Wednesday, April 27, 2016

FANTASTIC FOUR #262

"THE TRIAL OF REED RICHARDS"
Story and Art: John Byrne | Letters: Jim Novak | Colors: Glynis Wein
Editor: Michael Higgins | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: John Byrne and assistant editor Mike Higgins discuss the next issue of FANTASTIC FOUR over the phone. Following their call, Byrne is abducted by the Watcher and taken to observe the trial of Reed Richards. Lilandra of the Shi’ar conducts the trial with the Watcher serving as Reed’s defense counsel.

A Skrull warrior testifies for the prosecution, condemning Reed for his indirect role in the destruction of his home planet. The Watcher then calls Odin of Asgard as his first witness, and Odin explains that Galactus is a force of nature, a test all planets in the universe must face sooner or later. Next Galactus appears and together he and the Watcher summon Eternity, living embodiment of the universe. Eternity allows all present to see through Galactus’s eyes, and they realize that he has no free will; he is indeed a force of nature which the universe needs.

Later, Byrne prepares to write and draw the scene he just witnessed and the Watcher urges him to do it quickly, as knowledge of the trial’s specifics will soon fade from the minds of all involved.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: This issue was FANTASTIC FOUR’s contribution to Marvel’s “Assistant Editors’ Month” stunt, wherein the various titles were ostensibly turned over to their assistant editors while the actual editors were away at a comic convention. Some books went quirky for the stunt, others went poignant. FANTASTIC FOUR plays things relatively straight, except for Byrne inserting himself into the story as a POV character.


John Byrne’s then-wife, Andrea Braun (to whom, rumor has it, Byrne was introduced by Jim Shooter), puts in a cameo appearance right after Byrne is spirited away by the Watcher.


Lilandra’s ultimatum to the Richardses, as seen in X-MEN 167 (and discussed here last time) is revisited by Byrne.

Sue has never struck me as the type to sleep nude. She seems more like a "frilly nightgown" girl.
Lilandra declares herself “Majestrix Shi’ar” and is flanked by Gladiator throughout this issue. However at this point in continuity, Lilandra was deposed as the Shi’ar empress by her treacherous sister, Deathbird, and Gladiator was sworn to serve Deathbird instead. I’m uncertain if this hiccup has ever been addressed anywhere.


Odin describes Galactus’s origin as was told to Thor by Galactus himself. There’s no footnote here, so I don’t know when exactly this origin was previously revealed. At any rate, the idea is that Galactus was once a scientist named Galen, the sole survivor of the universe which existed prior to ours. Reborn in our universe, he became Galactus.


Byrne reveals here that the version of Galactus we know, as originally designed by Jack Kirby, is the way humans see him. Every race in the universe processes Galactus differently. (Fun fact: movie director Tim Story sees him as a giant cloud.)

Reed notes that Doctor Strange has told him about Eternity. (The character was created by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee in their original Strange tales from the sixties.)

Is It Clobberin' Time? No, Ben and his teammates are busy acting as a peanut gallery this issue.

My Thoughts: This issue is generally considered a classic, but I have to confess that after reading it (for the second time overall), I’m unsure why. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with it, but for me it’s just sort of… there. It’s implied that Galactus’s origin was already revealed in an issue of THOR, so it’s not like there’s any new information coming out of these proceedings. The trial goes nowhere, as when Eternity arrives he puts an end to things with his mind-link trick and then everybody just (in Byrne's own words) "drifts away." And Byrne inserting himself into the story, while cute, kind of robs the proceedings of some of their gravitas.

About the only new revelation (as far as I can tell) is the fact that everyone perceives Galactus in a different way – which is cool, but isn’t enough, from my perspective, to earn this issue the legendary status it carries. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either. It resolves the storyline begun in issue 244 when Reed saved Galactus’s life, and puts to bed once and for all the exact nature of his purpose in the universe.

Byrne has said that when he first took the FF assignment, he was tasked by Jim Shooter to restore some of Galactus's grandeur, which he felt had been lost over the decades since his debut. And I won't argue that Byrne has done an excellent job carrying out that mandate over the handful of Galactus appearances he's turned out so far. But he's done a better job of it elsewhere, building up Galactus through his actions. Here it's a case of "tell, not show" in a very clinical fashion with the FF serving as spectators, rather than participants, through most of the action.

7 comments:

  1. The references to Thor being told Galactus' origin were from Thor #162, 168, and 169.
    That story was later updated in a special Galactus: The Origin one-shot, which I believe Byrne worked on.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I think there are a couple pages from the GALACTUS: THE ORIGIN comic in the Byrne Omnibus, unless I'm misrembering.

      Delete
  2. Oh I don't know. It certainly felt eventous when I read it sometime in '89 or so. The cosmic grandeur of the story caught the new reader and this being my first encounter with Odin made it but more momentous. And at the same time I totally failed to question John Byrne's presence. I love when comics manage just the right amount to not take themselves too seriously.

    Everyone is obviously free to have an opinion about the (anti-)climax of the story being a gallery of perplexed faces and a wall of text, but then again I was slammed with a similar thing in UNCANNY #203 also with Rachel and the Beyonder and I didn't really get that one either and it was still kind of awesome.

    One must of course appreciate that just like in the trial of Jean Grey also here Lilandra is there appointing herself as the prosecutor. And how can you not love the Gladiator who feels he actually has to state out that he probably will not be able to take Galactus.

    The bit with Xxan Xxar not destroying Galactus is full of pathos, in the good way.

    The cover of UNCANNY #200 probably isn't an intentional homage to this one, but damn if that isn't a fine setup. I wonder if there are any earlier examples.

    Ben and his teammates are busy acting as a peanut gallery this issue.

    You did notice Charlie Brown there on the cover so? :)

    Sue: these days she's calling herself "Majestrix Shi'ar" -- whatever that means

    Oh you, John Byrne. :)

    It almost reads like the "too full of her own importance, but to actually threaten the Fantastic Four" bit really wasn't about Lilandra at all, but about someone completely else. So, maybe not quite best friends... ;)

    Our translator had John Byrne call Lilandra a "beaky hen", which is absolutely offensively hilarious what with the Shi'ar being partially avians, and Byrne surely manages to somehow emphasize the henness in her looks especially in the panel where her and Reed stare at each other superimposedly. He nearly ruined the character here for me forever.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's definitely some ire tossed Lilandra's way this issue, with Byrne himself even chiming in as seen in one of my screenshots above. It's doubly funny when you consider that in-Universe, assuming Marvel publishes an X-MEN comic as they do in the real world, Byrne has already drawn Lilandra a few times (hence his familiarity with her here).

      In general I love the FF's reactions to Byrne here. The Torch addressing him as "Byrne" rather than "Mr. Byrne" or "John", and the Thing commenting on how he usually gets the details wrong.

      Delete
  3. Fun fact: movie director Tim Story sees him as a giant cloud.

    Ha! I've always liked that little detail - explains explain away the Earth-centrism of this force of galactic nature looking like a big human. I'm still not quite sure why humans view him as a guy in a purple loin cloth and a goofy helmet (instead of, I dunno, just a guy in a suit or a robe or something), but I suppose he appeared late enough after the emergence of superheroes in the MU that humanity collectively pictured him as a supervillain.

    However at this point in continuity, Lilandra was deposed as the Shi’ar empress by her treacherous sister, Deathbird, and Gladiator was sworn to serve Deathbird instead.

    I could be wrong about this, but I think Deathbird didn't technically sieze Lilandra's throne until UNCANNY #174 (or, at least, that's when Lilandra learns about it). Granted, Lilandra's been on the run and not empress for awhile, but Deathbird wasn't technically Empress herself yet, and thus Gladiator wasn't sworn to her. So maybe there was some leeway that allowed him to backup Lilandra here (nevertheless, it remains a hinky bit of continuity).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey, at least we all revised our collective image of Galactus to remove the giant "G" from his chest.

      You're probably right about the Deathbird/Lilandra timing thing. I've always just figured she took control around issue 160 while the X-Men and Lilandra were away in Brood space, but the formal coup may have been later than that.

      Delete
    2. (Hmm, is there such a thing as a formal coup? "Your highness, please be ready. We will storm the throne room promptly at one o'clock next Tuesday. Your attendance will be appreciated."

      Delete