Best Shots Reviews: SPIDER-GWEN #4, CONVERGENCE #5, SPIDER-WOMAN #7, CONVERGENCE: NIGHTWING & ORACLE #2

Convergence #5
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Spider-Gwen #4
Written by Jason Latour
Art by Robbie Rodriguez and Rico Renzi
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Few people truly stay dead in the Marvel Universe, unless your name is Uncle Ben. Luckily, that's what alternate universes are for! Enter writer Jason Latour, who has clearly decided that Gwen Stacy: Spider-Woman isn't quite a strange enough concept. Matching artist Robbie Rodriguez's frenetic psychedelia, writer Latour introduces a living, breathing and caring Uncle Ben in Spider-Gwen #4.

Still reeling from last issue's tangle with the Vulture and Lieutenant Frank Castle, self-doubt is the order of the day on Gwen Stacy's emotional menu. Losing direction and faith as a hero, she runs into the eternally beaming Ben Parker. Uncle Ben soon ushers Gwen in, leading Aunt May to confide her own feelings about Peter's troubled life and the reason for his death: Spider-Woman...

With this issue, Latour cuts the brakes on Spider-Gwen, but it's a much-needed pause of reflection. Gwen's spent this entire series being knocked for a loop, both emotionally and physically, and this issue represents a turning point for her. The meat of the issue concerns May's conversation with Gwen, but that's not all it has to offer. While an altercation with a would-be graffiti artist knocks her confidence, a triumphant gig with the Mary Janes affirms the power of three united friends.

It's surreal to see Uncle Ben as anything more than a motivational tombstone, and Latour successfully establishes the warmth of Gwen's honorary parents with a single serving of Ben's terrible coffee. Latour depicts a hesitant Gwen in these scenes at Peter's house; she's paralyzed with guilt yet desperately trying not to show it. As expected, this issue runs at a slower clip than the first three, but it's still solidly paced. Latour seems aware that there's strength in variety, and so he surrounds the tender and emotional Aunt May scene with Gwen Stacy's other forms; as both a costumed hero and a rock star. These extra bits flesh out Gwen as a busy and realistic character; it would have been so easy to earmark Spider-Gwen #4 as "The emotional one” at the series outline stage, and it's a relief that Latour hasn't unintentionally murdered the whole series' pacing for 20 pages of quiet reflection with Peter's grieving guardians.

On the visual side of things, Robbie Rodriguez upholds the ridiculously high standards he's set with previous issues of Spider-Gwen. By highlighting Rodriguez's animated pencils with a 90's pop culture influenced palette of neon pinks, yellows and greens, colorist Rico Renzi has helped Rodriguez develop a comic book that looks truly unique, a difficult feat when you consider the general homogenization of the big league superhero.

In order to capture the highs and lows of Gwen's emotional roller coaster, Rodriguez indulges in two pin-up worthy splash pages. In the first, the “killer” headlines surrounding Peter Parker's death are overlaid over Gwen's traumatized face. Rico Renzi's neon palette has never seemed more appropriate. The pink background combines with Gwen's shock of yellow hair to positively burn through the page. In the second, Mary Jane's self-empowering lyrics hang in the background as their band storms the stage. Neon pink stage lights highlight the bands' almost-UV band uniforms, while fans fist-pump and capture the moment on their phones. Latour and Rodriguez have opted to show Gwen at two extremes: at a moment of self-absorbed darkness and a moment of pure catharsis. They're two simple images, but they're so effective.

With Spider-Gwen #4, Jason Latour, Robbie Rodriguez and Rico Renzi have offered up yet another stellar installment of a trailblazing series. This issue marks an important moment in Gwen's continued evolution as a superhero, and it's not to be missed.

Credit: DC Comics

Convergence #5
Written by Jeff King
Art by Andy Kubert, Sandra Hope and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Convergence seems to be experiencing a crisis of self. On one hand, it so desperately wants to be DC’s latest ultra team-up event as it chronicles fan-favorites from different worlds banding together against the onslaught of Brainiac. However, Convergence #5 is yet another issue of the heroes mainly standing around doing a whole lot of nothing while a plot spreads itself around them. Writer Jeff King has assembled a fantastic team comprising of Earth-2 stalwarts as well as the mighty Warlord, but for some reason, can’t seem to give them a narrative charge or urgency. While the endless trail of tie-ins happily chug along on their own plots and characters, Convergence #5 stands stone still making for a tedious read.

Convergence #5 kicks off with a newly empowered Deimos summoning Brainiac and revealing to his minion, Telos, that he knows his true name. Deimos, however, is keeping his card held close to his chest for a true reveal later on in the event and spends most of his time this issue teasing Brainiac’s release and beating down on our heroes. Writer Jeff King has a gift for language, that much is obvious, as the dialogue comes fast and furiously, but it's the actual plot of Convergence that still eludes him, and by in large, the audience. Dick Grayson himself ponders if there is “no point to any of this chaos,” and judging by Convergence #5, he may be right. The heroes of Earth-2 are largely kept to the sidelines and nothing of any real narrative importance happens during this fifth issue, with the exception of Deimos’ message to the collected worlds in the last page. King keeps the entirety of Convergence #5 relegated to Deimos’ lair with sporadic cuts to Warlord fighting his way to the lair in question, further making the action of Convergence #5 feel static and glacial. Table-setting issues of events are an expected evil at this point, but the whole of Convergence thus far has felt like a table-setting issue. Sooner or later, an audience has to eat, but Convergence has yet to provide much in the way of sustenance.

While the script stutters and stumbles, Andy Kubert, inker Sandra Hope, and colorist Brad Anderson go for the gusto with some pretty great results. Kubert’s larger than life character designs and action staging gives Convergence #5 the epic feeling that the script sorely lacks, aided by the heavy inks of Hope and the rich palette of Anderson. Kubert’s eye for action makes the concurrent action sequences between Superman, Deimos, and Warlord crackle with visual energy as both fights spread themselves across panoramic panel grids. Kubert’s details are also brought into the foreground by the heavy blacks of Sandra Hope, who gives each page a level of dimensionality usually unseen in the pages of DC. Establishing panels like Warlord cutting down a lizard warrior outside the keep or the final page grid of some of DC’s big guns standing in front of a burning city pop with all sorts of background details that give Convergence #5 an artistic charge to make up for the lackluster script. The details of Kubert and Hope are melded together nicely by the colors of Brad Anderson, one of DC’s colorist mainstays. Anderson makes the most of the recent darker hued DC comic trend and delivers classic superhero color choices, albeit a bit toned down. Anyone that can make superhero costumes pop is more than okay in my book and Brad Anderson makes each one featured in Convergence #5 look runway ready.

And so Convergence #5 adds up to another dud in a long line of duds. While DC has been hyping Convergence as another event in the vein of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the actual product has been anything but. Perhaps Jeff King and his team can pull the nose up and make the home stretch of issues something truly special with genuine stakes and rousing superhero drama, but there isn’t much evidence of that to be found in Convergence #5. Dick Grayson wondered if there was a point to it all and audiences are starting to wonder the exact same thing when it comes to Convergence.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Spider-Woman #7
Written by Dennis Hopeless
Art by Javier Rodriguez, Alvaro Lopez and Muntsa Vicente
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Has there been a comic that's had a turnaround in 2015 the way that Spider-Woman has? In the span of a handful of issues, this comic went from underwhelming spinoff fodder to one of the most energetic and stylish books in the entire Marvel catalog. This issue continues to lock Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez's winning streak, as Jessica Drew proves to be a charming, funny and down-to-earth private eye.

For those of you who haven't been reading this book, it reminds me a lot of Nick Spencer's Superior Foes of Spider-Man. There's a self-deprecation to the humor here, but whereas Spencer focused on Boomerang and his half-wit army in the Sinister Six, Hopeless is lightly ribbing a superheroine whose career has been a little less than coherent over the years. If She-Hulk is an up-and-coming attorney under Charles Soule, Spider-Woman is the screw-up trying to make good.

But instead of the hard contrasts between ha-ha-ha/bleak violence of Matt Fraction's Hawkeye (and I promise this is the last of the comparative titles for a bit), Jessica Drew isn't a parody, nor is she sinking deeper into her own idiosyncracies. She's a never-was taking a dog of a case - namely, tracking down missing family members of Z-list supervillains. There's always more than meets the eye with Spider-Woman, whether its Hopeless giving her a simple but sweet escape plan as she infiltrates a secret organization wearing a porcupine suit, or the surprisingly utopian feel behind Moon's Hollow, a town for the ex-wives and girlfriends of superpowered criminals.

But what really separates this comic from the rest is the gorgeous artwork from Javier Rodriguez. He's not as flashy and action-driven as artists like Olivier Coipel or Jerome Opena - instead, he has this dramatic, easy-to-follow style that puts him in the same echelon as Chris Samnee or Marcos Martin. There's tons of panels and tons of movement to this book, like the explosive last page, or the way he sells a double-page spread of Jessica sneaking out of her porcupine suit, crawling into an air vent, and sneaking out of a gas station. It's downright gorgeous, with just the right amount of shadows and rendering to add some weight to the lines without looking too heavy. (Kudos to you on that, inker Alvaro Lopez and colorist Muntsa Vicente.) It's increasingly one of the best-drawn books Marvel has right now, and considering the embarrassment of riches the Spider-office has locked down right now, that's saying something.

There are some who want the illusion of everpresent change in their comics, and that's part of the reason why big-name event books like Secret Wars and Convergence are such a big deal - if the stakes are big enough, people are convinced things will change, and they want to get in on the ground level. But there's something a bit more subversive and revolutionary about Spider-Woman, in that this is about as low-level a book as you can get, but it's absolutely a huge change to how this one-time Avenger does business. Leave it to Hopeless and Rodriguez to turn the small scale into the big time.

Credit: DC Comics

Convergence: Nightwing and Oracle #2
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Jan Duursema, Dan Parsons and Wes Dzioba
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

While the first issues of DC's Convergence tie-ins were by and large scattered and uneven, many of the second issues of these books evoke an altogether different feeling. There's a sweetness to some of the best of these books, as creators get a chance to wrap up loose ends, giving readers a sense of closure to their favorite characters that were often rebooted into new and unfamiliar designs following the New 52. Perhaps the best of these wrap-ups so far is Gail Simone's Convergence: Nightwing and Oracle, which takes a bizarre match-up and somehow makes it feel tense, powerful, and even emotional.

What's funny is that when you look at the premise, Convergence: Nightwing and Oracle is still kind of an odd duck - Dick and Babs are stuck in a dimensionally-Shanghai'd Gotham City, as another dimension's Hawkman and Hawkwoman challenge them to battle. After a first issue that felt a little plodding thanks to all the exposition, Gail Simone is able to put pedal to metal as she locks onto what makes this match-up work: namely, it's Bat versus Hawk, couples edition, as otherworldly brawn may very well win out over brains here.

With a fight comic like this, it's easy to get carried away with the visuals, but Simone's voice feels potent here. There's a lot of sass and bravado to each of these combatants here, from Dick's cheeky "Welcome to Gotham" to Hawkwoman dismissively casting him aside as an "Earth monkey" and a "tumbler." But this quippery works well with the actual pacing of the fight, as Nightwing and the Hawks feel almost evenly matched - Dick puts up a helluva fight against two superpowerful warlords from another planet, but we know he's outgunned, making this comic feel even more tense.

Artwise, Jan Duursema nails this book out of the park. She's got a real cinematic style that reminds me of a cross between Paul Gulacy and Dale Eaglesham, particularly with how expressive her characters' eyes look. She also knows just how to lay out a fight sequence, and perhaps even more impressive is the way that she lays out the battlefield, so that it rarely stands out that there are few backgrounds in the proceedings. (Much of this is also likely due to colorist Wes Dzioba, who makes the most out of Duursema's pages.) In particular, I love the way that Duursema portrays Hawkwoman, as she gives a twisted sneer as blood pours from her lip.

Additionally, longtime fans of the soap opera between Dick and Babs are going to love the ending of this book, which gives a lot of closure to all those 'shippers who have been pining since the days before Flashpoint. And in a lot of ways, that's the sort of opportunities that Convergence offers - the setting is rarely coherent, which will turn off a lot of people (myself included), but once you accept the vague, universe-bending locale, there's plenty of room for fan service in this ever-shifting canon. At the end of the day, Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon do get a happy ending - and that's more than we can say for more superheroes.

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