In the latest edition of Comics to Read Before You Die, Jessie Robertson looks at Fantastic Four “The Trial of Reed Richards”…
Found in Fantastic Four: Visionaries Vol. 4 (or Fantastic Four #262) January 1984
Glynis Oliver Wein- Colorist
Jim Shooter- Editor
Michael Higgins- Editor
Jim Novak- Letterer
John Byrne- inker, penciler
“The Trial of Reed Richards” is a morality tale, told on the grandest scale; sometimes you might hear it referred to as the Trial of Galactus, even though Reed is on the one on trial. Here’s the dilemma: Galactus was dying and discovered by Reed Richards, a pacifist and scientist. Knowing the enormity of Galactus’ presence, and being a dying life form, Reed saved it’s life. Some time later, Galactus wiped out the home planet of the Skrulls, a vicious and vile alien race. Richards is seized and put on trial for the murder and genocide of a whole race of people. But, Richards protests that saving Galactus life was worth the risk, knowing what he does because acts such as those are what saves souls and people’s humanity. To let Galactus die would have made him a true murderer in his eyes. But, the planet eater resumed his prior activities and destroyed several planets, including the Skrulls, leaving devastation across the universe in his wake.
The story details one of the most fascinating origin stories of any comic lore Marvel has done before; learning about the prior history of the universe before anything came into existence is a complex look into how and why Galactus was created, why he survives and acts as he does, and what his motivations are. If you are a fan of Galactus, this story is a must have and I would recommend buying the single issue instead of this collection, even though there are some nice storylines here, including the last few months of Sue Richards pregnancy with their second child.
The trial itself is really cool, as you have a myriad of aliens and races present, delivering testimonials about the sadness and destruction Galactus has caused them. This is like all that Star Wars Episode 1 Planetary Senate stuff done right! You get running commentary from Thing, Johnny and Sue reacting to all this as we do and it’s on the nose, but very real. The only strange thing (the only?!!) is artist and writer John Byrne shows up as part of this interplanetary meeting, being pulled away from Marvel offices as he struggles to recount the next issue of the Fantastic Four adventures. It’s kind of hokey reading it now, but also sort of innovative. Cameos by Odin and Galactus himself really round third and slide this story into home in a big Marvel special appearance way. There’s also some amazing art work in this story; the massive panels of characters, the full and vivid colors of a 30-year-old book still stand out greatly. And there’s a great panel in FF#261 where Sue and the others find Reed on a foreign planet (thanks to the Watcher) and he’s completely stretched out like pasta dough.
In researching this story, it even caused some mainstream criticism for sort of justifying world-wide genocide for the right cause, ie. Galactus whole reason for being. The end result of the trial is not always clear and it’s definitely an interesting way to frame who Galactus is and how he’s viewed by not just characters inside these stories, but by comic fans at large. Reading this stuff really gives you a tremendous appreciation for the FF, as I feel they are often sort of overlooked as some of the most important heroes in Marvel comics long pantheon of characters.
Next time: We’re going to Duckberg!