This is a funny release. Through some sort of delay-fueled distribution SNAFU, the latest issue of New Avengers has shipped on the same day as EVERY SINGLE OTHER MAJOR MARVEL RELEASE. People are wondering about what will go down in Young Avengers or how Whedon will wrap up his first wave on Astonishing. Meanwhile, this book gets pushed to the background. Maybe for good reason, because this isn't the best issue of New Avengers ever published.
First, this should have been the last part of the Sentry arc. For some reason, the arc got extended to 4 issues. This tends to happen to Bendis, and I've noticed that the ends of his arcs suffer when they get extended. This issue, although filling 22 pages, feels like only half a comic. There's a real solid idea here, but it's missing something, and thus, the issue doesn't feel complete. It's also fairly confusing, but I'll get to that.
So, we start with a flashback. Really, the continuation of the meeting between Iron Man and the consortium of superhuman interests (like that? I made it up myself). Calling back to a plot point from #1, Reed Richards simply doesn't remember sending Matt Murdock to defend the Sentry while he was in the Raft. As Xavier points out, it looks as though his mind has been tampered with.
Back in the present, the freakin' VOID hits ground. The superheros react like superheros and fight it, but there isn't a whole lot you can do against infinite darkness personified, so they basically get their asses kicked. I'm not gonna recap the issue page for page, but the gist of it is this: The fight runs throughout the entire issue, but the fight isn't important. Simply put, you can't defeat the Void. Just like you can't win a war against terror, you can't beat the void because he is more of a concept than a physical threat. Yes, he IS a physical presense, and as you'll see by the issue, his form changes each time you see him, but at the same time he is simply formless dark. He's evil personified, and you can't just punch him until he drops. Because of this, while it might make for a pretty visual, the fight against him is completely meaningless, because they won't be able to beat him. The real story here is Emma Frost trying to figure out who the Sentry is.
Yes, this is the second time this month we've seen a Bendis-written Emma Frost take a tour of a mysterious character's inner-psyche. I don't know if there's some hidden theme here, or Marvel's scheduling just got wacky, but it IS odd. Before the Emma tour, though, Reed Richards shows Bob Reynolds a message from the Sentry that he recently discovered in his computer. Yes, this message is VERY confusing. I read it a few times before I got it. Read it out loud, it helps. The deal is this: Whatever happened at the end of the original Sentry miniseries, whatever tactic they used to make him and everyone else forget the Sentry is starting to fail for the Sentry himself. He's remembering and then forgetting. At least when he remembers, he has the good sense not to do anything for fear that the Void may return. His message to Reed is a plea for Reed to help him, because he doesn't know how long he can keep the Void from coming back.
This convinces Reynolds to allow Emma to go into his mind and figure out what's going on. So bang, we're in the mind of the Sentry. We see a giant architects office from the Matrix-esque videoscreen of all his memories of being the Sentry. (And hats off to McNiven and whoever else who put this together, because it's really a stunning piece of art, with lots of original pieces from McNiven) Emma figures that she's unlocked these massive ammounts of repressed memories, but she still doesn't know why or how everyone else would have these repressed memories of the Sentry on such a massive scale. Emma decides to start at the begining, to see the origin of the Sentry. This is pretty ingenious because it works as a story element, and also gives the origin of the Sentry to new readers who haven't read the miniseries. The origin is presented as Kirby-esque panels of an old comic book. Emma naturally wonders why things look like this. Then we see the familliar actual photo of the Sentry that Spider-Man took in the mini, then the memory of Cap and Iron Man showing him the Sentry comics. While looking for the meaning of all this, Emma discovers an even more repressed memory...
And it's from Sentry's perspective, laying down in what seems to be some sort of industrial labrotory. Standing over him is freakin' Jason Wyngarde, the Mastermind. Seems Mastermind has turned a switch in Sentry's mind and can't access his powers or remember who he was. There is someone else in the room, covered by shadow, wearing a military looking hat. Mastermind has made it so not only the sentry forgets the sentry, but everyone else forgets the sentry by creating a massive fear of using his powers. Mastermind possibly created the illusion that the world would be attacked by the devil (the void?) if the sentry uses his powers. The military guy is very pleased, and considers this the absolute defeat of the Sentry.
But then something happens, Reynolds freaks out and tries to get out of the psychic connection between him and Emma. He screams that she had no right. Then she hears a banging sound, and out in the real world, the Void in a monsterous form, towering over a field of utterly defeated heros, starts banging on the protective shield formed around Emma and Bob, screaming that they had no right.
So, this is an odd issue. Actually, after writing all this and wrapping my head around what happened, I find myself liking the issue a lot more. I know that Jenkins left the end of the Sentry mini intentionally ambiguous, so maybe this is just Bendis filling in the blanks. I like where this is headed though. This is a really engaging mystery, and the appearance of Mastermind was a very cool moment that I hope gets expanded upon later. My one fear is this: We see Doctor Strange in the big group on the last page. Doctor Strange was instrumental in the world forgetting the Sentry. I really hope that this arc doesn't end with Doctor Strange fixing the problem.
All in all though, this is an 8 out of 10. Without a doubt, this Sentry arc is WAY better than the previous arc, and the art is absolutely beautiful.