Writer Paul Jenkins and artist Jae Lee had a surprise hit with an Inhumans mini-series when the “Marvel Knights” line launched, so there was some anticipation for their follow-up.
That would have been a character they said was a long forgotten Marvel hero that predated the Fantastic Four. They said his name was the Sentry.
Actually, the Sentry was brand new. The genius of the marketing stated that the character predated the Fantastic Four, and was a little-used hero that Stan Lee whipped up so long ago even he didn’t remember the Sentry (I think Stan played along here).
The Sentry at first glance was a Superman rip-off. Cape, flight, super strength, the whole she-bang-a-bang. He was presented as morally unflappable and completely forgotten in the modern Marvel universe. The man’s real name was Robert “Bob” Reynolds, and even he forgot he was the high-flying Sentry.
One day, Bob started to remember his pre-amnesia life, and with him everyone else. Suddenly, everyone knew the Sentry. He’d had adventures with all manner of classic Marvel heroes. He even had the Hulk as a partner, and the two were celebrated as a result. How did he make the Hulk a celebrated hero? Why did the Hulk adore the Sentry? The weird energy the Sentry gave off calmed the Hulk down, allowing him to still be the Hulk without being a raging monster.
The problem was the Sentry’s arch foe was some (literally) shadowy fellow called the Void. Anytime a hero teamed up with the Sentry, the Void would show up and only the Sentry was powerful enough to either scare the Void off or defeat him.
It turned out that was the problem. Why had the Sentry been forgotten, even by himself? Why did the Void disappear when the Sentry did? And why did the Void only return when the Sentry did?
Well, it turned out that the Sentry was the Void. Bob Reynolds had been a lab assistant and tried an experimental formula that turned him into the Sentry. As a side effect, his darker impulses emerged as the equally powerful Void. As long as Reynolds and the rest of the world was aware the Sentry existed, the Void would continue to cause problems. Steps were taken and once again, Bob Reynolds forgot about his superhero life and the Void vanished before it could wipe out the East Coast or something really evil.
That probably would have been the end of it, but then Brian Michael Bendis got involved.
Bendis was doing a revamp of the Avengers as a Marvel all-star team and decided to include the Sentry. Why? I am not sure. My best guess was Bendis would have preferred Thor, but Thor was dead at the time, and there’s a sentence you can only write when you’re discussing superhero comics.
So, the Sentry came back. So did the Void, and the Sentry was presented as a basket case. A really, really, really powerful basket case. The Void was subdued using some sort of psychology…mostly.
The problem, for me, was that Bendis basically made the Sentry too powerful. Bendis loved repeating a line that the Sentry had the power of a million exploding suns or something. Now, granted, Bendis making the Sentry really powerful was not without precedent. Jenkins wrote how, during his original time as a hero, the Sentry managed to fight Galactus to a standstill. But something about the way Bendis did it made it seem excessive. The biggest problem was probably simply that the Sentry was too powerful to be on any superhero team, and perhaps should have been forgotten about when the original mini-series ended. When his every appearance seems to indicate that nothing can hurt or stop him, there doesn’t seem to be much that can be done, especially while lesser-powered heroes on the team with him included longtime Marvel heroes like Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Luke Cage, and Wolverine. Readers were consistently reminded that he could withstand all manner of attacks, and even the Skrulls opted not to replace him during the Secret Invasion because he was too damn powerful.
Bendis tried to make up for his unstoppable nature by making the guy a mental mess. He was withdrawn, confused, and all manner of other problems. Sure, he managed to resurrect his wife Linda after Ultron killed her with a single touch, but…actually, that freaked her out and she begged Iron Man to kill her husband.
And then the Void violently protected her from the Skrulls during the Secret Invasion after the Sentry ran away in confusion to hang around one of Saturn’s moons.
What was going on?
Well, it turned out there was more to the Sentry than previously thought. When Norman Osborn took over the Avengers, the Sentry of all characters opted to stay with him. Since the Sentry was about as good a guy as it was possible to be, why would he stay with the Green Goblin? Ares, the god of war, made sense as a Dark Avenger, but the Sentry sure didn’t. What was up?
Mostly, it was because the Sentry wasn’t that good a guy.
It turned out that Bob Reynolds wasn’t some scientist’s lab assistant when he drank the experimental formula, meant to recreate Captain America. No, he was a drug addict who broke into the lab with a buddy and downed the formula in an attempt to get high. The formula basically gave him the power of molecular manipulation.
Reynolds’ buddy got killed, and the Void was born.
Yes, the Void, not the Sentry, was the real persona. There was enough of a conscience in Bob to create an alter-ego to oppose the Void, someone who was blindingly good, and that was the Sentry.
Of course, when the Sentry finally lost it during a half-assed plan of Norman’s to take down Asgard, it meant a god had to step up to the plate and stop him.
Then when Ares failed, Thor managed by doing something like crashing a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier onto Bob’s head and then taking the weakened Sentry out with a few well-timed bolts of Asgardian lightening. Bob was actually begging Thor to kill him at that point, and Thor agreed.
Huh, so if the Sentry was there because Thor wasn’t available in the first place, it makes a lot of sense that Thor would be the one to take him out.
Unsurprisingly, the Sentry did not stay dead. During a Kang story arc for the Uncanny Avengers series, Sentry was one of four dead superhumans resurrected by a “Death Seed,” the darkest part of X-Men foe Apocalypse planted into every “Death” in his Four Horsemen. The Death Seed allowed Apocalypse to basically be reborn in a new body, or at least his purpose as the balancing agent for the Celestials.
Trust me, that stuff made more sense if you read Rick Remender’s X-Force/Uncanny Avengers runs.
Though initially set up as the most potent of the four horsemen opposing the Avengers’ unity squadron, the Sentry’s outright crazy mental state means he’s actually easy to convince to switch sides to stop a Celestial from destroying the Earth, and the newly reborn Sentry was last seen flying away to protect the Earth from, well, far away.
He should probably stay there for a while.