Saturday, April 18, 2015

1983: New Mutants Year One Part V: Walk Like A Maderian...

By Jef Willemsen (

In the fifth part of our lookback at the New Mutants' early days, the teen team is still coping with the loss of one of their own... And professor Xavier knows the best way to deal with loss: go away on a holiday. Xavier's youngest get shipped off to Rio de Janeiro where rest is the last thing on their minds...

                                           "They're not as tough as they look. are they, Sam?"

As we covered last time, the New Mutants had just survived a fight against Silver Samurai and Viper who had kidnapped Danielle Moonstar. The young teens had the experienced villains on the run, but the spiteful Viper decided to blow up her own mansion while the New Mutants were still in there. As issue #7 showed, pretty much all of them had survived... except for one.

                          "We didn't even catch the bad guys... Shan's killers got clean away!"

Yup, 19 year old Karma, the oldest of the New Mutants, had disappeared after the explosion which was cause enough for Xavier, Lilandra and the X-Men to mount a massive search mission. Do note that this is the first time the senior team appears in New Mutants and that judging from her outfit Storm apparently had a party to go to after the search.

Also, having Rahne still be afraid of Nightcrawler plays into her deeply religious upbringing, though that gets a bit tedious... She's faced monstrous robots, parasitic aliens and cybernetic thugs out to kill her and she throws a fit when a fuzzy blue haired German acrobat brings her some cocoa? Pick your battles, girl...

And even though Shan is still missing, professor Xavier had arranged for a little distractions. Roberto Da Costa's mother Nina showed up to, well, distract... Clever as he is, Charles had invited Nina over for a very particular reason...

            "Roberto, your mother will soon be leading an expedition to the headwaters of the Amazon                  river. She's invited the New Mutants to accompany her. I think that's a splendid idea."

Needless to say, Roberto wasn't that happy about getting shipped off to spend time with his mom, not when he could be out there looking for Xi'an. He even threw quite the fit, but Xavier was adamant. He wanted the New Mutants to go away for a while to, well...enjoy themselves. You have to love the lax curriculum requirements at Xavier's: miss classes for a fortnight or so because you were on a life and death mission in the Savage Land? The headmaster will send you on an all expenses paid holiday for however long you want... Don't worry about finals!

That still didn't fly with Roberto, though... He stormed off, allowing Charles to reveal his true reasons for sending his youngest students away.

         "I am convinced Shan is alive... But the entity that attacked her may strike again. If that                                         happens, I want the New Mutants far away, out of danger."

A noble sentiment, Charlie... But you as a telepath should know that adding distance does very little to stop a psychic entity? The best way to fight a strong telepath is by having a stronger one within shouting distance. But by sending them away with Sunspot's mother, Charles might as well have painted bullseyes on the back of their skulls. Incidentally, it's hardly a spoiler alert 30+ years after the fact, but this "entity" Charles sensed was actually his old enemy the Shadow King. The New Mutants would be facing him (and Karma) a good two years down the line. For now, let's focus on their South American adventure...

Nina insisted that Roberto and his friends stayed at the DaCosta's palatial mansion in Rio de Janeiro where they had dinner with 'berto's father, Emmanual... a wealthy businessman last seen in Marvel Graphic Novel I#4. Claremont wasted no time establishing that Nina en Emmanuel didn't have the best of marriages. That led to this particularly nerve-wrecking scene over dinner...

                                  "Stop it, both of you! In mercy's name, shut up!
                                        Don't you see you're tearing me apart?!?"

You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who can't relate to this particular, cringe worthy situation... When your elders are fighting before your friends, basically showing the terrible, disfunctional dynamic you'd been trying so hard to hide from the outside world. And the sad truth of the matter is, just like Roberto says, the parents have no idea that their passive agressive bitchiness is like a bitter poison to all those around them.

It's interesting to note that Claremont at this point already proved himself to be a fine writer with an undeniable knack for subtle pacing who would add unexpected but oh-so relatable layers of emotional depth to his characters. That having said, by 1983 Chris could still behave like a good ol' trope enabling hack, in the kindest sense of the word. For instance, when you say Rio de Janeiro, one of the first things that comes to mind is the annual "carnaval" celebration.

That's not lost on just about every writer who brings their characters to Rio: it's almost always during carnaval. Which considering that celebration only lasts 6 days means it's a small miracle all those heroes never ran into each another. Be that as it may, it added a bit of flash and color and allowed for scenes like this...


Fifteen year old Sam just got his first "proper" kiss, which left him slightly embarrassed but not as much as Rahne Sinclair who began to act like the team's unwanted moral conscience. Dani Moonstar tried to get the Scottish redhead to loosen up a little and took her for a little outfit shopping, visiting nearby Sal's Costume Shop (undoubtedly named after the issue's penciller Sal Buscema). However, just as they were starting to have fun...

                                                                      "We got her!"

The New Mutants immediately jumped into action, recognizing the signature armored outfits of the Hellfire Club. However, before Cannonball or one of the others could stop the getaway car, they met the villain of the story... Mr. T....erm, Axe. Mr. Axe.

                       "I'm AXE!! Mess with me, you be chopped down to size... you dig?!"

Now, I'm not saying that Chris Claremont was inspired by the popularity of A-Team star Mr. T, who was the breakout character on the NBC hit series that debuted in January of 1983... I'm not saying that at all. And I pity the fool who thinks there are any kind of similarities that would hold up in court...

Well, maybe the whole "axe" thing was original... But then again, that's exactly how a stereotypical African-American would pose a question, wouldn't it?

Axe was hired by the Hellfire Club. In fact, the entire kidnapping of Nina DaCosta was arranged by Sebastian Shaw who was planning to get Emmanuel to join the Inner Circle. A shrewd business man in his own right, DaCosta insisted that Shaw first proved his worth which led to the convoluted mission Axe and the Hellfire henchmen were sent on. They were ordered to prevent Nina DaCosta from going on that Amazon expedition, but not hurt her in the process. Eventually, the New Mutants tracked Axe and Nina down, courtesy of Wolfsbane's enhanced senses. Sunspot himself was so enraged over his mother's fate, he beat the mutant Axe all by himself. Nina was freed and ready to go on her expedition, which didn't sit well with Shaw and her husband.

                                "Whatever happens, Nina's expedition will not succeed.
                                                  She will not reach the Maderia"

Shaw insisted he would make sure that didn't happen, but it would take until halfway of issue #8 to find out just why DaCosta was so adamant to keep his wife from charting the rainforest. Spoiler alert: it wasn't because he was too concerned with her well being. In fact, it was mostly about his own bottom line... As explained in this scene from #8...

                                        "The evening's entertainment, my friend"

So, turns out Roberto's father is a criminal too... A good twenty years before 2003's Runaways would make headlines for having young heroes whose parents were secretly villains, we had Chris Claremont doing the same to most of his New Mutants... Karma had her crooked uncle Nguyen Ngoc Coy, Wolfsbane was raised by a religious zealot, Dani Moonstar's parents had involuntarily become part of the malevolent Demon Bear entity and now Sunspot's papa was an evil business tycoon. Only Sam Guthrie's parents were beyond reproach... Even though that was mostly because his father died young and his mom Lucinda was too busy bringing up the young 'uns to embark on a life of crime. Come to think of it, Sam started out on the wrong side of the track too.

It all works out... More or less.

                              "Her name is Rahne Sinclair and she's not at all what she seems"

In New Mutants I#8, the team finally reached the Amazon which led to this gorgeous opening page. Sal Buscema really outdid himself with the detailled pencil work on both the foliage and Wolfsbane. Coming up with wolf-like creatures is easy, drawing an actual, anatomically correct wolf... that's art. It's almost a shame Chris Claremont felt the need to obstruct so much of the page with his copy which mostly lists facts and figures about the rainforest.

The teens and Mrs. DaCosta had been on a yacht cruising up the Amazon, heading for the mouth of the river. While that sounds like a leisurely way to spend the day, they were still tasked to train their powers, using the forest as a biological Danger Room of sorts.

                            "Now, he can maneuver. The feeling is indescribably wonderful."

Unfortunately, despite all the progress he's made in controlling his flight path, Sam still has trouble seeing the forest from the trees...

                                                     "The fool... he toppled that tree!"

Luckily Sunspot was more than capable of dealing with a tree trunk. After completing their exercises, the New Mutants decide to check in with professor Xavier back at the mansion. 

"You're better off where you are. At the moment, I have my hands full dealing with new arrivals amongst the X-Men and training Team America. If you're needed, I'll contact you"

Talk about your classic "don't call us, we'll call you!" brush off. While Xavier's reasoning is sound enough, it undoubtedly stung the New Mutants that only a few short weeks earlier they were the professor's primary concern and priority... And now they're shipped off to another continent while he spends his time with the X-Men and a bunch of motor cyclists. How quickly the wheel turns... Still, it's a nice nod to both continuity and the ongoing storylines in Uncanny X-Men, where a month earlier (#171) Rogue had shown up at the school, looking for help.

With nothing better to do, the New Mutants continued their trip, unaware that Sebastian Shaw had bribed some of the yacht's crew to make sure the expedition would end badly. Not only did they quietly disable the engines, one of them tossed a bucket of chum in the piranha infested waters just as Dani Moonstar was swimming there. Cannonball got her out of the drink, but crashlanded on the other shore where they are attacked by a group of not too friendly local tribesmen. They run off when the yacht arrived, but Sam and Dani still decided to take a prisoner because, hey... why not?

                         "The Indians were watching the boat... But for how long and why?"

The answer to that question will have to wait. For now, the New Mutants had other problems like the crew realizing their passengers were mutant freaks. Luckily, the captain calmed them down, but nerves were frayed. Having a native as a prisoner below decks also didn't improve the mood, especially because it might mean the locals could return for her. She did however pose an interesting mystery...

                                "Who are you, girl? Where the devil do you come from?!"

Later that night, the bribed crewmen make their move, taking out the New Mutants by poisoning their food and locking them all up while they further disable the yacht. Of course, Sunspot can break free but that's when Claremont throws in another tired trope even children's cartoons try to avoid because it's so hackneyed: whenever you're on a boat on a river, there's always a giant waterfall you're about to go down... Case in point...

                                                         "We're about to hit the rapids!"

And before you can sing "Itsy bitsy pleasure yacht/went down the rapids' wrath/down came the boat/and washed the mutants out"... the boat crashed on the rocks, with the New Mutants grabbing all the survivors they could. Roberto's mother was nowhere to be found and, after a quick splash of water, neither was the Indian girl they'd captured...

                                                                   "GLORY!                        Her skin's white as my own and her hair's blonde! She was in diguise!"

Way to point out the bleedin' obvious, Chris... Also, even in the 1980s having a character in what is essentially blackface feels a bit tacky, not to mention a tad unrealistic. All the brown facepaint in the world can't make a Caucasian girl pass for a convincing Amazonian. Speaking of unrealistic, Take a moment to read Rahne's dialogue, do you know any 13 year old girl who talks like that while she's just survived a boat crash in the middle of the jungle?

But, as always, they had bigger fish to fry...

"You are prisoners of the 4th maniple, 1st cohort, Thunderclap Legion and henceforth...
slaves of Imperial Rome!!

... Well, of course they are. But more on that next time when the New Mutants visit New Rome where they'll encounter a very old enemy...

1 comment:

  1. It's funny how many Marvel artists in the 80s depicted characters with mohawks.......seems like mohawks, earrings, and eye patches were goto devices to show a character was "badass" reality, running into someone with a Mohawk would be VERY rare, at least where I grew up........I'm not sure if the look was more popular in NYC, but I doubt it.




Related Posts with Thumbnails