Mark Alan Reed, 1971-2012

                                                                 AKA: The Silver Sentinel

 

A hero died yesterday. He was, in all likelihood, both the first and the last of his kind.

 

The standard obituary would tell you that Mark Alan Reed was found in his hotel room on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland late last night. It would go on to note that he was discovered unconscious by hotel staff, and that paramedics transported him to the hospital, where he was pronounced “dead on arrival” just after midnight. It would also point out that autopsy reports are pending, although the cause of death is believed to have been self-inflicted.

 

But Mark Alan Reed did not lead a normal life, and he deserves, in the very least, more than a “standard” obituary.

 

Today we all know how the story ends. Mark Reed’s legacy however, cannot be defined by the way he left this world.

 

Mark Reed changed the way this country used the word “hero.” He pushed the barriers of what we all believed was possible, further and deeper into the realm of the impossible than anyone who came before him would have ever imagined.

 

His reward was a crown of mostly undeserved shame and a belly full of Johnny Walker and oxycodone.

 

Some men pursue fame, and some crave notoriety. Mr. Reed never wanted either one. Even when celebrity was thrust upon him, he eschewed it for as long as he could, literally hiding behind a mask for longer than probably anyone else could have.

 

He was our first and only true Super Hero. He was the Silver Sentinel. And for a time, we loved him.

 

Then we destroyed him.

 

Mark Alan Reed was not born any more “super” than the rest of us. He had his start in a middle-class neighborhood in Parma, Ohio. High school passed uneventfully, as did college, earning a B.A. in chemical engineering from Case Western Reserve University.

 

He had just begun work as a lab assistant in 1993 in the research and development division of Anderson-Barrie Products when destiny plucked him out of the faceless masses forever.

 

He gave his account of that life-altering experience in an interview with Entertainment Monthly in 1997, amid the media blitz that followed in the months after his secret identity was finally exposed.

 

“What I remember most about that day was how cold it was. It was January, and the daytime high had been hovering around 15 for about a week. I usually never drank coffee, which is pretty ironic, considering.

 

“That day though I had gotten up late and skipped breakfast. By about 10:30 it was obvious how sluggish I was feeling, which was dangerous since we were working on some potentially volatile formulae. So when Henry [his lab supervisor] had offered to buy me a cup, I gave in.

 

“The rest, as they say, is history.”

 

For those who may not recall, “the rest” was the now-famous mix up in which a tiny amount of an irradiated immuno-resistance solution spilled into his coffee. Drinking it sent him into a shock-coma, from which he did not recover for two months.

 

When he awakened, he had been changed forever.

 

Mark Reed’s bodily chemistry had been altered. The solution he had ingested, imperfect and not yet ready for human trials, had ignited an unexpected chemical reaction within his body.

 

Court documents released after the settlement of his tort suit against Anderson-Barrie reveal that the toxic chemicals in the solution should have been fatal. In fact, medical experts testified at trial that Mark Reed’s survival was a medical marvel, a one-in-a billion chance.

 

Somehow, in a way even their chemists don’t yet fully understand, the combination of the toxic formula with his own unique DNA provoked a restructuring of his body on the cellular level.

 

He emerged from his coma virtually impervious to injury and with strength nearly beyond measure. He had become, in effect, a real life “Super-Human.”

 

Of course, the change was not immediately apparent. As recorded in his memoirs “A Comic Book Life”, which spent 113 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, he left the hospital with nothing more than a headache and a tingling sensation in his extremities.

 

It was only later that he began to realize how drastically he had been changed.

 

“I was playing fetch in the park with Rex, who was a three year old, 93lb. German Shepherd that could outrun just about anybody. And before I knew what was happening, I realized that I was running circles around him.

 

“Finally, I threw the stick as hard as I could and then without thinking, chased after it. I ended up six blocks away in the space of about thirty seconds. Right about then I had a good idea that something wasn’t quite right.”

 

As it turned out, not quite right meant something utterly different for him than it does for the rest of us. For, as it soon became apparent, the accident had left him with some uncanny abilities—and provided him with the chance to live out a childhood dream.

 

With the help of a little creative tailoring, drawing on elements from the Marvel and DC heroes of his youth, Mark Alan Reed assumed a new identity. He donned a cowl-mask to hide his face. He arrayed himself in faux-muscle body armor, metallic monochrome but for the stark red, double “S” logo displayed across his exaggerated chest.

 

He became the Silver Sentinel. It wasn’t long before that deliberately comic-bookish title became a household name.

 

Dressed for battle, he set out to catch a few bad guys, something of a tall order for a self-described bookworm who had no law enforcement training whatsoever. But he had luck, although at first it was mostly of the unwanted variety.

 

Prowling the night, using his enhanced skills to leap from rooftop to rooftop across the city, the Silver Sentinel embarked on a campaign of justice. Night after night he ventured forth to keep the city safe from all harm.

 


 

 

And night after night he did absolutely nothing. Crime-fighting, it turned out, was a lot harder in real life than the comic books made it out to be.

 

Almost a month spent wandering through the shadows literally looking for trouble and finding none, had nearly driven him out of the superhero business before he’d even gotten started. He had been just about to give it up in fact, when his luck finally changed.

 

The events are legendary now, so well known that they hardly bear repeating here. How he stumbled upon a gun battle between out-numbered police and a gang called the North Valley Posse, armed to the teeth. It was a controlled-buy bust gone sour, bad intelligence had put five officers up against thirty gang-bangers. Service revolvers against Mac-10s and AK-47s.

 

The Silver Sentinel had saved the day that cold early December morning. Sweeping down from the pre-dawn sky like a shooting star, he stood between the gang and the cops, blocking the automatic weapons fire like pellets. That alone had scared the gangsters enough to send half of them running for cover, leaving the Silver Sentinel to use his speed and strength—in full view of the astounded anti-gang unit—to rein in the others single-handedly.

 

The deed done, he saluted the police and leapt out of sight, leaving only his name behind.

 

Over the months and years that followed, he continued such appearances. Criminals grew to fear him. Police grew to appreciate him. The public grew to love him.

 

Some called him a vigilante. He had expected that. But he was no subway gunman, his unique powers allowed him to capture criminals in the act, without harming them in the process.

 

Many others saw him as a true hero, and his legions of fans only grew as the mystery of his identity deepened. Newspapers put up huge rewards for a picture of him. The tabloids reported that they had uncovered his secret identity on an almost weekly basis. Speculation ran wild on the Internet.

 

A new kind of urban legend was born.

 

 

But just as America loves a hero, we love even more to tear one down. It was no exception for the Silver Sentinel.

 

First came the inevitable. The unmasking.

 

Anyone who was near a TV in 1997 remembers that it was the biggest media event of the year. In fact, the ratings actually topped the ho-hum Super Bowl that January. An unprecedented array of corporate sponsors teamed up to stage a nationwide contest, with the winner earning the privilege of unmasking the Silver Sentinel on live television in front of 2 billion people.

 

Why did he do it? Why did Mark Reed agree to let his secret be exposed on national television?

 

The reality was that after three years in the public eye, his adoring fans had begun to grow cynical.

 

One or two high profile busts had built his reputation, but it was becoming all-too plain by that time that most criminal arrests are made by police following leads and doing serious investigation. On the spot take-downs are rare for an entire police force on patrol 24/7. For one masked man, even one gifted with super strength and speed, it was virtually impossible to actually stop a single crime from being committed, and nearly as difficult to apprehend a wrongdoer.

 

The Silver Sentinel simply couldn’t be everywhere at once. He was becoming more of a symbol than an actual crime-fighter. And he knew it.

 

So he went along with the ceremonial unmasking. Super hero ideals aside, can any of us really blame him for it? He reportedly earned $10 million for a thirty-second appearance, not to mention the endorsement contracts that followed.

 

I’d take that over being shot at by gang-bangers in the hood. And you would too, so don’t even think about telling me otherwise.

 

Once that had been done, the inevitable press blitz followed. The personal questions and the muckraking were not long behind.

 

Was he married? Did it hurt when bullets bounced off of him? What were his weaknesses? (as if hehad to have one) Did he have any interest in politics? Would he consider moving to Hollywood? Who would play him in the movie, Sly or Arnold? And what, exactly, did he wear under that Silver costume?

 

Soon CAA agreed to manage Mark’s career full-time. There were merchandising tie-ins, breakfast cereals, Silver Sentinel action figures and Halloween costumes (the top seller in 1998 and 1999) and an animated Saturday morning cartoon.

 

America had a hero it could look up to again, and he wasn’t some imaginary celluloid star. He was real. He really was bulletproof. He really caught criminals. (occasionally, at least) Most important, he was very photogenic.

 

But even as the public devoured all things “Silver”, other stories began to circulate.

 

There were rumors of weekend flights to Amsterdam and some kinky trysts with local prostitutes. Stories surfaced of a bar brawl in Aspen, and a secret deal that had Mark agreeing to pay a very quiet $15 million to a man he nearly paralyzed with his bare hands. It was also hinted, though never proven, that he had once donated money to the Republican National Committee.

 

Then there were the lawsuits. It finally came to light in early 2000 that Mr. Reed had won a tort settlement in 1994 from his former employer totaling roughly $83.75 million, as damages for the accident that resulted in his development of super-powers. His spin doctors had a hard time with that one, and the media smelled blood.

 

Why had the Silver Sentinel profited so crassly from the very circumstances that had made him such a success? Anderson-Barrie had been forced to close down one area operation to pay for the settlement, putting at least a hundred people out of work.

 

“Silver Sentinel, Gold Digger.” That was the headline in this paper the day that story broke.

 

Soon after, several of the criminals he had apprehended during his short career filed personal injury actions against him. Claims of false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault and battery and others flooded him. Lawyers were hired, the press feasted and the legend began to die.

 

All of the cases settled short of trial, but the reputations of both Mark Reed and his alter ego were dealt damaging blows in the court of public opinion.

 

In hindsight, that was probably why the people who had once adored him were so ready to believe the dirt that got suddenly dug up on him.

 

Rumors began to circulate that he had been hiding more than his identity all those years. Was the Silver Sentinel gay? How else could it be explained that America’s Guardian remained a bachelor?

 

The suggestions came from every corner. After all, remarked one article, he was known to do his best work wearing shiny silver tights.

 

The stress wore heavily on him.

 

In early 2001, his publicist announced that Mark was backing out of a movie deal he’d signed only six months before with Columbia Tri-Star. Talk of a new round of lawsuits followed, and the Silver Sentinel began to edge out of the public consciousness.

 

The events of 9/11 pushed him into irrelevancy.

 

We forgot about the man we had once loved, whose deeds we had once celebrated. Cast aside by the public, ignored by his fans and drained of all the proceeds from his fame, Mark sank into depression, unemployment and alcoholism. It was a downward spiral from which even the Silver Sentinel could not escape.

 

Now, more than a decade after he faded from public life, he is gone forever. We have destroyed a legend.

 

We have lost a hero.

 

Copyright Frank Cavallo 2012

 

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