The second volume of X-Men collects everything in the series prior to the X of Swords crossover, namely issues #7-11. Much like the first volume, it’s composed of mostly standalone stories with some connective tissue, although this one has a couple two-part stories.
The first issue in this, and the only real solo issue, is entitled Lifedeath and was the source of some of the most spirited discussions and debates among the X-Fandom since House of X/Powers of X ended. This issue reveals the mechanism for controlled resurrections among mutants who lost their powers in the wake of House of M and want them back, and it’s something that has become a really divisive issue in the community. Hickman does a fantastic job laying out both the proponents and opponents to this ritual, and really leaving it morality ambiguous. This is not an issue that should be read and promptly forgotten — it sits in your mind and colors one’s reading of the rest of the X-books just by existing. It’s really fantastic, with some solid work by Leinil Francis Yu and Sunny Gho.
The next two issues are a two-part followup to Hickman’s story in New Mutants, collected in the first New Mutants trade. If you haven’t read that volume, it’s thankfully not a barrier to entry here — the issue blurbs and character dialogue provide enough exposition for it to make sense (That being said, it’s worth the read). This two-parter is a bit weird as both issues have different artists, which wouldn’t be as noticeable or jarring if they weren’t both part of the same story. Instead, Mahmud Asrar does the first issue and Leinil Francis Yu returns for the second. It would have been much better to have Asrar on a one-off or something, but ultimately this isn’t something that hurts the book so much as is noticeable. The story itself is enjoyable, as it’s one of the first real looks we’ve gotten at the Krakoan Captains in action. As a followup to the New Mutants arc, it does a great job as well.
This is the weirdest portion of the trade, because both issues are really good, but the framework around them and their context is the weakest of the bunch. Namely, Empyre. Empyre is an event that didn’t really get much by way of buildup outside of the Incoming! one-shot issue, and is mostly relegated to tie-in miniseries and ongoings that are more closely connected to it. So for readers that are only reading X-Men or the X-books, they might have entirely missed the setup for what happens here, which causes these stories to stand out. Until now, every issue has had some amount of foreshadowing or setup for a future conflict, but the last issue in this collection really doesn’t do it in the same way, because the antagonists are tied to the Avengers franchise.
Despite this, though, these two issues serve as fantastic one-shot explorations of different characters. The first focuses on Vulcan and turns him from comic relief into one of the most compelling characters Hickman has given focus to. It’s genuinely fantastic character work. The second focuses on Magneto and shows his role on Krakoa in detail, and both helps to flesh out the world as well as Magneto himself. Both issues are drawn by Leinil Francis Yu and colored by Sunny Gho, and they do a solid job throughout.
So as a whole, this volume is a strong continuation of what came before. While it peaked at the very beginning, the whole collection is pretty strong with only the smallest nitpicks around accessibility. Art-wise there isn’t really anything stunning, but everyone does a good job executing what they’re given. It’s well worth the cover price, both as a followup to the first volume and as a bit of a prelude to X of Swords.
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