22 February 2005

Retro: The Sentry (TPB)

I was still out of comics back in 2000 when Marvel pulled off its Sentry hoax, pretending to have discovered a Silver Age creation of Stan Lee's that pre-dated even the Fantastic Four, and getting that bastion of reputable comics journalism, Wizard, to go along with the stunt. Purportedly their answer to Superman, but with the personal foibles that were Marvel's forte, even Lee played along, claiming to remember shelving the character because he was "so powerful, he could very well have destroyed the entire Marvel Universe and everything we were planning." They even created, and then killed, a fictional artist who's widow was credited with the discovery of the files containing the long-lost character.

Intrigued by the Sentry's appearance in Bendis' New Avengers lineup, I decided to check out the trade paperback and see who he was and if there was anything behind all the fuss. I don't know how fans reacted as the story unfolded in real time and the hoax was ultimately revealed but, judging it on its own merits years later, it ranks as yet another overblown "event" that's all flash, little substance.

The trade paperback collects The Sentry's five-issue mini-series, along with the five subsequent one-shots, Sentry: Fantastic Four, Sentry: X-Men, Sentry: Spider-Man, Sentry: Hulk and Sentry vs. The Void, in what has to be one of the most overwrought, anti-climactic, and ultimately pointless marketing stunts ever. To reinforce that fact, it includes a series of "interviews" between Lee and Marvel EIC, Joe Quesada, that plays along with the ruse; reprints of various Wizard articles that ran in support of it; and a note from Wizard Staff Writer, Chris Lawrence, vainly attempting to rationalize the whole thing: "The goal wasn't to mislead anyone or betray anyone, but to get fans to further suspend their disbelief, to lead them to better appreciate the intricacies of Paul Jenkins' plot, to help them have fun."

Gee, I remember when it was the quality of the work in question that got fans to "suspend their disbelief" and "have fun." Silly me!

The mini-series introduces Bob Reynolds, a potbellied, alcoholic schlub who wakes up one stormy night remembering he was once the greatest superhero the world had ever known, and the realization that his greatest enemy had returned. What follows is a mildly intriguing piece of Rashômon-style meta-fiction that tells the story of a superhero no one remembers and the reasons why. You see, as Reed Richards says at a moment of crisis to Dr. Strange, "The Sentry: If we ever remember him...in the name of all humanity, promise me you'll do whatever you can to make us forget."

Or, as Stan Lee put it, "he was so powerful, he could very well have destroyed the entire Marvel Universe and everything we were planning."

Wink, wink.

The whole thing is one big fanboy circle-jerk as writer Paul Jenkins has a good time with this ridiculous - though, at times, clever and entertaining - retcon of the entire Marvel Universe that makes Straczynski's recent "Sins Past" sullying of the sainted Gwen Stacy look timid in comparison. The mini-series and the final one-shot, Sentry vs. The Void tell the meat of the story, from Reynolds' efforts to figure out why no one remembers the Sentry - including the various heroes he fought alongside, many of whom even attended his wedding, not to mention Peter Parker whose photograph of the Sentry won him a Pulizter Prize! - to the final confrontation with his arch-nemesis, the Void. The other one-shots flesh out various characters' memories of the Sentry through some achingly navel-gazing exposition that mostly serves to reinforce just how great a hero the Sentry was.

One could argue that the story's conclusion, with the Sentry once again forgotten, is a dig at Superman himself, taking the stance that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and as such, a being as powerful as Superman (or the Sentry) would necessitate an equally powerful evil that would ultimately doom the world and, as a result, Superman (or the Sentry) shouldn't exist. It's an interesting concept that Jenkins pulls off much more in the subtext than on the surface. On the surface, it's similar to most time travel stories where, if you look at them too closely, the "logic" holding them together falls apart.

In light of the Sentry's seemingly contradictory reappearance in the New Avengers, I figure Bendis has two choices in dealing with the character. Either he completely ignores Jenkins' "introduction" and starts from scratch with the character, or he dips into the convoluted, non-sensical explanation for why no one remembers him and risks losing the credibility he's re-established so far post-Disassembled. As someone who couldn't care less about strict adherence to continuity, I sincerely hope he goes with the former, because the latter might be enough to get me to drop New Avengers outright. It's that stupid.

The Sentry (Marvel Comics, 2001; $24.95) Written by Paul Jenkins, Art by Jae Lee and others.


Julie said...

Isn't it great how one wrong character can make or break a book? Oy!

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Yeah, I've seen similar complaints about the possibility of the "mystery ninja" actually being Daredevil in a different costume to protect his no-longer-secret identity. That wouldn't really bother me, though, as those are mostly continuity complaints, a la "where does he find the time?"

Omar said...

I wasn't collecting avidly at this point either, but didn't D.C. do this storyline with Triumph?

Anonymous said...

"Where does he find the time?"

More importantly, where are the bathrooms in Xavier's mansion, and why don't the X-Men ever go?!