There was an episode of the MTV series Daria where a jerk football player that nobody liked dies. Suddenly, everyone (except the realist Daria) can only say nice things about him. That’s the feeling I got while reading about Sentry: Fallen Sun, which features the funeral of the Superman-slamming analog. Remember that this the guy who ripped a god in half, became Norman Osborn’s “enforcer”, and never came off that heroic from his first appearance in New Avengers to begin with. Now all of a sudden, he’s Marvel’s answer to Hal Jordan and Barry Allen, influencing everybody into being better heroes just by existing. At least, that’s how writer (and character creator) Paul Jenkins seems to have written him.
Killed at the end of The Siege, thus keeping him out of the “Heroic Age” (which doesn’t sound all that heroic), the Sentry is now being thanked for helping the likes of Daredevil and the Thing find inner confidence, Tony get over his alcoholism, and Rogue get laid.
That last one is killing the readers.
The Sentry is probably the most poorly used new character to come out of either of the Big Two in recent years. Between playing games with his powers (he just seemed to get more and more powerful), giving him a mental disorder that actually created a destructive force (because of those ever increasing powers), and just turning him insane if not evil, it seems like only Paul Tobin was writing him as a super hero.
Now we’re supposed to believe that, with everybody’s memories of the Sentry restored, they could recall that he was a big help in some of the big moments of their lives. This would include Rogue, the X-Man who has the power to absorb the lifeforce, memories, and abilities (or super powers) of all but the most powerful beings at the cost of not being able to touch anyone.
This has been the biggest part of her character. The moment of her first kiss was the same moment that her X-gene first kicked in, thus she nearly killed her boyfriend, a pain she has never fully recovered from. It’s why her relationship with Gambit has always been strained. It’s why she hooked up with Magneto for a while. It wasn’t even about sex. She can’t even shake hands with you without putting you in the hospital, much less hug or kiss a friend in a platonic manner.
So this scene ends up making the hinted at “menage a trois” between Hal Jordan, Huntress, and Lady Blackhawk in DC’s Cry For Justice look tame in comparison.
Ragnell of the Written Word blog summed the problem up best.
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 $$%#%$# 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 $#%$#%#$%# Sentry.
This scene, like when the Thing says he was consoled by the Sentry after witnessing a supervillain destroy a bus full of children (Chris Sims said it best: “Welcome the Heroic Age, everybody”) or Tony saying the Sentry helped him when he was dealing with alcoholism (I’m surprised he’s stayed sober for so long, considering how often it gets brought up) serves only to make Robert Reynolds look as super-awesome as possible. Heck, a simple line like “No, I don’t think it went that far” would have been a good idea. First, there is that one little nagging detail that…
At least as far as he is ever allowed to be happy. Sure, some writer claimed that he had an affair with the Inhuman Crystal, but that was no less stupid. This is a man who put himself into a prison because he though he had murdered his wife. This is a man who almost trashed Ultron for keeps because he HAD killed Lindy. (She got better, but was recently killed by Bullseye. Good thing she didn’t hear about THIS!) And then we hear he’s had all these affairs with Crystal and now Rogue? A rather important moment in the latter’s life, and we’ll probably never hear of it again.
The point is Mary Sueism. As our heroes give tribute to Sentry, Paul Jenkins tells us that the hero he created enabled Tony Stark to get over his alcoholism. That the hero he created was a “better man” than Ben Grimm, who taught the Thing how to be a true hero. That the hero he created enabled Daredevil to survive his “difficult times.” That the hero he created was the only one who had been able to touch Rogue, and had been her lover (despite the fact that he had to have been married at that time…). Reed declares that Sentry’s “soul burns brighter than others,” and that he’ll never be able to see the rising sun without thinking of the hero Jenkins created.
Seriously. All that and more is in this issue. Despite everything that happened in the past 5 years under Bendis, the Sentry was the bestest hero ever, who made everyone better, who solved everyone’s problem, was the lover of the “unattainable” woman, and was apparently perfection incarnate. Jenkins continues to pound that his creation was better and nobler than everyone else.
That’s the problem with “pet characters”. (See also Simon Furman and Grimlock.) No matter what wrong the character does, he is virtually untouchable, the bestest person in the history of ever, and will always turn out to be right in the end. Some writers have their own pet characters, whether they created them like Paul Jenkins did the Sentry, or they just love the character so much that everyone else, like Doug Moench did in JLA: Act of God (hunt down Linkara’s reviews of this Elseworlds tale) and Batman. It comes off as phony as it is, and elevates one character and makes others look like lesser characters because of it.
I think as a writer that you need to at least make it look like your characters could get hurt, can occasionally make mistakes, and may need the help of others, rather than have your hero or favorite villain on what gamers would call “godmode”. This creates tension and conflict, not only making that character more believable, but leading to character evolution as he or she tries to overcome their defects to carry the day. You can go too far that way, but it’s odd to see one character be saddled with both over fallibility and over infallibility, depending on whether or not the writer likes or hates the character.
It was once said “if we’re going to be damned, let us be damned for who we really are”. (I can only find the line attributed to Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation.) There is no added statement “unless we’re really, really loved by the person writing us”. That stretches suspension of disbelief and ruins someone else’s favorite character. But as long as it’s not yours, why should you care, right?