By: James Robinson (Writer), Leonard Kirk (Pencil Artist), Jay Leisten and Rick Magyar (Inkers), Jesus Aburtov (Color Artist), VC’s Clayton Cowles (Letterer); Guest Artists include: Chris Samnee, Matt Wilson, Dean Haspiel, Jim Charalampidis, Paul Rivoche, Felix Serrano, Phil Jiminez, Rachelle Rosenberg, Mike Allred, Laura Allred, Jim Starlin, Andy Smith, Nolan Woodard, Jerry Ordway, Derlis Santacruz, Israel Silva, June Brigman, Roy Richardson, Vero Gandini

The Story:
Mr. Toliver wants the truth, and the truth cannot be handled.

The Review:
If the previous issue was a wall-to-wall action spectacular, this issue provides a distinct contrast as a wall-to-wall courtroom drama with talking heads and splash page cut scenes.

As I said in other reviews, it’s interesting that the themes Robinson is exploring seem reminiscent of early Marvel comics, where the Fantastic Four was an integral part of the fictional New York around them, even when such public spotlight hurt them as much as helped them. As early as the second issue, way back in 1963, the Fantastic Four had to deal with a world whose public opinion could sway immediately against them. In fact, such “hates and fears them” themes are quintessentially a feature of Marvel comics, all the way through Civil War (2007) and recent issues of Captain America and Uncanny X-Men. Here, opinion has swayed decidedly into the “Anti-” camp, appropriately bringing the Four down another notch in the story arc titled “The Fall of the Fantastic Four.”

Yet, even if I can understand this plot direction on a rational level (“I can see the lawyer’s point, even if it is fallacious!”) and on an emotional level (there is genuine pathos in the collateral damage described by the lawyer) and on a meta-historical level (seriously, where was a debate this poignant in the pages of Civil War?), I personally don’t find it satisfying. There’s a certain suspension of disbelief that I engage in when reading superhero stories, and part of that suspension is to hand-wave away some of the implications of “reality” of such a world. Here, Robinson is holding our heads into it, not only so we can’t turn away but so that it also dictates the direction of the plot and tone. That’s uncomfortable as a reader, and that discomfort can be a turn-off just as much as it can be dramatically engaging. Like looking at a slow-motion and potentially deadly car crash– should I continue staring or look away?

This is an oversized issue, with many guest artists providing the flashbacks and cut scenes as the courtroom builds their case against the Four. The splash-page is a somewhat lost art (pun intended) in comics nowadays, which usually default to trying to be storyboards rather than single page of pure artistic expression. Even here, some artists really try to be more symbolic than representational, while others depict a fairly straightforward, descriptive scene or montage. The most artistic, in that sense, would be the Starlin/Smith/Woodard page of Blastaar and Annihilus, with Samnee/Wilson providing the more scene-by-scene examples, and the others somewhere in between. Santacruz/Silva and Brigman/Richardson/Gandini provide story pages rather than flashback/splashes, but the art remains pretty generic and sometimes vaguely distorted/out of proportion. Santacruz, in particular, decidedly fails the What-Age-is-Valeria? Test.

Elsewhere, Kirk has the difficult task of drawing talking heads that remains visually exciting. There’s enough variety in the angles and compositioning to keep our eyes moving but unfortunately, the choices are overall depicted fairly safe and straightforward. A couple of moments are drawn for tone/drama, such as the team drawn small and isolated during the lunch recess, or the Thing drawn with head down with deeply-set shadows. The moment when Sue lunges at a reporter is confusing– I needed to know more about that moment, a panel seems to be missing from that sequence.

It also seems that the readers are being left deliberately in the dark in some ways. We never see She-Hulk’s rebuttals, and as someone who’s not a lawyer, even *I* could see the team was being rhetorically railroaded here. Shouldn’t she be a bit more competent here? And what, explicitly, is the ruling? I suppose it has to do with the Future Foundation being relocated to Camp Hammond, and I know moving is an unpleasant process, but this feels like there’s more to it? Rather than being suspenseful, the absence of these things feel unsatisfying. At least Alex Power leaves the reader with a positive note. He tells his teammates “I think we’re going to be okay.” Well, I sure hope so, Alex.

The Bottom Line:
The issue takes advantage of its guest stars to mix up an otherwise all-talking issue, but the effects are hit and miss. A deliberate, defeating tone continues to pervade the story arc, but it requires a lot of buy-in from the reader since some information continues to be missing/withheld. Also present are themes of power and responsibility, but I’m still wondering if it’s a genuine exploration of a Marvel trademark or if it’s re-treading ground better left in the past.

The Grade: C

-Danny Wall

Here’s what I think Reed Richards should have said:

“Son, we live in a world that has dimensional walls, and those walls have to be guarded by heroes with powers. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Mr. Toliver? We have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for a father’s smashed taxi, and you curse the Fantastic Four. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know — that collateral damage, while tragic, occurs when lives are saved; and our existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, allow lives to be saved.
You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want heroes flying through the skies — you need heroes flying through the skies.
We use words like “power,” and “responsibility.” We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punch line.
I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very protection that we provide and then questions the manner in which we provide it.
I would rather that you just said “thank you” and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up some battle armor and stand the post. Either way, I don’t give a DAMN what you think you’re entitled to!”