The Startling Story of the Sentry

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He’s Marvel’s oldest hero and one of their newest at the same time. Loved by the world and remembered by no one. When it comes to the Sentry… nothing is certain.

The story behind this unique character begins with the name “Artie Rosen.” Rosen’s professional debut was in 1941 as the artist for Exciting Comics. Best remembered for his work on Crime Can’t Win (Marvel/Atlas), Rosen’s career spanned nearly four decades. In the fall of 1999, Rosen’s heath began to deteriorate. In Daredevil #9 (July 1999), an editorial note in the letter column asked all readers to join the staff at Marvel in wishing Artie a speedy recovery. As reported in Wizard #103, Rosen unfortunately passed away January 13, 2000 at age 83.

The month following Rosen’s passing, Wizard published a seemingly unrelated report, mentioning that a pre-Fantastic Four super-hero, co-created by Stan Lee, had recently been unearthed by Marvel. The story came to a head in June 2000. In a Wizard exclusive, the magazine reported that following Rosen’s death, his widow discovered a box labeled “Marvel Comics” containing comics, papers and files. She returned the box to Marvel, where it was promptly lost until writer Paul Jenkins accidentally picked it up. Jenkins discovered an old comic in the box, Startling Stories #1, featuring the debut of a Superman-like hero called The Sentry. Moderately intrigued by the forgotten hero, Jenkins dug deeper in the box, discovering old sketches and character outlines. Dated 1961, the developmental sketches were signed by Stan Lee and Artie Rosen.

Quickly realizing the significance of a Silver Age Marvel hero pre-dating the Fantastic Four, Jenkins and collaborator Jae Lee, petitioned both their Marvel Knights editors and Stan Lee for permission to resurrect The Sentry. Stan Lee, who only had vague memories of creating the character, quickly agreed, and a new Sentry project was fast-tracked. Initially conceived as a 5-issue mini-series, four additional one-shots extrapolating The Sentry’s relationship with classic Marvel heroes was added, along with a bookend finale.

*Spoiler Warning*

The following reveals plot points from Marvel’s 2000/2001 The Sentry series.

The Sentry #1 shipped with a September 2000 cover date. “The Suit” introduced readers to Bob Reynolds. The middle-aged, pot-bellied man with agoraphobia wakes one night with the ominous feeling that The Void, a creature of terrible evil, had returned. Drawing from the real-world scenario surrounding the Sentry, Jenkins introduced the idea that Bob had once been a great hero, but for some reason, everyone (including Bob and his wife) had forgotten The Sentry. As the Void’s impending return began to re-awaken Bob’s memories, Jenkins and Lee interspersed the tale with brief flashbacks of the Sentry at various points in Marvel History (a Kirby inspired 1960s origin, a moodier Dark Knight-esque 80s adventure, and a more recent Alex Ross style portrait).

Finally overwhelmed by a sense of dread, Bob drank the super-serum that would transform him back into the Sentry. At that exact moment, The Void channeled itself through Bob’s dog, mocking the hero. Just as Bob lashed out at his dog, his wife Lindy entered the room. Rather than seeing the same images the reader had, Liddy instead saw her husband delirious, holding a bottle of booze and kicking the family pet. At her breaking point, Liddy left her husband. In the final pages, readers saw the small, broken man take a jacket from his hall closet and clip a blanket to it with clothespins – all the while believing he was donning a costume. As the issue ended, Jenkins left readers believing that Bob was a delusional drunk – until the final panel that saw him lift into air, flying.

The second issue continued to toy with both perceptions and time. Lee and Jenkins presented several more “flash-backs” including a Rob Liefeld-style adventure in which Sentry’s sidekick, Scout, was maimed by the Void, and a John Byrne inspired wedding between Sentry and Liddy. In the present day, Mr. Fantastic (Reed Richards) encountered Bob in a bizarre meeting that brings the leader of the Fantastic Four to suspect that something is amiss.

Issue #3 further established Bob’s ties with the Marvel Universe, as he encounters the Hulk and Spider-Man. Meanwhile, Mr. Fantastic learns that Robert Reynolds had died years earlier. Finally, Reed discovered a small folder of clippings about the adventures of the Sentry. Dr. Strange then suddenly appeared warning Mr. Fantastic that the questions he was asking were placing the very universe in danger.

In issue #4, Dr. Strange allowed Mr. Fantastic a brief glance into the past – one that showed Reed making Strange promise that he would make certain that he would never allow anyone to remember The Sentry. At the same time, Bob recalled being confronted by the Marvel heroes, as they demanded that he be held responsible for his actions. In the end, they all agreed that The Sentry must die. With this recollection, Bob’s makeshift costume completed it’s metamorphosis into his Sentry uniform and he was able to once again to see his Watchtower standing over Manhattan.

Sentry entered the Watchtower in issue #5, confronting its sentient computer, Cloc. Cloc reported that a transmitter had been placed into its systems, which were beaming a subliminal signal across the world, causing everyone to forget The Sentry. Cloc also reported to Sentry that it was unable to help him remove the device, by order of Reed Richards. As a killer storm drew closer to New York, Sentry removed the device from Cloc’s systems and people began to remember The Sentry as the world’s greatest hero. With his memory restored as well, Sentry realized that after his apparent “death”, Reed Richards framed him as a traitor. Sentry returned to his house, where he was confronted by Liddy. Before the two could make amends, The Void appeared.  Demanding to know why the Void had returned, the villain replied, “You know the answer. Look inside.” With that, Sentry put out a worldwide call for help. Led by the Sentry, Earth’s heroes gathered at the Statue of Liberty for a final showdown with The Void.

All of the Sentry one-shots next appeared, using the wait for the Void’s arrival as a framing device. In Sentry/Fantastic Four, Reed remembered an adventure that the FF and Sentry shared when a Cosmic Cube seized control of the Watchtower. In Sentry/Spider-Man, Pete remembered a time he and “The Golden Guardian of Good” teamed up against the Kingpin and the Void. In Sentry/Hulk, it was revealed that Sentry and Hulk had been partners following issue #6 of The Incredible Hulk (there was no Incredible Hulk #7-101 – the series was called Tales to Astonish during these issues). After a brief “Marvel Misunderstanding”, the two heroes discovered that Sentry’s glowing aura had a claming effect on the Savage Hulk. The two fought side-by-side for years, and the mellowed Hulk was loved by the world. After The Sentry’s final duel with The Void however, the Golden Guardian disappeared, and the Hulk returned to his mindless rampages. Finally, Sentry/X-Men saw Archangel recall a time that Sentry and the original X-Men teamed up.

The final entry in the Sentry series came with The Sentry vs. The Void. As The Void attacks Sentry’s squad (including the Avengers, Fantastic Four, X-Men, Spider-Man, Doctor Octopus and Sentry's former sidekick, Scout), Dr. Strange helps Reed recall one final memory – of The Void’s prior attack. A fight between Void and Sentry had ravaged Manhattan. The Fantastic Four were the first to arrive at the aftermath only to discover that The Void was all of The Sentry’s darker urges given life. Earth’s heroes confronted The Sentry and he eventually agreed that he was a danger to all life. Sentry submitted to an elaborate plan that would not only stage his death, but also brand him a traitor and eventually wipe all memories of him.

Back in the present, Reed confronted The Sentry, hoping his former friend could regain enough control over the Void to seal him away. In a desperate final gambit, Sentry reactivated the transmitter with an extra power boost. As the device activated, he fed a final order into Cloc, ordering him to seal himself off from all contact with the outside world. With that, The Sentry faded from the world’s memory once again (the damage wrought by Sentry and Void was attributed to a temporal anomaly). The series closed with Libby and Bob traveling into New York to confront Bob’s fear of public places. There they encountered a young man that looked remarkably like Scout. The saga of The Sentry ended as Bob smiled a knowing smile.

*End Spoilers*

Except that wasn’t the end. Many news and online sources had already guessed parts of it, but the truth was revealed in Wizard #116 – the entire history of The Sentry character had been an elaborate marketing plan. Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee had in fact, created the Sentry (Jenkins and friend, Rick Veitch, had actually originally envisioned the idea as an Hourman project for DC). After reading their pitch for the series, Editor Joe Quesada conceived the basis of the publicity stunt.

Originally, Jenkins wasn’t keen on the entire hoax, but was won over once Stan Lee enthusiastically agreed to help (“I have a very poor memory anyway,” Lee was quoted as saying). The final element in the ploy came in creating a fictional co-creator for The Sentry. Artie Rosen (the name was an amalgamation of two Tales to Astonish letterers, Artie Simek and Sam Rosen). John Romita Sr. was commissioned to draw Rosen's "lost" character sketches. Quesada began laying the seeds for the deception with the Daredevil editor note, before enlisting the help of Wizard Magazine in running first, the Rosen obituary (the photo of Rosen was actually the great uncle of a Wizard staffer), and later the follow-up pieces.

With the hoax exposed, it once again seemed that the story of the Sentry had run its course.  Yet again however, the Sentry proved to be a difficult character to forget. When the news broke that Marvel “go-to-guy”, Brian Michael Bendis would be writing a new Avengers series, fans clamored to find out which heroes would join the squad. As expected, many of Bendis’ choices proved unconventional, with the inclusion of Spider-Man, Wolverine and Spider-Woman, along with Avengers mainstays Captain America and Iron Man (and Bendis favorite, Luke Cage).  In the commotion surrounding the debut of the New Avengers roster, it seemed very few people noticed or recognized the yellow and blue-garbed hero standing at the back of the gathering. Unfortunately, for fans of the Sentry, answers have been slow coming. The hero did appear briefly during the first New Avengers arc, incarcerated in a super human prison for the murder of his wife. Sentry joined the other heroes fighting a horde of super-villains during a jailbreak, but at the conclusion disappeared as well. 

The most recent arc in New Avengers has put more of a focus on The Sentry – but rather than answers, Bendis has added more mystery surrounding the character. The heroes of the Marvel Universe struggle to reconcile the fact that they remember fighting alongside the Sentry during the superhuman jailbreak… despite the fact that in their world, the Sentry is only a comic book character. Further complicating matters is the introduction of Sentry creator, Paul Jenkins, as a character in the New Avengers. With the conclusion of the Sentry story arc in New Avengers scheduled for September 21st and the subsequent launch of an eight-part Sentry mini-series the next week (written by Jenkins), the only thing that fans of the character can be certain of is, that when it comes to the Sentry, nothing is certain.

Portions of this article originally appeared August 23rd, 2004 in “The View From the Comfy Chair #117” from Comicskins.com.

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