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

05 December 2009

Sentry: The Age of the Sentry

Collects: Age of Sentry #1-6 (2008-9)

Released: June 2008 (Marvel)

Format: 152 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 9780785135203

What is this?: The faux Silver Age adventures of the Sentry, Marvel’s most powerful psychotic retcon.

The culprits: Writers Jeff Parker and Paul Tobin and artist Nick Dragotta (and others)

The Sentry is problematic in the Marvel Universe. He was created by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee as a vehicle for a single, excellent story that played off the established Marvel world but left little role for the character. But then followed another limited series, and then the Sentry became part of the New Avengers …

Not what the Sentry was intended for, and fans have debated how well the character can fill the role. The Sentry was intended to be a supremely powerful character — an analogue of Superman — but one who was mentally ill, creating his own destructive nemesis, the Void. That’s not as bad for an ongoing character as Siena Blaze, a supervillain who was so powerful she risked destroying the world each time she used her powers (Spoiler: the world was not destroyed), but it’s close.

Sentry: Age of the Sentry coverSentry: The Age of the Sentry avoids all those problems neatly. Seeing a Superman analogue in the Marvel Universe, writers Jeff Parker and Paul Tobin gleefully write sendups of DC’s Silver Age stories, those over-the-top and often bizarre tales that defied logic and consequence. The villains in these stories include the wonderfully absurd Cranio, the Man with the Tri-Level Mind (he actually has three brains in a transparent dome); Ursus, the Ultra-Bear (a giant bear); and the Mountain Man, a superpowerful hillbilly (and yes, they don’t shy away from calling them hillbillies). The Guardians of the Galaxy are remade as Legion of Superheroes analogues, and Ms. Marvel is recast as the Sentress, complete with Lolly, a sidekick who more than causally resembles Wonder Woman’s friend Etta Candy. There’s even an Earth-1 / Earth-2 team-up.

Parker and Tobin don’t neglect Marvel’s Silver Age; the Sentry fights the Mad Thinker and the Tinkerer, although the story’s trappings are more DC than Marvel. Millie the Model co-stars in one adventure, and Tyrannus and the Moloids are the villains for another. A story involving early Marvel characters celebrating the Sentry’s birthday could have been right out of any anthology title of the early ‘60s. The framing sequences for the stories involve Sue and Reed Richards telling Franklin bedtime stories about the Sentry, and each story has a cover to a fake Marvel comic and its own letter column.

It’s not just that the stories ape the goofiness of the Silver Age; the stories are genuinely — and knowingly — funny. At one point, the Sentry tells a villain, “My life is wacky — but a very specific kind of wacky.” Trying to excuse Reed’s inability to keep telling Sentry stories, Sue says Reed has been working to reverse global warming, only to change it to working on a cure for the Thing when she realizes the Thing is listening in. The Earth-1 Sentry beats up beatniks and uses a Colt .45 to fight crime, which disturbs his Earth-2 counterpart. There are also weird bits with Harrison Oogar, the caveman of Wall Street, and Truman Capote as a villain. This is perhaps the most hilarious book I’ve reviewed this year (in a close race with Tales Designed to Thrizzle).

There is a serious side to the stories as well. The stories gradually mature, just as comic book stories did. Parker and Tobin don’t shy away from the Sentry’s insanity, working it into the stories without disturbing the flow. The effect is jarring — a joke one panel, the Sentry snapping into a delusion the next — but somehow it works.

The art is top notch as well. Nick Dragotta draws a story in each issue (usually the lead story), with other artists, such as Ramon Rosanas and Colleen Coover drawing the second story. Dragotta is especially impressive, shifting styles from slightly cartoony to more serious. Each artist seems to take the goofiness and run with it, drawing weirder and weirder stuff (Dragotta sets the bar high in the first issue with the Men-Bot, a robot with two heads: one is Jerry Lewis and the other Dean Martin). When the story calls for a shift to a more serious tone, the artists are up to the challenge as well. The styles even sync up pretty well, which is an incredible achievement; although Coover stands out as different, she’s drawing a Millie the Model story, which is a completely different genre, so that makes sense.

For some reason, this book is not available online at Borders, Barnes & Noble, Booksamillion, Overstock, or Amazon. I have no idea why this is, but it annoys the heck out of me.

When this came out, I was skeptical about it, but I’m glad the reviews (and covers) won me over. Sentry may not be “the new apex of the art form,” as the blurb from Chris’s Invincible Super-Blog calls it, but it is outstanding fun.

Rating: Marvel symbol Marvel symbol Marvel symbol Marvel symbol Half Marvel symbol (4.5 of 5)

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Blogger Marc said...

Glad to see you're back with a new review! I loved the original Sentry miniseries, and it's been sad to see his potential pretty much blown ever since. It sounds like they finally got it right with this book, so I will definitely have to check it out.

3:10 PM  
Blogger Raoul said...

I loved the Jenkins / Lee series too. And they did get the Sentry right here -- but they did it by going in a nearly completely different direction. It's really astonishing how well it works.

2:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

4:38 AM  
Blogger Ben Culture said...

Great review. I always imagined this book was a reaction to the lazy, ignorant people who dismissed the Sentry as a "rip-off" of Superman. It's one of those things that, the more one thinks about it, the more wrong and stupid it seems, and the more annoyed one gets!
I remain annoyed that the Sentry was killed off. I feel like Marvel really blew a chance to do something inspiring with a mentally ill character, instead of repeating the Scarlet Witch scenario: Powers+Mental-Illness=Disaster.
I actually thought the second miniseries, Jenkins/Romita, Jr., was even better than the Jenkins/Lee original. But it makes one wonder if Jenkins meant for the character to do anything other than wrestle with the Void.
What's really weird about "Age of The Sentry" is, I could SWEAR I had seen Harrison Oogar, the Caveman of Wall Street, before! Like, in the 1970s! But as far as my Internet searches indicate, he was created for this series.

11:45 AM  
Blogger Raoul said...

Thanks, Ben.

Although I agree the Sentry had a great deal of potential, I think he was always going to go the way of the Scarlet Witch. Writing a mentally ill character well is difficult, and giving that character nuance is impossible for a lot of writers. It's probably better to get rid of the character rather than have an embarrassing storyline that makes a mockery of the character or mental illness.

While a lot of the trappings and plot structure of The Age of Sentry was supposed to feel familiar, I don't think Harrison Oogar was. On the other hand, he obviously struck a chord in your mind, so maybe I'm wrong.

12:17 PM  

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