Much of what I said in my review of the first volume
applies to this one as well. Although I'd say that this volume, as a whole, is better.
Claremont's writing gets even better, the quality of the stories gets much better, the characters get heaps of development. The comics show the X-Men in and out of action, and really allows you to get to know them--whether in seeing them play baseball, go on picnics, etc.--without ever feeling forced. A lot of back-story going on as well. We learn Storm's origin (and her one weakness), while the mystery of Wolverine's past deepens.
Of course, also in these issues, we see Jean Grey turn into the Phoenix. To take such an average character like Marvel Girl a.k.a. Jean Grey and turn her into the series' most captivating and involved character is a stroke of writing genius. This volume contains the first Phoenix Saga; the second, more popular Phoenix Saga being the Dark Phoenix Saga, which these issues are preluding.
We also see the debut of The Starjammers, who are pretty awesome, and we learn their leader Corsair's little secret that he's really the father of Cyclops.
There's plenty of great baddies in here, too, both new and old. The return of Juggernaut and Magneto are definitely highlights.
Cockrum's art only gets better as well. I especially love his close-up facial designs. (I'm of the opinion that Cockrum's art works best with Sam Grainger as inker.) Two of the issues feature guest artists, and towards the end of this volume we see Cockrum leave the series and John Byrne take over. His work is easily as good as Cockrum's, if not better. Issue #108 hosts some of the greatest comic book art of the 70s; Byrne not only handles the outer space scenery and action well but also has panels that are very expressionistic in style. He does a good job in not straying too far from Cockrum's style (something that's important in a series, especially when, like Byrne, you're taking over on the second part of a two-part story) while also giving it a bit of his own freshness.
The two-parter that runs across issues #107 and #108 is easily one of the greatest (if not the
greatest) X-Men stories hitherto its publication. The story had a lot of build up, the action is great, we meet new heroes and villains, there's a real sense of world and consequence, and it takes place in freakin' space! The artwork and writing are at all time highs.
This volume would get 4 stars from me if it weren't for some disappointing issues. Notably #106 and #110, both of which are guest artist issues, i.e. fill-in issues
, which are not only lackluster stories in and of themselves, but they also upset the flow of the larger narrative arc and often feel inherently unnatural (as they usually are told in the form of flashback or some other unfavorable device).
A very good volume with some amazing issues, and some unfortunate passable issues as well.
Favorite issues: "Where No X-Man Has Gone Before!" (#107), "Armageddon Now!" (#108)
Best Cover Art: "Enter the Phoenix" (#101)
Rating: 3.65 out of 5