Sunday, May 16, 2010

Hero of the Week 2010 #19: The Sentry

Real Name: Bob Reynolds
First Appearance: The Sentry #1 (September, 2000)
Group Affiliation: Dark Avengers, Avengers (former)
Gaming Credentials: Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 (2008); Marvel vs Capcom 3 (TBA); Marvel Super Hero Squad Online (TBA)
Infinite Wars Ranking: #93

Big news in the gaming-comics world this week was official confirmation of Captain America and Deadpool as playable characters in Marvel vs Capcom 3. Even bigger than that was developments in Marvel's Siege -- a series undoing the power trip of Norman Osborn, aka; Iron Patriot aka; Green Goblin, who rose to power in the Marvel Universe when an alien shape-shifter invasion created doubt about, and made a scapegoat of, former dominant power, Tony Stark. Siege is the culmination of five years worth of rolling plotlines that disassembled the classic Avengers, pit the heroes against each other in a civil war, led to Osborn's dark reign of wolves in sheeps clothing, and now comes back around to a "Heroic Age" that reinstates the classic trio of Cap, Iron Man, and Thor as heads of the Marvel superhero fraternity and Avengers franchise.

Siege will also be remembered for pulling the pin on one of Marvel's most loaded characters, both in the sense of bringing about his (un)timely demise, but also in revealing the long suspected nature of his ability to be evil.

The Sentry came from not-so humble beginnings.
In fact, in 2000, the character was launched as one of the unsung creations of the Marvel Era, supposedly forgotten on the scrapheap of ideas that led Stan Lee to co-create the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Spider-man, Hulk, and the various other superheroes that have made him a legend.

In truth, The Sentry was created by Paul Jenkins, Jae Lee, and Rick Veitch; the result of a metamorphasis that began with a simple pitch about a flawed tired everyman hero, which turned into the hoax of the new millenium.

To embellish their fantastic claim of an undiscovered pre-FF Stan Lee hero, Jenkins and Lee, who had garnered attention for their Marvel Knights Inhumans mini-series, were granted the opportunity to create a false history for the character. Through various one-shots and mini-seres, the saga of Robert Reynolds, aka; The Sentry, was laid to bare, connecting him to all of Stan Lee's greatest Marvel creations, with unforseen results. He became a great friend to the X-Men's Angel, Mr. Fantastic, and Hulk -- even exhibiting a calming effect on the latter that made he and the green goliath an unstoppable crime-fighting duo!

The Sentry experiment was completed with a conclusion that justified it all as Marvel canon -- an end that revealed the Sentry's penchant for creating a dark mirror of his impossibly powerful and heroic self -- The Void! In a final moment of self-sacrifice, the Sentry completed the meta-hoax of his fictional creation, erasing himself and all references to him from the Marvel canon with the aid of Dr. Strange and Reed Richards. With the true nature of the project revealed and the story concluded, it would seem that was the end of The Sentry's saga, but when Brian Michael Bendis relaunched the Avengers in 2005, he set about to bring the character back to the forefront of a Marvel Universe he had dominated in a history that never was.

It might sound like a pretty reasonable idea to bring a character of such fanciful fiction into the Marvel Universe, but for a new generation of readers that had been recruited through the launch of millenial projects like the Ultimate comics, and longer serving readers too, it would prove a tough sell.

The Sentry was uncovered during the first arc of New Avengers, which started with a breakout at the super human prison, The Vault. Here, the Sentry made his shocking return to the Marvel universe, bearded and tired, bursting with the power of a thousand exploding suns. The exact nature of his unfathomable powers had never quite been defined in the quaint adventures explored by Jenkins and Lee, so it was to be a memorable demonstration for fans when, on 'return', the Sentry demonstrated his abilities by flying long reviled nineties creation (by Bendis and a vocal majority of jaded comics readers), Carnage, into space, where he tore him asunder.

This single event not only introduced the hero as a penfing prospect of the newly reassembled Avengers, but also confirmed that everything we'd been told by Jenkins had happened, and that the Marvel Universe was now a world of mixed histories. A fact that came to the fore in Siege: Fallen Son, which revelled in the hollow sentiments of a universe more aware of The Sentry's heroic triumphs than a good many readers.

The character and his secret history was explored through mini-series and continued adventures in various Avengers titles, but the more the Sentry was exposed to the readership, the less liked he seemed to become. By 2010, many prominent comics commentary sources were [humorously] offering a bounty to any Marvel writer who'd finally return The Sentry to the nothingness from whence he came -- such was the struggle to sell this concept to a readership under the illusion that their most familiar heroes were defined by weakness.

The Sentry, clad in primary colours and large S insignia, was a none-too-subtle analogue to DC's Superman -- a character many credit as the start of dominant superhero culture. Borrowing from the Superman archetype is nothing new in comics [I've done it myself], but for Marvel Comics, this was, in many ways, their first longterm mainstream attempt to enfuse the classical superhero with their own brand of flaws and foibles. The result -- an emotionally disturbed individual whose fragile psyche was as dangerous to the success of a mission as kryptonite and magic.

I personally regard the assumption that Marvel is somehow unique in their application of character flaws as a massive misconception. In the internet age, ideas like these have been propagated to be an interesting discussion piece embraced as fact by the uninitiated and unconfident, alike. In some ways, I think The Sentry is a karmic reflection of this widespread illusion of the Stan Lee superhero model, which gave these fans the logical realization of what they were claiming. Ironically, while I frown upon spreading this myth of Marvel's uber-humanity versus DC's capes, I actually find the Sentry an interesting concept -- one that never got time to be explored to it's fullest extent.

The Superman model raises so many questions, it's supported series from every major publisher, and a good many independent obscurities as well. Alan Moore tackled the subject with Rob Liefeld and Supreme; Marvel's had a crack with various analogues, including various incarnations of Hyperion and the Squadron Supreme; Mark Waid and BOOM! Studios have exploded with their dark take, Irredeemable; and DC themselves have even explored the adaptive relevance of the character with popular stories like The Dark Knight Returns, Kingdom Come, and Superman: Red Son. Each story tackled elements of Superman's relevance to ultimate power, alien perspectives, paranoia, nature vs nurture, judicial systems and law enforcement, government responsibility, legacy, and iconography. The Sentry, unfortunately, struggled to reach these lofty topics, bogged down in the assumption that the summary of his character was his emotional flaw and penchant for bursting into tears and explosive panic attacks mid-battle -- an interesting idea, but one that blew up in Marvel's face, to a large extent.

The Sentry is the US Government's Deus Ex Machina when Hulk lays waste to New York City in World War Hulk.

The Sentry had his highlights. Like the many fantasy fight debates about whether or not a certain hero could combat Superman; The Sentry's battles in the Marvel Universe satisfied the basic lust for competition that exists in many readers. If nothing else, The Sentry succeeded in delivering some exciting action moments that will be remembered by many fans fondly, including his last-issue showdown with Hulk in World War Hulk, and even last minute bouts with Thor and Ares in Siege.

It seems entirely likely that The Sentry might return at some point in the future, reprising his out-of-control role as The Void. For the time being, it seems there'll be very little love lost for many readers, who've viewed the past five years cynically with few reasons to think otherwise. This was potentially a very interesting subject -- the existence of a Marvel Superman -- but in the end, the character is one that remains waiting to be redeemed, without the burden of similarities to other Superman analogues like Mr. Majestic, or Miracleman (aka; Marvelman). It remains to be seen whether or not The Sentry might get a second shot at life through games like Marvel vs Capcom 3, or the just announced MMO, Super Hero Squad Online. I'd call those odds a longshot, at best.

The death of Sentry and end of Norman Osborn's Dark Reign has brought about a Heroic Age in Marvel Comics, but before sunbursts takeover the lay of the land, you can check out Siege #1-#4 for all the important action. Further details lie in final issues of Dark Avengers and Avengers: The Initiative, and for those that appreciated the character, an elaborative farewell lies in Siege: Fallen Son. You can find more information on all of that at and good comics retailers.

<< Hero of the Week 05/23: Thor       [Home]       Hero of the Week 05/09: Nick Fury >>

Originally posted:

No comments: