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My English teacher in high school taught me that ‘cavalier poetry’ was described at it’s time as so effortless and easy in its adventurous style as to be ‘written while falling off a horse’. This phrase stuck with me throughout the years and, little did I know, that it would come back once again to describe Brian Michael Bendis.
Some days, I wonder if DC fans feel this same way about Geoff Johns or Grant Morrison, that every time you open your mouth the name has to follow; it’s not that you’re centered on their work it’s that their work is so central to everything you read…
Anyhoo, Bendis. Bendis Bendis Bendis. Looking at the Sentry as he was created and written about way back in 2000 (I know! I’m surprised, too.) up to now, where Dark Avengers #12 has left us, it seems we’re at this great chasm between original and highly introspective concept and clearly repetitive character. Since ‘joining’ the New Avengers or Mighty Avengers (man, he’s really been on all three?), the Sentry has been out of place or out of mind; he’s ripped and tossed his way through some of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ dangerous and world-threatening villains like so many discarded gum wrappers, enough to where throwing your enemy into the sun is now an in-character in-joke. Or he’s flown past terribly human Hawkeye as he uses a glass cutter to break into the Avengers’ Tower. Or he’s been defeated by logic loops. Or he’s handily explained as ‘crazy’ and discarded off panel to explain his convenient absence.
Is this just poor planning on behalf of a man trying to tell a larger story than the characters that shape it? Or is Mr. Bendis truly writing poetry while falling off his horse?
(WARNING: Yes, I’m going to drop a fairly decent bombshell from Dark Avengers #12. Better you hear it from a real writer rather than me, so go grab a copy and learn first hand!)
When the Sentry showed up, I don’t care that he was originally an April Fool’s gag; the story was brilliant. I’ve gushed about it enough in my own time, but let’s remind ourselves how incredibly clever it all was: this was they ultimate in Great Power/Great Responsibility tales. The Sentry was so powerful he could not exist or be remembered by those he watched over without something to protect us from, a great and equal opposite evil from his ultimate good. Jenkins calls the special serum that the Sentry uses to gain his great power “…the encapsulation of your benevolent intent that’s sent six billion people into dreamland over time.” He is so good the world can sleep knowing the Sentry is ever vigilant. So what could oppose this force? What could possibly go against the shining man of gold but his equal, his opposite, himself? This is so key Marvel it should be framed and mounted on the wall like a trophy: a man fraught with problems and insecurity keeps that human frailty rather than the god-like powers granted him through science and fate, all to save us from ultimate destruction.
As the original mini-series went along, we watched as broken and lost Robert Reynolds found himself in the memories and dreams of others. His clothespinned cape on a ratty old jacket changes with each hero he meets and begs to remember him and as the mystery is unlocked, we’re shown glimpse of his ‘original comic book tales’ drawn and told to us in various styles. There’s his Kirbyesque origin, his wedding party thrown in the mighty Marvel manner of heroes having human moments, the Frank Miller styled panels where it all goes wrong and the ‘Death of Superman’ depicted revelation of what looks to be his kid sidekick’s demise. The Sentry is shaped by our memories and comics’ history. He’ll always be a hero for our time, even when it’s not his time anymore.
When he’s brought back for the New Avengers, they try and reason with him, as if strangely asking him to be in the book. For Rob Reynolds to fall in with the Bendis Age of heroes and step up to a very important turning point for Marvel Comics. In a transmission left for Reed Richards in New Avengers #9, the Sentry asks, “Why have I done this? Created something to punish myself for trying to be the Sentry. Punish myself so no one remembers all the great stuff we’ve done.” This is the age we’ve watched Xavier fall from grace, Tony Stark become a ‘fascist’, and heroes war again each other. Light hearted character Speedball becomes a focus point of guilt and blame so much he puts himself in a spikey leather iron maiden.
The Sentry goes on, “Do I have the power to do this? Exactly how powerful am I? Or worse yes, maybe I just don’t have the emotional and physical strength to control the powers I have. Maybe I’m cracking at the seams and all of this is just how truly insane I am.” Wanda Maximoff’s powers drive her mad. Captain America dies. Reed Richard grows distant from his family. Long trusted friends are Skrulls, the Illuminati turns on the Hulk, and yes, it has seemed like we’re going a little mad now and then as comics drive us through epic universe-wide plots.
Dark Avengers #12 declares that the Sentry has the powers of a god. He’s got molecular control over everything. He can never die. We just watched a man with ‘molecular control’ fall to pieces in front of us. The Marvel Universe was crushed by the Scarlet Witch’s destruction/reconstitution/re-destruction of … well, everything.
Is the most recent revelation of the Sentry’s power, his off-center portrayal as a over-violent lunatic, his splash page antics and disappearance into the background so plot can move unimpeded just a symptom of comics at large? Are they being used to paint a larger picture of the medium as a whole? Or is Bendis just writing poetry while falling off a horse?