Tuesday, 3 November 2009

SpaceSquid vs. The X-Men #28: Feeling Lucky

It always strikes me as more than a little strange that I can love so many stories and fictional worlds and still dislike the vast majority of characters who reside within them. Writing this series of articles on the X-Men has made me realise that there is a better than even chance that any randomly selected X-Man will reside somewhere on a scale between fairly boring and deeply irritating. Maybe it’s just my irrepressible nature as a curmudgeon showing through, but it’s a strange phenomenon nonetheless.

Amongst all the X-Men that fail to match up to my exacting and essentially arbitrary standards, however, there is one that stands out as uniquely offensive: Longshot.

Seriously, I despise this guy. And I have three very good reasons why. Well, two very good reasons and one personal bugbear. Since the mere thought about delving into his character (not that it would be an easy task to argue that he even has one) or chronicling his history (which he does have, but it’s shit) , I’m just going to give those three reasons, use them to beat this worthless mullet-headed atrocity into the ground, and then forget he ever existed.

1. The metaphor

I spend some time last month describing my pet theory (which I highly doubt has an ounce of originality) that Dazzler’s early appearances can be thought of as a thinly-veiled attack on the music and film industries’ treatment of its talent. If that’s true (Hell, even if it isn’t) then Longshot represents the application of the metaphor to TV executives.

Whilst Dazzler’s adventures were simply boring, however, Longshot’s are much worse; they’re zany. I have lamented before Chris Claremont’s unfortunate tendency to undercut his storytelling with in-jokes and meta-references. In skilled hands (most obvious Joss Whedon’s) this can work, but Claremont suffers from the same problem as Russell T Davies [1]; not being able to tell the difference between a story with jokes and a story that screeches to stop for as long as it takes for a joke to be told. Every time Mojo turns up it somehow manages to make the X-Universe comics less believable, a feat that should be close to impossible, all things considered. This is then compounded by the fact that in the moments where Mojo isn’t just a horribly broad and grating caricature of a network head, we’re supposed to buy him as a serious threat to our heroes, and to the population of an entire dimension. It just doesn’t work.

This failure spills over into Longshot. As a genetically engineered “biped” (created by the scientist Arize to “inspire” Mojo and his fellow Spineless Ones to be a bit less mental) from Mojo’s realm, the two have their fates inextricably entwined. In fact, Longshot was imprinted to ferment rebellion and ultimately replace Mojo as ruler, but it is almost impossible to care about freedom fighters from a dimension entirely designed around a single joke that rapidly wears itself out. This is especially true if your revolutionary Messiah acts like a mischievous child. Speaking of which:

2. The amnesia

One of the fictional tropes I hate the most involves the affliction of a major character with amnesia. I can’t process it as anything else than a pathetically cheap way to create tension, erase unwanted plot developments and, most of all, drag out mysteries to a infuriating extent [2]. In the case of Longshot, the irritation of his inability to remember who he is (and top tip, ‘80s Marvel: amnesia is only ever as interesting as the character suffering it) is compounded by his extra-dimensional nature, which makes his every other pronouncement a riff on the “show me more of this Earth thing called kissing” idea that was already decades old by this point. If there was ever an age at which I gave the slightest damn about seeing someone being taught the true meaning of friendship/loyalty/Christmas, it was long before my parents would have let me pick up a comic book. Sure, having Rogue and Dazzler fight over him is a reasonable idea for a plot (hardly original, but them romantic sub-plots seldom are), but they are so obviously battling over a blank slate of a man that it serves to do nothing beyond make them both look petty and childish. I can’t remember whether it was mentioned at the time that his powers were responsible for the cat-fights, or whether it was ret-conned in later, but either way, this brings me on to my third and final reason why Longshot is worthless.

3. The powers

I acknowledge that whilst the above two reasons are, if not objective, then bound up in concerns and dislikes that the majority of people can at least recognise, even if they don’t experience them in this case, this third one might well be entirely an artefact of my particularly specialty. Simply put, I really hate characters whose superhuman power is the ability to manipulate probability.

As I say, the fact that I work with probability for a living might well have something to do with this. Maybe quantum physicists started screaming at the page when Xorn claimed to have a star for a head. Perhaps medical students got irritated by the idea of a man spontaneously cloning himself using the energy of a simple hand clap (then again, medical students would probably be screwed across the board with respect to comic book powers). Certainly there’s a very good reason I’ve never watched Numb3rs. That could be all there is to it. On the other hand, I suspect at least part of it is down to how badly such powers are defined. Concussive force blasts coming out of a dude’s eyes, I get. A chick that can turn into diamond: makes sense. But changing the laws of chance. What does that even mean? Is he literally rearranging his immediate surroundings on the molecular level? Rewriting people’s brainwaves? How could he ever be harmed at all? And what about his team-mates? It seems pretty unlucky for your friend to get sucked into the Siege Perilous? Do his powers only work directly on him? Then why are Rogue and Dazzler scratching eyes and pulling hair (I don‘t want to push the point too much, but I‘m not sure the idea that it is “lucky” to have two attractive women fight over you like idiotic teenagers makes me entirely comfortable).

This is the problem with power sets that are both potentially excessively powerful and also tremendously nebulous. It allows Longshot to get out of any situation, but also to fail to get out of any given situation, depending on whatever is desired by a writer who knows what they want, but can’t be bothered to properly map out how to get it. In that sense, Longshot might be the only superhero in existence whose super powers are transferred to his own writers.

So his abilities annoy me. Furthermore, whether I'm alone in hating the powers themselves or not, the fact that Longshot’s powers can only manifest themselves when he is acting from pure motives is just another indication that the character belongs in a Charlie Brown Christmas Special [3] rather than the foremost superhero team in a comics industry attempting to persuade the general public to take them more seriously (or at least to think them serious enough to cough up cash for). I've honestly never been gladder to see the back of an X-Man, and that's a list that includes several multiple murderers, a stereotypical "gnarly" teenager, and a foul-tempered mutant prositute in semi-retirement.

Hopefully, Longshot will stay gone. That, in case you were wondering, would make us the lucky ones.

Next time: we finish our tour of the ‘80s X-Men with Forge, and ask why a man with limitless inventive skill, significant combat experience, and a magical heritage would want to spend all his time just building ever-more unwieldy guns.

[1] Obviously Davies suffers from an abundance of other problems, such as being an entirely worthless human being. I wouldn’t want it to look like I considered Claremont in the same terms.

[2] In fairness, Larry Hama proved in the early ‘90s with Wolverine that if you’re smart about it, it can work.

[3] Would his flowing blonde locks and good luck powers be enough to tempt Marcie away from Peppermint Patty? Who can say?


Anonymous said...

Weelll Actually Mr Squid, Mojo was originally a great villain & worked perfectly in the context of the original Longshot story by Ann Nocenti and Art Adams (THAT Mojo was, I maintain, a true to blood Nightmare! Ann Nocenti introduced as a fucking creepy horror monster. He casually brainwashes people into worshipping him, dehydrated & decayed his victims by a mere touch & his simple Presence can fuck up the earth gradually! He even gave Dr Strange a hard time. And the network executive stuff was hardly shown...).

However, he became horrid the moment Chris Claremont tried to shoehorn him (or anytime he used him because Claremont doesn't have any grasp when it comes to understand this guy) into X-Men continuity. Mojo's concept doesn’t make any sense as an X-villain, or really, as a villain for anyone but Longshot.In Exiles he definitely had a dust-off in the 2 parter "So lame...".

He only works as an off-worlder or for really DARK comedy ( When you casually kidnapp people, "reprogram" them with, or replace their limbs with ... whatever you have as torture instrument (what he did to Rita Wayword, that's the stuff nightmares are made of!) & then use said victims for entertainment , that doesn't make you a joke, that makes Jason Voorhees look like Barney by comparison.) So off with Joke Mojo, BRING BACK NOCENTI'S CHTUHLU PSYCHO MANCHILD MOJO !


SpaceSquid said...

That all sounds totally awesome. I shall have to seek it out.