Welcome, X-Fans, to another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT!
Longshot. Mojo. Spiral. Iconic characters that would go on to become X-Men mainstays — and none of them would exist without Marvel icon Ann Nocenti. That’s why it’s such a thrill to have the writer and editor — currently working on a two-issue arc in X-Men Legends — visit X-Men Monday to answer a few X-Fan questions.
(Which is probably a lot easier than taking unexpected questions from the Incredible Hulk!)
AIPT: Welcome to X-Men Monday, Ann! Let’s start by going back a bit — how did the chance to revisit Longshot and the X-Men in X-Men Legends #3 and #4 come about?
Ann: Well, the series’ Editor Mark Basso and Assistant Editor Drew Baumgartner called me and told me what this X-Men “Legends” series is all about. It’s fun because I’ve had a chance to write a ton of comics in my lifetime, and I’m very happy that there’s young blood making comics now, but at the same time, us old-timers miss writing comics. I had switched over to doing graphic novels and hadn’t done anything super hero in a while. It almost feels like when you go to an old rock show and they trot out someone to sing their greatest hits. [Laughs] And we’re happy to do it.
When they asked me if I wanted to bring back Longshot, I jumped at it. In the original series, by the time the triad of Mojo, Major Domo, and Spiral entered the story, I really fell in love with their nasty relationship. I called them an infernal family, spinning together forever with no exit, kind of like Sartre’s No Exit. They all kind of love and hate each other and there’s no way to get out of it. So I knew I wanted to have fun with that again.
And then, Mojo is obsessed with controlling the universe through media, and back in the ‘80s when he was created, that was basically TV. People called it the boob tube — and people who watched too much were “vidiots.” It was pre-internet language. But at the time, we were aware that the more TV you watch, the less you read, and the more of a sloth you become. So 35 years later, here we are with all this new tech that’s obsessing us. So I wanted to bring back the whole idea of Mojo’s obsession with controlling the masses through keeping them glued to screens. So that kind of was the original idea for new stories.
AIPT: Let’s stay on that for a minute. Was this story something you always wanted to tell or just something you dreamed up after the opportunity came about?
Ann: I mean, I’m kind of fast to a certain degree. Mark called me and I thought, Mojo in the Longshot series was kind of a commentary on the media and that was 35 years ago, or more even. So right away, I thought, “OK, here’s my chance to do something with how the media’s changed.” Also, Mojo makes movies and has a movie studio, and I spent the ‘90s writing films and working in Hollywood, so I kind of know how the sausage is made. So it was fun to make it a narrative about a narrative — like a narrative about how hard it is to write a good story and the principles of writing a good story, which of course, Mojo ignores completely. So that was really fun.
AIPT: You mentioned that the media’s changed. X-Fan Vítor Dos Santos said the beloved and incredible Longshot mini-series was a highly provocative criticism of mass media. How has your view of the means of mass media changed? Has it changed in any matter from when you first wrote the mini-series in the ‘80s to now writing the follow-up in 2022?
Ann: Well, I think we’ve all learned that the power back then of — when we were calling it the boob tube — the power of it then was really just a time suck. You could waste a lot of time. And now, it’s more like you’re seeing obviously the derailment of elections, and the harassment and trolling of people. It’s become much more nefarious than it was back then. So I guess that’s how. But my relationship to it weirdly hasn’t changed. I mean, I still love my tech. I’m still addicted to it. I can become a sloth, binging like any other human. So I think you have to be very proactive. I, in general, don’t answer my email and don’t turn on the internet until I’ve put a good five hours of writing in, and then I reward myself with some candy called the internet.
AIPT: X-Fan Monarch Dafey said Longshot the mini-series was way ahead of his time, with its pop-culture-obsessed society and reality star. What was your inspiration for the original series?
Ann: I was studying media at the time because I was kind of a frustrated journalist. One of my mentors was Denny O’Neil, and we used to talk about how we were both frustrated journalists. I think that my Daredevil run shows that I always had a sort of a journalistic bent to my stories. I wanted them to explore some real-world thing, some real-world problem. But I was also studying to be a journalist at the time, and I was reading Noam Chomsky, Ed Herman, Walter Lipman, and AJ Liebling. I was even reading great, old-time journalists.
But also, the whole narrative of how media was buying each other up and becoming this massive single voice, which, at the time, Noam Chomsky called a manufactured consent of opinion. That seems even more relevant today. So it came out of that, but the original series also came out of being a little bit uncomfortable with power — with a superpower. So experimenting with luck — what is luck? Does it have a karmic dimension to it? Does it stop working if you don’t use it right? So those were kind of the themes I was playing with.
Also, Arthur Adams. I mean, we were like kids. I always used to think, who let us into the adult house? We were like puppies. The ‘80s were kind of the punk era. When I was in a band, anybody could get up on stage, even if you couldn’t play a guitar. You’d bang at it. And I feel like your first comics are kind of you goofing around without really knowing how to play your instrument yet, because it takes many comics to refine what you’re up to. And so it was the energy of me and Art together and Art being a fabulous artist right out of the gate. So that’s where the original series came from.
AIPT: X-Fan Matthew wanted to know, what is the concept behind Mojo decaying the natural world as he enters a space in our reality?
Ann: I think I was quite obsessed with climate change even back then. I mean, my Daredevil run had a lot of pollution stories and nuclear stories, and I’ve always been inspired by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, it was a book we all read. So, I think that it was some kind of not-very-well-thought-out, but intuitive, idea that things have repercussions. And if we’re going to open dimensions and let people in and out of dimensions, it’s all fun to have it just flow as a goofy frolic. But the idea was that Mojo actually has a toxic effect when traversing the multiverse. You enter a dimension and there’s a toxic effect and he’s toxic and it was a good visual. He enters and it’s pretty clear everything dies around him.
AIPT: Here’s a lengthy one from X-Fan Ellis: Hi Ann!! You are my all-time favorite comics writer!! Longshot has been my absolute favorite character ever since I read the original mini. As a transgender reader, many of its themes, like self-determination, crises of identity, and hope in the face of overwhelming odds resonate heavily with me, as well as Longshot’s gender non-conformity, which no other writer besides yourself has really touched on. Was this parallel with trans issues in some way intentional at the time? Obviously you introduced Marvel’s first explicitly transgender mutant character [Jessie Drake], and you’ve spoken about how you view Longshot as a sort of genderless non-binary being before, but was it on your mind while writing that the story could be interpreted that way?
Ann: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, the model for me was David Bowie and Ziggy Stardust — David Bowie’s phenomenal, non-binary androgynous style — because it felt like the future of humans. You hope there is no longer a battle of what back in the day they called the battle of the sexes. Why is there a battle of the sexes? So yes, absolutely.
I would say that also being influenced by Louise Simonson and working with Chris Claremont, without ever putting it in the comics, we always were very intentional about the X-Men and mutants being stand-ins for anybody that felt in any way marginalized. So yeah, that was intentional.
I was living in New York City in the 1980s and a lot of my friends were gay and we would go to the clubs. But it was in the air on the streets of New York and the transgender character, Jessie Drake, that I created for a Typhoid Mary story where Typhoid Mary literally gets furious when she finds out. She thought she was helping a female, but the female was born male. Her reaction was very harsh. That was all based on something that happened to a friend of mine. So this was the stuff of ‘80s New York. So yeah, I would say yes is the answer.
AIPT: X-Fan Swan wanted to know whether you’d ever want to see a Longshot movie.
Ann: I mean, sure, it’d be great. Why not? I think he’d be a hard one because, at some point, Longshot got cloned a lot at Marvel. [Laughs] They made a clone of him with Shatterstar. They cloned him again with Cable — you know, the starry eye. Then somebody came up with another lucky character, Domino. So I think that those characters became more popular. I don’t know if anybody would go back to the original dopey little Longshot with his luck powers and his glowing eye. [Laughs] He was always meant to be kind of hapless, like a puppy dog. And I don’t think those kinds of characters track well in movies. They’d probably go for Cable, who’s like Longshot, but with muscles, or Domino who’s like… I don’t know what she does, but I know she’s lucky too.
But I would be happy, of course. I’d be thrilled. I mean, in a weird way, my favorite character in the series is Spiral. And I have to talk about artist Javier Pina because he is magnificent. I had him design the Spiralverse. I really wanted to get into how the spiral comes off her fingertips. He’s the kind of artist that you can toss this stuff at and it’s glorious what he did. His Kitty Pryde is divine, and his Wolverine. But whenever you’re asking an artist to create whole new universes or bend universes — all the kind of stuff I threw at him. He’s masterful.
And his Spiral is so much fun. I mean, she’s nasty and we really get to let her dance a lot. I’m a big fan of the Cerebro podcast and I love the videos they do of Spiral — “Dance, dance, dance, Spiral!” And I also like how everybody loves her for what you think is a fashion gaffe, the furry high boots — but they love the furry high boots. And I can never tell if they’re making fun of me or not. But I kind of love how they have taken on Spiral as a kind of pet that they make fun of.
AIPT: You’re going to make Connor and the Zalagang so excited when they read this.
Ann: Definitely just for Cerebro, I put in a little, “Well, dance, Spiral,” you know? [Laughs]
— CEREBRO (@CerebroCast) July 5, 2022
AIPT: You mentioned Shatterstar briefly. X-Fan Corey wanted to know how you feel about Shatterstar and his ties to Longshot.
Ann: I mean, Marvel is like a big playpen and we’re all little kids running around playing with our dolls. And when you create your own little dolls, that’s the job. You throw them back in the playpen and somebody can kill them, shred them, burn them, turn them inside out, or make clones of them. They can do whatever they want. So that’s part of the game. [Laughs] I haven’t read many of those stories, so I can’t give you a coherent “love this or that” about Shatterstar. But Louise Simonson created Cable and she can do no wrong in my book. So I love Cable because I love her.
AIPT: I’m curious, having been a comics editor, how do you find writing for other editors?
Ann: Mark Basso is the best. Mark and Drew are incredibly creative. A good editor knows how to get out of the way, but also just comes in and tweaks things. They’re amazing. I mean, I’m very impressed with that office. And I also worked with Martin Biro on a Moon Knight story, who was another terrific editor. I mean, Marvel has good editors. Sana Amanat, everybody I’ve worked with has been terrific.
AIPT: When you look back on your time working on the X-Men franchise with Chris Claremont, Louise Simonson, and so many other iconic creators, what are you most proud of?
Ann: It’s hard to give me a “Sophie’s choice” and choose between all my beloved babies, but you know, I enjoyed working with everybody. I think probably the thing I’m most proud of was when we decided that we wanted to make New Mutants edgier, younger and then made the decision to bring Bill Sienkiewicz onto the book and really let him go wild with the artwork and covers.
That was a really exciting time because me, Chris, and I think Weezie might have still been there — I was Weezie’s assistant and then became the editor — but with Bill Sienkiewicz and Chris, we’d all just jam and yak about what the possibilities of pushing the medium were. And Bill Sienkiewicz brought a wild expressionism into comics that I think was really unique for the time. And his influences — we used to pour over Ralph Steadman’s artwork and all these different influences that he had. And he was just fearless, putting it all in a comic.
I did so many other things. Especially working with someone who had a story that you knew they needed to tell, like when Ron Wilson brought Super Boxers into the office and, you know, the personal stories. So yeah.
AIPT: Speaking of those other things — you wrote the Daredevil “Inferno” tie-ins, right?
Ann: Yes. [Laughs] I mean, I still have fans come up to me and say, you know, “I really will never forgive you for having Daredevil fight vacuum cleaner.”
AIPT: [Laughs] Well, Marvel has an homage to “Inferno” coming up: “Dark Web.” In honor of that upcoming event, is there anything you want to share from when you were working on “Inferno?”
Ann: I mean, it was one of the early crossovers we did. I think they were done really well because we were all at the Marvel offices back then. We were all there — the artists and writers would come in to visit. The bullpen was right there and you just ran down the hallway and said, “We’re taking New York to Hell, wanna play?” And some people said, “Oh God, I’ve got a plan for the next 50 years — I couldn’t possibly go to Hell right now,” you know? And then other people would go, “Yeah, I’ll go to Hell.”
So that was kind of it. You could do whatever you wanted. It was just a really fun, collaborative office. And the energy was amazing because those were the days when Bill Sienkiewicz, Frank Miller, Walt Simonson, and all the greats of comics would come into the office and show off their pages. So we were all riffing off each other’s versions of Hell. I think it’s the way a crossover should be done, so it worked.
AIPT: I had a chance to talk to Louise Simonson for this column and she talked about how “Inferno” was a way to clean up the Jean Grey-Madelyne Pryor confusion.
Ann: I mean, that was a painful time for Chris to have to kill Phoenix. And obviously, creating Madelyne was a way to bring Jean Grey back. I think what people forget sometimes is the emotional connection. You asked me earlier, what do I think of people cloning my characters? I’m kind of a bit more like, let it all happen. But some people are a little more possessive about their toys, you know? So I think that was just a very painful thing to have to kill her. And now, of course, everybody’s immortal, right?
AIPT: [Laughs] Yes, they are immortal X-Men.
Ann: We can kill and resurrect anyone because they’ve got like a whole planet that just does that, right?
AIPT: An island, Krakoa. Do you keep up with the current books?
Ann: You know, I don’t really, because I kind of left the business to work in film for a long time. But what happens with me is I love just going into a comic shop and asking the guy or girl behind the counter, “What’s good? What should I read?” And I’ll just buy a bunch and read them. And I’ve read some recent X-Men that people have recommended and it’s fun to just dip into it. But I definitely don’t really know what’s happened for the past 30 years.
But you know, if you do something new, you do your homework. You read everything that you have to read. I’m working on something now that I’m not supposed to talk about, but it sort of also takes place in the past at Marvel. But what’s interesting is you look for the end point — where is the character today? And I think I did that a little bit with X-Men Legends Longshot, especially with Kitty Pryde, knowing that she became Kate Pryde. And so you kind of can seed the future when you do a past story and put a little mini-arc that hints at stuff to come, so that is really fun.
AIPT: Both fun and cool — just like this conversation. Ann, thanks so much for taking the time to stop by X-Men Monday! What an honor. X-Fans, be sure to pick up the final chapter of Ann’s Longshot story in X-Men Legends #4 this Wednesday.
To tide you over before then, how about a few eXclusive preview images courtesy of X-Men Senior Editor Jordan D. White?
Until next time, X-Fans, stay exceptional!
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