Half-Verdict and Half-Mistrial: “Guardians of the Galaxy #13”

[31 March 2014]

By Jack Fisher

When it comes to justice, most people who aren’t sociopaths or dictators adhere to a strict dichotomy. If justice isn’t served, then that means injustice had somehow prevailed by default. It’s a simple, neat, and comforting approach to a critical concept that keeps society from falling apart. But like the rules of the Matrix, the concept of justice isn’t such a tidy package. If it were, then there would be no such thing as a technically, a mistrial, or a wrongful conviction. This utopian idea of justice is rarely scrutinized in modern superhero comics, except when it involves a superhero civil war. Yet it’s this concept of justice that has been exceedingly obscured in The Trial of Jean Grey.

The Shi’ar take a very Machiavellian approach when it comes to justice. For them, technicalities aren’t the exception. They’re the standard. If they serve the Shi’ar, then that counts as justice by default. So taking a Minority Report approach to dealing with Jean Grey is perfectly legal by that standard. They went through the trouble of abducting her, fighting off efforts to save her, and putting her on trial for the crimes she committed as Dark Phoenix. It doesn’t matter that this Jean Grey is a time-displaced teenager. To the Shi’ar, that’s just another technicality.

This creates a brand of self-serving justice that isn’t wholly consistent with the ideal most associate with the concept. It sounds more like the kind of justice that is administered in North Korea wherein the potential for a crime is every bit as egregious as the crime itself. And in Guardians of the Galaxy #13, which marks the final chapter of The Trial of Jean Grey, this brand of justice comes back to haunt Gladiator and the Shi’ar Imperial Guard. By trying to administer this brand of justice, they invited a full-fledged attack by the X-men, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Starjammers. Maybe in North Korea they could get away with this sort of thing, but these are not typical dissidents that they can send to the gulags.

This attack and all the personal drama that comes with it has been the biggest strength of The Trial of Jean Grey. It helped set the stage for this final confrontation between the Shi’ar and those who do not care for their particular brand of justice. However, when this unfolds, the resolution is not very consistent with any form of justice. It’s not even consistent with any technicalities. The proceedings are basically stopped. And under the threat of a very upset Jean Grey with a new array of psychic powers, Gladiator basically agrees to defer the trial indefinitely. There’s no full resolution. It doesn’t address the crimes of Dark Phoenix or even the excessively unjust execution of Jean Grey’s entire family. It essentially tables the issue in a way where neither side wants to deal with it.

That’s not to say there isn’t some kind of resolution. The trail itself was filled with more drama than the O.J. Simpson affair. The Shi’ar shoved Jean Grey’s future crimes in her face. These were crimes that she herself didn’t fully and went out of her way to avoid since the early issues of All-New X-men. Well she can’t ignore it anymore. And by having them shoved down her throat in the most callous way possible, it allows her to come to a few important realizations about herself, her future, and the Phoenix Force. Through that realization, she pushes herself to reach a new power that allows her to fight back. And for once, this power is not the Phoenix Force. And given sick everyone on the Marvel universe is of the Phoenix Force, that’s probably a good thing.

With this new power, Jean Grey is able to subdue Gladiator on her own. She’s not overwhelmed. She’s not crying out for help. She’s basically the ultimate feminist, taking on her problems by herself and controlling her own fate. It’s marks a major shift for Jean Grey because for a good portion of her history, a lot of her power was contingent upon the Phoenix. She may have been a skilled psychic, but she often relied on the Phoenix Force for extra firepower. That often led to the instability that led to multiple deaths and resurrections. This time-displaced version of Jean Grey has already decided that she would rather not go through those rigors and would rather forge a new path. She even says it herself. This is “all new.”

However, this profound realization is undercut by the somewhat inane way the conflict ends. In the same way Jean Grey never gets a verdict for her crimes, Gladiator and the Shi’ar never get a verdict for the crimes they committed against Jean’s family or the X-men. They just agree to part ways, content to operate under the constant threat of mutually assured destruction should the Shi’ar attempt to exact this kind of justice again. That only worked to an extent during the Cold War so it’s hardly a sufficient resolution in this case.

In addition to the weak resolution, the drama surrounding The Trial of Jean Grey isn’t resolved either. However, this might be intentional. The story was never meant to resolve all the ongoing drama between Cyclops and Jean Grey or the drama with Starlord in his father. These are all much bigger stories that have spanned multiple arcs and will continue to do so. But in the end, The Trial of Jean Grey doesn’t give the impression that a whole lot of progress has been made. The decisions and discussions were lacking. And in instances where these details could have been added, there are only dry bits of humor like Groot and Rocket Raccoon getting uncomfortable around Earth’s flora and fauna.

The narrative of Guardians of the Galaxy #13 had some significant developments and some intense moments that helped bring the Trial of Jean Grey to an appropriate culmination. It wasn’t as elaborate as it could have been or should have been for that matter. But it triggered some promising new developments for the characters, none of which would have been possible if the Shi’ar hadn’t tried to exercise their perverse brand of justice. So while justice may not have been served, it didn’t lead to a more egregious crime. And for a brand of justice laced with technicalities, this is probably the best anyone can hope for.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/180371-guardians-of-the-galaxy-13/