To Sacrifice Selene?!
Credits: Chris Claremont (writer), Al Rio (penciler), Bob McLeod (inker), Tom Orzechowski (letterer), Guru eFX (colorist)
Summary: Cypher, Magma, and Tiberius, joined by the female Skull, face the New Mutants. During the battle, Cypher and Magma combine forces to bury Warlock underground. Selene is injected with the Skull serum and Sunspot is taken captive. After retreating to Limbo, Selene returns to Nova Roma with Cannonball and Magik. A soldier, Marius, volunteers his life to Selene so that she can absorb his essence and fight the Skull serum. Elsewhere, Cypher is trained as the Red Skull’s protégé. When left alone to reflect at night, he breaks free of the Skull’s brainwashing. Suddenly, Warlock enters his room, seeking vengeance for Cypher’s life, unaware the young Skull is Cypher.
Continuity Notes: The Skull serum grants Cypher fingernail-claws, which he uses to “kill” Warlock in the opening scene. The unnamed female Skull is also killed by Selene shortly after she injects Selene with the serum.
Review: Another familiar plot element from Claremont’s work, the young hero taken on as the villain’s protégé, makes its way into the series. I have a hard time fully investing in the Doug Ramsey as Red Skull, Jr. plot; the image of a skinny, teenage Red Skull just isn’t that intimidating, and there doesn’t seem to be enough room in the story to give Doug a convincing character arc from hero to villain to back. The opening sequence is nicely executed, however. If you’re a fan of the original series, you’ll understand the significance of Doug stabbing his best friend Warlock, declaring him an “obscenity,” and leaving him for dead under the earth.
Claremont also works in an element of his writing I wanted to see more of in the Forever books – the contemplative inner monologue. The story slows down for a few pages in order to turn the focus on Selene, who questions her previous treatment of Nova Roma and wonders if she’s ever viewed its citizens as more than chattel. Her soliloquy doesn’t end with Selene renouncing her ways, she merely decides that the citizens of Nova Roma are hers, regardless of the reason, and she isn’t going to let the Red Skull rule them. I don’t recall Claremont ever putting that much effort into fleshing out Selene, who previously only seemed to appear as an evil priestess/S&M fantasy, and the story is that much better with her as a more believable protagonist. She’s still clearly a villain, but Claremont’s added some nuance to her characterization, so her desire to maintain power over Nova Roma feels less like an obligatory plot point.
We also get a decent example of Claremont’s tendency to have his heroes debate moral quandaries, with Magik and Cannonball arguing the merits of just letting Selene die after she’s infected with the Skull serum. It’s a brief scene, but Claremont allows Magik and Cannonball to stay true to their established personalities and express their point of view, while Selene offers her own inner commentary on the teenagers during their debate. (Magik, for what it’s worth, has gone from admiring Selene an issue ago to coldly accepting that the team would probably be better off with her dead.) Small moments like this are great; I just wish the main storyline could be as entertaining.