Monday, 5 November 2012

NMU #10: "Betrayal!"

(Nova Pompeii?)


OK, so; good news first.  This issue manages to avoid the various flavours of racism that plagued the last two instalments of the title.  Bad news: this is presumably due to lack of space owing to all the teenage girls in bikinis that show up halfway through.

It's been twenty-four hours since Rahne was declared the reincarnation of Julius Caesar, and it's apparently been wall-to-wall processions and feasts since then. As one might expect, the pious Wolfsbane is more than a little bothered at the idea of being considered a god, but on balance, you'd have to say things have taken a better for the team, even if there's still no sign of Roberto's missing mother.

There are a couple of nice moments as the New Mutants relax in the palace Senator Gallio has loaned them. Roberto notes his own father was a slave like those now waiting upon them, which is a nice callback to his character's history.  It's also interesting watching Gallio argue the Roman gods themselves might in fact have been mutants; he does this to placate Rahne, which probably demonstrates his political instincts, but it's a nice idea in any case.  Nowadays the "myth X was mutants" idea has been done multiple times, but the overuse of "proving" such things shouldn't detract from the idea of people wondering how much of what they assumed to be fiction and legend was actually brought about by superbeings.  It's one of those logical reactions to the appearance of "the Marvels" that doesn't get enough play.

Gallio also explains to the team what's going on in Nova Roma; there's a battle of wills taking place between himself, and the plebian Aquilla.  It's interesting that Gallio would frame things in those terms.  He goes to pains to note plenty of plebians (descended from slaves, basically) make for fine citizens, but even so, the way he casually suggests that Aquilla's heritage is to blame for his misdeeds is striking.  This is basically classism, just as surely as we've had racism and are headed for some rather dodgy scenes of scantily-clad girls, but the difference here is that Claremont can plausibly be argued to be criticising rather than engaging.  I have to confess, I quite like the idea of a citizen of Nova Roma saying something so hideously objectionable to contemporary sensibilities (see Andrew Mitchell, resignation of), and it not even occurring to them that there'd be a problem.  It would have been even more interesting coming from the mouth of someone we didn't already know was a villain, of course.

Despite his regressive views on class and heritage, however, Gallio has no trouble winning over Rahne. Partially this may be because she's more pleased than she'll let on about being feted as a goddess (particularly now Gallio's given her an out by suggesting Caesar, Romulus and Remus might all simply have been homo superior as well), but mainly it's because Gallio has set himself against Amara's father, and Rahne despises the blonde girl for the unforgivable crime of getting Sam to like her.  She's so disgusted by the possibility that Sam might have the hots for Amara that she announces the entire team will serve Gallio's cause.  Not surprisingly, this starts off an argument. Sam claims to simply be leery of taking sides without really having any idea as to what is going on in the city, but it's entirely possible his position is no less hormone-fuelled than Rahne's.  Either way, it's pretty obvious that the group needs a replacement for Xi'an as leader. Inwardly, Roberto votes for Dani, though that might be for the sake of a quiet life as anything else.

Not that a quiet life could possibly be on the cards in any case. Sunspot is so distracted by everything that's happened - everyone he's lost - that he doesn't even take up a sexy slave-girls offer to "ease [his] sadness" (that's not how I remember my hormones working when I was thirteen/fourteen, but there it is). But no sooner has Roberto headed outside to get away from Wolfsbane's quarrel with Cannonball, and he thinks he spots his mother being manhandled by two other women.  The guards outside the palace won't let him past, though.  For his "protection". For once Roberto manages to keep his temper under control, and heads back inside, but for those of us less distracted, the implication is clear.  Our heroes are not guests, but prisoners.

Once this sinks in though, the mutants settle on a plan: Dani sneaks out of the palace (using her ability to generate enticing illusions to distract the guards with surround-sound floozyvision), hoping her Native American heritage won't seem too out of place in a city with a sizable Inca population.  It's not a bad plan in theory - though in Nova Roma I don't think Sam would stand out any more than she does - but unfortunately all it gets her is swiftly kidnapped.

As the hours pass the three remaining New Mutants become concerned about Dani's failure to return. Rahne is in a particularly bad way, since in addition to fretting over Dani she has to deal with having been spectacularly unpleasant to Sam, worry about whether her pretence at godhood will have pissed off the guy upstairs, and scared that the wolf side of her nature is gradually winning the battle over who she really wants to be.  Roberto does his best to console her, but it's a tough job, especially after he gets shot and falls out of the window.

Sam blasts his way to Roberto, catching him before he hits the deck, whilst Rahne wolfs out and pounces on the hidden assassin.  Turns out it's Castro, the guy who knocked out the New Mutants back on the boat, and thus caused the crash that almost killed them all and got Roberto's mother swept down the Amazon.

None of the three kids are happy to see him, of course, particularly not Roberto, who would happily have caved the guy's face in even before he shot him in the shoulder.  Presumably this is why they don't see the cracks in what follows.  When Gallio and his guards rush in, Castro gives up the name of his employer with almost comical speed (ostensibly in fear of what Sunspot will do to him otherwise). This was all the evil plan of Senator Aquilla!

None of this makes any sense, or at least requires further answers.  How did Castro sneak past the palace guards? How did he make such a hash of shooting at a stationary target from point-blank range? Did Aquilla not have any professional assassins unlikely to either botch the job or give him away seconds after being captured? What made him sabotage the boat before anyone had even seen Nova Roma? How does being Gallio's political opponent immediately translate into attempting to murder children?

Alas, these are not considerations the mutants are willing to entertain.  Their blood is up, and in Roberto's case, somewhat out all over the floor as well. Gallio orders his men to head to Aquilla's villa and arrest him, and our heroes sign up to help.

Maybe they're hoping Aquilla has Dani stashed away somewhere, because otherwise it seems like they've forgotten her entirely in the excitement.  Of course, we're not expecting her to be Aquilla's at all, and it looks like we're right.  Instead, she's in some kind of cave system with Amara and Random Victim #1, all of them in bikinis and drugged to the eyeballs.  Looks like they're set to be sacrificed by some kind of fire cult (helpfully if unimaginatively named "The Cult of Fire", which apparently is only interested in chucking young girls into a caldera if they're dressed for a beach party.

This all looks pretty grim for our heroine, and she's appropriately terrified (in a nice touch, though, she insists to herself that her fear could only be down to the drugs she's been hit with, as oppose to her imminent death in boiling rock).  It gets rather worse still when Selene  - "Daughter of the Moon, Mistress of the Fire" - teleports into the cavern, and kicks Random Victim #1 into the lava pit.  Poor old Random Victim #1.  Only ever there to demonstrate the stakes for the people with names. Thinking about it, though, I wonder how long its been since an innocent person was explicitly killed in an X-book?  We're still a ways off from the hideous, deadening death tolls of the early '90s.

Of course, no-one's told Selene that.  She's feeling pretty good right about now.  Another one in the thousands of sacrificial ceremonies she's hosted over the years is about to go down without a hitch.  The victims are assembled, her psychic powers have left Dani unable to generate her spirit forms; what could go wrong?

Over at the Aquilla place, it looks like things are going pretty well for Selene's husband, too, as Sunspot and Cannonball make short work of the mansion's defences. Roberto is more than happy to just wade in and maximise his head-busts-per-minute speed, but Sam is a little more circumspect, having begun to realise that all of this is perhaps a little too convenient.  And once Gallio's men start massacring Aquilla's guards, it becomes clear that aside from anything else, it's probably a good idea to make sure Aquilla survives being arrested, which they ensure by capturing him themselves. Gallio is rather annoyed when he learns his planned "stabbed to death whilst trying to escape" approach has failed, which perhaps leads him to reveal a little too much whilst gloating over his defeated enemy.  Since he's crowing in Latin, he thinks he's safe, but Roberto has been hiding his knowledge of the language, and quickly realise they've been on the wrong side all along.

Back underground, and Selene is in the middle of a traditional villain's gloating monologue.  Apparently, Amara's mother was fed to the volcano some years ago, and Selene can't wait to make it a generational thing.  Once the gloating's done, that is.

Dani doesn't intend to give her the chance. She breaks free of both her guards and Selene's psychic dampening, and throws herself at her captor.

It doesn't work. Selene is just too powerful, and when the distraction briefly shakes Amara from Selene's mental power, the older woman simply kicks her straight into the lava.

Pretty much everyone reading this, I'd have thought, knows what happens next: one of the most aggravating examples of ludicrous comic coincidence ever seen, which is no mean feat, especially where Claremont is concerned (I ranted at length about "Madelyne Pryor was supposed to just be a coincidence" argument in the comments thread here, where this very issue came up in response). Amara, we learn, is not only a mutant, not only a mutant of just the right kind of age to make her New Mutants material, but she learns she's a mutant just as she's thrown into a volcano, and because her powers are volcano-based.

There's not much to say about all that, it's pretty much self-explanatory in its ridiculousness.  The best defence one could muster - and it's an interesting one - is that Amara (or Magma, as we should start calling her) wasn't necessarily going to turn out to be what she became.  What if her abilities were more along the lines of Darwin's, only with a greater power level (Darwin could certainly survive being chucked into a volcano, but actually casting lava around would presumably be beyond him), and either got stuck, or were always intended to just stick at whatever life-threatening situation she first encountered.  Had Selene tried to drown her, would she have grown gills? (Update: turns out Abagail considered this idea just days before me, and came up with the same example as well.  Spooky!)

Obviously, all this is academic.  For whatever reason, command over molten rock is what Amara has been handed, and she's more than willing to use it to fry Selene to a cinder, even if the resultant earthquakes look like exceptionally bad news for the city above.  Who will gain the upper hand?  Tune in next time!


This issue begins the day after the team's battle in the arena.  It continues late into the night.  It's not clear if they move past midnight, but I'm inclined to believe they have, if only because that seems the appropriate time for Selene to be pushing scantily-clad girls into volcanoes.

That said, Brazil is two hours ahead of New York in any case, so from the perspective of our NYC-centric system, we can assume this all takes place over a single day.


Tuesday 23rd August, 1983.



Contemporary Events

James Collins is born, a player for West Ham United and the Wales national team, a fact I only mention because my Welsh girlfriend might shout at me if I don't.

Standout Line

"Amara's dad! Ah thought ah noticed a resemblance!" - Sam

It's fucking uncanny, is what it is.

Later on, we learn Amara is adopted.


  1. I'd speculated about the Magma/Darwin thing, but there's another possibility: what if Selene had known all along what would happen if she did that, and did it on purpose to make Amara become Magma?

    I know this doesn't fit the plot massively well. Well, ok, at all. But I understand there are later stories that make Nova Roma a big setup by Selene, so this is more more plausible than it sounds.

  2. I quite like the conspiratorial aspect of that, actually. Yes, it doesn't seem to dovetail with Selene's response, but it's perfectly possible she's faking. After all, if she's that desperate to sacrifice Amara, why start with Random Victim #1 instead. It's an interesting idea that it's because she knows Amara won't actually die, so she needs to get the actual sacrifice out of the way first.

    Of course, whilst this theory does at least remove the greatest jaw-dropping coincidence on display, it replaces it with something that's still pretty difficult to swallow; namely that the entire Cult of Fire just happens to put Selene in a position to throw Amara into a volcano; even if we assume Selene knew what would happen.

    Unless the whole cult itself was just a means to that end...

  3. Also, apologies for not noticing you'd already made the Darwin connection. I avoided reading your post until I'd finished reading the relevant issues, but I wrote this after you'd posted, and clearly you go there first.