Robot 6

The Fifth Color – Is This the Real Life? Is This Just Fantasy?

the fifth colorMy 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?

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9 Comments

Nope, it’s Bendis ruining good characters. Take Grant Morrison’s Marvel Boy whom he’s turned into a wimp; and recently put in a superhero costume.

Bendis should just stick to crime comics, because clearly hasn’t got much grasp of anything else.

It’s obvious Sentry is Superman done right.

The Sentry has finally been recognized forf what he is: A Plot Device. That’s all he ever was, and that’s all he’ll ever be. A cipher to bounce the entire rest of the Marvel Universe off of. A funhouse mirror for a character, a solution for a problem, or something to be conveniently left out when the plot demands something more. Not a Superman, not a hero, just a plot device that walks like a man.

@Alan Coil: Or MiracleMan done wrong

I’ll agree with you that the Sentry was a great metaphor who probably shouldn’t have been dragged into the regular Marvel Universe. But, once that step was taken, I don’t think Bendis has done a poor job with the character at all. The idea of Sentry-as-God is bulit into the character from the outset. He limited himself to “merely” the power of a million exploding suns, but his real power was, well, omnipotence. This was implied in the first Sentry mini, made more evident in the second, and Bendis has stuck with it all the way through.

And he’s been building on the idea. We see Emma Frost help Bob shut the Void away in the first year of New Avengers. But her fix is only a stop-gap measure, and Bob’s ability to keep his act together has been steadily slipping ever since. His life as an Avenger has been stressful for him, leading to more Void freak-outs. His wife is killed by Ultron, and he brings her back from the dead. At some point in there, he stops becoming “Bob” at all, and remains the Sentry all the time. Then he falls under Osborne’s sway, and that’s made things even worse. He’s killed by Morgan LeFey, and comes back. And now we’ve got this Molecule Man thing, and Bendis is finally showing his hand with the character. The whole thing has been a parallel to what happened with Wanda, of course, and I’ve got to think that’s intentional, too. Her madness, and the Avengers’ mind-bogglingly poor handling of it, is the sin that tore the original team apart. And now I’m wondering if the new team’s ability (or lack thereof) to deal with the Sentry will do the same to them.

All that said, I don’t think the Molecule Man story’s been very good. Until we got the stuff with Sentry, in fact, I was really thinking it was a time-killer arc. Something for Norman’s team to do until the publishing schedule was ready for Siege to begin. Now, though… I still don’t think it’s very good, but that seemingly pointless issue with MM just screwing around with the Avengers seems a little less pointless to me: this is what Bob could have become, if he hadn’t had such a keenly-developed sense of responsibility.

Excellent analysis, Bucky. Thanks for the “the Sentry sucks because Bendis writes him” counterpoint.

Can you expect someone who’s been writing between four and six comic books per month for the last ten years without any kind of break to be able to put any thought into them that goes beyond How do I tie up this plot? and How do I reach a proper ending point on page 22?

I’d love to see something like ALIAS again, or anything else made by Bendis out of anything but the necessity to keep filling pages.

Comparing the way Bendis writes to Morrison, is like saying Michael Bay’s directing to Martin Scorcese.

I’ve never read the SENTRY miniseries, only Bendis’s depictions of him. Bendis’s Sentry is only a God-Satan analogue, two halves of one being opposing each other. The problem with doing that in the form of the Sentry is that the conflict can never be resolved, because having either side of the being triumph (permanently) makes the character unusable. So Bendis has used him as a useful idiot, a one-shot solution to problems sometimes, and incapacitated by his mental handicaps at other times, esp. in SECRET INVASION.

The most interesting aspect of DA #12 by far was Bendis’s decision to depict three characters (Wanda, Molecule Man, Sentry) as all having the same ability to alter reality — and, of course, all three of his characters have severe psychological problems (Wanda and the Molecule Man being psychotic, the Sentry being schizophrenic). The Molecule Man was a near duplicate of Bendis’s Wanda, with imaginary companions that he talked to, the same simplistic motives (Wanda was afraid her children would be taken away; M.M. resented invasion of his privacy) and the same willingness to kill people.

What’s the point of making three characters so similar? Given Bendis’s propensity to write deranged characters (Osborn is schizophrenic; the Skrulls were cultists) Bendis’s overuse of the “altering reality” power raises questions about the reasons for “Avengers Disassembled.” Did the alteration of Wanda have anything to do with her as a character,, or is he so infatuated by the idea of various characters having the ability to alter reality that he writes about the power, rather than the characters?

I ‘m inclined to believe it’s the latter. Where Bucky’s well-intentioned analysis fails is in suggesting that “Avengers Disassembled, etc.” had anything relevant to Wanda as a character. The stories didn’t; her history as retold in them was false in every respect. Why make a non-psychotic character psychotic, and use other deranged characters with the same power, unless the purpose is to save oneself the problem of trying to write about sane characters with rational objectives? Having people do anything they care to and kill or transform people is so much easier.

SRS

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