“The Sentry – Conclusion”
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Steve McNiven (p), Mark Morales & John Dell (i), Frank D’Armata (c)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
After a let-down last issue which threatened to undercut the character of the Sentry completely, Bendis makes something of a save this issue – at least partially – as he performs the tricky task of introducing the character into current Marvel continuity in a way which doesn’t undermine his previous miniseries, whilst also preserving some of the psychological flaws which make him such an interesting character and so much more than just another Superman clone.
The mental probe into the mind of Bob Reynolds, the Sentry, continues this issue, and Emma Frost has to resort to desperate measures to try and pull him back from the brink of self-destruction (which leads to a fun moment with original Sentry scribe Paul Jenkins, who appears in this issue). Bendis ties up a lot of his plot strands rather quickly and unremarkably here, offering up explanations for the Sentry’s appearances in comic books, the villain behind his mental manipulation last issue, and the reasoning as to why he should become an Avenger in quick succession. There’s nothing standout in Bendis’ writing here, but he does at least succeed in wrapping up all the dangling threads which he started at the beginning of this arc, as well as providing an interesting moment at the issue’s end which gives us some insight into how untrusting and rebellious Heroes this new group of Avengers seems to be. Steve McNiven also does his normal solid job, his artwork here culminating in a cool moment of rebirth for the Sentry and an unexpected and rather smart twist on the nature of Stark Tower, the New Avengers’ new HQ. There’s also a very effective bit of visual storytelling when the Void ceases his attack, as McNiven’s pencils effectively convey the impact of this sudden moment of calm in the midst of a frantic battle.
There are a lot of different reasons why some comics work, and others don’t, and it’s not always easy to pin down. Some superhero stories draw strength from an inspired plot; for some, their appeal comes from a novel combination of characters or a new take on an old property; and then there are others which disappoint as transparent, commercially-driven and nothing more than empty functional stories. Whilst I’m not saying that New Avengers falls into any of these categories per se, it does seem that this Sentry arc has been conceived for a combination of reasons, and unfortunately some boxes appear to have been ticked at the expense of others. Whilst there’s definitely a fairly interesting plot trying to get out here, it certainly doesn’t feel like a cohesive Avengers storyline: an excess of page space seems devoted to the FF and Emma Frost, at a time when the New Avengers still don’t really feel like they’ve established any kind of team dynamic, and a new reader could be forgiven for wondering why it has taken another four issues of story and a slew of guest-star characters just to introduce one more team member.
But more than anything else, this story has an air of functionality about it, as it has to set up a new status quo for the Sentry’s character whilst integrating his old miniseries (which Marvel is looking to pimp again in a collected format in the near future), as well as modifying the character to make him work in a team book and a new miniseries of his own which begins next week. It’s no surprise that, in trying to keep all these plates spinning, Bendis hasn’t managed to produce a classic story here. It’s a shame, as I do think the idea of a “misfit” Avengers has some merit and a lot of potential for future stories, but it looks as though it’s going to take over a year’s worth of comics before the team really pulls itself together - “Next Issue: Ronin!” And with better New Avengers stories being told elsewhere (*cough* Amazing Spider-Man *cough*), this series is going to have to live up to its own title pretty soon or its readers are going to end up frustrated and bored, waiting for an Avengers story which is never going to come.
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