[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.]
“Freedom Is a Four Letter Word”
The issue opens with another iteration of Storm vs. street-thugs (the first two occurred in issues 122 and 180), and we’re invited once again to recognize all that’s changed since the last time we saw such a scene play out. The key difference here is that, while in Uncanny #180, Storm was met with fear by the people she saved, now she is applauded – both by the rescued couple and by local law enforcement (personified by Lt. Sabrina “Bree” Morrel, an old supporting character Claremont’s early-’80s Frisco-based comic series, Spider-Woman). The point is to remind readers that the X-Men have found their happy ending: having been forcibly relocated to San Francisco -- an apparently less intolerant city than New York, at least in the Marvel Universe – the mutants are now regarded as local heroes. They have a home, they’ve made some good friends (all old Spider-Woman characters), and their lives overall have settled into a pleasant routine.
But since this is serial fiction, the status quo has to be disrupted. And since Claremont is now on a darker trajectory as of 1986 (possibly influenced by his anger over the “resurrected Jean Grey” fiasco), that disruption takes a notably pessimistic form. Essentially, the X-Men are run out of town by Freedom Force. In another example of the politics of the comic having been flipped, the bad guys are again instruments of the establishment, while the X-Men are the underdogs – just trying to live their own lives, but having their civil liberties trampled on by government agents.
There’s also a motif of usurpation at work here. Pyro refers to himself and his teammates as “good guys,” stealing the role that is supposed to be the X-Men’s. The new Spider-Woman (introduced in Jim Shooter’s first Secret Wars series) is now a part of the government-sanctioned Freedom Force, and thus is now the official, real Spider-Woman, while the old, heroic one – a now powerless Jessica Drew – has also lost her identity. Spiral speaks of stealing Rachel’s life (and will proceed to do so in three months’ time), and usurps Rogue’s body briefly as well. This can be read metaphorically – though it’s perhaps a stretch – for how a sanctioned majority is often able to assimilate the individualism of oppressed minorities. For the first two decades of their existence, as Neil Shyminski has pointed out, the X-Men were often found on the other side of this dichotomy – their original face-off against the Morlocks, for example, wherein Nightcrawler in particular had a naively positive view of assimilation.
Indeed, as an adjunct to the core events in “Freedom Is a Four Letter Word,” we are reminded acutely of Nightcrawler’s naivety. The last page portrays just how badly out-of-sync he is with the times: while the other X-Men have just been ridden out of town on a rail, Kurt is dwelling obliviously in a fantasy of “beauteous damsel[s] in distress to protect” and “arch-villains to hunt down, confound and trounce.”
Ann Nocenti’s Spiral appears for the second issue in a row, now playing a role that bears no resemblance at all to her part in issue 205. Claremont has clearly taken a shine to Nocenti’s six-armed creation, and cast her as a sort of all-purpose instrument of chaos. She’ll continue to appear in X-Men stories of this period – often alongside equally odd Nocenti villain Mojo – and usually motivated by an arbitrary desire to sow random insanity. Indeed, though the character was not created by him, Spiral stands as a perfect icon for Claremont’s writing style. Always juggling half a dozen plot threads and story arcs at once, Claremont is more at home when he’s disrupting the lives of his characters and never seems inclined to stabilize them. And oftentimes, his motivation seems as arbitrary and whimsical as Spiral’s. (The most dynamically chaotic Spiral moment in the present issue is the one in which she messes with Shadowcat’s power, causing Kitty to be literally “smeared” across the panel. It’s a fantastically freaky visual by Romita and Green.)
Finally, Madelyne Pryor shows up in a San Francisco hospital, suffering from “multiple gunshot wounds.” This is Claremont’s meta-commentary regarding the character’s treatment at the hands of X-Factor writer Bob Layton. Earlier in issue #206 Rogue had been shown reading a postcard from Madelyne, one that bore a “really ancient postmark” and which sported a picture of her and Scott and their baby posed together happily. The irony would have been clear for anyone who’d read X-Factor #1, in which Scott cruelly abandons Madelyne and their son to see the resurrected Jean Grey in New York. Obviously, the postcard was sent before those events took place. The juxtaposition of a happy Madelyne as depicted on the “really ancient” postcard and the bleeding, unconscious woman on a hospital gurney gives a clear message about how Claremont felt about the character’s treatment in X-Factor #1.