Author's Note: What follows is another interpretation on my part of a section of Secret Invasion that no one seems to want to explore: namely, what happened to our friend Bob Reynolds, The Sentry, after a Skrull masquerading as The Vision terrified him away from fighting in the second issue of that series. In another sense, though, I seem to be unable to get away from these characters. C'est la vie, I suppose, but to give you some brief background I present the following notations. The title is admittedly cribbed from probably one of the all-time great Fantastic Four stories, 'This Man, This Monster', which appeared in Fantastic Four no. 51 back in June 1966. For the truly engaged and referential among us: the image the Young Avengers come to stare at, as you'll find, is from Young Avengers Special no. 1, and was drawn by Neal Adams. I don't know if Adams ever actually drew a piece like it or if he simply made it for the 'Stature' secton of the YAS, but it seems like a novel inclusion at any rate.
Secondly, concerning my use of the Young Avengers, I suppose I'm following the old Stan Lee method here: write what you know. Could've been the Avengers, could've been Reed Richards, could've been Bob's dear wife Lindy Reynolds that he has his conversation with. But I liked the Young Avengers, and contextually, this story has ties to some other stories I've concocted that also feature The Sentry and my Young Avengers Of Choice: Wiccan and Hulkling, colloquially Billy Kaplan and Teddy Altman. As always, I've sort of played fast and loose with the continuity, injecting my own flavor into things, while still trying to tip my cap to extant storylines and the direction in which those seem to be going. Hopefully the waters won't be too muddled. Happy reading!
The Savage Land.
This is what you wanted Bob.
You see this thing calling itself The Vision and you see its automated mouth moving as it speaks, but you hear the voice more in your head. A persistent ghost, nagging at the deepest part of you. The part which false Vision somehow knows of.
How did it come to this?
"You did this, Bob. This is all you."
No, you didn't.
"I am the Void and I brought this to you, because I am you."
That's. That's. Not…
"You birthed this into existence. I'm here because you wanted it."
No. I couldn't.
"Everything is coming together just like you planned. You're destroying them all for forgetting you when you needed them the most."
The Vision smiles its fake robot smile. And looks away. And you flee.
Halfway to the Moon you can still hear Spider-Woman talking to Stark. Spider-Woman.
You knew something was wrong with her. You knew. And they didn't listen.
"But first—they're going to follow their biological instincts and…what's a phrase they would turn? Freak out. And that is understandable."
Stop it, you say and don't hear. Because up here they can't hear you. Course, down there they didn't hear you either. No one willing to pay attention to little Bob Reynolds, and up here it's not just a bromide. No one can hear you scream. No one wants to pay attention to you anymore, Sentry.
You run out of willpower and stop flying at Saturn. And your baby blues get a sight of something you think is awful, hiding in one of the rings. A little spot of black.
Me. So you think.
The thing, that fake automated…thing…in the Savage Land?
Not me. Never me, Bob.
I could not be caught dead with those beasts. Those…Skrulls. Trust me, Bob, like God knows you ought to. This world is not theirs to conquer, Sentry.
These Skrulls, these uh…religious fanatics and their guttersnipe of a Queen? It's a cruel joke. They've missed the point and they don't even know it. They want to take that planet? What fantasy.
They have no idea, do they? How that planet works and how it has a life of its own. How it doesn't want to die. How it keeps living. Never gives in.
Give in, Bob.
Out here in space? In the cold and the dark, where you're staring at the bright side of a planet intended for Galileo? You see the glimpse of a life you should have had: me, here among the rings.
Don't hate, Bob. You can't escape the future, marching as it does soullessly into your present.
Let me in.
I can save her.
You know it.
Let me save her.
Then fly back to the Savage Land. Kill them all. Not just the Deviant beasts trying to kill those people you call friends. But your friends. All of them. Every one. Even the women. And the children.
Act on your little secret desires. Go break Banner out of custody, and together the two of you can make things right.
Make these powerless knuckle-draggers fear you.
Use my power. I beg you.
You should take a lesson from the little sorcerer fancying himself a Young Avenger. Self-help books, Sentry. All you have to do…is want…what you want.
TAKE IT! It's yours!
Tears. At the edge of your eyes and the edge of your perception. So familiar to you that you don't even register their presence anymore. How pathetic. Use your power, Sentry. Like you used it on Banner those months ago.
Take. Take. Take.
And give nothing back, Sentry. I've never asked for anything back. I've only given. Everything.
Never. We have each other. Always.
I love you, Golden Guardian. I swear I do.
"Stop saying that!"
Show them a lesson! Prove that fake Vision right! Destroy them all, and be the person you want to be!
The person you're doing an increasingly good job of repressing.
So you've said.
Give in, Bob. Or go home and be a hero.
"You can't convince me anymore."
You're not beyond my power, Sentry. And I'm not trying to convince. I'm telling you the way things are.
The choice is yours. The choice is simple.
Here, at the edge of Saturn's rings, the choice is simple. If there is a choice at all. Remain here in your loathing and your misery. Or go home. Make the hard call and be the hero.
I can save her. I can destroy her.
I can destroy them all. In your name.
If you let me.
You didn't bring anything about. The only thing you're guilty of is complete ineffectuality.
Or think of it this way.
A million exploding suns. And all of them directed at the Skrull armada.
Oh. Your. God.
You could be the bane of the entire Skrull race. Think of that, too, if you can. To have a galactic empire with trillions making up its body, to have those trillions ground under your heel. All of them hating you. Only you.
Ask Reed Richards what that's like.
Speaking of, Sentry…right now, there's a man in a Mar-Vell suit tearing his way through that Armada.
His name is Khn'nr. A Skrull name. A goddamn liar's name.
And he's killing his own people.
In the name of the far more interesting and far more dead Kree soldier Mar-Vell.
Of course you do.
You're the Sentry.
So be the Sentry. Be the one they can love. As much as they loved Steve Rogers. As much as they loved Mar-Vell.
Go back. Join Khn'nr and destroy the Armada. And then the heroes. And the villains. And the rest of the ants on that mudball.
Kill them. All of them. Every last one.
Or kill yourself. That's how to make yourself loved. Die, and they'll bury you like the hero they think you are. They might even give you a statue next to Captain America's!
They'll make you the new Steve Rogers. The new Mar-Vell.
So kill them. Or yourself. See what happens.
"It would be murder."
"You would kill me. Once I'm done. Killing them."
Yes. Yes, I admit that. But it wouldn't be murder.
It would be suicide. And one of us deserves to love himself too much to want to die.
So why not take our shared anguish out on people who deserve it? These goddamned Skrulls and their papier-mache dreams of conquest: all in the name of their inbred and halfwitted Skrull God.
They're all inbred, you know. Every last one of them.
Kill them, Sentry, all of them. Every last one of them.
Take the world for yourself.
Exterminate. Kill. Make this pitiful little planet the way you want it to be.
Do something worthwhile, for once.
"Because…you want me to…"
Give in, Sentry. Here in the shadow of a planet found by a dead man. Among the shine of stars meant for trilobytes to see. Among the dark. And the cold. Where there is no alternative except stagnation and a long, boring life lived alone.
Give in. Be something other than what you already are.
"Miss Lindy, there's an intrusion...the Watchtower defense systems are having no effect."
Then an explosion. The sound of destruction.
And a Super-Skrull standing between Lindy Reynolds and what's left of her life.
The inhuman Super-Skrull speaks on behalf of something else. He loves you, it says.
Then darkness, but in the shape of a man, coming to save you, Lindy Reynolds. Killing the Super-Skrull who's trying to kill you. Darkness reassuring you. Darkness frowning sympathetically, and embracing you.
The man-shaped darkness says it can take care of you, Lindy Reynolds. It says it's got you. That's the last thing you hear in its ashy embrace. The voice that sounds like broken glass, like nothing human…and everything human.
Then, darkness. Unfeeling.
You think you finally get it, then: that this is the end.
It's oddly painless.
The Void loves you more, Lindy Reynolds. More than you know.
V-S Day Plus One.
Billy Kaplan and Teddy Altman.
What's left of it.
"You're talking to yourself again, Bill."
The two of them had always been clever enough to know how to get into the damn place. One of the benefits of an unsullied memorial such as Avengers Mansion was that Stark didn't bother making security measures too egregious to keep out the truly intrepid. Oh sure, the wrought-iron gates could electrify and keep out the druggies and gangbangers. But a magically-inclined Young Avenger and his Kree-Skrull hybrid boyfriend?
And Teddy was always right.
"Yeah. Guess I am."
So there they were, standing in what had been a display gallery in another life. Both stared ahead at a large frame and the picture behind shattered glass. One of many, just another nameless addition to the rosters. This particular Avengers team.
A prominent picture of Scott Lang as Ant-Man in the lead, looking very authoritative with his chiseled jawline and those deep brown eyes that went on for days and belied whatever danger there was. Hawkeye, Clint Barton, behind him. And Janet Van Dyne, The Wasp. She-Hulk in there too someplace. Thor and Iron Man at the top of the group, looking up at the sky. Captain America in front of a gigantic Yellowjacket—Hank Pym, at some point in the past. The Vision swooping down, behind Pym. Billy even noticed the Scarlet Witch in the picture, standing next to Cap like the damsel in distress she painted herself to be.
Teddy looked over at him slowly, and his expression began to match Billy's. Narrowed eyes, narrow so the thin lines on the thin skin around his eyeballs look so prominent. Mouth drawn down slightly. Brow curled down.
Billy looked old.
Teddy sighed the tired sigh and his shoulders tensed, either from an unbidden nervousness or the draft working its way through the dead mansion. He worried. All of the sudden. About this person he loved.
Teddy put his arm around Billy's shoulder, and Teddy's hands were unnaturally warm. And when Billy leant in toward Teddy and wrapped his arms around him in that hug of hugs that just says 'hold me', Ted's whole body was warm.
Billy sighed and felt his slick little veneer cracking.
It was a hell of a fight. And it threw…everything into chaos. And perspective, too, maybe.
They'd all fought Skrulls before, but nothing like that. Jesus, the last such occasion ended with Eli almost dying and a mini-Kree-Skrull deathfest in the skies above the Village.
It all happened so fast. Everyone was caught by surprised and maybe they shouldn't have been.
Teddy took a deep breath and smelled Billy's conditioner, a modest little Pert and Popular number. Gently, he asked, "You're sure he's coming?"
"He said so," Billy said and was suddenly doubting this man.
This Golden Guardian they'd been putting their trust in.
Then Billy felt warm. Like it was on command. He felt warm. Lifted way from Teddy and saw the shattered glass in the picture frame glow a bit, and looked behind him. And there he was.
Standing three feet away, as real as the statues outside, as real as the building. As real as any of this.
He glowed yellow and looked calm, and Billy swore he could feel the warmth from those funky solar-based powers.
Uneasily, as always, Billy extended his hand and said, "Hi…Bob."
The Sentry met Billy's handshake and smiled.
And Billy didn't feel so nervous anymore. And Teddy's shoulders finally slumped in relaxation.
"Thanks for coming, Sentry." Billy said.
The Golden Guardian gave a half-shrug. "My pleasure. And it's Bob. How many more times do I have to tell you that?"
"One more time at least." Billy started to grin, a little Whoville-start-low-and-start-to-grow grin. He stepped aside a foot and gestured toward Teddy, who was really just kinda gawking at this man, this Sentry. "You know Teddy."
"Yep," Bob said and shook Teddy's limp and dumbfounded hand. More quietly, Bob said as he leaned in, "You can relax, Ted."
And strangely easily, Teddy did.
"I've got to say, Billy, this was a little unexpected. Given, well…"
Bob started ambling toward the front of the mansion, to the ruined double doors through the foyer. "Thank you, though."
"I needed to get out. Keep my mind on positive things, you know."
"Yeah," Billy said.
Teddy chimed in: "Uh, for what it's worth, Mr Reynolds, I'm sorry about your wife."
Bob did the fond smile again: faint crow's feet creased their way onto the corners of his eyes and aged him horribly. "You are kind, Ted, thank you."
"Are you okay?" Billy asked, and felt stupid for asking.
"Yes, I think so," he answered plainly enough, and then looked deathly serious. As if mood changes were as simple as a gear-shift for this man, this Sentry. "Ted, there's something that's been on my mind."
"I know about your lineage: what happened with Mar-Vell and Anelle and K'lrt all those years ago. Did…did any of them ever approach you? To help in the invasion?"
Billy simply said, "huh?"
"We know they contacted Johnny Storm's ex-wife. They obviously got to Jessica Drew and Henry Pym a long time ago. I need to know if they ever contacted you."
Teddy was momentarily confused and his brow contorted to show it. Then it hit. "Oh. No," he said. "They didn't ask for my help when they were blowing up Times Square, if that's what you mean. I, uh…I don't think the Skrulls that tried to kill us were too keen on me. Heir to the throne and all that."
Bob nodded slowly. "I understand."
"Why do you ask?" Teddy seemed genuinely interested. Not fishing for intel.
"Because I think…"
Think what, Sentry?
"What?" Teddy asked.
Bob touched his fingers to his forehead and tried to play it straight.
Bob by this point hovered in the threshold between past and present, between the ruined mansion and the rest of the world. Arms folded over his chest. Eyes locked harshly and sadly on the Founder's Statue. This was Bob Reynolds meditating.
Teddy walked forward.
Bob wasn't saying anything.
"Bob," Billy said more forcefully. He walked around to Bob's front side, and craned his neck to see the Golden Guardian five feet above himself. "Are you…there?"
"It all went wrong, didn't it?" Bob said. His mouth had moved but his expression remained focused. Like the statues had personally wronged him. Billy and Teddy couldn't tell, but it was the Giant-Man statue that held Bob's attention.
And the Skrull motherfucker that impersonated him, Sentry…
Teddy leaned in to Billy, whispering in his ear. "Is he okay?"
Billy kept on Bob and bent back half a degree. "Yeah." Louder, so Bob could hear him, maybe a little more harried: "Bob, talk to me."
These inhuman beasts, these deviant religious fanatics…tried to take your life. Tried to kill your friends, Sentry.
"You took my wife. It was you." His voice was almost like The Void's in its intensity and its hatred. Soft and hateful, nails on a chalkboard, broken glass. Like broken dreams.
You wouldn't let me in to save her. So I had to invade. Had to take you over and get rid of her. So you could be…unencumbered.
Believe me when I say it. I had to save you, Sentry.
My greatest victory yet.
Bob dropped his armor for a moment: his jaw slackened and his eyes narrowed in a flinch. And he regained his composure quickly. Best not to let the boys see him falter.
Now you're free, Sentry. The only reason you're not angry is because you know I'm right.
"I trusted you," Bob whispered in his hateful Void voice, to the statue of Giant-Man.
They had bonded when the superhuman civil war was in its final stages. They had been friends.
You found a kindred spirit in Pym, the way you had a kindred spirit in Steve Rogers and in Bruce Banner. That's what awaits you at your Avengers, Sentry. It's a Lost Souls Club.
Reed and Stark and Pym were the brain trust and everyone knew it, but for some reason they'd let Bob in. Maybe as an olive branch, maybe as a form of pity. But he had been included.
That gave him reason to keep going. That gave him grounding to believe that what Tony was doing was right.
He should have been surprised when Pym said it was a pleasure to meet him.
Bob sighed and closed his eyes.
The real Henry Pym knew you years ago, Bob. You two went way back, as far as you went with Mar-Vell, as far as you went with Reed Richards. And it was only yesterday, when you saw Pym…do what he did to Janet…that you accepted the truth.
The Henry Pym you thought you were friends with was not Henry Pym.
Those inhuman bastards replaced him.
You were friends with a charlatan. A fake.
Bob lowered to the ground. He suddenly recalled the world around him, and spent a picosecond analyzing why Teddy and Billy were looking at him…like that.
It was Billy who spoke up first: "Are you alright?"
Bob opened his eyes. "Yes." Slowly he developed the fake smile. "Yes."
Teddy frowned and was not convinced. "Ask you something?" Till now he'd been quiet and maybe a little intimidated by this man, this Sentry. Out of nowhere he seemed to have gained courage enough to speak. Bob allowed himself an imperceptible smile at the intimidation thing.
It meant they were remembering him. Or keeping him in mind.
Not forgetting you, Sentry.
"What is the Void?"
The question came from the same nothingness as Teddy's courage, and Bob looked slowly toward the Kree-Skrull hybrid. Bob's eyes were narrow, with the faint crow's feet, and his lips parted a centimeter.
This ought to be good.
Bob inhaled and let it go quickly, one of his angry sighs. He looked back at the Founders Statue.
As he spoke, Bob's voice lost its previous tenor. It got deeper to the point where it was coarse across the phlegm on his vocal chords. A whisper of quiet desperation that sounded angry, but wasn't. "The Void…is every shred of misery you've ever felt. Every sadness. Any time you ever wanted to see someone else fail. Every moment of self-loathing, every unfulfilled desire. Every secret little wish and private fantasy you've ever had that you never got. Every moment you've ever hated something and felt good about it. Every time you ever felt lonely or abandoned. Every love you ever lost. It's jealousy and vengeance, multiplied a thousandfold. It's living hatred, and I birthed it into physical existence by sheer force of will. It's everywhere."
Bob looked at the boys, and he was sad. In that rarest of peaceful ways. He pursed his lips and sighed and sat down on the broken concrete pediment. Awkwardly, the boys followed suit.
"It...he's a black hole. An emptiness that we feed. I feed. And there's no cure for it. I created it. I sustain it. We all sustain it, with our manias and our problems and our little battles we fight. It's a virus. It…takes. It devours. It's always hungry. And it tries to destroy what we think can never be destroyed."
Quietly, uneasily, Teddy asked, "which is?"
Bob looked at the Captain America statue.
A moment later, Bob stood and the night breeze caught his cape and sent it out behind him in a great flourish. The boys stood.
Billy put his hand out once more, and glanced at Teddy.
"I'm glad you're with us, Bob."
Bob shook Billy's hand vigorously and genuinely, and a smile curved its way onto his face, following perfectly the jawline.
"So am I."
Then he was in the air.
"Sentry," Teddy said politely.
Bob's eyes became the glowing color of the Sun at that, and the breeze wrapped his cape around him. "The pleasure's mine. Always will be."
Then he was above Manhattan.
Billy and Teddy were shrinking dots below him, their arms tight around each other, their eyes staring confidently and quietly up at this man, this Sentry, soaring into the night.
He passed the Hubble telescope a moment later, gave the lens a boasting thumbs-up, and stared ahead at the blackness, and did not hear the Void calling inside him. And ahead the Moon was a bright spot, a hopeful outlier against that blackness. Further on, he passed Mars, and the Galle crater smiling back at him. And snaked his way through the asteroid field. Up ahead, the storm that had brewed on Jupiter for centuries continued unabated, and Bob watched it like a car-wreck. And spotted Saturn in the distance. And wasn't afraid of a dark spot among the rings.
Maybe he would keep going. Or maybe he would turn around once he reached the termination shock, or once he passed Voyager 1. He was just curious enough to find out.
His eyes kept the solar glow, which worked its way slowly and therapeutically through his entire body. And he felt complete.
I love you, Lindy Reynolds.
I swear I do.