In 2003, CBR News brought you word of a new superhero project, "Sentinels," that stood out for two main reasons: the writer worked for the New York Times newspaper and the story of this super-team was to be told in original graphic novel format. "Sentinels" debuted to a strong response from fans, making writer Rich Bernatovech a regular fixture at the conventions and creating a lot of buzz for subsequent volumes. As 2007 begins, fans await the March-shipping "Sentinels Book 4: Hope," which concludes the tale by Bernatovech and artist Luciano Vecchio. The fourth volume will wrap up all the major plot threads, while also introducing some elements for perhaps future tales, though Bernatovech & Vecchio weren't about to give away any details. The duo were, however, happy to speak with CBR News about "Sentinels" and the feeling of finishing a four-year-long project.
"It's a total feeling a completion as well as a huge relief," admitted Bernatovech, a Production Manager for the New York Times. "We worked hard on this entire series and learned so much along the way. I'm also very proud (but not in an egotistical way) that we finished it. Not many Indy books get a chance to finish their story. We got lucky and were able to. I have to thank everyone who supported us by taking the chance and picking up 'Sentinels,' they made that possible." Vecchio called his time on "Sentinels," "Very fulfilling and marks the end of a huge first step in my career as artist. Looking back at them I see a learning process that gave its fruits and a passion for what we were doing that is present everywhere."
As one might expect, both creators have spent time looking through old volumes, reminiscing and criticizing now visible flaws (though Vecchio calls all four volumes, "A great product."), but Bernatovech is most proud of the story's integrity. "It has meaning," he explained. " The story stayed exactly the same from start to finish. The ending was planned from day one. That never altered. Some things changed in the middle here and there, but nothing that impacted the storyline that was started.
"Creatively, we changed a lot during the series and I think that's evident with each book and how we both grew as writer and artist. The first three chapters in book 1 are not as strong as the rest of the chapters in the series. That's mainly because I was writing differently at that time and had never done anything like this before. Once Luciano and I started working together we got into a real collaboration that heightened both of our creativity. The characters became stronger and more unique which was one of the criticisms early on.
"If it had been possible, I would have spread 'Sentinels' out to five books instead of four. For two reasons: 1) The books would have been smaller and come out quicker. 2) It would have changed the pacing a little bit to show more time between different events that happened.
"There are some characters that didn't get as much time in the spotlight as I had hoped, but I think they all had an arc or some kind of resolution. If anything I would have liked to show more interaction between members since that's what interests me the most. But with a cast as big as we have in 'Sentinels,' that's setting yourself up for too many possibilities. We had to focus and decided early on to tell the story in four books.
"One thing that did change greatly from the beginning was the character Switchfast/Stitch. We liked the character so much we ended up writing him more into the story. Some of the minor characters from 'Book 2: Masks' also ended up working their way into the finale in a surprising way."
For those fans who've not recently read the last volume of "Sentinels," Bernatovech said that all you need remember was that the group was a second-generation superhero team and the various battles with certain villains who play into this final tale - the rest is all geared to refresh your memory. That said, expect "Book 4" to focus a lot on the karmic balance to those previous adventures and the idea that with great power comes great consequences. "When you're dealing with superheroes as the theme of a book, responsibility and consequence are bound to come up," explained the writer. "Whether you deal with it or not is the choice of the creators. With the subject matter in 'Sentinels,' we tried to have those things happen organically and not force them down the reader's throat. And not every character in the book gets a pretty resolution to their issues. The main goal was to tell a story that could be read at any time and stay true to itself.
"I do think that today's day and age has given a lot more meaning to responsibility. Comics are better then they've ever been in my opinion and I think that's because of the changes society has gone through. Many books are dealing with issues that are happening in the real world now. To be honest, when we started 'Sentinels,' one of the reasons I wanted to do it was because I wasn't enjoying any of the superhero books out at the time. They all seemed to be treading water and keeping the status quo. Four years later Marvel is doing 'Civil War' and DC is doing '52' and the OYL books. I love that they're doing that and hope the changes they've both started last."
Equally predominant in all the previous "Sentinels" books has been the comparison of the modern day "nuclear family" to the more traditional family dynamic, something not unfamiliar to "X-Men" or "Teen Titans" fans. Bernatovech promises to continue exploring that theme in this upcoming volume, and explained, "To me, family can be whatever people choose to make it. For example, I'm very close to my natural family. They're very important to me. But I also have a core group of friends I consider family, too, and I believe most people do. But there was no social agenda or commentary trying to be made with 'Sentinels.' It was all just part of the story we wanted to tell and if it reads that the 'Sentinels were a family, then we did our job because we wanted there to be that feeling by the end of the series. The fact that the Sentinels were so diverse in race, religion and sexuality was a conscious decision. Too much of the same thing is boring." Working up to such a grand finale, it can be hard for creators to not get wrapped up in worry about the expectations of fans who've spent years following "Sentinels," and Vecchio admitted, " I did get consumed by worrying about that, both as creator and as first reader and fan of the story. I wanted to be happy with it and I wanted it to be flawless."
"I don't think we gave ourselves time to worry about the ending and how it would be received," added Bernatovech. "We just kept working toward our goal. Now that we're here, it's exciting to see how it'll be taken by readers. I hope they won't be disappointed because I think it's the best work Luciano and I have done. We're both very proud of Book 4 and I think it'll change the way the previous books are looked upon."
When fans finish "Sentinels Book Four," they'll see that there's a lot of stories that can still be told, but as far as Bernatovech is concerned, the story is over – for now. "We did exactly what we set out to do and told what we believe is a fun and exciting superhero story," said the scribe. "To keep going at this point would lessen the impact we think the series has. We could always do an anthology book somewhere down the line or a possible spin-off, but that would only be if we came up with a really good idea that we thought had its own merit. But for us, Book 4 is the end. Luciano and I do have another series in development that would have very slight ties to 'Sentinels,' but nothing is set in stone yet and it wouldn't have anything to do with 'Sentinels.'"
Fans will also notice a growth in the penciling of Vecchio, whose work has evolved greatly from 2003. When the cover of Book 4 was released on the Internet, fans noticed and Vecchio hopes they'll enjoy the interior work even more. " Well, the four books of 'Sentinels' themselves have been my biggest learning process, it was 800 pages where I got to play with all kinds of visuals and the way it's written pushed me to grow in what I like the most, the 'acting' of the characters," said the artist. "My style has suffered changes on the way, it was like looking for my voice, and I think the last book completes the circle and sums up everything I had learned on the first ones, it has a balance of realistic detail and minimalist expressionism that I'm very happy with."
With "Sentinels" finished, Bernatovech promised fans that he'll move onto some different projects, so they can see he can write more than just one genre. "Both Luciano and I have new projects starting up individually and one together. Drumfish Productions will begin some new series next year, the first of which will be called Neverminds and will be written by me and drawn by Jamie Fay. Luciano and I are also developing another series mentioned above called Caspian Curses. I'm also planning on publishing work by other creators and I'm shopping proposals around to other companies too because there are a few mainstream books I'd love to get a chance at writing. 2007 should be an exciting year."