Best Shots Reviews: CONVERGENCE #8, OLD MAN LOGAN #1, THE INFINITY GAUNTLET #1, CONVERGENCE: SHAZAM! #2

"Convergence #8" cover by Andy Kubert
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Old Man Logan #1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Andrea Sorrentino and Marcelo Maiolo
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

"When I grow up, I'm gonna kill you."

It's been decades since the fall of the X-Men, since the night that the Wolverine sheathed his claws and vanished into self-loathing and obscurity. But now the Ol' Canucklehead is back - and Old Man Logan is still the best there is at what he does. Setting a high bar for the rest of Marvel's Secret Wars tie-ins, Brian Michael Bendis and Andrea Sorreinto bring bring back Mark Millar and Steve McNiven's bleak dystopia and put a brand-new spin on it, delivering not just a solid action story, but also a surprising examination on the efficacy of superhero violence.

In many ways, Old Man Logan acts as a direct sequel to the mega-popular Mark Millar/Steve McNiven joint. Whereas the first story dealt with Wolverine's slow return to the heroic stage, this is all about him cleaning up the messes that were made during his self-imposed exile. Bendis - and in particular, Sorrentino, with his amazing sense of design - winds up twisting and perverting the standard superhero iconography, as Wolverine's world is now infested with bad guys wearing Iron Man's face and the Punisher's coat of arms. Indeed, much of this story is a homecoming, as we see reflections of Wolverine's past, whether with Bruce Banner, Jr., Emma Frost, or even nods to his former tenure as an Avenger.

Yet perhaps most thought-provoking about this book is that while Bendis and Sorrentino do produce a symphony of violence with their lovingly composed sequences - in particular, there's nothing quite like the strobe effect as Wolverine tears through his foes, the lights cutting in and out - but also the consequences of being the best there is at what he does. It's clear from Bendis's script that even in the wastelands of the Red Skull's America, there's more to rebuilding society than violence, no matter how righteous it is. When Wolverine kills a gang of Daredevils, for example, he's not given a hero's welcome - these seemingly freed civilians just stare, their one bit of stable infrastructure now brutally ripped from them.

Reading this book, I wonder if Andrea Sorrentino might actually be a better fit for this post-apocalyptic universe than even Steve McNiven was. His stark, shadowy artwork is a perfect fit for Old Man Logan, and his rhythm with his frequent collaborator Marcelo Maiolo means he knows just when to go for strong details, and when to let his colorist run wild with explosions of reds and whites. In particular, I love the way he portrays Logan, giving him such a great expressiveness despite regularly having his eyes covered in shadow. While one character does look a little young for this future timeline, beyond this one continuity hiccup, Sorrentino really outdoes himself with the artwork here.

Old Man Logan was one of Marvel's most iconic stories featuring the Ol' Canucklehead in recent years, and you'd be forgiven if you thought no one could top it. But this Secret Wars tie-in shows that Brian Michael Bendis and Andrea Sorrentino are the exact kind of dream team to follow up on Millar and McNiven, showing that sometimes, comic book lighting can strike twice. If you pick up any Marvel book this week, make it this one.

Credit: DC Comics

Convergence #8
Written by Jeff King and Scott Lobdell
Art by Stephen Segovia, Carlo Pagulayan, Eduardo Pansica, Ethan Van Sciver, Jason Paz, Scott Hanna, Trevor Scott, John Starr and Peter Steigerwald
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

When Crisis on Infinite Earths dropped in 1985, just in time for the 50th anniversary of DC Comics, there had been nothing like it. Radically doing away with the concept of the Multiverse, a backbone of many stories since its introduction in the landmark The Flash #123 in 1961, it solved many of DC’s continuity problems that had arisen in the half-century prior. In the 30 years that have followed, the Multiverse has been rebuilt in Infinite Crisis, faced another threat from the divisive Final Crisis, and was then rebooted entirely in Flashpoint. Now for the brand’s 80th birthday, what we are left with is both a restoration and a re-imagining, something that can only be described as a Convergence. Which makes one wonder: did we just spend all that time just getting back to where we started? Or should can we now celebrate at the course correction DC is presenting here? It’s a little from each camp, albeit with an ultimately positive tone that aims to restore good will.

There is no jumping aboard unfettered at this point. With heroes and villains from every era and Elseworlds story in the fray, it’s a case of sink or swim when it comes to identifying the players. With Deimos defeated, the time-based heroes release the “mega Brainiac” from his captivity, and he is surprisingly less evil than he’d been set up to be. Fates are accepted, some heroes return to their rightful places, and others disappear forever.

Convergence is a difficult event to assess, being mostly a product to rearrange publishing lines, but by its very nature it forces us to recall and compare it to other “crises.” On some levels, Convergence concludes exactly how you would expect it to, with a massive shift in a status quo – the reversal of the original Crisis on Infinite Earths. Yet it can’t help but feel anti-climactic as well. As the issue draws to a close, Brainiac instructs the assembled heroes: “You must prevent the collapse of the Multiverse.” This is immediately followed by a splash page telling us “they have done it,” and we presumably accept that the Multiverse is now safe but (in the words of Brainiac) “evolved.” It’s the kind of moment that will send you back a page to check you haven’t missed something, or yearn for the reality punches of a Superboy to explain it all away. It’s not simply a deus ex machina, but a victory won without any sense of massive stakes. The Multiverse was in peril, but it is apparently effortlessly fixable as well.

Which has been the issue with this event as a whole, in that everything felt rushed and disposable. The 40 individual two-parters that made up the peripheral titles were, with a few standout exceptions, tethers to a cookie cutter formula where the outcomes were inherently inconsequential. Compare this with Grant Morrison’s adjacent mini-series The Multiversity, that not only posed a genuine threat to all and sundry within its pages, but went so far as to demand the reader’s attention by their implicit involvement in the narrative. If that series was taking comics interactivity to new levels, then Convergence - and this final issue in particular - is something more akin to watching a shadow play of the real deal.

On the flip side, the event has also brought us some of the finest art in the DC stables. Despite a battalion of contributors to this issue’s art team, Convergence #8 delivers an amazing send-off visually. Filled with the familiar red skies of a crisis, the mega Brainiac is an imposing and enigmatic figure that is a definitive villain for this era. Across no less than 15 double-page spreads and a few singles, the art team gets to go wild on multiple eras of the DCU and it maintains consistency throughout. So comprehensive is the character list that Booster Gold, Goldstar and even Waverider turn up for a page, possibly because everybody else had already been pencilled. Indeed, it’s difficult to look at the final act splash pages of the Multiverse, which we’ve come to expect from Ethan Van Sciver, who is the standout in this issue, and be overcome with nostalgia. Similarly, Peter Steigerwald’s sublime color work gives the art work the consistency that it needs, ranging from the aforementioned red skies to an optimistic slate of primary colors on the Multiversal splashes.

Happy endings are a rare thing in events, especially when the last book the bear the name “crisis” was about evil triumphing. For a universe-ripping series, it’s also a delight that this comes to a positive conclusion, and doesn’t lead us straight into another event. Convergence ultimately feels more like it is brushing aside some bad blood. With this issue, a four-year experiment of the New 52 also comes to an end, and something else emerges in its place: DC You. DC has almost cast itself as the misguided villain in this case, drawing parallels with the errors of Brainiac. “Maybe the end is what it takes,” remarks Telos knowingly, “to see your mistakes.” There are, of course, several plot threads left dangling, including the true name of Telos that become a very minor sub-plot in the back part of the series. This is a new era for DC, and while it may not be the sweeping change that devotees were hoping for, it is a step in the right direction.

Credit: Marvel Comics

The Infinity Gauntlet #1
Written by Dustin Weaver and Gerry Duggan
Art by Dustin Weaver
Lettering by Albert Deschesne
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

Another week, another middling event tie-in comic. It’s not for lack of trying, but Dustin Weaver and Gerry Duggan’s Infinity Gauntlet #1 is as dull and unassuming a comic as you’ll come across today. Repetition is mistaken for character and world building. The dialogue is wooden and trite. Weaver and Duggan are attempting to build mythology but it falls flat because of the giant legacy attached to this comic and the rather blase approach these creators take in making us actually care about anything that happens in these pages.

Before we continue, spoiler alert.

So the whole issue works as a set-up for the final page featuring the return of Nova, which usually is fine. But the finale is so painfully obvious from the start that there’s no joy in getting there. Instead, readers are left slogging through pages of the stale characterization and boring dialogue. Family bickers. Insects show up. No one is in any actual danger (because how could they be?) and even if they were, readers have no connection to these cardboard cutouts. But we’re reading hoping that we’ll get something worthwhile in the end. I mean, the book is called The Infinity Gauntlet, right?

The similarities to the original series are slight. Yes, Thanos is in there (albeit briefly) and yes, there are Infinity Gems. But that’s it. Duggan and Weaver bring in a new Nova, the matriarch of the family that takes up most of the comic, and that’s where things finally get interesting. This is where the story potential lies. The dynamics of the family are sure to shift now that the previously absent mother has returned. That’s something with some legs, and an approach that’s very in sync with Marvel’s publishing line. How will this family react to becoming whole again? How does this affect Nova’s relationship with her daughters? What is the relationship between her and her husband like since they exist in reversed gender roles (for traditional capes books anyway)? But you don’t get points for potential. And why did it take us 20 pages to get to the heart of this book?

Dustin Weaver’s art is aesthetically pleasing and effective, but it’s almost like the artistic equivalent to those Styrofoam wafers you get during Holy Communion - your brain and your stomach register that you’ve eaten something but they just as quickly forget. Weaver’s art serves to move the narrative forward, but there are no “WOW!” moments in either the positive or negative sense of the exclamation. His insect monster designs are fine. But they’re just giant bugs. They’re so standard that they don’t even register as real threats to the characters. Considering that Weaver helped with the story, I’m surprised he didn’t suggest something more interesting from him to draw. In terms of narrative clarity and panel flow, Weaver nails it. But the story is kind of a non-starter until the final page, so achieving even that level of artistic competence is a lot like patting a bus driver on the back for not crashing the bus. It’s his job. We shouldn’t applaud him just for doing it.

I guess the problem with The Infinity Gauntlet #1 is that it is completely unfulfilling and totally unsatisfying. There are no stakes. There is no fun to be had. This comic doesn’t actually say anything or help us understand its larger role in Secret Wars. I’m not saying that this comic needed to be a meditation on mortality like the original. I’m not saying that it needed to give us a detailed explanation of how it ties in to everything else. But on a base level, a decent comic should be one that makes you think, “Hey, cool. Glad I read that.” Unfortunately, this issue can’t even achieve that.

Credit: DC Comics

Convergence: Shazam! #2
Written by Jeff Parker
Art by Evan “Doc” Shaner and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Saida Temofonte
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

If there’s one thing we can take away from Convergence: Shazam! #2, it’s that we can hope for a better tomorrow. Jeff Parker rounds out his story of the Captain Marvel family in an incredibly optimistic and hopeful light. Paired with the incredible art of Evan “Doc” Shaner and Jordie Bellaire, Parker finishes the story with an ending that can’t help but make you hopeful, too, about the future.

As with some of the other Convergence titles, Convergence: Shazam! #2 ultimately fails to have a solid ending, leaving much ambiguous, but the journey along the way was rousing fun to see. The story stays focused on Captain Marvel and family, which was great because there was potential for the focus to shift on Gotham by Gaslight. That’s not the case and Parker uses the backdrop of Gotham by Gaslight to show the immutable characteristics Captain Marvel has. There’s no growth for Captain Marvel because he’s already exactly how he’s supposed to be: as he puts it, “I’m just strong and fast and wise and can fly.”

The clear highlight of this book is the phenomenal artwork done by Shaner and Bellaire. They’re able to capture the hopeful tone Captain Marvel represents and integrate that well into the story. Even though the Marvels go up against a dreary world like Gotham by Gaslight, you’ll never feel like the setting and tone weighs you down. Shaner’s style is definitely more cartoonish than some of the other DC books, but the style captures Captain Marvel’s boyish charm and the other characters’ youth as well. It fits in line with the characters and ultimately makes the art look more dynamic, especially during the action scenes where Shaner has a gift for making explosive combat look well in that style. Bellaire was the perfect complement to Shaner’s line work: just as Shaner has an old time quality to his line art, Bellaire uses flat colors for the most part and leaves shading to the inks. You’ll get a heavy feel of nostalgia watching the Marvel family at work in this issue, which ultimately makes the issue more enjoyable.

One of the best moments of the issue was Batman’s all-out attack on Captain Marvel. Hit by a monumental force of lightning, Captain Marvel risks slipping back into Billy Batson, just when he's trapped in a lethal electric current. The two-page spread was brought to life by Shaner and Bellaire in an extraordinary way, showing a conversation in the lightning and Billy standing in a dark ether. This pivotal moment in the issue and, despite only happening on the seventh page, set the tone for the rest of the issue. Parker makes it clear this is a story about planting your feet and sticking to your guns when you know you’re the good guy. Marvel makes it clear to Batman that he doesn’t want to fight and they ultimately work together to defeat the real villain lying in wait. Because Captain Marvel doesn’t fight against Batman, this encounter avoids all the exhausted tropes of superheroes meeting for the first time, duking it out, and then fighting together. They get quicker to the team up, which ultimately lends more excitement to the final battle when the rest of the Marvel family shows up to help.

However, those successes just couldn’t overcome the fact that this story feels like it ultimately won’t matter. It was nice to see the Captain Marvel family in action again, but ending—while hopeful—didn’t have any resounding note. Convergence: Shazam! #2 fails to answer that all important “so what?” question. Maybe it’s just because it’s tied into the Convergence event as a whole. It’s just hard to get past that this story was nice — for many of the reasons stated above — but it just doesn’t feel like it has any kind of impact beyond that it was nice. Hopefully, we’ll see the rest of the Marvel family in action in the future and can add some of that hopefulness to the main line.

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