REVIEW: New Mutants Forever: The Fall of Nova Roma”
Chris Claremont (writer); Al Rio (penciller); Bob McLeod (inker); Guru EFX (colorist); Tom Orzechowski (letterer); collected in trade 2011, originally published between 2010 & 2011 (months not given in the trade indicia).
Issue 1, “Shadows in the Night”: The New Mutants are staying the night at the Hellfire Club’s NYC headquarters after the big dance/race with the Hellions in #54 (see below). While Doug helps Amara determine whether Selene’s claim that they’re related, the others go to Central Park (right outside the club). While in the park, they are attacked by armed men, and they discover that Amara’s father is one of their targets. The armed men rush the club, resulting in Rahne & Emma being hurt, and only stop fighting when they are killed en masse. In the fight, Doug & Amara are kidnapped. Amara’s father reveals he was trying to warn the Club (Selene in particular) about someone targeting Nova Roma & their family... someone that the two kidnapped kids learn is the Red Skull.
Issue 2, “Fight in the Favela”: Bobby & Warlock are visiting Rio when they get a frantic call from his mother, who is being pursued by the Red Skull’s men to stop her from getting help. She is hurt, but the two of them fend off the soldiers and decide to meet up with their old teammates to save Nova Roma (where Mrs. daCosta had been working). Meanwhile, Doug & Amara meet another captive, a Nova Roman named Tiberius, and they start hatching an escape plan. However, before anything can be done, the three are brainwashed, with Doug being injected with a serum that turns him into a Red Skull. When the New Mutants & Selene arrive to free Nova Roma, the three appear as the Skull’s attack dogs.
Issue 3, “To Sacrifice Selene?!”: A big fight ensues, with Bobby captured by Tiberius, Warlock convinced the Red Skull-alike is a stranger who killed Doug, and Selene getting injected with the Red Skull serum. After beating a hasty retreat to Limbo to brainstorm, the half-changed Selene reveals that her love & concern for Nova Roma is genuine and that she will not rest until her home is liberated & her granddaughter saved. Thanks to one of her priests willingly offering his life to her to heal her, Selene is saved & she prepares with the kids to rally her people. After killing a group of centurions for the Skull’s amusement (and getting a telling glare from Tiberius), Doug starts to recover his memories of his true self... just in time for Warlock to show up & decide to avenge his best friend’s “death”.
Issue 4, “Living a Nightmare”: During their fight, Warlock quickly realized that the Red Skull-alike is Doug and that his friend is deliberately holding back in the fight, as he is being watched & cannot reveal he has recovered his memories. He also finds himself bothered by the fact that he enjoys the added physical power that his transformation has given him. Selene & the others rally the people of Nova Roma to lead a charge against the Skull’s men and seem to be succeeding. When Warlock & Doug attack the Skull from within, however, they discover that Amara is now under the control of the telepathic Tiberius and that he was biding his time to take over Nova Roma himself with Amara as his bride & Doug mutated further into a bestial, savage Skull-variant.
Issue 5, “Shall We Rise Again?”: Tiberius’s powers lead the people of Nova Roma to turn against Selene & the New Mutants in another massive fight. Warlock springs Bobby from prison hoping to give them some more power, but he too is put under Tiberius’s control. Tiberius starts to melt Selene down only to be taken out by Doug, who’s had quite enough of these constant mutations & enslavements. The kids debate whether Tiberius should be killed (as Doug is afraid that he will become more monstrous if he actually does it), but the Red Skull neatly answers that dilemma with a sniper shot while beating a hasty retreat. Back at the mansion, Warlock finds a way to heal Doug from all the damage done to him, even if it means risking an infection with his techno-virus; Rahne recovers from her injuries; and Selene & Amara makes amends to come together as a family.
Continuity Notes: Much like its sister series X-Men Forever, this mini is built around the notion of Chris Claremont picking up where he left off after departing the title with issue #54 back in the 80s (this and issue #53 are included in the trade for context, as well as being good reads). Despite this, the costumes have been revised and modernized, and the characters use modern technology like cell phones & wifi. It’s probably part of that “sliding timeline” thing Marvel likes to do.
- It is established that Doug has had ample self-defense & martial arts training to compensate for his non-physical superpowers. Why this perfectly logical bit of info was never done in the 80s is beyond me.
- A central plot conceit is built around Selene being Amara’s grandmother. Selene being her ancestor was teased in issue #53, but it was never confirmed or denied (to my knowledge) outright in regular continuity.
- Dani & Rahne aren’t in this story outside of issue #1. Rahne is shot, and Dani has to hang back to help her fend off Death. Literally – Hela is just itching to claim one of Dani’s friends in that issue.
- According to Major Spoilers’ review of the Captain America “Nomad” stories from the 70s, the Red Skull’s formula to turn people into subordinate Red Skulls is a long-established element.
- I’m not sure where in continuity Roberto & Warlock partying at Rio would fit into continuity, since I think they were supposed to be part of the Fallen Angels at this time (I haven’t read that mini yet, but it’s on the way in the mail). Maybe they just left?
- I’m also not sure how Kitty could be there for the ending (and the narration) when, according to continuity, she at Muir Island at this point. And I think Storm & Wolverine were travelling, too. I’m usually not a Continuity Cop, but her presence especially struck me as an obvious mistake.
Old School Throwback: This book was hand-lettered. While the coloring was digital, the lettering was not. That’s pretty neat.
Comments: When I saw what the major plot of this was, I laughed; it felt like Claremont went down the list of traditional comic book baddies and realized that the box next to “Nazis” wasn’t checked. Overall, it wasn’t agonizingly bad, but damn, did it get dull. You’d think I’d like it with the heavy focus on Doug & the promise of Nazi-punching, but it just struck me as dull and padded. After the fifth time you get a “gee, am I okay with this mind control or not” ponderance, I started to skim read. It isn’t as bad as your average Claremont hater would make it out to be, but it definitely feels like him on auto-pilot.
Besides the over-emphasis on mind control as a plot device (again, an expected problem with modern-day Claremont), I was bothered by the narration. Until the last few pages of the last issue, you have no idea that the narrator is a person in the story, let alone Kitty specifically. It’s weirdly chatty and makes random, sometimes tonally inappropriate jokes, and even once you realize that a person actually is behind the little yellow boxes, it doesn’t feel like the tone fits Kitty as a character. Don’t ask me why that more than anything bothered me, but it did.
One of the things with this that really surprised me was that your hero, more or less, is Selene. She seems like an odd choice of characters to redeem, but she is shown to value her bloodline/family, and she is especially protective of Nova Roma. It seems to build off the only thing I liked in the “Nova Roma isn’t real” retcon – that Selene was only happy during Ancient Roman days & wanted them to last. She loves Nova Roma, she is good to her people there, and she has a reputation as a great protector. It seems an odd choice so late in the game to give a villain usually written as monstrous & one-dimensional a redemption arc, but it’s one of the most successful elements in the story. This plot, more than anything, makes this exercise worthwhile.
The art is interesting. While there’s nothing particularly amazing about Al Rio’s art, his updates of the costumes looked really good & his action scenes are sharp. And props for Selene’s battle dress, when she finally finds her big-girl clothes and some spiffy looking armor. One little touch I liked is that many of the Nova Romans have indigenous looks & dress, answering a question I’ve had about how a small population could sustain itself for long; the art answered a plot hole that has bugged me for years with its details, and I appreciate that. Having the co-creator of the New Mutants title ink everything gives it a bit of an appropriate throwback-ish feel as well. Me being me, though, I am curious as to how the Hellions’ costumes could have been modernized. Maybe it’s just as well, though, since they’d be shoe-horned into the plot probably as goons.
So overall, while I’m kind of disappointed in this mini, it still had elements I liked. I liked the art & the stuff with Selene, but the rest felt like wheel-spinning. It’s not as bad as I feared, and I’m not mad I’ve read it, but maybe the New Mutants are best left to either move on in the modern books or dwell in my back issues. Except for those Bill Sienkiewicz variant covers. I want a poster of that #3 cover with the Magma/Warlock fight – so gorgeous.
And finally, Warlock is not Doug’s “alien brother”. Don’t try & nerf the OTP you gave me at this late stage, Mr. Claremont.