Tuesday, April 21, 2015

1983: New Mutants Year One Part VI: On An Evening In Nova Roma*

By Jef Willemsen (clarmindcontrol.blogspot.com)

In the sixth part of our lookback at the New Mutants' early days, the Roman numerals finally make sense as the teens find themselves imprisoned in Nova Roma, an offshoot of the Roman empire that didn't make it any history books. To no one's surprise, it's a pretty forgettable affair.

I'm no expert, but the most important part of launching a new comic series is quickly establishing the format of the book. Set up basics like the cast, their personalities, their reason for being together and the general premise. This gives readers some sense of what to look forward to or even tell their friends about. Usually, it takes about a year before a book really starts to click, unfortunately that's also why nowadays most titles get cancelled before they can start cooking.

At any rate, what's the New Mutants premise? Well, they're new mutants, in need of training to master their powers, not necessarily interested in superheroics or joining the X-Men. They live and study at the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters and are mentored by Charles Xavier and his staff. Now, if only Claremont would stick with that a tad more. Apart from a few Danger Room sequences, he very rarely showed team training or studying in the first five issues. What they did do was fight villains: the Sentinels, Viper, the Silver Samurai, all well before Cannonball had even learned to turn right during flight.

Of course, the book had to have some villains to fight. Nobody would be interested in reading a comic that was all about teens in plainclothes, attending classes, doing homework and worrying about zits or a surprise pop quiz. But if you launch a title that emphasizes the fact they're in school... at least try and have your cast on the same continent as that school every once in a while.

Claremont quite clearly disagreed with that sentiment and sent the New Mutants on an extended field trip to South America that lasted over six issues. Sure, they got in a little training along the way but Xavier barely appeared anymore. The kids were on their own and acted like generic adventurers who were pretty much in control of their powers.

And as if having them stuck in Rio de Janeiro and the Amazon for three months wasn't bad enough, #8 ended with the teens getting captured by Roman soldiers. They were brought to the hidden city of Nova Roma filled with all the extras from I Claudius. The New Mutants and Amara, their mysterious blonde friend, were thrown in a jail cell for the night. The next day, the girls would be sold into slavery and the men would be made to fight in the arena... As one does.

First, we're properly introduced to Amara...

                                            "My name is Amara Juliana Olivia Aquilla.
                            My father is Lucius Antonius Aquilla... first senator of Nova Roma."

So, the daughter of one the most well known political figures in a small community isn't immediately recognized by the guards, the soldiers or even a random bystander? And why is everyone speaking perfect English when they're in the middle of the friggin' South American rainforest?

Claremont clearly had a ball writing the Nova Roma arc but you know what... No. Just no. The Nova Roma arc is poorly thought out, full of nonsensical sequences, boring political intrigue, way too many robes and loaded with all the Comics Code approved creepiness Claremont would be mocked for in his later years. Rather than bore you (and myself) with a full synopsis, let's touch on the "highlights" of New Mutants I#9, 10 and 11. 

First things first, Amara's father had a political enemy, senator Marcus Gallio, who desperately wanted to take his place. Gallio was married to a powerful sorceress called Selene. Yes, that Selene. And she had a plan to make her husband's ambitions come true.

                               "Where are we going? The catacombs beneath our villa".

Well, geez... you'd think a man would know where he was going if he's walking into the cellar of his own house. At any rate, they meet with Castro, who was hired by Sebastian Shaw and Sunspot's father Emmanuel DaCosta to mess up Nina DaCosta's expedition into the uncharted Maderia region of the Amazon because they wanted to claim the mineral rich land for stripmining. Castro sweet talked himself into Gallio's graces, suggesting an alliance between him and the Hellfire Club that would most certainly make him the most influential political leader of all Nova Roma.

Now, let's get to the uncomfortable parts... The female New Mutants and Amara were about to be auctioned off, but before that they needed to look presentable. And willing.

                                          "Would you care for more wine? Ooooh... Yum!"

Having Dani Moonstar (barely 15) and Rahne Sinclair (about 13) drink drugged wine that made them drunk, woozy and essentially up for anything is just wrong in so many ways. The kids get hammered and roofied all at the same time, before some sheet wearing slimeball buys them. Amara knew better than to drink the wine and tried to sneak away. But she ran into Selene who apparently had her eye n the young girl for quite a while now...

                                  "You are a gift from the gods I shall make very good use of"

So, how are the boys doing? Well, while the girls were getting dolled up, Sam and Roberto got sent to gladiator training school to prepare for their debut in the arena. All those men trying to stab one another with their big, pointy spears... The sweat, the grunts as they manhandle each other. Two wrestlers, muscles bulging, sweat glistening, hairy chests rubbing against one another... 

                                                          "Plucky little lad, aren't you?" 

It's hard (*tee-hee*) not to notice the homo-erotic subtext of this particular scene. Two teenage boys dressed in loincloths, chained to the wall and drugged to the gills get playfully teased by a burly bear of man holding a big ol' poker. I've heard of adult films with less backstory.

Still, Sam and Roberto survived the night and were forced to fightone another in the arena the following afternoon. The fight was witnessed by Rahne and Dani who were senator Gallio's special, still dazed, guests of honor.

"Wanna make somethin' of it, shrimp?!"

Seeing Sam and Roberto almost fight to the death woke Dani and Rahne up. They rushed to help their teammates, with Rahne jumping into the arena as Wolfsbane and Moonstar calling up an image of Professor Xavier to shock Sunspot and Cannonball out of their drugged stupor. The Nova Romans considered the mutants demons and wanted to kill them. Gallio saved them by declaring young Rahne Sinclair a sign of the gods: her red hair linked her to Gaius Julius Caesar and the fact she could turn into a wolf made her of the same blood as the she-wolf who suckled Rome's founders Romulus and Remus. And as the crowd went wild, issue 9 came to a close.

Issue 10 opened with the New Mutants enjoying a victory parade through Nova Roma thrown in their honor. They were even given a palace to use during their stay, complete with a staff of servants and slaves ready to cater to their every whim...

                                                     "I could ease your sadness, master."

Contrary to popular belief, not every 14.5 year old boy would jump at the chance of sleeping with a gorgeous blonde who basically offers herself up for his pleasure. Bobby's got a lot on his mind, though... For instance, his mother went missing shortly after their boat was destroyed. The thought of losing a parent so shortly after the death of his girlfriend Julia Sandoval kept him pretty occupied. But, as he wistfully stared out the window he noticed a group of newly arrived slaves being dragged along... among them, his red headed mother. Unfortunately, he couldn't reach her because Gallio had ordered his troops to surround the New Mutants' palace, not allowing them to leave "for their own safety".

Roberto complied and went back in, but Dani Moonstar would escape later that night only to be immediately captured by Selene's forces and brought to her secret underground temple. That's where we find out what the heck happened to Amara.

"I am Selene...
Daughter of the Moon... mistress of the fire.
Come children, give yourselves to me."
While Dani was trying to wrap her head around this latest development, back in Nova Roma the remaining New Mutants were attacked by Castro. They easily overcame their treacherous former shipmate who lied to the authorities, claiming he was working for senator Aquilla. This fake confession was all the evidence Gallio needed to have his political opponent arrested.

Meanwhile, Gallio's wife got on with her ritual and forced Amara and all the other scanthily clad gals to sacrifice their lives by dropping them into the fire pit.

                             "I knew you would someday be mine to take, as I did your mother." 

Claremont has Selene explain just why Amara was in blackface, living among the Amazons. Twas all part of her father's attempts to keep the girl out of the sorceress' hands. Selene regularly sacrifices young 'uns to rejuvenate her lifeforce. Unfortunately for her, Amara wasn't exactly your average Nova Roman as she found out as soon as the lady Aquilla was seemingly consumed by the flames.

    "The child you thought slain has been reborn... Made one with the molten heart of the Earth itself.                          And in the name of your countless victims... She will have vengeance!

Amara turned out to be a mutant too? What *are* the odds... New Mutants I#11 opened with a fight between her and Selene, who also turned out to be a mutant capable of manipulating inanimate material. She turned the rockface into two stone warriors who overwhelmed Amara, causing her to fall back into the fires that spawned her.

                                                   "Selene... by my ancestors... your face?!"

And here's the big Selene related reveal: much like the Claremont/Byrne creation Proteus, her powers quickly burn up her lifeforce. That's why she needs to consume the life energy of others to retain her own youth and beauty. What's worse, Selene felt Dani might have what it takes to become a psychic vampire like herself. But first, she needed to eat... that's why she used her powers to shove all the remaining sacrificial "lambs" into the fire at once, to restore her appearance.

                      "We are bound... by name and blood... such a link can never be broken!"

Sigh... And here we have Claremont being Claremont again. Maybe I'm a tad biased after over 7 years of writing a blog about the man's fondess for mind control... But Selene trying to dominate Danielle, seducing her to the dark side with waves of almost orgasmic ecsacy has really been done to death. Not to mention that it's in incredibly poor taste to have a minor in a skimpy metal bra on the floor writhing in pain and pleasure. To her credit, Dani was able to hold out long enough for Amara to return and continue her attack on Selene, even burying the devil priestess under molten rock.

That allowed for the girls to have a brief conversation...

                                                      "Maybe Amara's a mutant too?!!"

No kidding, Dani. What was your first clue... the fact she survived getting tossed into a fire pit or that she turned up looking like a volcano on legs? Still, Amara had considerable difficulties coping with this new side of herself. Luckily, she didn't have to live with herself for too long, because Selene was back and boy, was she hungry!

                                              "You killed her... drained her life essence!"

Selene promised Dani she would soon be able to do the same and that she'd even come to love it. Do note that the colorists tried to cheat a little, giving Amara's bikini bottoms a distinctly pinkish fleshtone. Way to be suggestive, Marvel. Still, with Amara presumed drained, the girl was left alone by Selene who focussed her attentions on her new apprentice Moonstar.

Meanwhile in Nova Roma, Selene's husband had senator Aquilla arrested while Sunspot decided he really needed to find out if the red headed slave he spotted earlier was his mother. Dressing up as a centurion, he snuck out of the palace to look for her. And wouldn't ya know it...

                             "With my help, Gallio will become Nova Roma's first emperor."
            He will then grant your husband the mining concession. A pity you won't be there to see it."

Sunspot easily freed his mother and after a brief reunion, she led a revolt against Gallio along with troops loyal to Aquilla. The senator had been taken to his rival's villa for a very private and oh so illegitimate execution. However, before Nina DaCosta and the gang arrived, the faint but still burning Amara popped out of the ground near her father, begging for his help. And then the cavalry arrived.

                    "All along, we've been helping the wrong side. Now it's time to make amends."

The New Mutants joined the centurions and made short work of Gallio's troops. Before they could take the senator down, the newly freed senator Aquilla insisted he faced his opponent in a duel. Though a portly, lumbering swordfighter, the senator was able to kill his rival in the end. Amara then told the team where Selene was holding Dani. The team went down to the temple and faced Selene who attempted to hold the young mutants at bay with both her mutant and magical powers. Sunspot decided to use extreme force in dealing with Gallio's wife...

"Farewell, demoness!"

And that, as they say, was that... Selene was gone for the moment (but not forgotten) and Amara Aquilla was lined up to become the newest of Xavier's mutants as we'll see in the final chapter of New Mutants Year One. 

*With sincerest apologies to Dean "straight from the bar" Martin....

1 comment:

  1. I stumbled across this. I haven't read it since 1984, when I was the same age as the New Mutants. I hated it when Bill Sienkowitz took over in NM #18. He was fine for the Demon Bear 3 parter, but he was the wrong kind of artist for the book, and I stopped reading it.



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