Retcons, Reboots And Resurrections #27: The Birth Of Marvel’s Mightiest Retconned Superhero

by Scott Redmond

In life, they say only three things are certain: birth, death, and change. Within comic books, the three things that are certain are that there will be retcons, reboots, and resurrections. Retcons are elements retroactively added to a character’s history, reboots can either be revivals of a character/their title or extensive changes to canon, and resurrections are characters clawing their way back from the afterlife. 

Each week we’ll explore the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Retcons, Reboots, and Resurrections.

When it comes to comic books, retcons are as common an occurrence as sunrise and sunset in our world. One would be hard-pressed to find any character or title that hasn’t had a retcon (minor or major) applied to them at least once in their history. At this point, some characters are more retcon than anything else. 

Generally, these retcons are done to characters or books to change things as time goes on. Every so often though there comes a character that is born of retcon, their every fiber is dependent upon a retcon. 

In 2000 such a character was born at Marvel Comics. His name was The Sentry. 

The Backstory:

One of many attempts at a Superman-like character within the realm of Marvel Comics (truly there are enough of these attempts to field a pretty powerful team at this point), The Sentry got his start in a very different way. In the late ’90s writer Paul Jenkins had an idea about a struggling middle-aged character addicted to his superpowers. This was the basic concept he took to artist Rick Veitch who assisted him in developing the character for a Marvel Knights line pitch. Reportedly it was Veitch that suggested the character be one that was woven through the history of the Marvel Universe (allowing for creating various versions of the character to fit different Marvel decades) but through some means was wiped from all memory/history including from his own memories. 

Their pitch included a fictional real-world hook of the character having been created by two old-time artists Juan Pinkles and Chick Rivet, anagrams of their own names. During the actual pitch, then Marvel Knights Editor Joe Quesada liked the pitch but felt that the book should be drawn by Jae Lee who had recently done the Inhumans miniseries with Jenkins. With this change, the anagram artist’s name was changed to Artie Rosen (an anagram built from the names of letterers Artie Simek and Sam Rosen) and they decided to float around the news that this character was a forgotten one that Stan Lee had created before the birth of the Marvel Universe as we know it. 

How did they do this? Well, it was a pretty organized deception that they even got Wizard: The Comics Magazine and Stan to take part in. First, the publisher dropped a note in the letters page of Daredevil #9 in July 1999 that mentioned that artist Rosen was in poor health and had been “instrumental” to the beginnings of Marvel Comics. Months later, in January 2000, it was reported that Rosen had passed away and Wizard ran an obituary for the fictional artist a few months later that laid out credits for his fictional career and brought Stan Lee into the picture with some quotes. 

Not long after they published another article, this one focused on speculating that Lee had created another hero before Fantastic Four #1 existed. While the whole thing was a fabrication especially about the character and Rosen, the wording that Lee and even then Marvel Editor-In-Chief Bob Harras use in interviews is intentionally vague and speculative so that they aren’t definitively nailing themselves down to any specifics to better sell the deception.

At last, they finally published an ‘exclusive’ article in June 2000 that revealed that this before character was on sketches found in Rosen’s things by his widow, and returned to Marvel. The story went on to talk about how it was in Quesada’s office, Jenkins was looking for reading materials and ended up taking it home without realizing what it was, and then finding these pages with Lee’s name on them about a golden age Marvel Superman-like character. Jenkins went on to claim that he was inspired and called Jae Lee leading to the two deciding to put their planned Namor series on hold to do something with the Sentry. 

It went on to talk about how they asked around and eventually some recollections were stirred, deeper looks revealed that the character did predate the Fantastic Four, and the announcement finally came of the duo doing a Marvel Knights book for the character. 

Eventually, in May 2001, Wizard published another ‘exclusive’ article that was them revealing the hoax and their part in it. The artwork of Rosen’s was actually the work of John Romita Sr. and the photo of Rosen was the great-uncle of a Wizard staffer. 

The Nitty Gritty:

This was how they sold the ensuing miniseries which ran for five issues and kicked off with seemingly mild-mannered Bob Reynolds remembering that he used to be the extremely powerful hero known as the Sentry. During those revelations, he also comes to realize that his arch-nemesis The Void is making a return to the world as well. Reynolds heads out to warn some of the mightiest heroes about this threat, hoping to jog their memories of his very existence. 

This memory jog is spread through the majority of the miniseries and into a handful of flashback one-shots that saw his history built out with the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Angel of the X-Men, and the Hulk. Reed Richards slowly remembers that Sentry was his best friend and the hero had teamed up with the Fantastic Four often, Hulk never forgot the “golden man” who put out a calming aura that helped the Hulk be calmer and more heroic in the past, and Peter Parker/Spider-Man had won a Pulitzer for a photograph he took of the hero in the past. 

Through their investigations though they eventually learn that the reason all memory of Sentry was erased was that Sentry and the Void are the same beings. Two sides of the same coin so to speak, and Sentry erasing all memory of himself (even from himself) had been the key to destroying the Void. Seeing this as the only option, Bob makes the sacrifice once more with the assist of his computer ally C.L.O.C., Reed Richards, and Doctor Strange as his presence is wiped from all minds once again. 

This would have been the end of the character at that time except in 2005 Brian Michael Bendis decided to revive the character for his New Avengers series. From there the character stayed in the Avengers books written by Bendis (Mighty Avengers, Dark Avengers) and was a large part of many of that era’s big event storylines before he died during the Siege event that wrapped up Bendis’ Avengers era. 

Since then the character has been revived and killed off a few more times, currently having been killed during 2020’s King In Black event by the symbiote God/King Knull and then ferried into the afterlife by Jane Foster/Valkyrie. 

The Verdict:

Right off the bat, this one is a doozy. Retcons that take on such a life, where so many spinning plates of lies need to be spun are not going to end up in a great place. While the concept of the character was a solid one, the execution has certainly been lacking over the years. That’s not to say that creators haven’t told good stories, but a character that powerful with baked-in darkness has had a struggle fitting into the Marvel Universe. 

All the manipulations and the ‘erased’ created ‘history’ with other Marvel characters also weighed down the character considerably. Especially since the longer he remained in the world the less those connections were brought up and the more forced they felt when they might finally be brought up again. 

There are interesting concepts within the Sentry that could and should be explored within the Marvel Universe, and the character has great potential, but he’s just waiting for someone to be able to come along and find the right way to unlock it. 

Next Week: DC Hits The Reboot Button Several More Times But Out Of Continuity

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