The Sentry

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The Sentry

(pop culture)

The Sentry is a character central to the Marvel Comics Universe, though few people have ever heard of him—and that’s the point. In 2000, comics fans were used to the scarcity of new characters being added to the bankable Marvel mythos, so it came as no surprise that the “newest” character to be introduced that year might actually be the oldest. Starring in a self-titled miniseries from 2000-2001, the Sentry was said to be a rejected character found in some old Marvel files, historic for being a concept by Marvel founder Stan Lee and artist Artie Rosen that predated Lee and artist Jack Kirby’s creation of Fantastic Four in 1961. The latter event went on to be considered the landmark that inaugurated an era of more hip and literary superhero comics, while the Sentry languished on the discard pile as Marvel’s Pete Best.

Reimagined for the “Marvel Knights” line of edgy books about the company’s more offbeat characters, the Sentry, originally a kind of Marvel counterpart to Superman, was portrayed as a demigod too powerful for his own good. The character first appears in what seems to be an alcoholic delusion suffered by suburbanite Bob Reynolds, but, little by little, Reynolds realizes that he was the omnipotent Sentry before being consigned to amnesia for mysterious reasons. Readers gradually learn that the Sentry’s addiction to the very serum that gave him his superpowers released a malign, apocalyptic opposite, the Void, from his own subconscious; but the Void is considered a standard archenemy by an unknowing public—and the denial-ridden hero.

The only solution is for the Sentry himself to cease to be, which is impossible physically, but achieved by wiping his (and all the world’s) memory of his career. In the present day, the Void has returned with Reynolds’ memories, and the Sentry “defeats” him once more—by finally becoming at peace with his existence as an ordinary, imperfect human. With a subtle, sensitive script by Paul Jenkins, and moody, atmospheric art by Jae Lee, the series was a poignant commentary on the loss of heroic illusions and the poisoning tendencies of power. And, for longtime Marvel fans, it was a fascinating trip down the road not taken.

The only trouble was, what might have been never existed to begin with—the Sentry’s 1960s creation was a hoax, planted in the fan press by “Artie Rosen,” a fictional character himself. Lee fully participated in the gag, which satirized his own famously faulty memory about what was created when. Marvel’s “lost” character was really one of its few (and best) new ones after all, and the company had managed the kind of performance-art put-on unheard of in the pulpy realm of comics. It added an extra dimension to the series’ own theme of mass amnesia, replacing the usual side-merchandising of characters with a kind of “conceptual tie-in.” This was only fitting for a series that marked one of the few cases of a comics company tinkering with its history to make an artistic statement, rather than just rewarm a brand. As one of only two “superhero novels” (along with Marvel’s Earth X) to come close to the standards of Alan Moore’s Watchmen, The Sentry was guarded well.

Later, Reynolds returned to his superpowered role as the Sentry, and was acclaimed by the world as a hero. But Reynolds suffered from severe psychological problems, thinking of the Void as a separate entity rather than as a manifestation of himself. Indeed, it was eventually revealed that Reynolds was once a drug addict and murderer, and when he became the heroic Sentry, he projected his guilt onto his alternate persona, the Void. Moreover, the Sentry feared losing control of his vast powers and suffered from panic attacks.

The Sentry joined Iron Man’s new Mighty Avengers team, then later joined the Dark Avengers formed by Norman Osborn, who released Reynolds’ Void persona and had Reynolds’ wife Lindy murdered. On Osborn’s orders the Sentry battled Thor, destroyed the new Asgard, and turned into the Void. Battling the Avengers, the Void reverted to Reynolds, who begged them to kill him. Seeing no alternative, Thor slew the Sentry with a lightning bolt and incinerated his body in the sun. The “Golden Guardian of Good” had come to a darkly tragic end. —AMC & PS