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Thursday, December 11, 2014

X-amining New Mutants #81

"Faith"
November 1989

In a Nutshell
Magma questions her faith during an encounter with Hercules. 

Guest Writer: Chris Claremont
Guest Penciler: Louise Williams
Penciler: Terry Shoemaker (pp 1-3, 25)
Guest Inker: Josef Rubinstein 
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Greg Wright
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
Creators: Chris Claremont & Bob McLeod

Plot
In Nova Roma, Amara and Empath discuss religion, with Amara asking Empath to prove his God is real. He counters with the same request, and Amara says she's met hers. In the past, Amara and the New Mutants watch a movie starring Hercules. While her friends find the movie unintentionally funny, Amara is troubled by the buffoonish portrayal of someone who is one of her gods. That night, she prays to Jove, who answers her prayers by sending Hercules to visit her. However, Amara just believes him to be the actor from the movie. Rousing the New Mutants out of bed, they go outside, where Hercules tries to prove his validity by showing off his powers, but the New Mutants, who can match his feats themselves, are unimpressed. When Hercules attempts to transport himself and Amara to Olympus, he gets no response from his father who, watching from Olympus, explains to the rest of the gods that he's punishing Hercules for the travesty of a movie he made.


Hercules insists on proving himself to Amara, and while the rest of the New Mutants go back to bed, she goes into the city with him. In New York City, the pair stop a robbery, but in the aftermath, Amara grows weary of Hercules' boastful celebrations, and leaves. Outside, a building suddenly explodes, and Amara uses her powers to save as many people as she can, soon joined by Hercules. However, she is knocked unconscious trying to rescue a teenager and his baby brother, and Hercules saves them all after the boy calls for help. Later, he and Amara visit the boy in the hospital, where they learn he's dying, his lungs damaged by calling for help. Hercules spends the night with him, honoring his spirit and easing his passing by telling tales of his adventures. Convinced at last of his godhood, Amara and Hercules leave as friends, while Jove declares that though the boy was not of their faith, he will always have a place in Fields of Elysium. Back in Nova Roma, Amara finishes her tale, and Empath points out that perhaps his faith is stronger, having nothing but belief to go on. Amara wonders why one belief must stand triumphant over the other, but is nonetheless thankful for the reaffirmation of her faith she once received. 

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue, a fill-in held over from his time on the series, marks Chris Claremont's last contribution to New Mutants. A caption on the splash page explains that the series fell prey to the Dreaded Deadline Doom, which is why we're getting a Magma-centric story set in the series' past in the middle of the ongoing Asgardian story.

This is also Amara's final appearance in the series, and it leaves her still in Nova Roma falling for Empath and wondering if her feelings for him are real. Years down the road, she'll pop up again briefly in New Warriors, then appear in the "Childs Play" crossover between that series and X-Force.

The Hercules from the movie and the one Amara interacts with are the same person; Hercules works as an actor when not with the Avengers.

The Chronology Corner
This issue occurs between issue #44 and #45 of the series (during the time when Claremont was doing a series of character-focused, standalone stories, just prior to "Mutant Massacre" and the ensuing shakeup).

Hercules appears prior to his incapacitation by the Masters of Evil in the Avengers' "Under Siege" story, specifically between Avengers #266 and #267.

A Work in Progress
There's a bit where Hercules, trying to prove he's the real deal to Amara, shows off his powers, while the New Mutants counter that they mean nothing, because anything he can do, they can do. Which is really dumb. A. They're only approximating what he's doing, not mimicking it exactly B. The fact that he can do ANYTHING a super-powered mutant can do is proof he's more than just a regular actor.


Teebore's Take
While the timing of this particular fill-in issue could be better, falling as it does smack dab in the middle of a long-running storyline that's really just getting started, narratively-speaking (which just makes the ending of it feel even more drawn out), as a stand alone story removed from those considerations, it's actually not all that bad. Religion is a tricky subject in any medium, and the Marvel Universe complicates it even further by having characters meant to represent actual gods rubbing elbows with its otherwise mortal characters. For the most part, this status quo goes unremarked upon, and writers are careful not to offend the religious sensibilities of any modern readers (this subject always makes me think of a random issue of Avengers in which Thor removes his helmet when entering a Christian church out of respect).

But there is some interesting material to be mined from the fact that there are least a few Avengers who were straight-up worshiped by humans at one point in time, and when you combine that with Magma, a character who comes from a hidden society still practicing one of those ancient religions, it makes sense to do a story built around faith and religious beliefs. It also helps that, while on the team, Magma was one of the most underdeveloped characters, someone who, after her initial introductory arc, faded mostly into the background despite the wealth of storytelling possibilities surrounding her.

The end result is a done-in-one that makes for a nice companion to the Larry Bodine story in issue #45, a thought-provoking tale that puts a rumination on a complicated issue ahead of the usual superheroics. It's biggest sin, ultimately, is one of timing, suffering by disrupting the flow of an already long-running story and starring a character who long since left the series and won't be coming back anytime soon.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Iceman battles Archangel in X-Factor #46. Next week, Uncanny X-Men #252 and Excalibur #14. 

11 comments:

  1. I can't remember, does this issue acknowledge the fact that the New Mutants already met and fought Hercules, and not that long ago given the time frame? (I.e., in New Mutants #40)

    I feel like it doesn't, and I think that bothered me when I first read it.

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  2. "There's a bit where Hercules, trying to prove he's the real deal to Amara, shows off his powers, while the New Mutants counter that they mean nothing, because anything he can do, they can do. Which is really dumb. A. They're only approximating what he's doing, not mimicking it exactly B. The fact that he can do ANYTHING a super-powered mutant can do is proof he's more than just a regular actor."
    I think the idea is that Amara doesn't believe Hercules is the real Hercules at first because he doesn't live up to the stories she's heard about him. The other New Mutants just look like idiots though- they have no problem accepting that Loki, the Warriors Three, etc. are real gods and S'ym is a real demon, so why do they find it so hard to believe that Hercules is a real god?
    The other problem is that Hercules is a world famous hero- a member of the Avengers. But the New Mutants refer to him as "the jerk from the movie". None of them recognize him as an Avenger, not even Bobby who idolizes Captain America and Thor.
    "I can't remember, does this issue acknowledge the fact that the New Mutants already met and fought Hercules, and not that long ago given the time frame? (I.e., in New Mutants #40)

    I feel like it doesn't, and I think that bothered me when I first read it."
    No, New Mutants 40 isn't referenced. The New Mutants' adventure in Asgard is referenced, so this has to take place after they return home in X-Men 200. I have to wonder if Claremont intended this to take place after X-Men 200 but before Bobby left in New Mutants 37. If that's the case, then we should have seen a footnote, because it's a relatively narrow timeframe.

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  3. Well, they only met and fought for a few panels, and it isn't like they all introduced themselves to each other during that issue...

    Clamontism! From that first panel you posted, "It is past time..."

    "The fact that he can do ANYTHING a super-powered mutant can do is proof he's more than just a regular actor."

    True, but that still doesn't make him a God, just another super-powered mutant. Although given his strength, his feats should be much more impressive...

    Overall, it's a good issue, and like you said, the timing is off. It would have maybe worked better had it been a fill-in coming out right before or right after the Asgard storyline. But if nothing else, it is a good (unintentional) send-off for Amara.

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  4. Louise Simonson takes a month off, but Louise Williams provides pencils. There must always be a Louise!

    As others have said, Hercules is an Avenger. Even if the New Mutants hadn't met him at this point, they would surely have seen him on TV. This whole premise seems flawed.

    "...Magma was one of the most underdeveloped characters..."

    Don't worry, Terry Dodson fixed that.

    (I apologize; I think I made that same joke once before about Rachel or someone.)

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  5. In those character pieces of Marvel Universe Official Handbook they occasionally say of the god characters that "People of Earth are know him as a superhero but generally don't believe him/her to be a god". There could acceptably be a human superhero by the code name of "Hercules" who got a bit of muscle and is full of himself just like there is one in the Thunderbolts by the code name of "Atlas" .

    I love how all the Avengers known to hit almost as hard as Thor have a movie career.

    But, if Amara is supposed to be familiar to the demi-god/hero Hercules of myths, she should know that he reallyis a rowdy fucker and a bit of a buffoon... and should probably not be allowed anywhere near a teen boy in these times that we live.

    I almost brought it up with Ba'al already: as ancient religions go the fertility cults seem to ill fit with the Judeo-Christian base values of the American comics medium. The Biblical approach is a bit harsh towards the Canaanites, and Frey and Freya are completely ignored in the Marvel Asgard circles even if they didn't lose anything in importance to Thor or Odin back in the day. The warrior types get away with anything, not so the sex folks.

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  6. @Jason: I feel like it doesn't, and I think that bothered me when I first read it.

    It doesn't. Theoretically, you could put this issue before it, but that just moves the problem to issue #40. :)

    @anonymous: I think the idea is that Amara doesn't believe Hercules is the real Hercules at first because he doesn't live up to the stories she's heard about him.

    I get that. My issue is more, as you said, with the New Mutants.

    he other problem is that Hercules is a world famous hero- a member of the Avengers. But the New Mutants refer to him as "the jerk from the movie".

    The idea seems to be that not only do they not believe Hercules is Amara's god, they just think he's the actor from the movie who, as far as they assume, is just a bad actor.

    Except once he starts lifting cars and junk, he's clearly more than just a regular actor. Sure, maybe Amara doesn't buy that he's same as *her* Hercules, but he's clearly SOME kind of super-being. And, at that point, they should realize he's maybe the same as the Avenger Hercules (again, even if Amara doesn't think that Hercules is her god).

    @Matt: There must always be a Louise!

    Ha! I actually meant to point out that Louise Williams was the artist on this issue, simply because I have never heard of her before or after this issue.

    As others have said, Hercules is an Avenger. Even if the New Mutants hadn't met him at this point, they would surely have seen him on TV.

    This is my own fanwank, but I like to think that much the same way Thor unfairly overshadows Hercules in the minds of Avengers fans, he does the same thing to people in the Marvel Universe.

    If this was Thor, the New Mutants would be like "cool, Thor! He's an Avenger" whereas with Hercules they're like "well, I guess he was an Avenger once or twice".

    Still, once he starts showing off his powers, they really should have made the connection, no matter how overshadowed Hercules may be by Thor.

    @Teemu: I love how all the Avengers known to hit almost as hard as Thor have a movie career.

    Ha! I never really made that connection before.

    The warrior types get away with anything, not so the sex folks.

    Yeah, that's the ridiculous double standard that exists within much of American culture. Depictions of violence get a lot of leeway, but as soon as someone shows a boob or alludes to sex a bit too pointedly, it's all "won't someone *please* think of the children?!?"

    There's a strain of puritanism deeply embedded in our culture that we just can't seem to shake off...





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  7. "It doesn't. Theoretically, you could put this issue before it, but that just moves the problem to issue #40. :)"

    SHUT UP ISSUE FORTY IS PERFECTION

    Seriously, though, I'm not sure that would work anyway, because doesn't it have to be at a point after Dani has already figured out her Asgardian powers? Which is right before they are all killed by the Beyonder, which means it also has to be after that whole rigamarole ...

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  8. Teebore: Yeah, that's the ridiculous double standard that exists within much of American culture.

    Let me stress to everyone that I was not trying to make a point of that particularly and have a go at America-bashing here, and it's really a thing in the western culture in general stemming from the Christian religion though in this case ultimately sieved through the Comics Code system.

    The Ba'al gang get a lot of bad press in the Bible, and sure enough it's kind of difficult to give good press for human sacrifice and specifically that of children, but it's not like there wasn't plenty of that for our Asgardian friends too back in the day when the archaic religions and practicing them had an element of sex & death in them. Ba'als status as a villain in interesting in comparison to that of Thor's, Odin's and Hercules' who still very much are pagan gods.

    This is my own fanwank, but I like to think that much the same way Thor unfairly overshadows Hercules in the minds of Avengers fans, he does the same thing to people in the Marvel Universe.

    That's debatable. The mythical Herc is a bit of a god, but also very definitely the mortal-to-an-extent son of Zeus by a human woman and thusly ranks well below Thor, who kind of was demoted in the myths to be the first son of Odin the war god from his earlier status as the primus inter pares Proto-Indo-European thunder when the Germanic society took turn to celebrate the more warlike virtues. Of course in their mythical adventures Thor and Hercules are not too different from each other giving credence to Marvel's my-brother-from-another-pantheon approach but among their respective believers it kind of was so that Thor was "Yay, Thor!" while Herc was "Yeah... him too. Good job with Hydra, I guess."

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  9. I was surprised to see that Zeus/Jove was responsible for bringing Hercules to Amara in answer to her prayer. Neat.

    // Guest Penciler: Louise Williams //

    Louis, not Louise... (Sorry, Matt.)

    I don't think I've ever heard of him either, though, and he only has a handful of credits per the GCD within the half-dozen years around this issue.

    // Amara finishes her tale, and Empath points out that perhaps his faith is stronger, having nothing but belief to go on. //

    Well, Jim Shooter wouldn't let anybody team up with Jesus Christ — not Ghost Rider, anyway, even battling the Devil himself, which certainly makes it doubtful the Hellions would pass muster. My knowledge of Marvel in this era is weak enough that I can't say how Tom DeFalco felt about it, not that I'm being serious.

    The New Mutants should definitely recognize Hercules as one of the Avengers, whether or not they truly believe he's the Olympian of that name.

    Hercules was also a member of short-lived superteam The Champions, which is kind-of to The Avengers what (Marvel-brand) Hercules is to (Marvel-brand) Thor in terms of prominence except like times a million. The Champions rarely get love outside of us '70s kids, but I'd like to point out that of the five initial members four of them (Black Widow, Angel, Iceman, and the aforementioned Ghost Rider) have been in multiple feature films. Hercules has too, of course, just not as the Marvel character, although introducing him via the Thor for some pantheon-on-pantheon action would be pretty kick-ass.

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  10. Huh. Blogger's doing this weird thing lately that it posts directly from me previewing a comment instead of returning me to the word-verification first. I'd meant to correct the wording that suggests Angel was in multiple feature films, as he wasn't, because I knew somebody'd probably correct that.

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  11. There's no way they would allow the bearded muscular macho character that is Marvel's Hercules in a film in the modern world we live in. Unless they (over-)play the, ehm, ancient Greece angle. Which I would totally fly with so let's hope they are reading.

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