Tuesday, 23 October 2012

NMU #9: "Arena"

(Am I not entertained?)


So, when I covered the issue immediately proceeding this, I pointed out that a white girl pretending to be an Amazon tribeswoman in order to avoid detection sailed somewhat too close the the Sea of Bigotry.  Abigail was somewhat more direct in the comments section, going with "profoundly offensive racist bollocks".

This issue, if you're wondering, is a good deal worse.

The basic set-up is this; the New Mutants have been captured by the forces of Nova Roma, an attempt to replicate the glory of Rome in the middle of the Amazon Basin.  Amara Juliana Olivia Aquilla - briefly the mutants' captive and now pretending to be part of their party in order to avoid detection - was born in said city, but has been in voluntary exile for some time, in fear for her life.  Her father, Lucius Antonius Aquilla, is "first senator", in the midst of a political struggle that has the capacity to turn violent enough for him to want his daughter safely out of the city.

None of that is a problem, obviously.  Crazy, but not a problem.  What is problematic though is the nature of the struggle. The conflict is between the original Roman settlers (however they got here) and those descended from a large contingent of Incas that fled when the Spanish invaded in the 16th century.  The former want to keep Nova Roma a republic, the latter want to resurrect their monarchy and carve out a new Incan Empire.

In other words, all those nice white dudes who love them some senatorial action are in danger of having their vision for South America quite ruined by those pesky South Americans.  If only those natives would shut up and let the colonials decide what's best, everything would be fine, and the beautiful blonde girl the team has met would be safe from harm.  PROTECT THE BLONDE GIRL!

And it all that wasn't bad enough, it seems that those nasty, interfering foreign types have hooked up with some kind of murderous priestess, too, who's all about black robes and chucking people into calderas.  Human sacrifice, in other words.  In other contexts, it would be interesting to juxtapose a writer's condemnation of vilifying a native culture with me suggesting including one of that culture's religious ceremonies itself marks them out as villains.  I'm not going to do that here, though, because frankly the source material isn't worth it.

With the racism angle set aside (an analytic move, not a moral choice), there's actually some interesting stuff going on here.  The team itself is going to be split into two groups: those that fight as gladiators, and those that are sold off as slaves, which is hardly inspired, but the political shenanigans behind the scenes are at least diverting.  Amara's father doesn't know she's been captured, of course, but he does know three girls of around his daughter's age, along with two boys, have been seized, and he's more than willing to sacrifice all five of them so as not to give his opponent Marcus Domitus Gallio a possible opening.

Of course, Aquilla genuinely believes that beating Gallio is important enough to let five children die or be enslaved.  And given Gallio is shacked up with Selene, who even now is revealed as basically Lady Macbeth with added "dark arts" (and later becomes one of the X-teams most enduring adversaries), and had planned on using the New Mutants as troops in a coup d'etat, it's not like the guy is entirely without a case.  All that said, though, it's clear we're dealing with shades of grey battling it out, and whilst one shade is clearly darker than the other, Claremont deserves some credit for not trying to make Aquilla particularly sympathetic.

(That said, we know Amara is going to be the sixth person to sign up to a team whose fathers thus far have been dead, dead, dead, evil, and dead and replaced by an evil uncle.  Having Lucius turn out to be a bit of a dick doesn't seem quite so interesting in that context. We're not actually told Amara is a mutant just yet, actually, but she's shown to be immune to drugs and susceptible to bouts of agonising, idiopathic pain, which is pretty much case closed these days.)

Anyway, on with the plot.  With the mutants now out of bounds, Selene introduces Gallio to Castro, the saboteur from last issue, who claims Emanuel DaCosta would be up for an exchange: the resources of Nova Roma in return for enough boomsticks to take control of the city.  Gallio is suitably intrigued. Selene herself decides to check out the captives her husband mentioned, and is delighted to discover not only have two of them been drugged (in order to make them more compliant and get full enjoyment out of their friends' dismemberment in the arena the next day), but that the third is Amara, Lucius' daughter herself.

Noon the next day, and the games are about to begin.  The gladiators' handlers, having helpfully drugged Sam and Roberto to keep them docile all night, now show equal consideration in hepping them up on some kind of berserker drug, so at least they'll die in style.

(They'll also die in some kind of bright white war-briefs, too, which leave very little to the imagination.  Especially if you've been imagining both of them as eunuchs.  Which is fine.  I'm not judging.)

The problem with Nova Roma, though, is that for all the talk of the Romans' phenomenal gifts to civilisation in general, they never got around to slapping together power dampers, which means they now have two psychotic mutants on a rampage without the slightest idea about how they can stop them (though the oversized death rollers the gladiators are employing as APCs was a decent attempt, I suppose).  Indeed, the only the reason they don't destroy the entire stadium is that their drug-addled minds decide they're time would be more productively spent beating the shit out of each other.

This probably saves a lot of lives, actually, and it has the added bonus of shaking Rahne inside her own drugged state; she's terrified of losing Sam, who she's apparently secretly in love with.  She wolfs out and attacks Sunspot, and her transformation brings Dani to her senses.  A quickly-assembled illusion of Professor X later, and everyone is more or less back in their right minds again, just in time to be trampled to death by an enraged mob, who frankly just saw the most awesome show imaginable and should just shut up.

Gallio apparently feels the same way I do, and tells the crowd to shut up.  After all, was not Rome itself founded by two men raised by a she-wolf?  And now another walks among them, alongside four others with amazing powers.  The Gods have returned to the Roman Empire!  That's actually a really nice idea, tying Wolfsbane into this civilisation's creation myth.  It's not going to turn around my opinion on this issue at all, but still, well played there.  It's also an ending that neatly ties in with the plotting of Amara's father earlier; he was willing to sacrifice the mutants in order to stop the power-crazed would-be-dictator Gallio, and Gallio himself has now saved their lives.


This story takes place over approximately 24 hours.


Sunday 21st August to Monday 22nd August, 1983.


X+5Y+171 to X+5Y+172.

Contemporary Events

British Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson talks to the Guardian about his decision to cut back on his lavish lifestyle, presumably in the hope that quotes like "I can't abide to eat in an inferior restaurant" are just the ticket if he wants to persuade the common man that he's one of them.

Also, this seems more than a little appropriate right now:

Standout Line

"Minerva protect you if your master finds you attractive!" - Amara

This is not one of those lines that stands out in a good way.  Every time I read it I get shivers of horror.  Just why does Claremont write so many plots involving slavery anyway?

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