An Open Thank You Letter To Ann Nocenti

Hello Ann!

Happy (almost) birthday to you, and thank you so much for collaborating with my good friend Kate on making me the proud owner of a signed copy of Longshot — such a wonderful and much appreciated birthday surprise! Kate’s job when we worked together was to track down and gain audience with notable figures for interviews — good to see her skills are still sharp.

Copy of Longshot limited series signed by author, Annie Nocenti

I realize it’s been over 35 years, and you are likely way past this character by now. I’m actually excited to read Ruby Falls and The Seeds (just ordered) to see what you’ve been up to recently. But, as Kate may have mentioned, your first character holds special significance for me. So in addition to thanking you, I wanted to take a moment or eleven to elaborate on why that is, and why aside from all the usual reasons people claim luck is on their side (good health, supportive family, fantastic friends like Kate), I have good reason to believe it just might be on on mine.

My first appearance was September 10th, 1974. Taking some liberties — 09/10/74 becomes 9–10–11 if you add the seven and the four. It also rhymed with my name, so 11 became my number . It spawned both my screen name and the name of my freelance studio. My twins were born on 11/11 — at 11:27 and 11:28 in the morning, respectively. Note that 27 and 28 add to 55 — also 11-divisible. More on 11 in a moment...

In 2017 I survived what should have been a fatal car accident. After clipping a car in the next lane, my vehicle flipped over two and a half times as it tumbled down the freeway at near 80mph. Sparks flew all around me as I hung by my seat belt and watched the pavement scroll by in close-up through my shattered windshield. What must have taken no more than a few seconds seemed like an hour, and for the duration of it I was thinking that blacktop and broken glass would be the last thing I’d ever see. It didn’t turn out to be the case, eventually I came to a halt. Still upside down in the middle of the freeway, I waited again, as I was certain an impending collision by one of the cars following me was imminent, but that didn’t happen either. After regaining my senses, I detected the odor of smoke. So I crawled through the window and got the hell out of there.

I emerged unscathed save for a trivial bump on the crown of my head, and a bruise that the seat belt left across my left shoulder and down my chest. That was the extent of my physical injuries. However, that momentary brush with death revealed to me that I had suicidal ideations that I was not acknowledging. Just six weeks prior my spouse left me. At that time things were not going well at work. I was struggling with depression. Whatever the reason, a part of me was hoping this was it, and I was willing to give in way to easily for comfort. Being able to recognize that prompted me to do something about it — which meant therapy, and lots of it. This decision led me on a path to healing that I still follow closely.

Longshot saves Jinx from suicide
Longshot saves Jinx from suicide

In more ways than one I’m very lucky to be alive.

I also started reaching out to others who may be struggling with depression and ideation. I learned several years ago that September 10th happens to be Worldwide Suicide Awareness Day. So every year on my birthday I celebrate by raising funds for the National Suicide Help Line.

El Pulpo Mechanico (Mechanical Octopus) breathing fire at Butning Man 2019
El Pulpo Mechanico (Mechanical Octopus) breathing fire at Butning Man 2019

Fast forward to 2019. I was fortunate enough to fall back in touch with my high school crush. She’s a burner, and she invited me to camp with her at the next Burning Man Festival. On the off chance you aren’t familiar with Burner culture, there is a well adopted practice of bestowing playa names (nicknames) to other participants to be used on playa (at the festival). Normally you earn the name based on something you do or experience. Wouldn’t you know my playa name became Longshot? And it happened mostly by chance.

Radical self-expression is a part of burner culture — people dress (or don’t dress) in all manner of attire. Around the time that I was preparing for the festival, I was re-reading some of the X-Men books from my youth. I then remembered I still had some yellow contact lenses from a few years back, when my ex-wife and I were cosplaying Storm and Nightcrawler for an X-Men themed Halloween outing.

Cosplaying Storm and Nightcrawler from the X-Men for Halloween
Cosplaying Storm and Nightcrawler from the X-Men for Halloween

I found the lenses. I already had the long-ish hair. I’d be damned if I was gonna make it into a mullet, but making the dreadlocks blonde was within the limits of what I was willing to do. I applied one lens to my left eye. Voilà!

The desert in summer is not conducive to head-to-toe black leather, and the vibe of the event is way too peaceful for throwing blades. I opted instead for white shirts and a bandolier of markers — and my plan was to encourage others to draw on my shirts, putting on a fresh blank canvas each day. This plan made for some pretty cool and meaningful souvenirs!

Departure day arrived. I was to fly to San Francisco to visit a friend for a couple days prior to boarding the bus there to finally arrive at Burning Man. I missed my flight thanks to a last minute gate change that I found out about too late. The next flight out was four and a half hours later. My friend had planned to receive me at the airport in the early evening, and now I would not be getting in until after midnight, which, needless to say threw a wrench in the plans. Given that she was not able to leave her house and kids at well after midnight to come get me, she arranged for me to have an impromptu stay at her friend’s place, near the airport, just for one night. I had never met this friend, so I was very grateful for her hospitality.

The following day my new host had to work, and my original would-be host was not available until mid-afternoon. It may be a good time to mention that on the plane ride in (and while waiting an extra four hours for departure), I recall thinking that I wished I could re-read Longshot again before the burn, given I was planning on borrowing his look. This thought was immediately followed by a very certain feeling that there would be a comic shop in walking distance of wherever I was going with one copy left of all six issues. Not sure why I was so certain of this, but that next morning I mapped the nearest comic shop — which turned out to be Dark Carnival Fantasy Bookstore.

It was within walking distance so I set out. In case you’ve never walked through Berkeley I highly recommend it. Lovely place. I arrive at Dark Carnival, and bee-line for the ‘L’ section of the Marvel archives. No Longshot to be found. I go to the front counter and ask the guy whether he’s heard of this book, and is there a chance he has some that are not in the stacks. He says he’s the owner and he’s heard of it, and it’s long out of print. He checks on the computer, and says yeah we carried it long ago, but don’t have it anymore. He then gets a curious look on his face and says “wait right here. Let me check something.”

Here’s where things get a little strange.

Owner walks to the back of the store and goes up a staircase while I wait by the counter. That’s when I notice that there’s a framed copy of X-Men #218 in a double-sided vertical glass display. It’s showing the cover on one side, and is open to the staples on the other side. I remembered having this comic as a kid, as X-Men was my favorite long-running series. The cover had Longshot, Dazzler, Rogue, and Psylocke springing into action. The Juggernaut was this issue’s villain. The page displayed was the part of the story where Longshot scores the winning hit against him — the blade that would weaken his helmet enough for Rogue to later remove it.

When the owner returns, he says I’m in luck — they have one copy left of the collection edition — one volume containing the entire limited series, also out of print. I didn’t know until that day that this had been collected into a single volume. As I’m paying for it, I ask him about the X-Men issue. Why that issue? Why is that particular page being displayed?

Owner tells me he is long time friends with the writer, and that the writer and artist plugged his store in the comic. He points to a panel where Rogue crash lands after being smacked across town by Juggernaut, and there, in the background of where she lands is Dark Carnival. So not only did the nearest comic shop (the only one I could walk to) randomly have one copy of Longshot’s out of print book I didn’t know existed, yet somehow knew would be there — it also had on display the scene where he essentially wins the battle for his team. A scene containing, in comic form, the very store I was standing in. Longshot has the last word on that page spread when he tells the Juggernaut “You never know, anything’s possible.”

This never would have come to pass had I not missed my original flight. So I decided to buy a copy of X-Men #218 that day as well.

That story opens by describing the Desert in the western US. It says that some people call the desert “Home”. “Home” is a term of endearment used by burners to refer to Burning Man. The first thing that happens in the issue is a collision between two vehicles, causing one to flip over, and land upside-down.

I told this whole story, including my own accident to my companions in line for the bus from SF to Burning Man after they inquired about my “look” and especially my left eye. They immediately gave me Longshot as my playa name, and said they’d be offended if I didn’t accept it after all that had occurred. So I earned my playa name prior to even arriving at the festival, which, to my knowledge, never happens. Some veteran burners have gone years without earning a name. I earned mine before the bus to my first visit even departed.

All this got me thinking. So after returning from the Burn, I would do a little research.

After some digging I found that X-Men #218 was the first issue to show Longshot on the cover (aside from Annual #10 where he officially joins the team, but that was a shameless plug, so I’m not counting it ;) ).

2+1+8 = 11. I dug a little deeper and noticed the publish date of Longshot #1. September, 1985. The month I turned 11, or 11 years after my birth.

I continued to dig. His team, The X-Men, released their first issue in September of 1963. 11 years prior to my birth.

I was intrigued. So I dug deeper. I looked at Longshot’s listing in Marvel Universe #7. I took note of the issue release date — June 1985.

Which means he was also named before ever arriving on the scene three months later, and his “first appearance” occurred before his first appearance. Similar to how I got my playa name before I was really supposed to. There are more parallels in my personal and romantic life that are almost as weird. But that’s a story for another time.

What I find particularly interesting is the way this story so presciently relates to events unfolding today. Longshot’s nemesis Mojo for example — an egomaniac demagogue that feeds his power with worship from followers of his personality cult and media exploits. One who claims he’s the “lifebringer”, but leaves death in his wake. The “spineless ones” in power that are trying with everything they have to keep so many of us “that resemble their nightmares” subjugated. Nearly half of our nation lives in an “alternate dimension” of factlessness. It’s almost as though you conceived the Mojoverse by glimpsing 35 years ahead.

In keeping with, and in order to fully live up to my playa name, I fell half-backwards into something I never thought I’d do — Activism. It started simply enough — I was asked to help steer a small online group with a focus on educating about race and race relations in the wake of the Floyd killing. The current group lead wanted to include more voices of color as leadership positions, and being that my little town is overwhelmingly white, she thought it would be a good fit. I agreed. For several months It stayed relatively quiet, until something happened in our town that a number of people felt the need to take action on.

Also? It happened on my birthday.

Almost overnight our fledgeling education group turned into an activist coalition, nearly quadrupled in size, and had me doing things like organizing protests, guest appearing on podcasts, and giving speeches for political candidates. Our first demonstration would end up getting our town media coverage from the local town publication all the way to a national outlet and many stops along the way, much to my surprise.

The morning of that first demonstration, Facebook Memories sent me a reminder of a fortune cookie I had opened a year prior.

I suppose we did get lucky with our first efforts, because our coalition continues to grow, and so do the opportunities to do good in our little corner of the world. A corner that was a swing county in a swing state in this year’s election. One that people were watching for days on the electoral map as an indicator of the statewide outcome. I’d like to think our actions around the time of the election made a difference. Luck is funny that way isn’t it? Unlike “alternative facts”, it’s based in, and realized by belief — if you believe yourself to be, and see yourself as lucky, then by definition, you are. It’s one of the only things I can think of that works that way.

What’s more, I suppose sometimes “luck” is just an expression or interpretation of actions we put out into the world. Sometimes that just means deciding to be that person who is willing to take a risk in order to make a difference. Longshot had this power and he could wield it to miraculous effect, but only when he was using it for unselfish means. His luck was never his. It belonged to the greater good — he was only its conduit. It only left him when he tried to push it in directions it was never intended to go. There’s definitely a lesson there. One I’ve tried to keep in mind as I continue to do this work.

Thank you for giving me and everyone Longshot, Ricochet, Quark, and the entire Mojoverse.

Extra thanks for reading this far and listening to me go on and on. Finally, thanks again for signing my copy. I may just ask Kate try to track down Arthur as well now that she’s accomplished this.

As I mentioned earlier, I have The Seeds arriving tomorrow. Excited for that.

Before I sign off I do have one minor request.

Representation matters now more than possibly ever, and Marvel has a solid track record of not hesitating to swap out traditionally white characters with people of color (especially where the luck power is concerned). So if Longshot, a former slave rising up to challenge his oppressor, ever hits the big or small screen (as ironic as that would be), I beg you not to make him blue-eyed with white skin. Not in the current racial/political climate. I don’t know how much say or sway you might have with Marvel or this character anymore, but if you do have any, please please please, make him someone that looks like me.

Arter. Musicist. Codeician. Dad.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store