Thursday, April 23, 2015

1984: New Mutants Year One Part VII: We Didn't Start The Fire (Amara's always burning!)*

By Jef Willemsen (

In the seventh and final part of our lookback at the New Mutants' early days, the teens finally wrap up their South American holiday and return home with their newest member Amara, who coughs up a volcano whenever she gets upset... Which she does. A lot.

The New Mutants took their merry time getting home. They spent their entire 12th issue wrapping up the extensive Rio de Janeiro/Nova Roma storyline. For one thing, we learn that Roberto's mother decided to stay behind in the Amazon while Amara's dad told her to go back with the American mutants to learn how to control her powers. Which wasn't the worst idea...

                                                      "You're talking nonsense, child"

Tell that to the fresh lava plume in your living room, senator. Amara packed her bags and said goodbye to Nova Roma, venturing out into the real world for the first time. Going from ancient Rome to modern day Rio de Janeiro can be quite the culture shock. Luckily, the New Mutants spent another two weeks (!) vacationing in the city. During that time, Sunspot decided to pay his father a little visit, after all it was Emmanual DaCosta's greed that had almost gotten them killed.

"Find some other land to exploit. If you make a move into that hidden valley, I'll know."

After a heart breaking falling out, Roberto left the man he once called father. Disheartened and emotional, DaCosta the elder made a decision and called a certain New York gentleman's club.

                                               "Regarding your invitation to join
                          the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club, Sebastian... I accept."

And with that subtle scene, Claremont set up another storyline for his second year on the title. Having Emmanuel as a prominent member of one of the X-Men's most implacable foes could lead to all kinds of interesting conflicts. Speaking of hellfire, things were about to heat up in Rio as well. Amara, still not quite used to this new world, was being harrassed on the beach...

                                               "I am no strumpet, dog! Unhand me, or...
                                                          Blessed Minerva, NO!"

Afraid of her powers and scared she might actually hurt her new friends, Amara ran off. The New Mutants did their best to chase her, but the upset Amara kept triggering tiny tremors that unleased sufficient sulphur into the atmosphere to confuse Wolfsbane's senses. After several hours of walking around in her bikini without sufficient protection, Amara began to suffer from heatstroke and started to hallucinate. In her fever dreams, she unwillingly created a gigantic volcano that engulfed all of Rio in molten rock.

By the way, how ironic and unbelievable is it to have the girl who can become lava on legs get stricken with heatstroke? Eventually, the New Mutants tracked Amara down (which wasn't that hard, they simply followed her trail of destruction to one of the favellas where a poor family had taken the delirious girl in. Dani Moonstar quickly and correctly diagnosed her condition. Curing it was another challenge altogether.

                                      "We'll have to cool her down right here and now!
                                      Sam, 'Berto, find me all the ice you can carry!"

The two boys flew off together and spotted a nearby ice delivery truck. They also noticed that a volcano was starting to form in the heart of Rio harbor, Amara's powers were subconsciously making her fever dream come true. With time of the utmost essence, Sunspot picked up the truck and Sam, in a supreme effort, flew both his teammate and their cargo back to the favella. Thanks to the ice, Amara rapidly recovered...

             "I see now I cannot do so by myself. Like it or not, I need your professor Xavier"

We all need professor Xavier, Amara... That's why issue 13, appropriately titled "School Daysze", reunited the mutants with their mentor. A man sworn to protect these minors with his very life, yet didn't think twice to let them roam around Rio unsupervised for a week or two. Now, technically speaking, we're already on the New Mutants' second year in the business. Still, it's necessary to include this issue in the review because it very neatly bookends the New Mutants' earliest days at the school.

Remember how back in Marvel Graphic Novel I#4, the proto team went to Rio de Janeiro to recruit Roberto Da Costa? A year later they were in Rio again to gain another new member in Amara. In the New Mutants' debut issue, they had their proper introduction to the school and first go in the Danger Room. History is about to repeat itself for Amara.

                               "Professor, are none of my thoughts to be secret or sacred?"

A valid and fair question, Amara... Imagine how freaked out you'd be if you arrived at a boarding school on another continent only to find your room was an exact replica of your bedroom back home. Then, the headmaster calmly informs you he telepathically plucked the necessary information from your mind "to make you feel more at home".

It's amazing Amara wasn't so shocked she produced a lethal lava spout right then and there. But, Charles being Charles, he assured his newest student he'd never enter her mind without permission (even though he already did when he played interior decorator). Amara believed her honored teacher, though when she caused a brief tremor in a moment of panic a little while later, Xavier did this...

                                    "I'd best maintain a constant, light rapport with her.
That way, I can monitor her emotional state and prevent any accidental tectonic catastrophies."

Well, so much for telepaths respecting a person's privacy. You might say the professor isn't actively sifting through her mind, but this "constant, light rapport" is like wire tapping someone's phone or checking her social media output every second of the day. And worst of all, he doesn't even tell her. 

In yet another attempt to make Amara feel more welcome, the New Mutants decided to throw her a get-to-know-you barbecue. During the preparations, Claremont took a little time to flesh out the New Mutants' personalities some more, finally bringing romance and teenage hormones into play. Amara's arrival had heated things up considerably. Cannonball was immediately taken with her, which didn't sit well with Wolfsbane who harbored a secret crush on Sam.

Meanwhile, Roberto acted like a true casanova, much to Dani Moonstar's chagrin who would have loved to be courted this way. Maybe lose the hat, it isn't you...

"That riff's working on Amara, she's actually smiling. I wish he'd use it once on me."

Of course, nothing came of this supposed rivalry and Roberto was merely being courteous to Amara, making sure she felt okay about coming downstairs for dinner in her fanciest gown, while the others were dressed casually.

Amara briefly met Stevie Hunter, who by then had been officially signed on as a teacher at the school. Just as she was starting to relax, Cannonball came flying in, carrying a box of sodas for the party. When he spotted Amara, the lovestruck teen decided to impress his crush with some fancy mid-air manoeuvring. And, well, you can guess what happened next...

                                                                 "Amara, ah'm real sorry."

Thoroughly embarrassed by the incident, her powers kicked in, accidentally forming a small chasm Dani almost dropped into. Amara didn't even see this, she was too busy running towards the woods behind the school to have a proper cry. It's easy to dismiss her as a big ol' crybaby (and to be fair, she's fairly emotional) but considering her background as a Nova Roman senator's only child, she was raised with outdated ideas on the importance of grace and dignity, both in appearance and actions. Getting covered in sticky grape soda, while wearing your finest attire at a celebration thrown in your honor... Oy, the humanity. And, oy again... how Amara wished she was actually part of humanity.

                                            "If he fails... I cannot allow myself to live."

Those are some pretty dark thoughts, though plenty of teens have felt so thoroughly miserable at one point or another they briefly entertained the notion of ending it all. And that's even without seemingly uncontrollable, potentially catastrophic mutant powers. While Amara remained by herself in the woods, Claremont decided to fully benefit from having the New Mutants at the school again by checking in on another young mutant: Kitty Pryde.

She'd been visiting with her friend Doug Ramsey, in his first appearance. She and Doug immediately hit it off when they met at Stevie Hunter's dance studio and found out they had a lot in common. Computers, for instance... Kitty roped Doug along into hacking into the Hellfire Club's systems only to end up in the database of the government run Project: Wideawake. Their poking around activated a Sentinel that attacked Shaw before Henry Peter Gyrich triggered its self destruct sequence. All in all, Kitty was pretty pleased with herself.

                                                             "Can they trace us, Doug?"

Ironically, in 1984 you enjoyed far greater online anonymity than nowadays. If Kitty and Doug tried a stunt like that today, the authorities would be kicking down the door to Doug's room well before they even got past the first firewall. Also, note how 30+ years ago, Sal Buscema basically figured a computer was like an electric typewriter with a screen? (which, to be fair, they basically were). All that hacking had caused Kitty to completely forget the time. Realizing she was late for a training session with the X-Men, she rushed home and phased her way to the woods to save time. Guess who she bumped into...

        "It always happens this way, whenever I try to talk to someone my own age I screw it up."

Shades of Liz Lemon aside, Kitty Pryde was about to prove her own point again when she continued her trek towards the mansion and ran into the New Mutants. Claremont established there was no love lost between Shadowcat and the "X-Babies" as she called the team. The rivalry had begun behind the scenes of Uncanny X-Men I#168, in which Xavier had briefly demoted her from an X-Man to becoming a New Mutant. This led to the now classic "Professor Xavier is a jerk!" line. Incidentally, that quote became more and more true with every new misdeed and crime that Charles had committed over the years. 

                                                                     "I can take a hint."
                                                     "... Do better than that. Take a hike."

Ouch, talk about a burn. Add to that Xavier's crimson red, furious psi-call and Kitty was in deep trouble. Charles chastized the youngest X-Man for slacking off, missing a scheduled training exercise with the X-Men and continuing to refer to the New Mutants as "X-Babies" when two of them were actually older than her. He then refocussed his attention to Amara, who had sobbed herself to sleep. He directed the New Mutants to find their teammate and bring her home. The next day, she was to have her first real go in the Danger Room, complete with X-costume and a brand new codename!

                   "Since your talent involves the manipulation of lava and tectonic forces,
                                              "Magma" seemed most appropriate."

Good to see you got a bit more inventive with those codenames after sticking your first batch of students with clunkers like "Beast" and "Iceman", Charlie. And while Magma is a fine sounding name, how exactly will it protect Amara's identity if her face is still there for anyone to see and recognize?

At any rate, Magma freaked out when Xavier proposed she burned through the block of steel lowered into place by Stevie Hunter. Already spooked about having to use her powers, she completely lost it when Charles announced he'd be in her mind to make sure nothing went wrong. Feeling he had violated his earlier promise, Amara became furious and ran off... Boy, imagine how she'd respond if she found out Xavier had been eavesdropping on her all along?

Later that night, when she calmed down a little, Amara came out of her room and went down to the professor's study to make amends. When she neared his quarters, she noticed a remarkable white blue light emanating from his office. Charles was catching up with his ladylove, Lilandra Neramani who had only recently left Earth with the Starjammers in Uncanny X-Men I#174. 

Amara couldn't help but listen in...

                                                 "I'll be waiting. Farewell, my love.
                                                     Fare thee well, my heart."

Sharing such a personal experience caused Charles and Amara to open up to one another. If nothing else, this brief scene showed just how much Xavier himself had grown over the past year as the New Mutants' teacher (even if he sent them away for about 6 months of it). Charles had become far more open and personable, no longer the strict, almost uncaring taskmaster of old who brooked no opposition, handing out demerits like they were going out of style. 

                                              "Have you ever failed with a student?"
                                       "Oh, yes! But that will never stop me trying!"

... Run, Amara, run right now! Go on girl, you're so good at it! All kidding aside, Xavier had learned to relate to the newest generation of mutants, which was a theme that would continue well into the second year of New Mutants.

They would gain two more, rather unusual, members in Warlock and Magik. They'd also have the first encounter with their somewhat evil counterparts the Hellions. All that, plus the demon S'ym came a-callin', while Xavier and the X-Men went missing during the first Secret Wars. Not to mention the techno-organic threat of Warlock's dad and the arrival of artist Bill Sienkiewicz looming on the horizon.

The teen team was headed for great things in the mid 80s, but none of it would have gotten off the ground if Chris Claremont, Bob McLeod and Sal Buscema hadn't laid the foundation in those initial 12 or 13 issues. They may not have been the first or last batch of freshmen to walk the halls of Xavier's, but the New Mutants added a lasting class to the X-universe.

*with sincere apologies to Billy Joel.


  1. Great work Jason, sincerely enjoyed reading your essay on the New Mutants. Enjoyed those comics immensely when then first came out, and the best was just around the corner. Maybe a 'year two' essay sometime? Thanks again, was a true pleasure.

  2. Hey there, thanks for the comment, but I can't take any of the credit. All of these wonderful posts are Jef's hard work!



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