Dusting Off: Fantastic Four: The Trial of Galactus (1990)

6th May 2009 | by | 1 Comment

Every month we take turns to delve into our trusty longboxes, pluck out a dusty back issue, and give you our thoughts. We’ll also try and place it in the context of the time it was originally published.

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It might surprise some newer comics fans, but there was once a time when John Byrne was considered a credible comic creator instead of the walking bad mood that he is now. In fact, Byrne wasn’t just credible, he was practically his era’s Brian Bendis or Ed Brubaker, reinventing and redefining every title he touched. One such title was Fantastic Four, which he wrote and drew for 6 years from 1981 to 1986. The run was eventually collected in its entirety in 8 volumes of “Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne” but almost over 15 years prior to that, Marvel took the unusual step of packaging certain issues together into a TPB collection – a rare move at the time, when the industry was still heavily focussed on monthly sales.

The story itself sees Reed Richards (rather than Galactus) placed on trial, accused of repeatedly aiding the devourer of worlds – and, in a story included at the start of the collection – even saving his life on one occasion! It’s full of the epic moments Byrne’s run became known for, though the most famous of these is perhaps Frankie Raye’s transformation into Galactus’ herald Nova.

While the former deals specifically with the Four and, specifically, Johnny’s relationship with Frankie, the latter half of the book becomes a cosmic tour of the Marvel Universe – indeed, it was the inclusion of Lilandra and Gladiator in the title that caused a young me to get it out from the library in the first place, at a time when I didn’t read anything without an X-Men connection.

The “Trial of Galactus” story actually ran sporadically across a 20-issue period of Fantastic Four – issue #242 to #262. In order to ensure the focus of the story remains on the plot at hand, some issues are only partially collected, with unrelated material cut out and rearranged in order to make the collection read as a “single” story. It’s not a seamless job, though neither is it particularly disorganised, and the foreword helpfully prepares the reader for the few irregularities that do appear, such as Ben Grimm’s mysteriously changing appearance, and the otherwise inexplicable presence of Byrne himself in the climactic act (actually mandated by Marvel’s “Assistant Editor Month”)

Also included in the collection is Byrne’s issue of “What The…” – Marvel’s best-left-forgotten humour comic. At the time it would’ve been little incentive to buyers but now its satire of the industry and fandom actually makes for an interesting historical document, if nothing else.

Although the collection is now out of print, it remains a favourite of mine, and comes heartily recommended as the best story in a justifiably lauded run – superhero comics at their bronze-age potion no 9 divx