Or – “You Are Somewhat Distracted By The Second-Person Narrative…”

reviewbubble.jpgavengers2.jpgAs a sometimes-retailer, Marvel’s giant “Civil War” crossover is puzzling to me. Virtually all the issues of all the comics Marvel has printed in recent months have been affected, many of them forced to ship late for fear of tipping crucial plot points, and the entire continuity of the Marvel Universe has been tangled up together like the Giant Spaghetti Monster in the sky. As a reader, it’s maddening, as things happen that don’t get explained until weeks later (i.e. the revelation of the spoilery death in “Cable & Deadpool” that wasn’t explained until weeks later), and characters act in ways that frustrate, confuse, and irritate me. I hesitate to use the term “out of character,” because “out of character” is in the eye of the beholder (or in this case, the mind of the writer). This issue promises big things as The Sentry, Marvel’s most powerful man, picks his side…

avengers1.jpg…but since other issues shipped first, his decision to work with Iron Man’s side is a foregone conclusion. Adding to this book’s hurdles, there are several things you have to get past before you can fully enjoy the Sentry character. First, he’s obviously meant to be Superman, though a Superman with the tics and foibles that many writers use as shorthand for Stan Lee’s brand of characterization. Thus, he’s incredibly indecisive and neurotic, to keep him from overpowering the Marvel Universe. Second, we have to accept the fact that he’s a walking retcon, having ostensibly been around since the early days of the Marvel Universe, even though we can check the back issues and prove he wasn’t. Third, and perhaps most distracting, every Sentry story is told in second person, with the narrator apparently talking directly to The Sentry. It serves to make him stand apart, but also makes me painfully aware of the voice of the writer, which can pull me out of the story. Still, Sentry allows Brian Bendis to do full out “Alsa Sprach Zarathustra” cosmic, something very few other Marvel characters can pull off.


Ain’t that purty? The most disturbing/offputting part for me, is realizing that, since “Bright Lights, Big City” is about the only other place I’ve encountered second person narrative, I unconsciously picture The Sentry with the face of Alex P. Keaton. As we can see, the issue begins with Sentry meditating on the moon, trying to keep out of all the chaos taking place with his teammates on Earth. He feels he should do something, but is afraid that his evil side (The Void) will return, or worse, that he himself will be forced to be a killer. Unfortunately, he’s chosen to meditate in the front yard of The Inhumans, last seen declaring war on the human race in the “House of M” miniseries. Crystal of the Inhumans arrives with a gift.


Both Crystal and The Sentry’s body language struck me as odd on first reading, but all is explained in good time. Medusa and Black Bolt explain (rather imperiously, for all the talk of Sentry as an old friend) that they’ve declared war on humanity, and that he’s not welcome to woolgather on the moon any longer. The Inhumans are brought up to speed on EVERYTHING through the telepathically reading Sentry’s mind, something he’s (surprise!) unsure about. Bob Reynolds is such a difficult character to work with, but Bendis manages to balance his general forced timidity without making him completely useless. The art is absolutely beautiful, as Black Bolt invites the Sentry to dinner, given Pascual Ferry the chance to render some truly inhuman Inhumans, and to once again underline the barely masked tension between Sentry and Crystal. Black Bolt offers his hospitality, but Lieutenant Worf– I mean, Gorgon objects to have the enemy in their midst.


Could looks kill, Gorgon would have just been rendered into his component organs. (Pietro, in case you’re wondering, is Crystal’s ex-husband Quicksilver). Crystalhas, for years, been one of the most visible Inhumans, with stints in both The Avengers and The Fantastic Four to her credit, as well as the longest “girlfriend” section of her resume than any character this side of The Black Widow. Johnny Storm, Quicksilver, The Black Knight… and, apparently, one she didn’t even KNOW about.


Impressively, the first actual decision Sentry makes is to resist Crystal’s advances. Only AFTER a huge kiss, but still… Sadly, just as Bob discovers his spine, Tony Stark arrives, and in the single most arrogant moment in comics history, makes his case to Sentry. Notwithstanding the fact that he just barges into Bob’s bedroom, that he just SHOWS up in complete disregard for the Inhumans customs and sovereignty, his “persuasive” argument is circular and meaningless. “Bob, we’ll make this work.” “How, Tony?” “We will make this work.” “How can you promise that?” “We will make this work.” And I’m barely exagerrating, here. Bendis can do much better. All that aside, Iron Man makes what I consider to be the most unexcusable mistake of a recent string of whoppers, BY FIRING ON A MEMBER OF THE INHUMAN ROYAL FAMILY, and then playing it off with a John-Wayne-tough-guy line. I am hoping, nay PRAYING for somebody to finally knock Iron Man down a peg, and I suspect that The Sentry is going to be the one to have to do it. Worst of all, after all this, Iron Man nonchalantly flies off, promising that “we won’t bring our war to your doorstep,” hardly even realizing what the queen of Inhumans vows in his wake.


All in all, this is a beautifully rendered issue, with some nice charcter bits, that boils down to nothing. Sentry nearly made a decision, until Iron Man stepped in and manipulated him. This issue feels very much like a turning point in the war. We are, in my mind, seeing the beginning of the moves that almost have to eventually end the Civil War, one way or another. Certainly, The Sentry is a powerful ally, but Iron Man’s moves here have sowed the seeds of disaster. We will never know what Bob would have decided on his own, and that may come back to bite people later.

This issue is frustrating, partially due to Tony’s actions, partially due to Sentry’s wishy-washy nature, but mostly because The New Avengers barely got to gel as a team before they were torn apart by the crossover du jour. In truth, the decompressed storytelling has worked against this book, as they’ve only really had one real team moment (in the Annual), and there are still a lot of plot threads that were essentially abandoned in the face of “Everything You Know Is Wrong.” I try not to let my less-than-positive feelings about Civil War affect my judgement, but this issue bothered me. There’s so much untapped potential in both The Sentry, and New Avengers, that’s been shuttled to the side here in the name of changing the status quo. These self-contained issues only serve to spotlight missed opportunities for me. This is why, no matter how pretty this book is, and how nice SOME of the dialogue is, it only gets two stars, and the hope for better things after the war.


The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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1 Comment

  1. November 12, 2006 at 3:40 pm — Reply

    A bit off-topic here, but if you’re interested in second-person narrative, try reading Tom Robbins’ Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas.

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