Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: John Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin
Karen: Welcome to part two of this pivotal X-Men story -pivotal because it marked the end of the Cockrum Era (well, the first one anyway) and the beginning of the Byrne/Austin era. I have to say, I recall being surprised that Cockrum was gone when I first got this issue, but the Byrne/Austin team immediately won me over. They were every bit as good at capturing the enormous scale and spectacle that Cockrum had conveyed in the previous issue.
Doug: If I recall, I also wasn't put out by the art change. The Byrne/Austin team was solid from the beginning, and the story was so powerful that the plot really carried the day. I always have thought it odd, however, the the book had a Cockrum cover -- I suppose he'd done that ahead of whenever he'd have done the interiors. Say, another thing that makes this pivotal is the severe ramping up of Phoenix's power. Shades of things to come!
Karen: After a brief recap of the situation, and a quick trip to Earth, where big brains like Reed Richards and Hank Pym ponder the meaning of the cosmic 'blinks', we return to the X-Men and the Starjammers. The M'krann crystal is glowing with power, and from it comes a tiny, muppet-like being named Jahf, who says he is there to prevent anyone from entering the crystal. Of course, Wolverine scoffs at the little fella, and soon finds himself punched into orbit! This was hilarious, and Wolverine truly deserved it -he was such a jerk back then!
Doug: Jahf's certainly a little Byrne-guy -- I'm not sure how Cockrum would have drawn him, but Byrne's handling is really good. Was it your sense that in this very issue we begin to see the shift from a focus on Nightcrawler to a focus on Wolverine? Logan's not even on the cover, but I just got the sense that he was about to take a bigger role. And shoot -- it doesn't take long, as he'll be the featured guy in the very next issue.
Karen: It's no secret that Nightcrawler was Cockrum's favorite, and with his departure, Kurt seemed to be the odd man out frequently. I do wonder how things might have been for both Nightcrawler and Wolverine if he'd stayed on the title longer.
Karen: Jahf begins manhandling everyone. Jean gives us another amazing display of power, when even in her weakened state, she telekinetically grabs a meteor in space above and sends it slamming into the tiny enemy. Wow. Unfortunately, Jahf is a tough bugger. It takes Banshee getting into his face-literally-and cutting loose with all his sonic power to destroy him (it's OK, he was a robot).
Doug: I sensed here, too, that we'll begin to see Banshee take a lesser role on the team. Although he saved the day against Jahf, the strain on his throat will lead to his depowering over the next couple of years until he basically became an afterthought.
Karen: But Jahf was just the beginning; the next guardian, Modt, is a Godzilla-sized robot. As he starts attacking the heroes, one of the Starjammers, Raza, who sounds a bit like Thor in speech patterns, heads for the Emperor and angrily throws him into the light at the center of the crystal. Suddenly, everything changes and they are all inside the crystal. It's a bit trippy. Everyone starts experiencing their worst nightmare. However, it has limited effect on Phoenix. Jean transforms into the fiery bird-like image we all know so well and probes the center of the crystal.
Doug: I liked the contrast between the two guardians. And in regard to Phoenix -- this is what I alluded to in our intro. You know, we've discussed in the past Thor's role on the Avengers, infinitely stronger than his teammates. As we go through our X-Men reviews (which for whatever reason, we've chosen to do in order), it will be interesting to revisit this concept as it relates to Jean. There's no doubt that as powerful as Xavier or Havok are, Phoenix is in a class that might surpass even Galactus...
Karen: Yes, do you really need a whole team when one person can travel across the universe and throw meteors and people? It's the same problem you have with Superman in the Justice League: what can Green Arrow possibly do to contribute when Supes is there? Oh well, back to our story, already in progress: It all gets a bit complicated, but apparently there's this nasty neutron galaxy inside the crystal, and if it gets released, it will destroy everything, which would be pretty terrible. Jean's trying to stop it but needs help. Storm offers to anchor her with her own life-force, and then Corsair -or Major Summers, as it shockingly is revealed -serves as her other anchor.
Doug: Complicated? I think this was the first time Claremont really challenged me to keep up with him. Of course, years later I'd just give up. Storm's nobility is priceless -- she was such a good character back in these days. The Corsair reveal was nice, because they didn't mess around with it for a dozen issues. I guess I can't say I was surprised, as I'd not given Scott and Alex's heritage much thought in the past -- you tell me they're orphans, they're orphans. Which I guess brings up the fact that this reveal was a retcon. How does anyone feel about it? We've had debate around here before concerning what is tolerable and what should just not be in the realm of retcons.
Karen: Of course, now, that entire Corsair storyline has been completely fleshed out, including the recent addition of yet another Summers boy, Gabriel, who also went by the name Vulcan. As much as I actually enjoyed that particular story, one has to wonder if there was a need to add another unlikely Summers kid to the clan. But we can get into that more this Friday (hint hint).
Karen: Phoenix winds up putting the neutron galaxy genie back in its bottle and everyone is star-gated back to Earth, safe and sound. It's a little too quick and easy a wrap up, but the art more than makes up for it. There's a dedication to Dave Cockrum at the end, and underneath, it simply says,"I'm not dead. -Dave". I miss funny stuff like this nowadays.
Doug: It was interesting that the Imperial Guard had no role in this conclusion. I guess I would have fancied this story as a triptych, but perhaps Cockrum's departure hastened the conclusion of the tale. You mentioned the dedication to Cockrum, and with some very minor research, I uncovered the following interview from TwoMorrows' Comic Book Artist #6 -- I was looking for the specific reason Cockrum left the book. I actually have this magazine, but had long-ago forgotten this interview:
CBA: Were you excited about working on the New X-Men?Dave: Yeah, because it was a potentially hot series and I looked forward to the opportunity to do lots of neat stuff. I worked closely with Len to start but it didn't stay that way too long. He was in the process of becoming editor-in-chief at that point, and had gotten too busy to stay on. He plotted the next issue of Giant-Size X-Men (which became X-Men #94 and 95), but Chris Claremont came on and stayed as writer for 18-odd years. I knew from the start that I wasn't going to ink it myself but I did ink the first issue because, well, I wanted to.
I stayed through to #107. I couldn't stay with it because I was on staff by that time—my job was to design covers—and I just couldn't handle it anymore. I was tired and I gave it up. Later on, they asked me to do that Marvel Fanfare with the X-Men in the Savage Land and it was fun! I called up Chris and said, "This is really fun! If Byrne ever wants to leave the book, give me another chance at it." And Byrne left the book that following Monday. That was a weird juxtaposition! So I got the book back and I was enthusiastic again. It was fun for a long time.
The only reason I left the book the second time was because I had previously put in a proposal for The Futurians. It sat on Jim Shooter's desk for about a year, and he finally said, "Yeah, you can do this if you want." I was in some doubt whether I should quit the X-Men and do that but I really wanted to do it. Chris and Louise Simonson, the editor, talked me into giving up the X-Men because they thought I was more enthused about The Futurians. That was probably the biggest mistake of my life! That was about the time they started paying the royalties and reprint money. It takes nine months after an issue goes on sale before you get a royalty check so I hadn't received one yet by the time I quit the X-Men. When the first one came it was $2000 right out of the air! I thought, "Geez!" And it got better, and from what I heard, people like Jim Lee were making $40,000 a month on royalties. (That's why they could afford to go off and start Image.) If I had known about that kind of money coming in—even the $2000 a month—you couldn't have pried me off that book with a crowbar. The Futurians was never that successful.