What does it mean to be a superhero? Some might say it’s about personal sacrifice and protecting the innocent. Others might think it’s about the fight between good and evil. There’s also the idea that being a superhero is addictive, that it’s about the thrill of having powers. When used responsibility, superpowers are a benefit to the world. Yet there’s always the danger of being consumed by power and becoming addicted to the feeling. When that happens, the line between good and evil gets blurred and you’re left with a character like The Sentry.
The Sentry: Man Of Two Worlds, written by Jeff Lemire, explore the idea of what it means to have superpowers. Themes of addiction, mental health and duality are all featured in this explosive graphic novel.
An exploration of superhero mental health
I’ll start off by saying Sentry is one of my favourite characters. I’m fascinated by the concept of a superhero who is his own worst enemy. For all of Sentry’s physical might, he’s crippled by his mental health issues. He’s locked in a constant battle with his nemesis, The Void. Lemire takes everything laid out by the character’s creator, Paul Jenkins, and redefines it for a modern audience.
The graphic novel focuses on Bob Reynolds and his efforts to contain his alter egos. Every day, Reynolds uses a device called The Confluctor to live out his life as The Sentry within a world created from his mind. Built by Iron Man and Doctor Strange, The Confluctor stops the Void from breaking free. In the real world, Reynolds is middle-aged, stuck in a dead end job and pining for the glory days. There’s a sense of Reynolds being frustrated with his life, that he’s a recovering addict who misses the rush of being able to save the day.
“In the end, I know that as long as I stick to my schedule, everything will be okay. No matter how messy things feel, I know that I can go back to that place inside myself and reset everything. This is just the way it is for now. I have to believe I’ll eventually find a way to come to peace with this. Eventually I’ll find a way to bring these two lives together and be whole again. Until then, I just stick to the routine.” – The Sentry
Within Sentry World, Reynolds fights alongside Scout and Sentress, his loyal sidekicks. They are mental constructs of his co-workers. It’s another indication of how Reynolds longs for the past. Lemire’s characterisation of Reynolds is thought-provoking and disturbing. He’s a man who believes in doing the right thing, but he’s trapped in a loop. It’s a realistic take on people who struggle with their mental health.
Complex supporting characters and brilliant art
The theme of living in the past is felt by other characters as well. Bitter at his lot in life, Scout steals The Confluctor and plots to become the new Sentry. To carry out his plan, he teams up with Reynolds’ old enemy, Cranio. Both characters are connected by a desire to have their power back. Lemire manages to make Cranio feel pathetic and intimidating at the same time. His treatment of Scout is interesting because the character is presented as wanting to step out from Sentry’s shadow and feel whole again.
“I’ve had all the second chances in the world. And where has it left me? Split in two. Half a man. Half a monster. Never really able to be anything other than a shell. My mind is broken. It always was. I can deny it all I want, but I am a sick man. And a sick man should never have the power I do. And every time I try to control it, it always ends up leading me back to the same spot. It leads me back to the darkness.” – The Sentry
By the end of the story, Reynolds reaches an epiphany. He acknowledges his illness, which helps him make a life-changing decision. It felt like a huge moment of character development and Lemire did an excellent job of conveying the emotional weight.
Kim Jacinto and Joshua Cassara’s art deserves to be praised as well. Both artists have psychedelic styles that blend well together. I loved the contrast of the over the top battle scenes of Sentry World and the grainy panels of the real world. I thought the duality fit the overall theme of the story. Bob Reynolds is drawn as overweight and timid, while Sentry is presented as strong and physically imposing.
In addition to being a great character study, The Sentry: Man Of Two Worlds offers a mature take on mental health. Lemire highlights how messy and complicated humans can be. Mental health issues don’t disappear overnight. But in order to feel whole, it’s better to embrace every aspect of who you are, good and bad. The graphic novel can be bought now.
I’ve also put together an essential reading list for Sentry in case you’d like to know more about his backstory.