Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

20 December 2006

The Sentry

Collects: Sentry #1-5, Sentry: Fantastic Four, Sentry: Hulk, Sentry: Spider-Man, Sentry: X-Men, Sentry vs. the Void (2000-1)

Released: October 2001 (Marvel)

Format: 240 pages / color / $24.99 / ISBN: 0785107991

The Sentry is one of those rare Marvel books that succeeded despite being hailed as a critical success. Created by writer Paul Jenkins and artist Jae Lee, the team who gave you critically successful Inhumans miniseries in 1998-9, Sentry burst onto the scene in 2000 amid a screen of low-key publicity claiming the character was a forgotten Silver-Age Marvel character.

 cover Of course that was just hype to make people pay attention. But it worked, at least to a degree, and people were induced to read a fairly successful mystery. Rob Reynolds is overweight, a possible drunk, and maybe mentally disturbed. But he keeps having memories of being an incredibly powerful superhero called the Sentry. Jenkins and Lee allow the reader to think he may be hallucinating early in the series, but then the Sentry begins awakening the memories of his superhero colleagues: Reed Richards, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man, etc. Meanwhile, his old archenemy, the Void, becomes active again, and Rob, as the Sentry, tries to unravel why everyone forgot him.

Who betrayed him? Why did even he forget himself? What happens in his battle with the Void? I can’t tell you. There is a big reveal at the end of the story, one of such magnitude that if you know it, it will put a considerable dent into your enjoyment of the story. My wife, who didn’t know, loved the story. I knew, and although I enjoyed The Sentry considerably, the reveal seemed obvious.

The mystery is revealed slowly, with flashbacks in the style of the appropriate comic-book period. Lee is the only penciller credited for the Sentry issues, and if he did the flashback art, then he shows truly astonishing range. Kirby-esque ‘60s art, Alex Ross-style painted art, grim and gritty ‘90s art (not a stretch for Lee, but it’s not done in his normal style), a Byrne pastiche, and Romita-style Spider-Man flashbacks are all presented as part of the story. Lee’s normal style is scratchy and takes a little time to get used to, but given the themes of less-than-perfect memory, it’s appropriate.

Jenkins doles out the clues slowly, almost frustratingly, leaving enough ambiguity to support different theories. He uses the characters of the Marvel Universe as a framework to wedge his new (old) hero and make him stick. It’s a surprisingly effective story, given that the Sentry is an entirely new character who accumulates all of his history (up to that point) within the pages of this book.

The one-shots bog down Sentry in the middle of the story. Sentry #5 sets up the confrontation between Sentry and the Void, with all the heroes gathered to help the Sentry vs. his old nemesis. But then the plot goes on hold for four flashbacks, with other heroes recalling how important the Sentry was to their development as heroes and human beings. Each of these stories is drawn by artists other than Lee: Phil Winslade aims for a retro feel but hits more John Byrne than Silver Age in the Fantastic Four story; Rick Leonardi gives an ‘80s feel to the Spider-Man tale; Bill Sienkiewicz draws a Hulk story in his beautiful, scratchy style; and Mark Texeira rounds out the flashbacks with a very ‘90s-looking Angel story. The only one of these stories that is halfway important to the plot is the Hulk story, which makes it appropriate that Sienkiewicz draws it; it isn’t his best pencils by a far cry, but it matches Lee’s style much better than the other artists.

The original press pieces from Wizard are included, along with interviews with Stan Lee and Joe Quesada. They’re worthy additions to the book, especially with Lee seeming to confirm he created the Sentry in the interviews without actually ever saying he had anything to do with the character. It’s an interesting little extra that makes an excellent story a little better, a tongue-in-cheek joke that allows us to remember when Marvel could promote new books.

Rating: (4.5 of 5)

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