It all started with a strange story that a character created by Stan Lee and ‘Artie Rosen’ had somehow slipped by the back of a filing cabinet only to be unearthed in the 21st Century. Seeking to celebrate the lost gem, Marvel Comics planned a special mini-series to re-establish this superhero of heroes, incorporating him into the Marvel Universe’s rich history as if he had always been there. With ‘the power of a million exploding suns,’ The Sentry was thrust on an unsuspecting comic book market in 2000.
As the rumored demise of the Sentry looms, I had decided to re-investigate the Marvel Knights series and was surprised to find that the Paul Jenkins/Jae Lee series is a dark and brooding tale that holds up well by today’s standards. The 2000 Sentry series also fits quite well into the ‘retroactive origin’ that Brian Michael Bendis has infused in a recent issue of New Avengers, despite my initial reaction that the two tales contradicted each other.
Robert Reynolds is introduced as a recovering addict (definitely of alcohol, but it would not be a stretch to include harder stuff) who is having strange premonitions that a vast evil is coming and that he is the only person capable of stopping it. His ability lies in the fact that Robert Reynolds is actually a super hero, a secret that he has kept even from himself for some reason. As he freaks out his wife and attacks his dog, Robert is left alone with a bottle of the miraculous fluid that causes him to transform into the Sentry… only this time it takes much longer than before causing him to wonder of he is just losing his mind.
Robert embarks on a tour of the superhuman community to try and bring back the deeply hidden memory of his shared past with the luminaries of the Marvel Universe from Reed Richards to Spider-Man and even the Hulk. His memories are told in vivid flashbacks depicted as homages to the varied eras of superhero comic books from the innocence of the 1940′s to the post-modernism of the 1980s’ and even over-the-top quality of the 1990′s. The Sentry is shown to be incredibly powerful, on the level of Superman if not moreso. His very presence calms the Hulk and his bravery inspires the Angel of the X-Men.
All along the way, he is haunted by a dreadful feeling that an ominous evil called the void is approaching. In the end, it is revealed that the Sentry and the Void are one and the same, the Void being the culmination of Robert’s Id. As the memories of the Marvel Universe’s heroes start to return, they realize that the only way that the Void was stopped last time was by the Sentry willing himself and the world to forget he ever existed. Bravely, he makes the same sacrifice again and is forgotten.
The strangest part of the Sentry’s history is the fact that after all that press and all of those comics, the character simply disappeared as if he had never lived. The ‘long forgotten creation of Stan Lee and Artie Rosen’ was revealed to be a hoax and the comic community wasn’t exactly amused. Whereas the series can be enjoyed today after the character has become such a vital part of the MU, at the time it felt like we had been had.
Five years after the long forgotten Jenkins/Lee series, Brian Michael Bendis was putting together his New Avengers team. In many ways it was an attempt to utilize all of the heavy hitters and marketing darlings of the Marvel Universe (such as Wolverine, Iron Man, Spider-Man and Captain America) along with a few characters that Bendis simply liked, such as Luke Cage and Spider-Woman. Plans to include Daredevil fell apart for some reason. In addition to the others, Bendis noticed the Sentry just lying around unused. Here was the Marvel equivalent to Superman and no one was using him! Unearthing Robert Reynolds’ strange and convoluted past, Bendis brought the man with the power of a million exploding suns into the Avengers at last.
Taking part in the quelling of the escaped supervillain jailbreak from The Raft, the Sentry takes Carnage into space and rips him to ribbons. Rather than feel intense dread and fear from this act, Iron Man sees only an untapped opportunity to be added to the newly reformed Avengers team. Hunting Robert down to a cave where he has exiled himself, the Avengers introduce the Sentry to Paul Jenkins, the writer of his comic book series. Robert insists on viewing his life in a primary spot-colored world where he has an origin story not unlike Captain America’s, a scrawny kid drinking a miraculous formula that transforms him completely.
To be honest, the Sentry did very little as a member of the superteam aside from sulk in his penthouse apartment and mope. Refusing to take part in the superhero Civil War, he came out of hiding long enough to register than disappeared again. The big problem with the Sentry, you see, is that he is also the Void and Robert cannot figure out a way to keep the Void from manifesting. With no better idea, he tries to lay low and follow the instructions of his CLOC system which identifies threats he can solve. Called into action against the Hulk, the Sentry made a timely appearance and helped deaden the green giant’s rage. But it wasn’t until he became part of Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers that the character really took off.
The secret here is that Norman Osborn knows from crazy.
The former Spider-Man supervillain known as the Green Goblin, Norman was possibly earnest in his relations with the entry that madness can be controlled simply by denying it. Norman talked Robert into denying the Void and produced a vial of the same super serum that he drank when he first became the Sentry. It was this pivotal point that Bendis later revisited to establish that Robert was indeed a drug addict and that the serum was the biggest hit he had ever scored. Robert’s wife Lindy tried to reason with him which conflicted with Osborn’s talk and drove Robert to fly into the sun in a desperate attempt to commit suicide. Rather than die, the Void engaged in a dialog with Robert and eventually took control of Robert’s persona, harkening the beginning of the darkest days since Biblical recording.
Using Robert’s power to subdue Thor in his siege of Asgard, Norman was also saved from an attack by Dark Avenger Ares. After realizing that he had been conned by Norman into attacking the noble Asgardians, Ares lunged at Osborn before he was stopped cold by the Sentry who literally tore the god of war in half. Norman and his associates gazed at the blood-covered Sentry in mute horror. Tell-tale black coils could be seen peeking from under the Sentry’s golden uniform indicating that the Void was in complete control at last. It became starkly apparent that Norman Osborn haduncorked a demon that he cannot control.
Last year the legendary Rick Veitch wrote about the part he played in the creation of the character (read all of the entries here). A champion of the Silver Age comic book genre (as evidenced in the Image series 1963 and Supreme with Alan Moore), Veitch combined his skill with the more contemporary writing style of Paul Jenkins.
The basic idea was to present a down-and-out superhero that the world had forgotten. If the sketches are anything to go by this was intended to be more of a musing of the superhero mystique than the creation of a new character for Marvel Comics. In the end, the Sentry ended up taking a different route, but it is interesting to see the early origins of the concept and compare it to where things ended up.
It is astounding to see how many creators had a hand in the Sentry and how many attempts it took to get the character into the modern Marvel continuity. There are some readers who dislike him, but personally I think that a thoroughly neurotic Superman unable to act for fear of unleashing his Id is an inspired concept.