If I said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times. The one character the Marvel Universe is really missing is a Superman. It’s like the one thing that try as they might, Marvel has never been able to duplicate, recreate, propagate, or any other fancy ten cent words I might come up with to draw the same conclusion. Marvel has a huge Man of Steel sized hole in their universe, and over the course of the years they have attempted to plug that hole with various characters in an attempt to fix that glaring omission.
As I’ve also said before, Marvel’s best bet was to fight to get the rights to Shazam before DC gobbled those up given the Big Red Cheese would have been the perfect “Marvel”ized version of the Superman type character for the types of stories they like to tell, but I digress.
Instead we’ve been given the likes of Hyperion, Blue Marvel, Miracle Man, Gladiator, Wundarr the Aquarian, Wonder Man, Count Nefaria, and hell even Thor as stand ins for the one of the few characters it always seemed like Marvel really could have used in their line up, but always came up short with in terms of that unstoppable powerhouse.
That is until they seemed to briefly strike pay dirt with the concept of The Sentry, this “lost” Silver Age character who was retconned in the early 2000s into being a part of the original Marvel age that started with the Fantastic Four, but that everyone forgot about thanks to his own doing. The Sentry did work as Marvel’s “Superman” type character for years, through Bendis’ Avengers runs and some of the biggest events that Marvel had dished out during that decade. Things like Civil War, Dark Avengers, and others.
Of course it was one of those events that seemed to really screw the pooch on the character of the Sentry, snuffing out the possibility of his greatness before it could get established. That’s of course the Siege story line, which painted him as some sort of insane drug addict instead of the shining beacon of hope we expect from the Kal-El equivalent.
However, before that happened, we as comic book fans were treated to a spectacularly great mini series back in 2008 which filled in some of those Silver Age pieces to the Sentry’s lasting legacy.
Written by the insanely great Jeff Parker (Whom I’ve gushed about in regards to his Flash Gordon and Red She Hulk runs) and Paul Tobin with poppy retro fun art by the pitch perfect Nick Dragotta and Ramon Rosanas, this has become quickly one of my favorite mini series that Marvel has released in the past 20 years.
Well…I should say parts of it are my favorite…but we’ll get to that in a second with our a dive into the world of The Age of the Sentry!
10 Cent Synopsis:
Set in the “Silver Age” of Marvel Comics, this nostalgic look back into comic book past attempts to fill in some of the narrative gaps of the entire Sentry mythology. Given one of the major conceits as mentioned above is that the character was a made up “lost” creation from the heyday of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby whose retconned existence put him smack dab in the middle of the formative years of what we would come to know as the true “616” continuity of the Marvel universe, this series decides to tell some of the previously “unreleased” adventures of the Golden Guardian.
As such, we get to see some of his battles with such arch enemies as Cranio, the Tri Level Mind, Ursus the Ultra Bear, and of course the sinister dark matter gangster Eddie Emmerick aka The Void! Plus there’s team ups with many of the mainstays of Silver Age Marvel such as the Fantastic Four and the original line up of the Avengers, as well as the Sentress (aka Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel…yeah it’s a long story).
This all leads up to a climatic conclusion with the Death of the Sentry, and the realization that the events in this series aren’t all as they might appear. Then again,given The Sentry’s powers include the manipulation of the very building blocks of reality, similar to Molecule Man’s…was there any doubt this series would throw us some narrative curve balls sooner or later?!?
Well, let me just repeat again that I really do love this series.
As of writing this, it’s now the 3rd or 4th time I’ve read it and ever time it does seem to get better and better. Mainly because it is really such an interesting little world that Jeff Parker and Paul Tobin have built up around the Sentry and how delicately they have weaved in all those wonderful kisses to not only Marvel’s past but also DC Comics.
I mean this is for all intents and purposes a Superman book. This is homage to those years of Action Comics where Superman could be found boxing giant mutant space kangaroos, or traveling back in time to have an wood chopping contest with Paul Bunyan.
Y’know the bat shit crazy years when the comics code was so strict that most stories had only one foot in reality most of the time, and the more cartoonesque and unrelatable the story was, the less likely it would draw attention from the rampant amount of comic book censors at the time.
But at the same time, Jeff and Paul take those concepts, of boy sidekicks and flying doggies, and translate it into the groovy coffee house scene which was Marvel Comics during that same era, and thus naturally shake off some of that corny cliche feeling about the ideas and make it something worthy of reading.
Thus, like chocolate getting into your peanut butter you realize that quite possible some of the best comics in the world could have been the combination of the two different house styles of the Silver Age. The bombastic over the top adventures of DC coupled with the sophisticated stylings of Marvel. It’s like a match made in comic book heaven, filled with villains with three brains, trips to quasi versions of Earth II to meet our gun totting Golden Age versions of ourselves, and of course the planet devouring Darkseid stand in, Destroyer Darkmass!
Heck, the Sentry is even an encyclopedia writer in his spare time, giving him the perfect reason to investigate strange events! It’s like they thought of everything in this made up world! A perfect continuity backdrop for the perfect Silver Age character who never really existed. EXCELSIOR!
Honestly, the only major gripe about the book are the sections which attempt to bridge the gap between this 60s style Marvel Universe in which the Sentry played an enormous part and the reality that all of us comic book readers know to be true in that he really didn’t. Yes, even for us comic book readers there are limits to our ability to swallow retconning of the past we all know to be true, and simply put, none of these wonderful stories with the Sentry having surprise birthday parties with the Marvel Universe elite or teaming up with a pre Ms. Marvel version of Carol Danvers actually happened.
And yet a major subplot of this book attempts to weave a secondary narrative that they actually did, but in a different facet of the Marvel Multiverse. Universe 1611 to be exact, which is heavily hinted at is an entire universe that the Sentry created with his massive reality warping abilities as a way to help his crippled, fragile mental state deal with portions of his past.
As a result, even though Cranio is a super interesting baddie for our Silver Age Sentry to battle as a stand in for Superman’s Branianc, the series reveals that Cranio is a completely “made up” person, as in he had no existence prior to the Sentry wishing him into reality in this other universe he had created to act as an arch nemesis in his stories.
In fact, this 1611 Universe is peppered with not so veiled references to the notion that we are not so much enjoying just another “What if” story but from a meta fictional perspective, we are reading the Sentry’s reinterpretation of possible past events in the real 616 through the lens of the classic 60s comic book, because it’s the only way his brain can possibly process these events. But even taking that one step further, we are actually reading Reed Richards, one of the Sentry’s old friends, retell these stories which the Sentry had fabricated to his son, Franklin Richards (who also has reality warping abilities) in some strange attempt by Reed to make sense of things himself.
And it’s this box within a box within a box type of storytelling, which I sometimes found distracting. I mean I applaud the efforts to put a unique spin on what could be viewed by some to just be a campy homage to our shared comic book roots, and I won’t lie that some of it is down right clever.
For example, I appreciated greatly the scenes where after issues of building up the Void as this other character in Eddie Emmerick, in the final issue, you see him slowly morph into a copy of the Senty himself, signifying the truth that we all already know which is the fact that the Sentry and the Void are indeed the same person, just contrasting aspects of Rob Reynolds ever shifting personality.
But other than that and some moments where the poor Cranio finally had the intelligence to determine his entire existence was a lie, the rest of these attempts to bridge the gap between these events which every Marvel fan knows didn’t really happen with the reality of our established continuity, I found somewhat unnecessary.
I would have rather just had more little mini stories of the Tinkerer and Mad Thinker trying to steal the Sentry’s powers with a fake movie camera as he shot public service announcements on the dangers of premarital sex.
Speaking of that story with the Tinkerer and Mad Thinker, after reading it, it did make me interested in finding out whether these two mad scientists type characters had actually ever teamed up in the real Marvel 616.
The first place I went looking was in the recent pages of the Fantastic Four to see whether or not the two were together on the super villain group known as the Intelligencia.
For those of you not in the know, they were pretty much the bad guy version of the Illumanti, a band of big brains who formed a think tank of sorts for mutual benefit aka a clubhouse for evil scheming.
I honestly thought I would have hit pay dirt too as well, as I did remember that Age of Sentry writer, Jeff Parker, was also the creator of the Intelligencia, so it wouldn’t have been too far off that he would have included this pairing in the mainstream continuity to boot.
Alas that did not seem to be the case, as although The Thinker was definitely among the members of this squadron of sinister super nerds, the Tinkerer was not. And I was actually very surprised since it seemed that the Intelligencia was not exactly picky about who they let into their club. Like the equivalent of the AV Geeks at your local high school, it seemed as if the only prerequisite for joining was an actual desire to. I say this because any group that allows both the Trapster and the Red Ghost’s super apes into their hallowed halls of membership is not exactly just gunning for the biggest brains.
As an aside, it’s always funny how the Intelligencia begged Doctor Doom to join the group and after he did, all he would often do is show up and make fun of all of them, like the only real man among a room full of little boys playing with their chemistry sets.
I haven’t finished scourging the back pages of my long boxes to see if I missed an issue of Amazing Spider-man or FF that might contain another team up of these two clever criminals, so if there’s any one out there that might be aware of one, drop me a note in the comments!
Okay, ask anyone about my preferences for comics and most will agree that I’m a sucker for pure escapism. The more fantastical the better. Especially when it also happens to scratch the same itch I have for nostalgic retro fun. Just from a story perspective, reading Age of Sentry gave me the same wash of good vibes as I had reading Alan Moore’s 1963 or Tom Strong series or watching the old “Batman: Brave & the Bold” cartoon. It’s something special to tell simple and straightforward Silver Age type stories with a more modern day sensibility.
Like from a creative perspective, you already know what the trappings of the environment should be so you can just recreate it for the sole purpose of playing around with it. It’s designing a trendy new pub to look like a 1950s bowling alley, versus actually being a 1950s bowling alley. You buy into it because its kitschy fun to hang out in a place that might look like its from some bygone area, but still has all the benefits of Wi-Fi and automatic faucets. I feel like these stories are the same thing.
It’s easy to eliminate the portions of the Silver Age stories that didn’t work, like the heavy exposition, extreme morality, and sometimes blatant sexism, without jettisoning the good parts. And as I mentioned above this series definitely brings the joy with some outrageously tasty tidbits from yesteryear. Whether it’s the Sentry guest starring with romance comic superstar Millie the Model, having Legion of Super Heroes style adventures with the Guardians of the Galaxy, or locking up in some backwood ‘rasslin’ with a meteorite powered super hillbilly, each issue takes the wacky often times unbelievable tales they used to spin in pages of DC’s host of Superman books from the late 50s, early 60s, and puts that definitive Marvel spin on them, which turns in the cliche into hipster fab.
I mean, that issue with where Sentry teams up with the “The Crick Hits” aka the wannabee Beatles stand ins could have been as groan worthy as they come, but in this particular creative teams hands, it’s pure silly escapism gold. Yes, even down to the homage to the Sgt. Pepper album featuring all the Marvel superheroes. How terrific is that?!?
In closing, if it hadn’t been for the attempts to shoehorn this within the mainstream 616 continuity and the clusterflock that I feel results from those efforts which ultimately is a distraction from the fun to be had here, I could have easily given this an A+ grade. As it stands though, although I can see the bigger narrative picture the creative team was trying to paint through it’s inclusion, that 1611 Universe existential “is this reality?” nonsense I talked about earlier really does detract from my ability to view this as a bunch of nifty little What If stories which seem to marry the best of what both DC and Marvel’s Silver Age story telling had to offer.
Still though, even with that stuff, I wish this series would have gone on for 100 more issues. It really was like comic book cotton candy for me.