Review: Sentinel Issue One and Seven

Ahead of the release of Sentinel #7, Seán Donnelly reviews issue one and issue seven which both feature the characters Doyle and Rhlstp. Issue 7 is currently being funded via Kickstater and there is a tier where you can get both issues.

Review by Seán Donnelly

  • Story by Alan Holloway and Melanie Bagnall
  • Script by Alan Holloway
  • Art and Lettering by Ed Doyle

Active between April 1979 and January 1991, Starblazer was a British comics anthology that was launched in response to the increasing popularity of science-fiction on television and film. Rendered in black-and-white with minimal panels, Starblazer compiled both one-off storylines and recurring characters in a small digest format that featured such names as Grant Morrison, Cam Kennedy, and Mike McMahon. Many of these writers and artists later found success with 2000AD and Judge Dredd; in Morrison’s case, they became a world-renowned comics writer.

Sentinel is a fan made comic that aims to channel the spirit of Starblazer. Funded through Kickstarter, Alan Holloway and Ed Doyle mimic the magazine’s style to a tee with snappy writing and scratchy, monochromatic art. The Starblazer format, though limited, offers an enticing creative challenge; how do you effectively tell your story when there are, at most, four panels per page? Yet in that limitation there is still plenty of opportunity for creative expression. There is less space on any given page, yes, but crucially there are many more pages to play with in total, a whopping 64 of them in Sentinel’s case. Consequently the action moves at a furious pace, creating a story that doesn’t feel its length.

Sentinel #1 is, by all appearances, a straightforward story. It is an intergalactic heist starring a roguish deliveryman and starship captain that wouldn’t seem at all out of place in an issue of Starblazer. It is this typical setting and scenario that gives the creative team the chance to flesh out their narrative with rapid-fire gags and a knowing sense of wry humour that gives this black-and-white story some colour. The speed of the storytelling is a boon for this kind of humour, making it a perfect marriage of format and genre. The art is kinetic, with broad outlines supporting otherwise loose details that create a textured, rusted world for our protagonists to inhabit. The use of dots is almost as ubiquitous as the usage of hatching and gives the comic that old-school pulpy feeling of its predecessors.

The same atmosphere persists in the seventh issue of Sentinel, a copyright-friendly tribute to the stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen and his creations. True to form this issue is more action-packed than the first, which focused on introducing the central character dynamic of Doyle and Rhlstp. With that dynamic firmly established, the creative team can focus on battles between hordes of skeletons and gorgons. Dynamic camera angles and use of splash pages give the setting that Harryhausen flavour; it is a sense of scope suited to the ancient Grecian setting depicted in films like Jason and the Argonauts (1963). Still, there is plenty of space for the slapstick that animated the first issue.

The world that Doyle inhabits is a well-worn one, but so is the very comic that he inhabits. Holloway and Doyle sought to recreate the experience of reading Starblazer in the 1980’s, and Sentinel is very much in keeping with that mission. Had this been released in an issue of Starblazer in its heyday, it would have been impossible to see it as anything other than the latest recurring strip.