Author Van Allen Plexico has been writing (and publishing) his ongoing Sentinels saga since 2006. That’s when the world was formally introduced to genius inventor, Esro Brachis, America’s most beloved hero, Ultraa, Lyn “Pulsar” Li, and Vanadium, the armored alien with otherworldly powers.
Since the first book debuted, Plexico hasn’t spent too much time away from his keyboard. He’s written seven Sentinels novels and, by all accounts, seems to be dedicated to publishing one new book per year. Good for him. If he keeps working at this pace, he’ll catch up to George R.R. Martin and his Wild Cards collective in another decade.
Way back in 2009, Plexico even curated an odd hybrid type of book. Part short story collection, part fan guide, and part history lesson, Alternate Visions gives fans a rare peek behind the Sentinels curtain. Sandwiched between two cosmic trilogies (The Grand Design and The Rivals), the book is often overlooked in the ever-expanding Sentinels catalog.
From the first page to the very last page, Plexico plays the part of a genial host. He’s like Hugh Hefner during an episode of Playboy After Dark. “The following story,” he says at one point, “is filled with inside jokes galore and brimming over with good humor. Enjoy!” You can almost see him with a pipe in his mouth and a martini in his hand. When not hosting the party, he also contributes two stories of his own and adds lots of minutia about the origin of the Sentinels and about his creative process. He throws in a generous selection of illustrations and even includes a handy character guide for readers who might require help navigating tangled Sentinels continuity. Over all, it’s a nice gesture from the author.
Nonetheless, the volume is ultimately a non-essential piece of Sentinels lore. And it’s definitely not meant for casual readers. Many of the stories are only tangentially connected to the Sentinels universe, and a couple of them are downright awful. “The Adventures of Captain Cook,” for example, is choke-full of bad culinary puns masquerading as wit. Even worse is “The Camping Trip.” It’s a story about a sulky kid who gets lost in the woods and stumbles upon a half-assed Al-Qaeda plot to blow up Denver. The kid is annoying and the villains are nitwits in turbans. Esro Brachis eventually shows up to smash the terrorists and the story ends with a warm and fuzzy moment that would be deemed too corny by Hallmark Cards.
On the upside, however, there is one particular story (written by Plexico, naturally) that provides added context and a smidgen of speculation for upcoming adventures. And the 25 illustrations scattered throughout the book are an upgrade over past efforts. We’ve been critical of Sentinels interior artwork in the past, but the contributors here are all pretty good. The author’s notes and character guide are good as well. Over all, Alternate Visions is a mixed bag of odds and ends—some good and some bad. Even if you’re a Sentinels true believer, think twice about adding it to your collection.
[Sentinels: Alternate Visions / Edited by Van Allen Plexico / First Printing: February 2009 / ISBN: 9780578011202]