[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont's X-Men run; for more in this series see the toolbar on the right.]
The story opens with Claremont working hard to clarify – via Wolverine – the oblique moral distinctions made at the end of the previous issue. He just about pulls it off. Recall that Claremont has finally managed to shift the X-Men paradigm from its original 1960s conception that saw them as counter-revolutionary. Now, the X-Men are theoretically on the revolutionary side – but it was John Lennon who pointed out that revolution does not necessarily entail violence. The uncharacteristic anti-murder rhetoric espoused by Logan in this and the previous issue is Claremont’s overly extemporized version of the simple Lennonian sentiment: “When you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out.” (Horses for courses: Part of Uncanny #208 is set in “the John Lennon memorial garden, Strawberry Fields.”)
Kitty, meanwhile, acts as a mouthpiece for what surely was reader reaction to the end of Uncanny #207 – sheer shock and disbelief that Wolverine would kill a teammate in order to save one of the X-Men’s nastier villains. It’s a shrewd move on Claremont’s part, allowing both the readers to air their grievances and the author – via Wolverine – to clarify his own points.
But there’s only so much room for philosophical debate in an action comic, and after a few pages of back-and-forth, the story launches into a sublime action-thriller. Though the big pay-off occurs in Uncanny #209, we see here the beginning of Claremont’s most ambitiously conceived action set-piece, incorporating four different factions: the Hellfire Club (both mutant members and mercs), Nimrod, the Morlocks, and the X-Men themselves. There’s even a brief allusion to a fifth group, X-Factor (hence Nimrod’s detection of “twelve [mutants] classified as ‘X-Men’” in Central Park, even though the comic only features seven).
Nimrod’s inclusion here contains an intriguing element, as he finds himself confused by the onset of “feelings.” It’s a development not expanded upon in the next issue, which is Nimrod’s final appearance for three years – but Claremont will eventually take this thread to its intuitively logical end-point (i.e., what does a mutant-killing robot do when he finds that he, himself, has mutated?) in Uncanny #’s 246-247.
The final few pages of “Retribution” are superb, as Claremont winds the tension of the X-Men/Hellfire Club confrontation tighter and tighter, then unloads with both barrels with Nimrod’s appearance on the final splash page. It’s one of Claremont’s finest cliffhangers, and sets us up perfectly for next issue’s wildly exciting finale.