(Update: There's a followup post with a Mike Carey quote.)
Only the Sentry could be such a gawdawful black hole of originality and creativity that the character would piss me off the most of all in a single page of his funeral issue.
For those of you not following the current Marvel metaplot, the Sentry was created years ago as an April Fool's Day joke that actually wasn't too terrible to read left alone, but that went horribly awry when a writer who shall remain nameless rescued the character from the annuls of Marvel Imaginary Stories (I mean, Imaginary-Imaginary not Real-Imaginary like we've been reading) and brought him into the Marvel Universe in all his insanity. To be fair, I suspect this writer brought him back because he originally intended to write the Scarlet Witch in a tragic fallen hero trilogy where the Marvel Universe mourns the death of someone who as once a friend who had to be destroyed for the good of the universe. Then sometime after Part I was published (and he'd committed himself to Part II) someone pointed out to this writer that the Scarlet Witch had fans (and possibly that the way he drove her insane didn't really fit into continuity but that may be giving Marvel too much credit), so he handed off the Scarlet Witch (and Part III, now her redemption arc) to a television writer who would put her at the bottom of his priorities list, and dug up the fucking Sentry as the new centerpiece.
I have no information that confirms this is the behind-the-scenes chain of events, but judging by the way the crossovers since Disassembled have lined up Siege would have been the natural fall/redemption arc of the Scarlet Witch since the whole mess was started with Disassembled and House of M. I also got the impression from Son of M and the corresponding fates of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch in the Ultimate Universe that they never intended to make Pietro Maximoff a heroic Avenger again (a Dark Avenger I could see, especially if Wanda's in the Sentry role). So without any inside information, I think Wanda being switched out for Bob is a fair conclusion, and honestly a charitable one because it suggests that this miserably clumsy insertion of Robert Reynolds into the Marvel Universe storyline and his seizing of not only the current metaplot but of every character's history and continuity was not intentional. It was them salvaging a storyline that could have been eyesearingly infuriating in all aspects, rather than fucking infuriating in one funeral issue. Specifically, one half-page of one funeral issue.
For those of you who missed my four-score-and-seven twitter posts ranting about it, I'm referring to this fucking page:
Yes, that's Scott Summers and Johnny Storm gossiping about Rogue and Sentry. Implying with the first question that she was in love with him, in the second that she fucked him, and in the last that they don't know when or how long the affair lasted.
(Full disclosure: when I first heard that Rogue lost a boyfriend, I was overjoyed because I thought Gambit was the next death in the X-men: Second Coming crossover event, and I hate Gambit. Then I discovered they had retconned in this relationship, I was enraged because not only were my dreams of Gambit's death shattered, but they had found the one character in the Marvel Universe besides Juggernaut that was an even worse choice to sleep with than Gambit.)
This page, which pisses me off beyond all words, perfectly illustrates exactly what is wrong with using the Sentry as part of the Marvel Universe proper. Rogue has apparently been fixed so that she can control her powers (good for her, but I'm not sure how long this will last), but she was originally a character built around an inability to experience physical intimacy. Her power means that she sucks the life out of anyone she touches, and it manifested when she got her first kiss. She has been a woman with a traumatic and miserable romantic life, and seemed to be consigned to the role of Marvel's Designated Perpetual Virgin. Because she's not celibate by choice, this has been a large source of angst, and is the driving source of tragedy for the character. It makes her romances tortured and fascinating. She was often put opposite energy fountain Gambit, because he might be able to generate enough to survive a kiss but she never wants to risk it. Sometimes she has been lucky enough to start seeing someone who can block her power, a force-field generator like Magneto or his clone Joseph, but even then it's never been made clear if they went anywhere.
The point is that since human contact was such a rare and idealized experience for Rogue, an event like the loss of her virginity is certifiably a Big Fucking Deal. It is a monumental experience for this character. It is her story more than anything else, because it is a moment that she has been denied all her life. It is a Rite of Passage that long boarded off to Rogue (with little detour signs leading to "Experience Prejudice", "Prove One's Valor in Combat", and "Absorb the Memories, Powers and Life Force of An Entire Other Person"), and she expresses the pain of that roadblock in every appearance. Breaking through that roadblock, whether it's through a temporary depowerment, or a forcefield, or a character powerful enough that she doesn't completely absorb him, is a major life experience for Rogue. It is something that should affect her for the rest of her appearances, making the event she can never experience now be something she misses and giving her a comforting memory when confronted by the cold reality that she can't even shake hands.
It is noteworthy enough that it deserves a three-issue mini-series with romance-novel style covers, a lush exotic locale, a tender build-up of affections and at the very least a soft silhouetted kiss then a fade to black. Then, most importantly, the fallout. The incredibly important reason why she did not stay with the person that could actually touch her every day for the rest of her life. Was it his choice or her choice? If it was his choice, how did she take it? If it was her choice, why? Because the reason for giving up the thing you want more than anything else in your life says a hell of a lot about what kind of person you are.
Even now that she can control her powers (again, not sure how long this will last before someone wants tragic Rogue back), the loss of her virginity is still an important event for her because physical intimacy is something that was denied to her so long. It is at the very LEAST something that needs to be covered in her own book and not any other character's. We're talking about the fulfillment of a lifelong dream of Rogue's here, something more special for her than the other character who might be involved for a laundry list of reasons.
But instead this event is implied not in any of Rogue's wistful memories, not in the most private thoughts that comfort her in her darkest moments, but in a half-page tribute to the Motherfucking Sentry.
A character that never thought twice about Rogue. A character who had a wife that he brought back to life after her death and kept prisoner in his tower because he couldn't stand the thought of anyone hurting her. A character who had an affair with a princess on the moon because I suppose that wife wasn't enough for him. But it's in HIS story that we learn about Rogue's earliest tryst. And not even from her, we find out from freaking Cyclops talking to the Human Torch. We don't know what she loved about him, besides the fact that this was a man and she could hug him (and really for Rogue it's perfectly understandable if that's all there was). We don't know what he saw in her, if she was just there and vulnerable or if he'd been attracted to her for a long time before they found out she could touch him. We don't know why they didn't stay together. (Except, maybe for the wife--or was this before the wife?) We don't know anything about this story except she could hug him and she told Cyclops they were together, on the way to the funeral. She never thought once about him in her own book since this happened, but now that he's dead--possibly the only man she's ever slept with/after all that angsting about not being able to even hug or kiss another person--she feels really awful.
This is a pivotal point in Rogue's life, where she experiences what she has been denied since her powers manifested--manifested and destroyed innocent dreams of a lifetime of romance and human closeness that had been forming at that very moment--this is the fulfillment of a lifetime of fantasies... and this moment is reduced to a punchline in order to glorify the adventures of the fucking Sentry.
And that is the ultimate problem with the motherfucking Sentry being shoehorned into the Marvel Universe. He becomes the Sun around which the rest of the Marvel Universe revolves. Forget every niche occupied by the characters of Marvel, those aren't their stories. Those are just backstories so that we can read about how wonderful the Sentry is! The Marvel Universe goes from being about the characters we love, the ones we love to read about, and becomes All About Bob.
Did you know Angel was once afraid to fly? Amazing, a mutant with wings being afraid of that. Surely, that's something to have overcome during his training under Professor Xavier, and an experience he can perhaps now recount to help guide a younger mutant to accepting their powers, right? Nope, it's something the Sentry helped him through and is now a memory of how awesome Bob is. Why? Doesn't add anything to Angel, but it has to be there for Bob because he has to have taught the X-men something early on, or he wouldn't have been a notable hero in the Silver Age. Warren overcoming his fears? All About Bob.
Did you know that Reed Richards had a best friend outside the Fantastic Four? Someone close to him that wasn't Ben, Johnny, or Sue--his FAMILY members? Why, it was the Sentry. so fucking perfect that one of the most standoffish men in the world was open to him. All of this bonding, of course, happened off-panel during the most important moments of Reed's life. You know, the moments we read that didn't have the Sentry in them. The moments where we watched him fight his own preoccupation with science and exploration to learn to socialize and appreciate his own family. The hundreds of little teamups where Tony Stark and Hank Pym slowly developed enough of a friendship with Reed that he would collaborate with them on large projects rather than just continue working on his own in his own little cubby-hole like he was always inclined to do. Don't get me wrong, Reed's not an unfriendly man or an extremely shy person, I actually consider him one of the more compassionate characters I've read--but he is incredibly self-absorbed and work-absorbed. Even Sue and Ben can barely get him to come up for air, so if he has a friendship outside of his small, insular group--a friendship where he would actually consider someone other than Ben his best friend--then it's something that built up over time and is a very big thing in Reed's life. It is something we find out about in Reed's story, not in that other character's story. But nope. It's only in Sentry stories and Sentry flashbacks that it comes up. Why? Because it's nothing to do with Reed. Nothing gets added to Reed because he was friends with the Sentry, and the Sentry was there during those moments. It's to show that the Sentry was smart, so smart he was friends with the smartest man in the world. And to show that the Sentry was a great hero that everyone was comfortable with off-duty too. Reed's friendship? All About Bob.
Did you know that Crystal slept with the Sentry? This, I suppose fits a bit. She likes temperamental, impulsive men with light coloring it seems. Of course, she doesn't remember the affair. He does. Why? Because the Sentry was there in the Silver Age, and he had to have gone to the moon. And what could he have done on the moon? Why, he can sleep with Crystal, because she's just some dumb slut, right? Not because she married too young and let two guys push her into choosing one or the other. Not because of her own insecurities or desires. Nope, doesn't matter why Crystal did it, because that romance (unlike the ones with Johnny, Pietro, Ronan, and the couple guys she slept with while she was married to Pietro) had nothing to do with Crystal's situation or storyline. It was because sleeping with a moon princess is just something a Silver Age hero does. Crystal's love life? All About Bob.
And of course, there's Rogue. Poor Rogue, starved for the touch of another person. Rogue who it turns out had her first full sexual encounter with none other than the Sentry. What led to this? How did she react? How did the realtionship end? Was there even a relationship? Who cares?! It doesn't matter what Rogue's role in this was, only that there was a void in her life and the Sentry filled it. Why? Because Rogue losing her virginity isn't about Rogue, silly. It's about how wonderful the Sentry was and how much we miss him! It's just one more throwaway moment in a list of moments of how awesome the Sentry is, how he saved everyone's lives and helped everyone do everything, and was the Supermanlike inspiration they needed because Captain America somehow just didn't cut it. Not only that, he is so amazing that not only did he have a romance with the X-men's poor chaste belle (as much as waypost, apparently, as teaming up with Spider-man, befriending Mr. Fantastic, and sleeping with Crystal), but he actually fucked her which not even Gambit or Magneto can seem to pull off. He got the the prize, folks, and what is possibly the most desired experience in Rogue's life? You guessed it, All About Bob.
Now, if I'm right in being charitable and the whole point of this was that the writers and editors at Marvel original wanted to use a character who was actually a hero during the Silver Age and had the impact already, well good for them for not killin off an actual character. But dammit, there's a right and a wrong way to introduce a new character to the universe.
Strangely enough, the very writers who brought back the Sentry is the one who did it the right way. See Alias, the series that introduced Jessica "Jewel" Jones-Cage to Marvel readers a few years back. Jessica was a former superhero with a Silver Age era origin. She was a classmate of none other than Peter Parker, and had a little thing for him. She fantasized about the Human Torch before she got her powers. She had a bad run-in with a Daredevil villain that led to a single adventure with the Avengers and a lifelong friendship with Carol Danvers/Ms. Marvel. She knew Luke Cage, and eventually married him and had a child with him.
This was an incredibly subtle retcon, a million times more restrained than the Sentry. Jessica had a Silver Age tie to Spider-man, but he didn't know she was alive. (In New Avengers, when she brings it up, he vaguely remembers her as "coma-girl".) She never met the Human Torch or the Fantastic Four during her brief time as a hero. When the Avengers rescued her from the Purple Man and offered her a slot on the team, she turned them down and retired. The ones who remembered her remembered her as a hero who retired after some tragedy, but not as anyone who made a huge impact on their lives. Carol's friendship slips between the panels because Jessica was out of costume the whole time, and Carol was usually in a team book. It worked that she had a civilian friend off-panel we hadn't met. It worked that one of Peter's classmates became a superhero, then retired. It worked that Luke Cage had met her sometime in the interim and they dated. She didn't take over these characters pasts, and their important life moments didn't suddenly become background to Jessica's story. She slowly joined their lives, a little bit at a time, with small things in the past that we reasonably wouldn't have seen.
But they didn't go subtle with the Sentry. They went all out, and shoved him into every book possible. He had a tie to every character in the Marvel Universe that was presented to the readers as fully formed and functional, a tie we never got to see formed even though we'd been watching the rest of these characters grow into the people they are for years. We were just introduced to this guy, Bob. We were told he was a great hero everyone loved but tragically were forced to forget, and then we watched quickly lose his mind while everyone discussed what a great guy he was. There was no restraint. This was all-out assault strategy, where they shoved him everywhere and gave him every Silver Age experience we can come up with. It was like they brainstormed for a session or two and just ended up using it all so the heroes would love him.
Which of course is why so many readers hate him, and why so many of us would love to just forget him. This leads us to a problem with Rogue and Sentry. Chris asked me what was so bad about it, aside from the storytelling technique sucking, and I gave him a few paragraphs worth of ranting about it. His response? "Got it. Fans want to see Rogue lose it."
And here's the thing: He's absolutely right. Fans want to see Rogue lose it. We're rooting for Rogue romantically, for her to get what she really wants and to control her powers or at least find someone who isn't affected by them. We don't want her to wind up alone, and we want to be there with her when she attains some closeness with a human being. I'm not saying we want a XXX-rated X-men special showing every detail of her first night. But we want to at least see the guy, the attraction, the gentle connection forming, and the kiss before they cut to another scene. We don't want to find out that the entire relationship happened off-panel in a book about a character no one really likes but dammit, Marvel really wants us to accept as part of the world.
We want to be there for Reed's growth as a person, and watch him open his heart to his family and friends. We don't need to find out his best friend and confidante has been there all along, off-panel, in some character we never met and never bought as a character in the Fantastic Four.
And we really, really, don't need Crystal to be fucking guys that don't feed her storyline. Because much as I dislike Crystal, her romantic links are all she has in character history and they are her choices and about her life, and giving them to the Sentry is just plain shitty.
And most importantly of all? The Marvel Universe doesn't need a cheap Superman knockoff to inspire them. They have Captain America and the original Human Torch to inspire them. We don't need a guy who's better at that than them, is every male character's best friend and mentor, and who manages to fuck every desirable woman in the universe.
And as much as there are certain moments I want to read about involving these characters, I'd rather not read these moments using some new character that I already hate because for years he's been shoved into the backstory of all our old favorites no matter where he fits properly because they need his death to count for as much as possible. It's for the best that these moments be written using the relationships that have come about naturally in the character's own story paths through their own books and crossovers with supporting characters and guest stars that fit into that world without taking it over or overbearing the people who don't really care for them at first.
So for the love of all that's good and holy, let's close this as the last chapter on the Sentry, bring back the Scarlet Witch as a hero, and forget any of these important life events were ever connected--let alone attributed--to this incredibly uninteresting character.