While we all would like to read stories that laud our heroes to the beautific-deity heights like Grant Morrison has spun in stories for most of his career (minus The Filth), skepticism is a necessary exercise in examining those who have power, exercise power through use, and ultimately choose on a moment-to moment basis on how to use power they possess. Creators who choose skepticism in deconstructing, or challenging, the traditional super-hero/meta-human story is healthy for the comics medium, and the last few decades have found comics creators willing to problematize super-hero/meta-human narratives that dive into the darker territories of the What If questions of super-hero ethics. My first exposure to these types of darker questions came many years ago from creators out of the U.K., with writers such as Alan Moore breaking mainstream ground first in his legendary run on Marvelman/Miracleman and later in Watchmen or Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill casting a brutal, satirical eye with various Marshal Law stories. Those stories opened me up to understanding the necessity of applying darker themes/questions with such characters of (or representative of) the light. I know I am not alone in curiosity as the dark themes/questions of those foundational works have shown great influence on more recent creators such as Mark Waid’s Irredeemable, or even Joshua Hale Fialkov’s The Last of the Greats. Those books, and also a handful of others, have wondered if something went wrong with our heroes, if they decided to use their powers to subjugate rather than to unify, what would happen? Would the human race survive? If they do survive, what kind of world is left? Writer Mark Bertolini addresses those questions and joins the previous list of creators in exploring that darkness in his recent independent OGN Long Gone.
Long Gone is told through the eyes of a retired everyman, Abraham Connelly, who also serves as our sometime narrator. Bertolini aims to tell a story that is about morals, ostensibly a story of simple ideas of right and wrong and knowing the difference. The perspective, however, is flip flopped against the standard (i.e. the hero is suffering with the power of responsibility and doing the right thing), placing the onus of choice on human beings rather than the super-hero/meta-humans in constructing a story of a species practically on the brink of extension at the hands of its former protectors. His writing, dialogue and pacing are reminiscent of another master of the moral horror story, Stephen King, and Bertolini is just as unafraid as Mr. King to show the ugly side of humanity when absolute power corrupts absolutely, when a mob rule, fascist mentality forms with those who are supposedly unstoppable.
As I read Long Gone I couldn’t help but think a bit about Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, and that perhaps Connelly is looking for his Kurtz as he heads up the broken interstate veins towards confronting an inevitable end. You get the feeling early on that this is a one-way ticket, the best kind often for heroes in a story. What more heroic end is there when the only choice in the face of the unreasonable is often sacrifice for the good of others, the needs of the many, the long view of existence?
The artwork by Ted Pogorzelski matches the tone of the story well. The landscape is apocalyptic–a bombed out geography torn into bits and pieces of formerly animate and inanimate matter scattered by the superhuman beings acting like children on a tantrum locked in a playroom. Madness is a visual theme. Pogorzelski’s chooses to make the faces of the now imbalanced super beings caked and cracked in madness, most often in semi or full blown close-ups, juxtaposing those features with the destruction and chaos of the cities and interstates the reader encounters as they journey with Connelly, moving ever closer to the end of the line.
Bertolini and company attempt to tell a story about humanity standing up for itself in a time of great need. While the delivery of the story is very graphic and not for young readers (seriously, this is a definite “mature” rating), those who have followed the super-hero genre might find this to be an interesting read to add to a body of existing perspectives on what humanity could do to right things if something powerful went so terribly wrong.