Comics Reviews

How Marvel’s Strongest ‘Supermen’ Suffered the Same Sad Loss

Marvel’s most powerful heroes share more than strength in common: a common tragedy marks both their lives.

When Miracleman’s gritty revamp debuted in 1982 (by Alan Moore, Gary Leach, and Alan Davis), it permanently changed the superhero publishing world. One of the stories bearing the most Miracleman influence was Sentry, a self-contained Marvel story that essentially gave the universe its own Superman. After years of publisher mergers and acquisitions, Marvel acquired Miracleman. Now they intend to bring the character into their main universe. What will this mean for Sentry?

Initially created as self-contained meta-commentary on the Marvel Universe, Sentry (by Paul Jenkins, Jae Lee, and Jose Villarrubia) published under the Marvel Knights imprint. However, after that line proved wildly successful, all its books became accepted Marvel canon, including the Sentry series. Artist Rick Veitch, instrumental in creating the Sentry before being dropped from the project, had experience with analogs of Superman intended as self-contained meta-commentary. Previously, he worked with Moore on Supreme: The Return #4 (with additional art from Matt Smith, Jim Baikie, and Digital Broome). Their revamp of the Image Comics character certainly influenced the trajectory of Sentry. Moreover, in general, Moore’s style of prose left a lasting impact on the artist.

Related: Marvel’s Controversial Miracleman Debut May Be Its Doomsday Clock – But Is That a Good Thing?

As Veitch recalls on his website: “[We] had developed a sort of ‘deadpan’ approach to the genre… retro stories you see tend to be over-exaggerated… played for laughs in both the writing and art. Alan and I believed such an approach was to be avoided.” Though one can see Moore’s influence on the tone of the Sentry limited, there is a far more apparent sign of his impact. It borrows a significant plot point from Miracleman: the protagonist’s amnesia. Both comics open with their leads, depressed middle-aged blonde men discovering that they were superheroes in their youth. Where they differ, however, is the interaction between reality and memory.

When Michael Moran begins to recall his time as Miracleman, the absurdity of his past confounds him. Indeed, villains with names like Young Nastyman didn’t gel well with the harsh reality of ’80s comics. As it turns out, however, none of his past adventures truly happened. His powers were real, but the British government kept them occupied with machine-induced hallucinations to keep him and his sidekicks from destroying everything with their godlike strength.

In contrast to how Miracleman retcons his golden age comics adventures out of continuity, Sentry retcons itself into Marvel’s classic canon. Though making his debut in 2000, the comic operates under the premise that the character was actually created back in the sixties. So not only did the characters forget him but his supposed ‘creators’ did as well. The more beloved Sentry is, the more violent his evil other half becomes, hence the need for global amnesia.

Related: How Spider-Man: No Way Home Secretly Set Up the MCU Debut of Marvel’s Superman

Ultimately, when Sentry discovers the terrible effect of his heroism, he works with Doctor Strange to wipe the world’s memories of him once again. The genie goes back in the bottle. For Miracleman, however, no magic spell can undo the world’s exposure to supermen. With his former sidekick in the depths of a homicidal rage, Miracleman must fight. Unfortunately for all of humanity, the collateral damage of Miracleman’s “defense” is just as lethal as the wrath of his nemesis. The genie can’t go back in the bottle.

Miracleman was originally a Shazam stand-in, but Moore’s run used the character to deconstruct the premise of Superman. Now that Sentry and Miracleman are both under the Marvel banner, one wonders if they’ll cross paths. Both characters have two bodies, suffered from amnesia, and spell certain doom for humanity more often than not. But while Sentry’s near omnipotence rarely has any lasting effect on his world, Miracleman’s existence permanently changes his entire universe. Miracleman forced comic writers to reevaluate the use of tropes they’d relied on for decades. Perhaps Sentry will serve as a reminder of his lasting impact.

KEEP READING: The Sentry vs Hyperion: Who Is Marvel’s Strongest Superman?

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