dancing. She will make the most immediate impact on X-Men, as she will go on to join Mystique's soon-to-be-reformed Brotherhood of Evil Mutants when they become Freedom Force, and she quickly becomes a recurring villain and minor staple of the X-books, even before Longshot himself makes the jump. Spiral remains a visible part of the franchise to this day (she's currently a member of the latest iteration of X-Force).
Mojo, Longshot's primary antagonist, appears for the first time in issue #4, along with his chief aid, Major Domo. Though less clear in this series, he will eventually be revealed as the ruler of the dimension from which Longshot hails, and it will be subsequently named the Mojoverse. Later stories will also reveal that Mojo rules through TV ratings (something hinted at here), leading to him broadcasting the adventures of Earth's various superheroes to consolidate his power. Though Claremont arguably does more with Spiral during his run, Mojo also remains a staple of the X-Men universe, popping up every few years for a story, including an appearance on the 90s animated series and a few toys of his own.
Three more characters of note, Quark, Gog, and Magog, appear for the first time in issue #1. They will also pop up again in future Longshot/Mojoverse stories, but none of them make the kind of impact Longshot, Spiral and Mojo do, and rarely are ever as significant as they are in this story (though Quark did earn himself an action figure as part of Toy Biz's X-Men toyline in the 90s, further prove that nearly everyone got made into a toy in that era).
Arize, the geneticist who engineered Longshot and the rest of his race in forced service to the Spineless Ones, is first mentioned in issue #3 and makes his first appearance in issue #5; like most of the other elements of this series, he'll pop up again in X-Men, but to a much lesser extent than Longshot, Spiral and Mojo.
Ricochet Rita, Longshot's ostensible love interest in this story, appears in issue #2. Later stories will reveal that Spiral is actually a future version of Rita, twisted by Mojo into becoming his servant. Her likeness is based on writer Ann Nocenti.
Presumably to help boost sales, issue #4 features guest appearances from Spider-Man and She-Hulk, while Dr. Strange appears in issue #5 and #6, and is instrumental in helping Longshot defeat Mojo and return home.
In addition to all the notable character and in-universe world building it introduces, this series is notable for featuring the first professional work of Art Adams. Adams, inspired by the work of Michael Golden and Walt Simonson, will quickly become a fan favorite, though the level of detail he puts into his work will prevent him from ever contributing a significant run to an ongoing title (following this series, amongst other things, he becomes the de facto artist for Claremont's X-Men annuals).
Future X-Men penciller and Image Comics co-founder, Whilce Portacio, inks Adams' pencils in this series. He is the first of several Image founders to work on the X-franchise.
Editor Ann Nocenti writes the series, and receives creator credit along with Adams. Despite some problems, this series is much, much better than her last X-Men-related miniseries, Beauty and the Beast.
A Work in Progress
Issue #2 suggests that Longshot's skin is leathery to touch, a detail that never really gets brought up again, while issue #3 suggests he has some kind of fast-healing ability, something which similarly is glossed over in future stories.
Longshot also flashes back to receiving a star brand over his left eye, the implication being this is how he received his luck powers, though it's later made clear that his power was bred into him by Arize when he was created.
It's established that Arize created Longshot and his fellow slaves in the image of nightmarish creatures from the Spineless Ones mythology.
Also, it's revealed that Arize, hoping to overthrow the Spineless Ones, imprinted Longshot with the Messiah Imperative, an instinct to seek out freedom for himself and others.
Spider-Man compares Longshot to Black Cat, another character with vague luck abilities.
Longshot (and the readers) learn his origin in issue #6:
I Love the 80s
Longshot emerges out of the box sporting one of comics' greatest mullets.
Longshot and Ricochet Rita use a pair of jetpacks to perform a stunt in issue #2.
The children Longshot befriends in issue #4 resemble the Little Rascals.
Those selfsame children later complain that ninety cents won't even buy them two comic books. If they only knew...
A news reporter speculates that Longshot could be another menacing mutant.
Ann Nocenti on the origin of Longshot
"Back then they encourage the editors to write. They wanted us to know both sides of the fence, which is very smart. I do know that I wrote what they call a bible, which was a really confusing, overwritten tome, the deep roots of Longshot. [Editor] Louise Jones really liked the idea. [Editor] Carl Potts was there at the time and he hated the idea. He was obsessed with, 'how do the powers work? Where do the powers come from?' I was like, 'I don't know, he's just lucky.' I had to write up this whole thing. We had one of his eyes glowing and Carl was like, 'why does it glow?' I was like, 'I don't know. I just wanted it to glow because I have a cat with one eye. At night I see him in the dark and his eye glows.'"
Ash, Roger. "Ann Nocenti and Art Adams Bet on a Longshot." Back Issue August 2008: p27.
Nocenti on Mojo
"I was going to college at the time; the School of International Affairs at Columbia, studying journalism. I was reading all these people like Noam Chomsky,Ed Herman, Marshall McLuhan, and all these guys that write about corporate media ownership. Mojo, for me, was a version of the guy who owns every movie studio, every TV station, to the point where he thought he could manipulate everybody's mind ... That's where the whole idea came from, me reading these kind of lefty books. And they were true. All the media companies were buying each other up to the point where you think you're watching 10 different stations, but they all own each other. I was just making a silly political statement about how people want to control the airwaves."
Ash, Roger. "Ann Nocenti and Art Adams Bet on a Longshot." Back Issue August 2008: p30
Originally intended to be an ongoing series (before Art Adams fell behind on the art), I have no idea how popular or well received Longshot was upon initial publication. But it retroactively gained fame after Adams became a fan favorite artist and after Chris Claremont folded Longshot and many of the Mojoverse elements from this series into the hugely popular X-Men. Thus, the story setup in this series continues, in a fashion, though under Claremont's guidance instead of Nocenti (though, as editor of X-Men, she likely had some say in Longshot's involvement in that book).
Putting aside its contributions to the X-Men narrative and its status as a launch pad for Adam, it's a rather odd little series. The Adams art is fantastic throughout, a little rougher than his later work but still relatively gorgeous, but the story is more uneven. Longshot, as the main character, spends most of the series a cipher, suffering from amnesia, not knowing who he is, aimlessly drifting from setting to setting until some of the threads finally come together in the final issue. It's an interesting choice to make for a series meant to introduce a brand new starring character, allowing the reader to learn about the character at the same time the character does, but the approach also allows Nocenti to drop Longshot into a lot of different settings, all of which are some combination of thinly and thickly veiled commentaries on modern society (and one gets the impression those commentaries mattered more to her than Longshot's narrative).
Nocenti is regarded as a political writer, someone who likes to use her superhero writing to express her personal politics and beliefs, and Longshot is perhaps the most striking example of that. Some of the commentaries (like the film director's approach to cranking out movies in issue #2) are obvious; others, either due to a thicker veil on Nocenti's part or a lack of context nearly twenty years out are less so.
The constant ambling of Longshot makes the whole thing feel disjointed, and the character's amnesia makes it hard for him to ground the proceedings. A constantly-shifting setting and a blank-slate protagonist doesn't give the reader anything to latch onto, leaving the social commentary as the most consistent thing about the series - and it's hard to get too passionate about that, regardless of your views on the subjects (even the most potent allegory to come out of this series - Mojo as a symbol for the way commerce runs roughshod over art - won't get cemented until Claremont gets his hands on the characters; most of the Mojoverse stuff in Longshot is still fairly vague and underdeveloped). It's fun to see the emergence of Art Adams, and this is clearly a personal project for Nocenti, a "what the hell, let's see what happens?" kind of series that is admirable for no other reason than the fact that this kind of thing is rarely done much in mainstream superhero comics anymore. But the end result is a series that is hard to embrace as anything more than an intellectual curiosity and a notable piece of comic book history.
Tomorrow, we look at Secret Wars II #5, and next week, return to Uncanny X-Men for issue #199.