Saturday, August 22, 2009

Blogathon 07: The Sentry

[Discussed in this post: The Sentry #1-5, The Sentry/Fantastic Four, The Sentry/Spider-Man, The Sentry/X-Men, The Sentry/Hulk, and The Sentry VS. the Void.]

The Sentry was originally presented not just as a mystery to his fellow heroes but to the readers as well. A lost Stan Lee creation meant to debut before the Fantastic Four. The real beginning of the Marvel Age. But... then why doesn't anyone remember him, not even Lee? All of this was presented in Wizard (by the way, them going along with this fake story was the exact moment that the magazine lost its last shred of credibility) and it was a good way to market the series.

The story itself is very simple: Robert Reynolds begins to remember his life as a superhero named the Sentry. He remember adventures with other heroes, but they don't remember him. No one does. Why? The series slowly unravels the mystery of the Sentry as he returns to confront his arch-enemy, the Void, who has also returned (but no one seems to remember either...).

Ultimately, the big revelation is that the Sentry is the Void. Something about Reynolds's powers and mental state cause the Void to come into existence whenever the Sentry is active. If Reynolds is the Sentry, he creates the Void, so he and Reed Richards made the Sentry disappear to save the world. They ruined his heroic image and used the source of the Sentry's powers, a formula, to power a device that makes everyone forget him.

As an idea, it's wonderful. I love The Sentry for its ingenuity. The greatest hero the world has ever known is also its biggest threat and must disappear or else doom everyone. Fantastic stuff. Why doesn't the Marvel Universe have its own Superman? Because he would destroy the Marvel Universe. If Marvel heroes have problems to keep them grounded, a Superman-level Marvel hero would have Superman-level problems. Genius.

Jenkins finds a lot of ways to fit the Sentry into the Marvel universe. Making him and Reed Richards best friends is a great touch. I'm not sure why the Sentry was never on the Avengers... when he went away, the Avengers were still relatively new, I guess. That is one area where the series falls down: the Sentry disappear WAY too early in Marvel history. Hank Pym is still Giant-Man... yet we see comics featuring the Sentry from later points. It doesn't add up.

The storytelling of this series is very, very, very slow and would have worked better monthly where each issue would draw you deeper into the mystery. Reading it as a whole, it is just too slow -- and seems needlessly so. But, it also works with the idea of people slowly remembering the Sentry. Details unfold slowly and it's compelling.

The four teamm-up one-shots shed some more light on the Sentry's past with his fellow heroes. They acted as sort of a fifth-week event. We get to see the Sentry and Fantastic Four team-up since Bob and Reed are best friends. Or, how the Sentry provided Spider-Man with a picture opportunity that won Peter Parker a Pulitzer and made him famous. Or, the influence that the Sentry had on a young Angel. The best of these one-shots is the Hulk one as the Sentry acts as a calming influence on the Hulk, supposedly to help him evolve into something better.

Throughout the series, we get pages and covers of old comics -- the Sentry appeared in a book called "Startling Stories." And Jae Lee alters his style accordingly. In the Hulk one-shot Jenkins takes it a step further by having the adventures of the Hulk and Sentry begin with The Incredible Hulk #7 -- so that's why it stopped at issue six for us! A little joke that I love.

Jae Lee's art is phenomenal. The right amount of edge and oddness to suit the material. He can draw damn near anything and it looks spooky as hell, matching the spookiness of the story... it is spooky to suddenly realise that you don't remember a guy like the Sentry, that you're not supposed to -- to suddenly see a shelf in your home with a unicorn statue on it. The Sentry is a spooky story and Lee's art is perfect for it.

An element of the story that Jenkins originally wanted to use but didn't work in all that well is the idea of addiction, that the Sentry was addicted to the formula that gave him powers. They use this idea as the reason why the Sentry is really a bad guy to get the world to turn against him so the brainwashing will work, but not much elsewhere. Kind of a shame, because his idea of Hourman as a superpower junkie is a great one.

The story ends with the world forgetting the Sentry again -- but with a hint that Bob has a vague memory of it all. It ends in a way that if the Sentry never came back again, we know why. The Sentry never actually happened and that's for the best. I actually think it may have been better if he never came back, because there isn't a lot to the character beyond 'mentally ill Superman,' which works for this story, but not as much beyond it. So, if he were to come back, it would be bad for everyone. Thus, Bendis brings him back... and needlessly alters elements of his story as Bendis is wont to do.

Which we'll see in 30 minutes in New Avengers: The Sentry.

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]