Thursday, 22 November 2012
NMU #11: "Magma"
(A werewolf is for life, not just for enacting coup d'etats.)
After what, if we're being honest, was significantly too long a build-up, we at last get to the fireworks display that brings the Nova Roma story to an end.
So, for those of you who've just tuned in, evil witch-mutant Selene's decision to chuck Amara Aquilla into a lava pit as a human sacrifice has rather literally backfired, as Amara arises as a creature of molten rock and starts hurling streams of magma at her would-be killer. Unfortunately, her enthusiasm and anger is no substitute for experience, and Selene knocks her back into the caldera almost immediately. The effort is not without cost, however, and Dani looks on in horror as Selene ages before her eyes. Selene for her past is non-plussed, and regains her youth and beauty almost immediately by simply sacrificing her own followers, using her control over rock formations to push each cultist screaming into the lava.
The fact that this works at all is quite interesting, because it raises questions about the whole set-up. If Selene can kill anyone in order to gain power, why put so much effort into preparing scantily-clad nubile girls as her prey? I mean, sure, if I were the sort of person to push innocents into a volcano for my own nefarious ends, I'd probably want to involve bikini-wearing young women as well (though I'd have them as my followers and the ugly beefed-up dudes as the victims; that just seems a more sensible allocation of resources), but the whole set-up seems needlessly convoluted. In fact, when Amara rises once more from the caldera and Selene simply drains her life-force straight out of her, the ritual seems more pointless than ever. It's possible, I suppose, that the bells and whistles surrounding Selene's murders in some way enhance the experience (or even just make her butcher's bill easier to swallow), but I suspect it's more likely that Selene just does it this way because it's more fun. Why shoot a fox when you can hunt it?
Up on the surface, Roberto is learning the truth of that old saying: assist in the murder of dozens in haste, repent at leisure. There's no time for moping, however (somewhat unusually in a Claremont book, one might argue - still, he manages to get some done "on the job"); he's seen a red-haired woman amongst the slaves captured in the battle, and sneaks after her, hoping that she might be his missing mother. Finding his objective under guard, Sunspot knocks out one of Gallio's soldiers in order to gain a disguise. He complains about the size differential after the fact, which is an odd objection considering he chooses to leave his fluorescent orange boots on.
Sneaking into Gallio's dungeons, Roberto learns that the mysterious woman is indeed his mother. Even better, she's in the middle of being taunted by Castro, which gives him the opportunity to punch someone unambiguously unpleasant ("CARAMBA!"). The unfortunate downside to all of this is that it forces Roberto to face up to how callous a dick his father really is.
"Callous dick" is something of a comparative term, however. DaCosta Senior might be planning to exploit the natural resources of Nova Roma's location, but over in his audience chamber, Senator Gallio is having the skin flayed from Aquilla's back, and is about to poison Sam and hand Rahne off to the slavers. Just before the deed is done, though, Amara smashes through the floor, begging her father for help. Apparently Selene didn't quite finish the job.
The arrival of Aquilla's daughter, now revealed to be a creature of living magma, gives Gallio the perfect cover to execute the pair of them, but this murder too is interrupted when Sunspot arrives, leading those troops loyal to Aquilla who survived the attack on his mansion, along with the fake Amazonian tribe that Aquilla had been using to protect young girls from Selene's predations. With the New Mutants joining in, Gallio's forces don't last too long, and Gallio himself gets a brief and fatal lesson in swordplay from Amara's father.
Things aren't wrapped up just yet, though; Amara informs the youngsters that Selene still holds Dani, and plans to convert her into a "psychic vampire" like the priestess herself. Sam and Roberto, accompanied by Amara, follow Wolfsbane as she sniffs out Dani's scent through the artificial tunnels that stretch out under the city. They make short work of Selene's outer defences, but once they meet her in person, the battle quickly turns against them. Fortunately, the team provide sufficient distraction for Dani to get off a spirit-form, scaring Selene with an image of her long-delayed death, and giving Roberto chance to stab her in the heart.
Except Selene turns out to not actually have a heart. How wearyingly literal. Sunspot's plan B is to have Amara dig a new lava pit with her powers, and then toss Selene into it. This works rather better, but horrifies Roberto's team-mates, who remind him they had all sworn never to kill.
I've mentioned before how aggravating this kind of bright-line moralising can be, so it's nice to see how utterly uninterested Roberto is in hearing it. We're talking about a woman who has killed at least seven people that very night, and tried to kill an eighth. A woman who we know from Amara has been doing this for some time. A woman who both has to murder in order to survive, and who delights in the act each and every time. Not to mention a woman who is trying to kill three of their number and subjugate a fourth, and who nobody has any idea how to stop short of killing her. This is not a situation in which the "we're supposed to be better than that" line can possibly hold the slightest water. Sunspot just saved countless lives, Sam, including your own. Fuck off with your hand-wringing.
But is Selene really gone for good? Roberto fears not, and given her ability to control rock, it's entirely possible neither the lava nor the cave-in has actually finished her off. Right now, though, the team has more immediate problems. How do they get themselves and Senora DaCosta back home, and what are they going to do with a terrified girl who's just learned she's a mutant?
Apparently I was a little off in my estimates last time around. It's still evening when this issue begins. Regardless, this story carries over into the following day.
Sunspot mentions it's been days since his mother was lost in the Amazon rapids, but that's fine. Besides, Claremont's been most helpful in counting the days the team has been in Nova Roma.
"We're s'posed to be better than that."
"An easy rule for Professor Xavier to follow, Sam... safe in New York."