The Sentry at the Turn of the Century: A look back at Jae Lee and José Villarrubia on The Sentry #1-5A column article, Cool Art, Bro by: Michelle Six
The 2000 miniseries The Sentry was unusual from its inception. The Sentry was billed as a lost Silver Age Stan Lee creation, but was, in fact, a clever ruse designed by writer Paul Jenkins and artist Jae Lee to add a layer to this meta-comic about a "forgotten" superhero. The Sentry was forgotten in the Marvel Universe, but in the real world, he truly never existed.
This IRL deception played brilliantly with the mysterious and anxious tone of the book. The reader follows the agoraphobic drug addict Robert Reynolds as he wakes in the night, struck with a vague premonition about the return of an unknown enemy. The plot unfolds as Reynolds, who remembers nothing of the past, slowly regains knowledge of his heroic alter-ego, and persuades his former super-colleagues to aid in his fight against The Void.
The art team of Jae Lee and José Villarrubia visualized an amnesiac, paranoid nightmare perfectly. Lee, who got his comic start at Marvel in the early '90s, is an established master of moody art, as we can see in his work on the graphic novel adaptations of Stephen King's The Dark Tower series. A year before The Sentry, Lee won an Eisner for his work on The Inhumans, which exhibits a similar, jagged and abruptly-shadowed style.
José Villarrubia has kept busy in the comic world, being a staple colorist for over a decade, with two Eisner nominations, a Comicdom award and a Harvey award under his belt. His versatile approach to colors can be seen nowadays on titles as diverse as Sweet Tooth and Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.
The inks and pencils of Jae Lee and the colors of José Villarrubia establish the anxious tone of the book right away. The first issue is rendered almost entirely in darkness, with sudden flashes of lightning in classic noir aesthetic. Reynolds is obscured in shadow, making him seem ominous, but his indecipherably dark surroundings make him seem vulnerable.
The jagged shapes that Lee uses throughout the series to render shade give the comic an aggressive tone, but Villarrubia's cool color pallete of blues and violets tones it down. The result is a feeling of suppressed terror.
The art team manipulates texture to give everything a loose, almost sloppy, feel, visually mirroring Reynold's slippery memory. Lee uses overly simplified lines to suggest lines in the characters' faces and hair. Villarrubia uses a combination of watercolor splatter, dry brush, and bleed effects, mixed with digital gradients, to add to the expressive quality.
Lee employs fantastic storytelling and stylistic range during Reynolds's flashbacks in Issue #1. The moody, splattery appearance abruptly changes to a simple and bulky silver-age-style as Reynolds remembers his past exploits. Villarrubia has colored these scenes with the CMYK palette of retro books, with a filter of red over the top, making the innocent-looking panels seem hazy and violent. These "memories" are even complete with a mock "The Sentry" comic cover, complicating the relationship between comic, hero, and the reader and showing Reynolds's implied psychosis.
Lee develops The Sentry's character visually, as he learns the truth of his past and discovers the origin of his nemesis. As the comics progress, we see Robert Reynolds gradually become The Sentry. He starts off with an everyday outfit, with a blanket pinned to his back. His hair is bedraggled, and his face looks worn.
By issue #3, the clothes pins morph into attachments in the shape of the pointy "S" of The Sentry's logo. His hair gathers into a slick golden coif, and his posture becomes more erect. When Reynolds rediscovers his abandoned fortress, the visual transformation is complete -- we see The Sentry in full spandex regalia, with glowing yellow eyes and a powerful aura.
Lee does an impressive job at visualizing a story that could easily have become confusing (with its intertwined hallucinations and flashbacks) or, conversely, boring (as most scenes are inner monologues or standing conversations). The writing and art are perfectly in tune, and create a solid, unified story arc -- an example of visual storytelling at its ideal.
Michelle was born in the '80s in a reasonably sized Midwestern town, which she never left. She teaches art and creative technology to kids, who keep her in the know about Top 40 music and the most annoyingly silly YouTube videos.
A big chunk of her free time is put towards drawing -- in her fantasy world, she will be awesome enough to draw comics as sweet as those she reviews. You can see her artwork on Deviant Art or, if you are a Tumblr fan at michellesix.tumblr.com.
Michelle also likes video games, pets, pizza, music, and ranting.