Wednesday, 4 September 2013

X-men: Longshot review

Ann Nocenti is to blame for the superhero excesses of the nineties. That might sound hyperbolic and it probably is but after reading Longshot it's nearly impossible to think that this six issues mini-series written by Nocenti and pencilled by Arthur Adams didn't play a contributing factor in the 90s superhero comics explosion of excess. 

I would argue that on the aesthetic side of things alone, Nocenti has a pretty clear influence. Consider the complete black leather-like clothing worn by Longshot. He also has a small assortment of pouches; a bag, a big knife and a bandoleer with dozens of knives in it (even though we only even see him use four at a time). He also has one eye that glows when he’s use his “luck” powers or is “reading” (some form of psychic ability) a person or an object. This sort of design can be found in many superhero books of the nineties. Even Longshot’s mullet was used in the nineties, most notably on Superman. Heck, there was even a female Longshot created in the nineties (yes, I’m talking about Domino).

Another thing that prophesises the nineties excess is Arthur Adams’s art. His art style fits right into the overly detailed; some would say unnecessarily detailed, Image style. He respects anatomy just as much as most of the Image co-founders and his lines are thin, so very thin, presumably to allow him to pack in more details into each panel. It’s interesting to point out that Whilce Portacio, one of the future co-founders of Image, inks all six issues of Longshot. I do not want to criticize Adams’s art too much because he has some very nice pages at the end of the book. His pencil art along with sketch drawings and thumbnails are collected at the back of my trade paperback edition. His full pencil renderings look completely different from the inked and coloured final product. It’s quite surprising. I would have enjoyed a black and white edition of Longshot. It’s unfortunate that the lazy colouring had such a negative impact on the final product. Overall the colouring was garish and lazy to such a degree that sometimes several characters which had been fully pencilled and inked were all coloured the same, effectively making them indistinguishable from the background.

Nocenti’s basic ideas, character outline and notes are also showcased in the supplementary material at the back of the trade. Just like Adams, Nocenti’s thoughts about the mini-series are just as, if not more, interesting than the finished product. She had a lot of ideas and I can’t help but feel that she had something to say about comics and the society of the 1980s. I say this based on her introduction and the supplementary material as well as what can be found in the six issue mini-series. I really don’t think she was trying to write a “kewl” comic but that’s what happened. Maybe she got carried away, maybe she didn’t her polish her story and maybe she simply doesn’t have the talent required to make something as strange as Longshot work. Still, quite a few big ideas make it into the comic. Things like media conglomerates, the importance of freewill, the ability to see things in a positive light and surmount seemingly impossible obstacles and the worship of mass media as a modern day religion. Some of her ideas, such as freewill, aren’t too subtle. In Nocenti’s physical description she mentions that Longshot’s spine is prominent and visible all the while Mojo, the main villain of the comic, is constantly telling anyone who will listen that he hates spines and anybody with a backbone.
It’s her execution that’s poor. Her dialogue is particularly bad. Not only do the characters talk in the most unnatural way, they can barely form cohesive thoughts. It’s as if Nocenti had so many things she wanted her characters to say she couldn’t focus it enough to effectively translate to the page into a recognizable way.

Is Longshot a good comic? Not quite, but it’s enjoyable. It’s a convoluted mess that doesn’t really work. The biggest problem is that Nocenti tries to do too much and ends up accomplishing very little. She and Adams try. They try so hard and you can’t really fault creators for that. Longshot is far from being a comic book masterpiece but it did try to do something new and it tried to do it in strange ways while also trying to convey interesting social messages. There’s so much going on in Longshot we might not even give it the time and thought it deserves. It’s not great but it’s an interesting and maybe even an important superhero work that predates the revolutionary comics of the late eighties by creators with more recognizable names. I think it’s important to talk about Longshot as a precursor to what took place in the decade that followed. Just don’t get me started on the “luck” powers. That’s just dumb.

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