What do you do when you realise the entire world has forgotten you? When you realise everyone in your life has no memory of your existence and has moved on without you? What happens when you realise that you’re the most important hero to ever exist and no one will believe you?
This is the story of Robert Reynolds, an agoraphobic alcoholic who just happens to be the greatest savior of the Marvel Universe. The is the story of the Sentry.
Written by Paul Jenkins
Illustrated by Jae Lee, Bill Sienkiewicz, Phil Winslade, Rick Leonardi and Mark Texeira
The Sentry was a beloved hero, fighting crime before the Fantastic Four took their fateful trip to the stars. He fought all manner of costumed villainy, making the notion of costumed crimefighting accepted by New York’s citizenry. He fought alongside the Fantastic Four, Hulk, and Spider-Man, the ideal they tried to measure up to.
But today, no one remembers who he was.
Bob Reynolds, teetering on the edge of both alcoholism and a failed marriage, wakes up to discover his true nature. He does so in time to begin rebuilding his life. The evil entity known as the Void is returning to Earth. Reynolds dons his Sentry uniform once more and has to unravel the conspiracy to erase his memory from mankind before the Void arrives.
Ready for the final battle, Marvel’s premier hero is backed up by his closest friends, Mr. Fantastic, X-Men’s Angel, the Hulk and Spider-Man. Could they be enough to stop an evil as powerful as the Void?
“The Sentry” isn’t the first time Marvel has had a Superman-esque superhero into their stories. From Blue Marvel to Hyperion to The Gladiator to even Thor, the reach and cultural important of a character like Superman has somewhat insidiously found itself within even Marvel’s heroes. However, “The Sentry” is something different. While those characters have some of the qualities of a character like Superman, they largely stand on their own. “The Sentry” is a miniseries the explores the history of the Marvel Universe and the supposed conspiracy to keep what could only be described as “Marvel’s Superman” from being remembered.
As part of the Marvel Knights lineup, the series begun in 2000 and was written by Paul Jenkins with artwork primarily by Jae Lee with some tie-in issues including artwork from the likes of Bill Sienkiewicz, Mark Texeira, Phil Winslade and Rick Leonardi. This should have been a monumental epic in the history of Marvel comics, remembered to this day. So what happened?
Well, for one, the character of The Sentry has been disparaged time and again since the publication of this series. He’s too powerful. He’s boring. He doesn’t do anything. In becoming Marvel’s Superman, he has become subject to the same criticism that Superman himself has. There have been thinkpiece upon thinkpiece about The Sentry talking about why a Superman-expy does not work within the Marvel Universe ignoring, of course, that that’s the actual point of the story. Not to go too far into spoilers, but Jenkins’ writing makes it clear throughout that the reason the Marvel Universe works is because it doesn’t have that archetype of a character.
This miniseries is equal parts satire against comic books for their need to abandon what made the Golden Age and Silver Age of comics so wonderful in order to become darker and more violent and satire against the character of Superman himself in many ways. Jenkins’ writing delves deep into the history of the Marvel Universe to present both the positives (of which there are many) of having a character like this as part of the history of that universe as well as the negatives (of which there are also many) of this archetype of character. It’s a nuanced look at superheroes that foregoes bombast and action and punching for a more psychologically driven character piece on a man who must not exist in order to save the world.
That nuance is why Jae Lee is the perfect artist for this series. Drawing the main five issues of the series as well as the “The Sentry Vs The Void” issue that caps off the story, Lee’s art is dark, stoic and atmospheric. Bringing harsh lines that render figures like marble statues and heavy inks that drape every scene in shadow with with watercolours by Jose Villarubia that drape most scenes in the background of an overcast and stormy sky, the artwork of this series feels as dark and turbulent as the soul of Robert Reynolds himself.Continued below
That’s just the artwork for the scenes set in the present, though. As part of the theming of the story that looks back at previous Sentry adventures through the lens of comic book history, Lee changes his style to mimic artists like Jack Kirby, Frank Miller, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld and John Buscema as an exploration of the history of Marvel comics through their artwork. It’s a neat trick and feels very much in the vein of “Flex Mentallo” without ever obfuscating that it’s still Jae Lee drawing those panels.
The other artists, who each tackle a one-shot issue published between #5 of “The Sentry” and the final “The Sentry Vs The Void” that explore The Sentry’s history with the characters of the Marvel Universe, all perfectly match their stories. Bill Sienkiewicz, whose art is always welcome to my eyes, tackle the Hulk issue and creates a similarly psychologically scattered effect that matches the emotional connection the Sentry forges with the bestial mind of the Hulk as is perhaps my favourite of these tie-in issues. Mark Texeira has the reigns on the X-Men issue which focuses on Angel and while his art doesn’t quite match the tone of the comic the way the other artists do, it’s hard to say no to Texeira artwork.
Phil Winsalde’s artwork captures an uncanny mix between John Byrne and Mike Wieringo on the Fantastic Four issue that’s all strange monsters, Kirby Krackles and sci-fi corridors of metal panels and gleaming lights. Rick Leonardi, last but not least, is able to channel that mid-80s “Amazing Spider-Man” style that he helped contribute to himself. The only downside to these issues is that the bookends require the artists to emulate Jae Lee’s style and Sienkiewicz can nail that perfectly, it’s very at odds with Leonardi and Winslade’s style. It’s not the end of the world, mind you, but just something worth mentioning.
All in all, I have to wonder if the reason “The Sentry” has been buried in its own history was the decision to bring the character back into the Marvel Universe proper. One of the reasons Jenkins’ writing works here is that the Marvel Knights banner allows the comic to exist in its own little continuity bubble unaffected by the grander scheme of other series.
It’s a Marvel Universe unsullied by the very thing that makes it so engaging in the first place, but it gives Jenkins and Lee a playground to tell a story thats much more metatextual and existentialist than could co-exist with the day-to-day Earth-616. It’s a time capsule, an experiment that seeds a Superman-like figure throughout the history of Marvel and links him to some of the most important characters and moments in the universe and explores why that works and, ultimately, why Marvel is better off without him.