What Do You Get for the Man Who Does Everything?

I don't care if I sound like the Grinch of all Grinches. This is the last year I participate in Secret Santa.

Generally speaking, I'm developing an attitude towards Christmas gifts that is a Bizarro reflection of the one I had twenty-five years ago, when Christmas was responsible for 50% of my annual income. Back then, I would hop from foot to foot in eager anticipation of unwrapping those pretty parcels and finding out what coveted treat was inside. Now, I would settle for the gift of not having to make the delight/surprise face as I go, "Oh! A waffle maker! I could really use one of these, if I had regularly eaten breakfast at any point since 1997, or ever cooked, ever," all the while having that juvenile inner dialogue with myself: "Is it really that hard to just look at the Amazon wish list? Is it like a failure, admitting you don't know me all that well? My God, why am I even getting hung up on this? Who cares? Am I eleven years old? Just look him in the eye and thank him for spending $30 to fill your basement with garbage."

Let's be frank: the thing that bothers me is never the fact that I didn't get something I wanted. I'm an employed adult with a Mastercard. Although my wife would strangle me with garland and my kid might have to go without new shoes for a while, I could theoretically log onto Amazon and click click click my entire wish list into the shopping cart right now. Because I have simple needs and no taste to speak of, everything left on earth that I still want could be on its way here in a UPS truck by Tuesday. No, what has started to trouble me in my old age is that these poor people love me enough to feel they need to buy me something, but not enough to know what that might be. Or try to look it up. Or just ask my wife. Or think about it for more than ten minutes. "I don't know. That time we were in the car, didn't he say something about waffles?"

Nowhere is this problem more evident than with the workplace Secret Santa exchange. The heart never sinks more than it does when you draw that slip of paper in November only to be faced with a name you barely recognize. How am I supposed to shop for him? Or is it her? Oh, my God, I am screwed. I thought I had gotten the worst of it back when I was a lowly intern, but this Christmas I am in the soup like never before. I pulled the name of a man who could take one look at the fragrant bath beads I bought him and melt my face off.

The Sentry is not great.Somehow, I ended up as the Sentry's Secret Santa this year.

I can't explain how this happened. I don't even work with him. If anything, I actively work against him. I can only guess that, as the most powerful and ubiquitous character in comics, the Sentry's universe has run out of room for his presence and irritation, causing it to leak into our own. Either that, or someone at the iFanboy offices is playing a joke on me. Either way, I'm not taking any chances. Did you read Dark Avengers #12? The man gets crazier by the day, and he just found out he can control molecules. All of them. Whenever he wants. I don't want to be turned into figgy pudding. I have to take this seriously and get the Sentry something he could really use. Here's what I've brainstormed so far:

A backstory. Here is what we know about the Sentry in a nutshell: a normal man, Bob Reynolds, took an experimental serum at some point in his life and became an immortal with every available super power who can apparently control frickin' molecules with his mind. I don't know what happened with the rest of that serum, but I know this: that experiment was a success. I'll have what he's having.

What else? Well, we know that when he's isn't Sentrying around all the time, Bob Reynolds really likes to… do… a hobby of some kind. He is a highly trained… member of some profession. I think he may have been a writer. (That would make the most sense.) Also… what else?… Oh! We definitely know that he used to like to sit on his couch for weeks on end wearing nothing but boxers and a bathrobe, eating dry Captain Crunch directly from the box while watching Law & Order marathons, occasionally thinking about checking the mail, the very prospect of which would then make him rock back and forth in the fetal position. It was an entire subplot of World War Hulk: will the Sentry turn the doorknob and go outside to end this series in three panels, like he does everything else?

But other than that, who is Bob Reynolds? Does this man have parents? Siblings? Do they know he's the flying basketcase they see on TV ruining perfectly good fiction every night? Where did he grow up? In college, did he stay in the dorms or rent a place off campus? What did his roommates think of him, before and after he became an omnipotent MPD manchild? Did he pay his share of the long distance bill? Do his wife's parents ever call her, concerned because she has stopped coming to family barbecues, and also because every time they talk to her she sounds recently killed and reconstituted? Do any of their old friends ever worry about their relationship, given that Bob has apparently not let his wife out of their apartment in a year and a half, and also sometimes breaks her down into her component atoms during arguments? And what ever happened to the dog? Did Mrs. Sentry loose it in the vents, crying, "Run, boy! Run to freedom"? Or after being locked in her room all year, did he begin to look like the tasty solution to a pressing problem?

To put it more succinctly, why should I give a good goddamn about the Sentry? Not a single character in any book really cares about him; why should I? He has no supporting cast, no obvious friends. No one from his old life seems to miss him, and no one in his current life would, myself especially included. No wonder he's crazy. We have got to get this guy a life.

A $300 gift certificate for Great Clips. I mean, really, Bob. What are you, thirty-two, thirty-three years old? You look like you're in a Nelson cover band. High school is over; time to pull yourself together. You don't need hair getting in your eyes when you're arbitrarily disintegrating people.

A skilled publicist. The hair isn't the only thing crying out for a makeover. The Sentry's image could use some serious damage control.

As originally written, the Sentry was a bit like Poochie, the Rockin' Dog. The premise of his first story (which seems blessedly forgotten for the time being) was that the Sentry was actually the coolest, smartest, prettiest hero that ever lived. All the heroes you look up to looked up to the Sentry, even though this is the first you're hearing of it after forty years. He was so amazing, even he couldn't deal with it. Imagine if they had been publishing DC Comics since 1939, and then someone pitched Superman for the first time. Would fans welcome him slightly more or slightly less than a cold sore? Add to this the fact that many writers have opted to let his growing madness manifest itself by having him literally run away and cry for months at a time, and you have all the building blocks for someone who makes Heidi Montag seem like America's Sweetheart in comparison.

What the Sentry really needs this Christmas is a PR guy to spin all of this. There is a good Sentry story to be told, as long as we focus on the "unkillable superhero could crack at any second" angle and never mention the "taught the Angel how to fly and always helps Spider-Man move and gave the Hulk the courage to love again" angle again as long as any of us live. That "unstable god" angle could be great, scary, and tense, like defusing a bomb on a grand scale. It could be like the prequel to What if: Irredeemable. It could be, it suddenly occurs to me, exactly the plot of 1985's Secret Wars II.

This one might be too hard to pull off in time for Christmas.

Therapy. For someone who terrifies his keepers so much, the Sentry sure doesn't seem to be getting a lot of the help he needs. Norman Osborn has been more than happy to manipulate Bob's illness for his own gain, but it seems pretty clear that Norm doesn't have quite the handle on things he thinks he does. Bob needs to be on something. Probably a lot of somethings. Bob needs one of those containers like my grandma had, with the seven compartments labeled "MTWTFSS" so that he can keep straight many, many pills. Bob needs an hour on Dr. Melfi's couch every day talking about his mother. Bob needs a life coach and some lavender candles and some noise canceling headphones. Bob does not need to eat every meal with Venom and Bullseye.

Anything he asks for. Quickly. He can blink and turn me into a cloud of cinnamon. On second thought, maybe I don't want to know what happened to the dog.

This is all I have come up with so far, and Christmas is just days from now. I would love to hear any suggestions you might have. You'd really be doing me a solid.

Stupid Secret Santa. I just hope someone decent got my name. I hope it wasn't Mogo. He just gives the same jewelry out every year.

Jim Mroczkowski wants to know how the Sentry can fly to every kid's house in one night but is too terrified to ask. The inside of his head sounds a lot like Twitter.


  1. I heard a rumor that at some point Jean Grey and Wanda Maximoff collaborated on some advice tapes on "How to Integrate Your Massive and Terrifying Cosmic Powers With An Active and Interesting Social Life."

    They’ve gone down in value somewhat, in the past few years, but just because that dude who wrote the jogging books in the 70s died of a heart attack while jogging, that doesn’t mean they were bad books.

  2. Excellent analysis, especially on the backstory point.  The character has so much potential, but it seems like the writers are using as many shortcuts as they can possibly find, and it’s hurting the character and every story he touches.

    As for a gift — I volunteer an amorphous glob of some indeterminate material.  He can just turn it into whatever he ACTUALLY wants by rearranging the molecules, right?

  3. Or how about:

    – A heart. There have been good stories and bad stories with the Sentry, but complain as we might about how inconsistent writers have been in their depiction of him, the reason is simple: no one knows who he is. This is the essence of the character, part of his very origin story. He’s a supercharged Zelig, filling whatever role is needed for the story at the time. (Or alternately, dispensed with when he’s unwanted by sending him into space to cry.) What Sentry needs is another character to connect him to reality hence, the reader. And it can’t be his wife, because she’s 2-dimensional at best. It can’t be the Hulk or Reed Richards because that just doesn’t work. What the Sentry needs is his own Rick Jones, someone he cares about, and more importantly someone who actually cares about him.

    It also occurs to me that the Sentry could do with a bit of the treatment Geoff Johns has used to deal with Superboy Prime. Taking the fanboy hatred of his character and integrating it directly into his story in a meta way. 


  5. For all the fretting you hear about the way women are abused in comics, nobody ever says "boo" about Lindy Reynolds. I mean… we have got to get her outta there.

  6. Seriously.  I mean, you wouldn’t necessarily expect Norman and the gang to be helpful, but Lindy was in pretty much the same boat under the old order.  She-Hulk or Ms. Marvel never gave her a pep talk about empowerment (or a referral to women’s shelter)?  Really?

  7. @Jimski: I think Ive lost count on the number of times that Lindy was supposidly brutally murdered.


    When I was younger, my grandparents got me a Virtual Boy. In the commercials, it was touted as one of the most innovative and powerful gaming platforms to come out, and being the naive youngster that I was, I totally bought into the hype. Naturally when I started playing it, I saw it for the piece of garbage it really was. However, a part of me still wanted to like it since I begged my grandparents to get it for me and knew because of this that I wasnt going to get a new game system anytime in the near future. So I begrudgingly touted its faux-praises for awhile, as I was in complete denial that I invested in a shit gaming system. I think this is Marvel’s attitude towards The Sentry. They introduced this character 10 years ago and tried to build him up to the greatest character ever…though readers knew he was utter garbage. So Marvel, unwilling to admit that they backed a lame horse with so much power, begrudgingly still try to push him onto us and constantly reinvent him so they can have an excuse for people to like him. 

  8. Fantastic article Jimski. Poochie and Sentry do have a lot in common. 🙂

    I don’t read Dark Avengers but I have to think this molecule thingy is new. Why the hell did Bendis give Sentry pretty much Molecule Man’s powers? I knew he was in on the joke about everyone hating the character; but why is he making this character even more of a burden?

    You might as well make him the new Beyonder at this point!

  9. I haven’t participated in a Secret Santa since, like, sixth grade. It weirds me out to think about how offices and such basically force employees to participate in that. It’s so obviously fake/forced friendly, leading to an awkward X-Mas "party" where everyone’s wearing fake smiles, pretending they like/care about what someone else got them. There’s also the charade of pretending to enjoy seeing these people in a non-working environment, when really half of that mindset is thinking "Yeah, not working is cool for a change, but it’d be even better if I just could…leave here…like, now."

    Instead people should just buy gifts for people if that’s what they want to do. Don’t force it. I don’t even get all my friends gifts every year, and they don’t give me gifts every year, and there isn’t an awkward moment if I give them a gift and they don’t have one for me. Like the article says, we’re not eleven anymore. Gift-giving should be a natural thing, based on whether or not you can find/think of a gift for someone to have. Mature people really don’t care; it’s about being with people you like, and if gift-exchange is a part of that, cool.

    As far as the Sentry goes, Marvel should just give us the gift of removing him from continuity. We’re at the point now where even articles written about how much he sucks (I don’t mean this one; this one was cool) are having a hard time saying anything interesting about him.

  10. Oh, whine, whine, whine.  You got the Sentry for a Secret Santa recipient, and you don’t know what to give him.  Pfffffffffft.  I got Galactus. 

    I work in a comic book store, I can’t afford planets, inhabited or otherwise.  And heralds?  The man has worked with Silver Surfer AND Dazzler, I don’t have that kind of pull.

    I suppose I could try and break into the Baxter Building again, and try to steal the Ultimate Nullifier, but I heard they beefed up security after I liberated those nude photos of Sue Storm for last year’s Secret Santa exchange (And, man, you could see Victor smiling through that mask.  He’s such a sweetheart.). 

    Hey. maybe we could solve both our problems, and give them both scavenger hunt clues that led them to each other.  I think Galactus would love to suck the power of a thousand suns down.  Hmmm. 

  11. @akamuu, I figured you got stuck with Namor for a second.

  12. @Anson17: I had Namor five or six years ago.  I thought about doing the Sue Storm pictures for him, but let’s face it, all the man really wants is sleeveless vests that show off his pecs.  It’s like shopping for Freddie Mercury circa 1982, but without having to buy the mustache wax.

  13. @akamuu – It’s better than getting stuck with Thor. All he wants are expensive shampoos and conditioners for his luscious locks. Do you know how much that shit costs?

  14. You wanna talk nightmare secret santas. I got Clint Barton a few years back. Found an awesome boot, glove, and scarf set all in his signature purple. Cost me more than the $50 limit, but I figured what the hell because they even had little ‘H’s on the cuffs. Perfect. Then the gift exchange rolls around and who walks in? Some dude dressed head to foot in black leather.

    Son of a bitch.

    I left early, but I am fairly sure he was already working an exchange out with the Huntress.  What a mess.

  15. Just get him the movie "Being John Malkovich".

  16. i really liked the original Marvel Knights Sentry story, its a shame they couldn’t just leave it be. I’m so terribly confused by the Sentry’s story anymore.