The Never Ending Battle: Rich Bernatovech talks "Sentinels Vol.2: Masks"

Fri, July 16th, 2004 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

"Sentinels" Vol. 2
The battle for truth, justice and honor never ends… even if you are dead.

In the "Sentinels Vol.1" original graphic novel (OGN), from New York Times production manager Rich Bernatovech, readers were introduced to new superheroes who represented a younger generation of heroes who lost their superhero parents. Imagine the children of the JLA inheriting their mantles after their parents died. Last year, CBR brought you news of this series and on the eve of the second volume's release, Bernatovech spoke to CBR News about the new book, with a short introduction to the premise.

"Basically, the Sentinels are a second generation superhero team whose parents disappeared when they were young," explained the veteran writer and actor. "It was revealed in Book 1, that most of the problems that have happened to the Sentinels were brought about by someone out to destroy the team.

Back Cover
"The story this time around is that the person seeking to destroy the Sentinels has launched the next part of their plan. They've sent the mysterious warrior, Lightbringer, to hunt down any villain that had fought the first generation Sentinels. That's the main storyline that goes through the trade. But the focus is still on the team and how they deal with the situation they find themselves in and more importantly, with each other. 'Sentinels' has a definite ending, so all the plot points from Book 1 are being picked up in Book 2. The search for Gospel. Firebomb and Templar's relationship. Agent Huggins and her Squadron team are back and become much more involved with the Sentinels. This is a story that was created with an ending in mind, I didn't put something in there that is going to be forgotten about later on. Most of the comments we've gotten from readers has been how much they like the characters and their distinct personalities. So the relationships between the characters is what I feel drives the story. New relationships are formed and some are changed.

"'Book 2: Masks' begins right after the events of 'Sentinels Book 1: Footsteps.' We have an introduction before the story starts that has a short recap of what took place in Book 1. I don't think you need to read Book 1 to understand what is happening with Book 2, but it gives you much more about the characters if you have read it."

The first volume of the "Sentinels" saga focused strongly on responsibility, both to other's and one's self, but the second volume has taken the themes farther, delving into the ideas of consequences and redemption. "It's something we all have to deal with," says Bernatovech of why those themes appealed to him. "Choices that we make each day have consequences later on. In the Sentinels case, it's not only their choices, but the ones their parents made years ago. In Book 2 we get to see how the first generation Sentinels dealt with some of their adversaries. Did they end up helping them? Hurting them? How do the villains feel about the changes the Sentinels had on them and would they trust their children, the current Sentinels?

"I think it's just a natural progression of the story. We threw a lot at the team in Book 1 and they're all still digesting it. My goal with Book 1 was to get readers to know who these characters are. From first look they seem like any other superhero team, but many comments we've gotten have told us that this is what they liked most about the book. So, even though Book 1 didn't give you much information of the first generation Sentinels that doesn't mean we've forgotten about them. The first generation's history really affects the team in Book 2."

It's not unusual for a writer to want to shock readers more with the second volume and while Bernatovech has done that to those who've read preview copies of the second OGN, his mission isn't that different from the first volume. "We have the same mission statement that we did with Book 1. That's to have fun and tell an exciting and entertaining story to people. One that, unlike most books, you really don't know what's going to happen next. You don't know because these are our characters, not characters for a corporation that has major money locking them up so they became unchangeable. That's not to say that I don't love those books but I know that even if something changes in one of them that six months later it will be changed back. Which, to me, makes the whole thing kind of pointless and I end up feeling cheated. With 'Sentinels' we have freedom to do what we want and we want readers to have fun reading a team book again."

Part of that fun is Bernatovech's unique characters and with the second Sentinels OGN, he's added a lot of new faces. "It seems like we've introduced a lot of new characters, but the focus is still on the main Sentinels team," admits the writer. "Writing Book 2 was totally different than how I had worked before. This trade is mostly a single story, while the previous book was really two different storylines. That made all the new characters much easier to handle. And more importantly, I think I've learned to write much better. The Sentinels started to write themselves. The way Luciano [Vecchio, artist on the series] and I have been working together has also helped to juggle all these characters. If he feels something is off in a scene, he'll tell me. And if I think a character doesn't look quite right in a certain panel, I'll tell him. So, the relationship between writer and artist has also helped us to juggle all the characters."

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But if you think that might be a challenge for Bernatovech, try asking the scribe about his favorite "Sentinels" character… because he can't decide! "Ah, favorite characters. Of course I'm going to say I love them all. What writer doesn't? I love writing Harlette because she gets to say exactly what she's thinking and doesn't care if she sounds rude or insensitive. And yet, you can still tell that she cares about the team in her own way. Her feelings for Sin have also been interesting to write about.

"I love writing Electron, too. He tries so hard to please everyone. His family, the team and of course Splash. I look forward to Book 3 where we'll see major changes for him. The scenes between Rapture and Templar are some of my favorites. Rapture's such a bad girl that teaming her up with Templar was a natural. Templar's every thought is 'what's the right thing to do,' he's so intense. The difference in personality between them really set up some great stuff. And of course she's got some fun lines.

"But I think the characters I've started to like writing the most in Book 2 are Flare, Phazer and Crusher. Flare is a character that briefly appeared in Book 1 and didn't seem all that unique there. But the events that happen to her in Book 2 where planned all along and I excited for readers to get to know her. Phazer and Crusher were probably my least favorites in Book 1 and I didn't like that. That made me really focus on them and find their voice. I believe we see that change in Book 2. Also, since I know the direction they are all heading for the story finale, writing about those changes has me excited."

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There were some mixed reviews to the first "Sentinels" OGN, but with "Masks," one thing is obvious: Bernatovech has matured immensely as a writer and he's learned a lot from Book 1. "I really appreciate [people] noticing [my growth as a writer]. I worked really hard to grow with Book 2, I hope people will notice a difference. I know that I have a much better understanding of story and how to keep things moving at an entertaining pace. I think I've also gotten to know the characters better and they've started writing themselves. But more than with Book 1, I can see in my mind what the story is ultimately about. I think this enabled me to be more focused and descriptive. I hope readers will feel the same."

Working at the New York Times offers Bernatovech many, uh, "unique" opportunities and perspectives on life, all of which have influenced his writing style. "We deal with daily deadlines at the NY Times. You can't sit back and say 'I'll finish that tomorrow' at a newspaper. I think this has taught me to be very disciplined. So writing a comic where you have a month to produce 22 pages is a piece of cake. Now that's not for everyone, but it's how I've been influenced most by working at the NY Times. Working at a paper also really keeps me up to date on current events and I'm exposed to stories and points of view that I wouldn't have access to otherwise."

Bernatovech has also been praised for the amount of story he fits- not "crams"- on each page of "Sentinels." "Hey, we have a big story to tell! I don't want to waste one page on fluff. Many books today are getting into this habit of padding storylines to stretch them for a trade later. I'm not a big fan of this. I love to keep things moving and give readers a reason to read the book two or three times and discover little things that they might not have noticed before. Luciano is great at doing this, he adds things into the background that I don't see until I'm actually inking the page and think, 'I totally missed seeing that before.' I want readers to be able to do that too. I also want to give readers the most for their money. Graphic Novels aren't cheap so I think it's my job to give people more then what they paid for."

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As mentioned earlier, Luciano Vecchio is the artist on the book and with almost universal praise showered upon him, Bernatovech couldn't be happier to have the foreign artist on his book. "Luciano's art is amazing. Really. I know he is going to have a big career in comics if he chooses to. His art has grown with every page he draws. His backgrounds have gotten more detailed. His characters are more unique looking, each having their own face and body features. And not only is he very talented but he is incredibly fast. I think one of the most important things about Luciano is how professional he is and how dedicated he is to 'Sentinels.' I couldn't have done this without him. He is totally on board for the entire story.

"We will be meeting for the first time at the San Diego Comic Convention. Up until now we have done all of this through e-mails and AOL instant messaging. Even though I created the 'Sentinels,' the book is starting to become more of a collaboration now. We bounce ideas off of one another and if something doesn't seem right, one of us can make it work somehow. This has inspired both of us to work harder and as a result, we've both gotten better."

There's no doubt that Bernatovech loves superheroes, with his huge collection of comics as evidence of that fact, but he isn't enamored with a whole lot of superhero books these days, a perspective shared by many superhero fans. "I love superheroes. Really," he explains. "But I can't say I don't see what [the unhappy fans] mean. I'm not liking many books out there right now myself. In my opinion this has a lot to do with characters not being able to change. No one gets old anymore. No one stays dead. Not that I want to read about old dead superheroes, but ignoring this or starting everything over and saying the last 20 years of character X never happened gets me mad as a reader. I also think there are many books out there that really need to get the attention they deserve but can't because the creator can't get any publicity about the book. Instead it's only the 'name' writers and artists that get hyped. I think the industry needs to open its door a little more. I read a lot of negative things being said about this, yet people continue to support these books and are afraid to give something new a chance."

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Some readers may be hearing of "Sentinels" for the first time and while there haven't been many reviews of the book online, Bernatovech is happy with the feedback, even if it isn't all positive. "Yeah, we've been getting excellent word of mouth! This has all been by people who picked up the book on their own when they saw it at the store or when they met me at a convention. I love this, it really makes my day when I hear how much they enjoyed the book and how shocked they were that they liked it. Comics got me through some tough times growing up through their escapism and now I hope that 'Sentinels' can do that for someone too.

"I tried getting reviews. I have sent out e-mails begging reviewers to let me send them the book to review and would you believe that only a handful ever wrote me back? I don't understand this at all and like I said above, I worry that this industry has gotten too small and mean spirited. I mean, I can appreciate someone not liking the book, believe me. We got a bad review on thefourthrail.com, but I can appreciate that because the reviewer actually read the book and then made a decision about it. But to just be negative before you have even seen it is just stupid and makes no sense. But hey, that's their issue, not mine."

Like it or not, those who read "Masks" are guaranteed to find one thing, if nothing else: a shocking, cliffhanger ending that'll pique the interest of even the most jaded reader. "Ha-ha! Yeah, the ending is going to surprise people (hopefully). I think we deliver a lot in Book 2 and we even reveal who is behind all the Sentinels troubles. Book 2 has an ending to it, but it also has a cliffhanger that sets up the next book and leaves you wanting more. We've already started on Book 3 so hopefully we won't keep fans waiting too long. But I actually hope they are eagerly waiting for Book 3. That means we've done our job and have left readers wanting more."

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You'll have the chance to meet Bernatovech and Vecchio at the Comic-Con International in San Diego, at booth L3, and you can interact with them online at their Web site. But if you can't wait for that, then Bernatovech is happy to explain a bit more about what to expect. "Since the beginning we've been building Sentinels up for the revelation of what happened to the first generation of the team. But it's not going to be a big 'here's what happened' event. It's part of the current Sentinels story. The end of Book 2 reveals who is behind all the chaos that has happened to the team, but that's only part of the story. The how, why and motivation behind everything and another twist come in Book 3. So that by Book 4, we hope readers will be eager to see how it's all going to end.

"Book 3 is being worked on as we speak. It's all plotted out and Luciano has been doing designs already. As I mentioned before, the story of the Sentinels has been planned since the beginning so we know where we're going. I don't want to give anything away but I will say that Book 3 will begin a year after the end of Book 2."

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