Sunday, 27 April 2014
Longshot #1: "A Man Without A Past"
(All of them are lucky, always.)
This is a first for the blog, a book that has absolutely no connection with the X-Universe whatsoever - at least in its first issue - and which is only retrospectively attached to that mythos, mainly because of Claremont's obsession with Mojo, who first shows up in Longshot #4.
There's a credible case to be made then that Longshot (along with Spiral, who also debuts here) represent the first additions to the X-Universe which have a woman listed as co-creator. Technically, there are the characters Ann Nocenti already dreamed up for her four-part Beauty and the Beast miniseries, but it would be tough to argue Longshot isn't an order of magnitude above any one of them in terms of staying power and name recognition. This is where the first mark is made on the X-Universe by a female writer that doesn't fade into obscurity.
It's also the first time we've seen a woman start with a completely blank template. Dazzler and Beast were both well-established when they were handed to Nocenti to play with, and indeed part of why I didn't particularly care for that series was based around how out of character it required both of them to act in order for the plot to advance. Here, with no previous history or upcoming events to constrain her, Nocenti does far better. She's also doing far better than Jim Shooter, whose turgid Secret Wars II was three issues in at the time and which is also like LGS #1 concerned with a powerful being trying to fit in with normal human life. I'll get back to SW2 soon enough (all too soon, in fact), but for now I'll just point out that Nocenti handles the idea far better by both dialling back comical misunderstandings and making those she includes funnier by far, and also by putting at least a little effort into dragging the fish-out-of-water idea into slightly smarter territory (describing money as a potent source of potential energy is a particular highlight).
Really, though, the fact that Longshot is from another dimension is incidental here - beyond it giving Nocenti the opportunity to craft some rather odd villains, including as mentioned Spiral in her debut. What's interesting here is Longshot's power set.
I've written about Longshot and my problems with him before, and I was clearly in a bad mood. A lot of what I wrote there doesn't apply for now, with Longshot's origins unknown and his effect on women not yet suggested. But my problems with his power set remain worth considering. In truth, I think a lot of what I said still stands, but only as regards Longshot as a longstanding character. Here, in his debut appearance, one can still view him as a direct extension of authorial fiat, making the effect very different. Shorn of larger concerns, Longshot can easily be read here as a commentary on superhero comics in general.
What is key here is that for all his knife-throwing, tightrope-walking antics, nothing Longshot does is particularly out of the ordinary for a superhero. Far more ridiculous feats are performed as a matter of course in other books. Which means here, rather than using "super-lucky" as a short-cut, Nocenti is highlighting the ridiculous nature of everything around her. The text reinforces this rather clearly when Longshot is described as lucky when he successfully prevents a nearby woman from being run over, explicitly noting that that oldest of superhero saws - hero happens to be walking by a potential accident and averts it - is actually already supremely against the odds (yes, in this case Longshot indirectly causes the accident, but). In my thirty-four years of life I have exactly once been witness to an event that I might have been able to stop with super-powers; for super-heroes this seems to be a weekly occurrence.
Nocenti isn't done here, however. Having set up her critique of superhero excession/over reliance on coincidence, she goes on to argue that none of that is what's important anyway. Longshot, we learn, is capable of these mind-boggling feats of implausible derring-do when his motives are without reproach. In this issue he sets out to rescue a baby from a gang of kidnappers (actually horrors from his own dimension who followed him when he dived into a convenient tear in space-time). Any action he attempts in the pursuit of this goal is seemingly possible for him, so long as he reminds himself that rescuing the baby is what's important, and not how impressive he appears in the process.
In short, the suggestion is that the superhero formula is follows: wrong to be righted, hero to wish to right it, fun and pyrotechnics whilst the hero does so. Any effort wasted on justifying any of those elements is time wasted that could be filled with heroism and punching.
I'm far from sold on this idea in general - I care far too much about the underlying structure of a story to sign off on what is ultimately a variation on a "popcorn fodder" argument, albeit one which emphasises the importance of noble motives than one usually finds in that position - but it's a coherent statement, delivered well, and that's worthy of respect. Longshot has started off surprisingly well.
So how long before it all goes wrong?
This story takes place over a single afternoon and evening. With absolutely nothing tying it to the X-Universe more generally, we can stick it wherever we like in the time-line, so we'll set it just after UXM from the same month.
Monday 21st January, 1985.
Ronald Reagan is publicly sworn in for his second term, having won re-election with the greatest number of Electoral College votes in history.
"Story of my life. If they're handsome, they're nuts." Clothes store worker.
Which is incomplete, of course. Everyone is mad, but only the attractive ones can get people to watch long enough to notice.