I’ve long maintained that there is no such thing as a bad character, especially in comics. Sure, some characters are much harder to write than others, but all it takes is the right writer with the right angle on the character, and even the biggest stinker can work.
Which, of course, brings me to the Sentry.
Comic fans hate Sentry, and not without good reason. His status as a “classic” Marvel character who everyone simply forgot existed means that essentially every Marvel comic you’ve ever read didn’t happen the way you remember it happening, which combined with his reappearance as this super-powerful guy who no one can stop, but mostly just mopes around a lot and refuses to do anything, has garnered him a lot of fan resentment—as well as a whole boatload of crappy stories. His recent death in Siege, which ended with Thor throwing his corpse into the sun like a heap of extra offensive garbage, was met with the internet equivalent of a round of applause.
All of which is a shame, because while Sentry wasn’t ever used all that well, that never had to be the case. He has a solid costume design, and his premise, while obviously something that needs to be handled gingerly, is an interesting one, and the right writer could have a field day exploring all the metafictional possibilities of a character which had simply been forgotten (can you imagine if Grant Morrison still worked for Marvel when the Sentry had been introduced?). Furthermore Sentry’s tagline, “The power of a million exploding suns!” is without question one of the best I’ve ever heard. Not only is it cool as hell, it’s instantly memorably, and surprisingly subtle to boot. It tells you not only how powerful the Sentry is, but also hints at how unstable he must be as well; it can’t be an easy task to wrangle the power of a million exploding suns.
So while the mainline Marvel continuity fumbled the Sentry’s potential, Jeff Parker and Paul Tobin’s stand-alone miniseries The Age of the Sentry understands how to use Sentry perfectly, and proves that even the most difficult character can be used to great effect.
Parker and Tobin accomplish this by taking the core of the Sentry’s concept, that he is a classic, 1960s, Marvel character, and expand on it by showing what those stories would have been like. The end result is a campy, fun series, which still manages to surprise the reader at various points, and, despite its technically out of continuity status, tie into the Sentry’s role in the modern Marvel universe. The Age of the Sentry is never afraid to seem ridiculous (unlike much of mainline Marvel, which is terrified of looking silly—and then just ends up looking even sillier as a result), giving Sentry over the top villains such as Cranio, The Man With the Tri-Level Mind (he literally has three brains, but he only refers to it as his “tri-level mind”), as well as sending our hero on adventures involving giving a space alien dating advice, a rivalry with Truman Capote, and an encounter with the “Golden Age Sentry,” who despite possessing the power of a million exploding suns, carries a handgun and loves to use it. All of this is presented with a sort of straight faced absurdity that only serves to make the comic even more entertaining. Further, despite having a different artist on almost every single issue, the art is uniformly excellent; cartoony without being ridiculous, and pops right off of the page.
This series managed to fly under the radar when it was coming out, and even I only read it because I found the trade marked down to ten bucks, but I can’t recommend it enough, even if, especially if, you hate the Sentry. Even the most irritating character can make for an interesting story, and The Age of the Sentry proves it.