ďThe Sentry Act One: Under the Eye of the ClockĒ
Writer: Paul Jenkins
Artists: John Romita Jr. (p), Mark Morales (i), Dean White (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Like the title character, Iím in a slightly schizophrenic mood when it comes to dissecting the first issue of this new miniseries. Whilst the Sentry is, to my mind, one of the most original and interesting creations to emanate from the House of Ideas in recent years, he has to be treated right or the whole edifice comes apart. Nothing showed this better than Bendisí recent Sentry arc in the New Avengers, and despite the status quo which was set up by that storyline being acknowledged here, one gets the feeling that Paul Jenkinsí conception of his own creation doesnít sit very well with the presence of the Sentry on that super-team. Itís perhaps best not to try and reconcile the two, as Jenkins seems far more interested in what makes the Sentry tick as a solo character here, exploring how his dual nature takes its toll on what is still a human mind; how his relationship with the ruthlessly logical processing computer C.L.O.C. dictates his movements; and how all these things affect Robert Reynolds, the Sentryís civilian alter ego. Unfortunately, his artistic partner in this new series seems very ill-suited to the material heís illustrating, and it takes away from the work as a whole.
Iím very impressed with Jenkinsí writing this issue. Within a few pages, he conveys the extent of C.L.O.C.ís domination of Sentryís existence, and how the continuously-evaluated probabilities of global disasters of every conceivable kind relentlessly inform every course action that the hero decides to take. C.L.O.C. comes off as a real passive-aggressive and borderline antagonistic character here, and thatís no mean feat for a robotic character that is voiced with such a completely unarguable and dispassionate sense of logic and reason. Rather, itís the reactions and attitude of the Sentry to his own endlessly demanding existence which make C.L.O.C. such a weighty presence in this book, and one gets the feeling that even with the power of a million exploding suns, the cracks are starting to show in the Sentryís mind. This is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in the scene which introduces the Void to the pages of this miniseries. Itís perhaps the most important scene in the book, as longstanding fans of the Sentry will be pleased to see that this shadowy expression of the Sentryís darker side has not been quite so completely neutered as the pages of New Avengers would have us believe. Rather, the darkness of the Sentryís soul is merely being kept at bay by a combination of pills and positive thinking, both of which look vulnerable to failure at some point in the future on the strength of this issue. Thereís a real sense of caged menace here, and Romitaís art conveys the intangible evil of the Void very effectively, with some beautiful body language between the two characters who at once mirror one other and act as each otherís complete opposite.
Unfortunately, I donít think Romitaís art is suited to the rest of this book. Whilst I canít fault his drawings technically, his art just doesnít feel like it fits any aspect of the story neatly enough for him to be a strong choice for the series. Iíve thoroughly enjoyed Romitaís art in such street-level titles as Amazing Spider-Man, Daredevil, Gray Area and Wolverine in recent years Ė but whereas his blocky, thickly-defined characters suited those environments and meat-and-potatoes characters, they donít lend themselves to the kind of superhuman grace and otherwordly nature which is necessary to convey the dual nature of the Sentry. What Jae Leeís art in the characterís original miniseries did so well was to reconcile the mundane with the strange and fantastical, at the same time as he reflected the darkness and light of the Sentryís mental state in the illustrations themselves. Unfortunately, the combination of pencils, inks and colours which is used here provides a very flat sensation, from the larger-than-life-yet-somehow-unremarkable opening New Avengers fight to the taming of Terrax, a sequence which completely fails to convey the true power of the two characters involved effectively enough for the scene to work. Iím not knocking Romitaís skills as an artist one iota Ė heís obviously expressed exactly what heís been asked to draw in his own style, and many of the smaller moments (Sentryís constantly detached facial expressions; Bob Reynoldsí terse meeting with his psychiatrist) shine under his pencils. Unfortunately, the script calls for so many "big" visuals that just donít jibe with Romitaís style that the art frequently undermines the power of the script, lessening the impact of many scenes instead of accentuating them. Some moments such as Sentryís takeoff into space on the penultimate page of the story simply donít work, and others are made somehow toothless by the flat cartoonish style which has become Romitaís trademark. This book hasnít dampened my enthusiasm for Romita as an artist, but even the pencillerís most enthusiastic follower couldnít accept that heís a good match for the material here.
Whilst Iím pleased to see the Sentry character rising to greater prominence in the Marvel Universe, Iím just not sure this is the way to do it. On one hand, Iím happy to see this issue series begin with a one-shot which is an accessible read for any newcomer to the character, whilst also laying the groundwork for complex relationships and character traits which will likely become more and more important as the series progresses. Iíll be interested to see if this single-issue approach continues, as thereís definitely room for more than one angle on the complex character of the Sentry, and I think that Jenkins definitely has the writing chops to explore them. However, thereís just as much which doesnít work here in the fusion of art and script that I canít see any quick fix which will make the combination easier to swallow. Maybe the book will settle into itself a little more and the next issue wonít seem so jarring, and maybe Jenkins and Romita will develop a relationship which allows them to play to each otherís strengths a little more Ė either way, Iím certainly interested in the character enough to continue following the series. Unfortunately, this just wasnít the home run that I expected from Jenkins, and I canít shake the feeling that, if paired with a different artist, this book could have been so much more.
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