Best Shots Reviews: DARTH VADER #4, SPIDER-WOMAN #6 & Four CONVERGENCE #1s

DC Comics April 2015 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your regular Monday Best Shots! Your favorite team of crackshot reviewers has you covered, as Ragin' Richard Gray takes a look at Convergence: Speed Force...

Credit: DC Comics

Convergence: Speed Force #1
Written by Tony Bedard
Art by Tom Grummett, Sean Parsons, Rain Bered
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Throughout DC’s history, the Flash has arguably served as the most instrumental figure in its development. After all, it was Barry Allen that discovered the Multiverse way back in 1961’s “Flash of Two Worlds,” and he sacrificed himself at its destruction during Crisis on Infinite Earths. Indeed, it was The Flash that inadvertently created the New 52, attempting to but right his own errors. Yet there has been a Flash present at all the major DC crises over the years, either coming or going, and Convergence: Speed Force is at least a partial recognition of that importance through the decades.

For many, getting a chance to see Wally West as the Flash will be the main appeal of this book. Here, he’s stuck in a domed Gotham City without his powers, alongside his children who were originally dragged along by the Speed Force. Bedard’s characterization of West as desperate to escape the dome, something akin to a caged animal who can still glimpse the outside, is a clever one, bringing some actual stakes to the table, something sadly lacking from many of the other mini-series so far.

Convergence: Speed Force comes closest to giving us a sense of scope in this event, with most of the books being myopically confined to a single convergence point. When West’s powers are restored, he manages to run through several realities, giving us glimpses of Futures End, Bizarro World (Earth-29) and the cartoon physics realm of Earth-26, populated by Captain Carrot and his Zoo Crew. This is, bizarrely, the most significant as the Flash’s counterpart Fastback, an anthropomorphic turtle. It’s a sidebar before the confrontation with the Flashpoint era Wonder Woman, putting in place the same kind of cliffhanger that all of the books have had so far. Yet this issue gives us an idea of what is in store for those worlds that lose the confrontation.

Tom Grummett does an excellent job of initially humanizing Wally West, grounding his feet in place, before allowing him to literally run away with the story. The return of his powers is heroic, albeit anti-climactic, but Grummett really shines in the moments that follow. The aforementioned streak through the multiversal landscape allows the artist to play with momentary snatches of alternative takes on popular DC characters, the Bizarro one perhaps working the best in this context. He also achieves the impossible by making the cartoonish Fastback a natural fit in a “serious” book.

In some ways, these mini-series are aiming for classicism, but falling short in execution that is hampered by the “rules” of the event. While the scope of Convergence: Speed Force is much bigger than some of its contemporaries, it is still difficult to get too invested in sets of characters that by necessity may be wiped out by the end of this run. However, what Beddard has achieved is balancing these small inevitable stories up against something much bigger than any individual character. It will remain to be seen whether this particular Flash will prove to be more significant in the wider Convergence, but if history is a guide, there will be at least one Flash disappearing in a Crisis.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Spider-Woman #6
Written by Dennis Hopeless
Art by Javier Rodriguez and Alvaro Lopez
Letters by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Kelly Richards
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Jessica Drew: Private Investigator. Sort of has a ring to it, don’t you think?

Taking a break from the Avengers for life as a street-level P.I. in her own solo title, Spider-Woman is effortlessly witty and beautifully rendered. Making for an excellent addition to Marvel’s roster of female-fronted solo titles, and ever-growing family of spider-themed heroes.

Determined to have a "normal" life and help "regular" people, Jessica Drew has taken on the sort of case only an ex-Avenger could. With a supporting cast of c-list villains and the incomparable reporter Ben Urich, Drew takes to the streets as any completely ordinary private investigator would.

As far as the writing is considered, Spider-Woman is a solid book. It’s funny, but not so much as to make you laugh out loud. The script reads as authentic although Drew does seem to have lost a little of her snark in this issue. The narrative is engaging and well-paced, and the supporting characters give the whole thing a sense of camp that gives you the impression that the entire creative team had their tongues firmly in their cheeks while putting this together.

Hopeless seems to have Drew’s character down to a tee, her almost constant quips belie the trouble she seems to be having adapting to life away from the Avengers, or at least the endless stream of cash that an association with them will bring. (The poor woman doesn’t even have any bowls.) The introduction of Urich to the story does a lot to add depth to the story but also helps position Spider-Woman amongst the other street level heroes.

Rodriguez takes the lead on art, providing both pencils and colors. Overall, Spider-Woman is a great-looking book but there is some inconsistency, especially with regard to the faces. This does not doom the book but does on occasion pull the reader out of the story. Conversely, the choice of color really helps set the tone for the book. While still leaning heavily on the tried and tested palette of primary colors, Rodriguez chooses to utilize more muted approach that is more appropriate to street level heroics and a life away from Lycra. The use of light in the book is equally effective, especially at the start of the story where we see the sun filtering in through the half-open blinds. With inks in the hands of Alvaro Lopez, the highly rendered backgrounds are brought into focus and as a result help give the reader a better feel of the locations. Lopez also does a great job of maintaining the shine on Drew’s hair throughout the book which, believe me, is important to any Spider-Woman story.

Still a site for controversy, whether as a result of her costume, or her cover art, Spider-Woman continues to kick ass regardless of what you may or may not think. Coming strong out of "Spider-Verse" and two issues into the current arc, Hopeless, Rodriguez and Lopez are going from strength to strength with each issue, and don’t seem to be showing any signs of quitting.

Credit: DC Comics

Convergence: Superman #1
Written by Dan Jurgens
Art by Lee Weeks and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Sal Capriano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

It takes a few moments to register it at first, so accustomed we’ve become to plates and textures and high collars over the last few years. Yet there it is, for all the world to see: a Superman wearing his red underpants over his blue tights. It may seem like a small gesture, but in the four years since Flashpoint, DC seems to have gone out of their way on page and screen to convince us that Superman only ever goes commando. It’s also the first time that we’ve directly confronted some of the fallout from the Flashpoint universe, which is what makes this Convergence chapter so instantly compelling.

Of all the Convergence titles launched in the event’s first week, the majority followed a simple formula. We saw life before the dome, a taste of what it was like during domedom, and the immediately aftereffects of Telos raising the dome and restoring powers. Many of the chapters have given some pre-Flashpoint characters a semblance of a happy ending, and Clark settling down as a mortal with a pregnant Lois would certainly fall into that category. The "convergence point" here is the world of Flashpoint, where everything is a little darker, giving the old-school DCU a literal chance to fight for survival against the editorial changes of four years ago.

Just as Alan Moore’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” bid farewell to archetype post-Crisis On Infinite Earths, there is an element hat tipping to the classic Superman that Dan Jurgens is fulling aware of. While it is terrific to see a depowered Clark scurrying through the city in an attempt to be a “Batman” type, when he heroically emerges from a fire in all of his buletproof glory, it’s all the classic Supermen on panel at once. Yet where it gets really clever is in bringing the obsessions of the Flashpoint world to bear on their immediate predecessors. Like Thomas Wayne, who struggles with a conflict that would kill his alternate timeline son, we may have assumed the world of Flashpoint was wiped out when the New 52 was created. Instead, we get to see the “unhappily ever after” point, especially for the mistreated Kal-El. As such, the cliffhanger is not simply a Mortal Kombat style precusor, but rather a curious blend of narratives from two similar but different worlds.

Lee Weeks, who has been known throughout much of his career as a Marvel artist, revels in the chance to portray Superman in these classic poses. Each scene with Superman is an iconic still that bathes the Man of Steel in an instrisic glow, and a shot of him punching out Captain Thunder (a parallel Shazam) is framable material. His Flashpoint characters may have just stepped out of Andy Kubert’s world and directly into this book, with Weeks seamlessly blending the two worlds together.

While ultimately heading towards the same type of confrontation that every other book in this event is mirroring, Jurgens at least uses the opportunity to pay tribute to the mythos of DC’s most iconic character. It’s as much a celebration of Superman and his relationships as it is an event tie-in, and marks itself as one of the stand-out entries in the line-up. In this sense, Convergence: Superman succeeds where some of the other books in this line have failed.

Credit: DC Comics

Convergence #1
Written by Scott Lobdell and Jeff King
Art by Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz, John Starr and Peter Steigerwald
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

In many ways, Convergence is the event that many long-time readers have been expecting since the inception of the New 52 back in 2011. With over seven decades of heritage behind the characters, it always seemed unlikely that Flashpoint would be the final word on the old school DCU. With the events of the Futures End and Earth 2: World’s End weeklies leading towards a large change, coupled with Grant Morrison’s parallel world exploration in The Multiversity, this latest event has the potential to be a massive tribute to that legacy, especially in the thirtieth anniversary of the classic Crisis on Infinite Earths. Unfortunately, Convergence #1 shows no signs of being that book.

After a brief interlude with what appears to be the characters of Injustice: Gods Among Us, the last survivors of Earth 2 are unceremoniously dumped into Telos’ dome world. Of course, with their world destroyed, they arrive without a city to be bottled, and the master of ceremonies is less than pleased with their arrival in this manner. So he does what all displeased megalomaniacal entities do, and goes into great detail explaining exactly why he has imprisoned beings from multiple worlds on a single planet. Convergence, it appears, is going to be one giant slug-fest between the heroes of the various worlds until only one remains. It’s a “Battleworld” if you will.

While the previous Convergence #0 issue beautifully set up the legacy of both Brainiac and Superman, tipping the hat to the substantial legacy of these two characters over the course of the last few decades, the follow-up issue feels like nothing more than lengthy exposition to set up a series of fights between unlikely characters from different worlds. Apart from being done in rival events like Marvel’s Secret Wars, it’s also overly reliant on the last year’s worth of weekly stories to have any true impact on a new reader. The Earth 2 characters have been through the ringer in their own title, but no context to that Earth-ending struggle is given here. Instead, fans of that book merely see the survivors turn up simply so that Telos isn’t talking to himself for 22 pages.

Pagulayan’s art, on the other hand, is pitch-perfect for the story, effortlessly transitioning between the various worlds depicted, and providing the issue with the epic backdrop that it craves. This is no small feat given that most of the issue is a conversation between Telos and the various Earth 2 survivors, with some sporadic fights to cut up the lengthy introduction to the concept. In particular, the honeycombed backdrops that have been seen in countless promotions soar when they finally drop, and it’s hoped that the remaining seven issues of this main series lives up to the promise of these handful of panels.

Convergence will take over the entire DCU for the next few months, and like previous events, its tie-ins will form the basis of all releases. However, unlikely the recent Forever Evil, where the core title remained strong even if the tie-ins were sometimes lackluster, Convergence is off to an inauspicious start. The cynical view has been that Convergence is merely a placeholder for editorial convenience, and this water-treading issue really does little to dissuade folks of that notion. Ultimately, Convergence is a concept that literally has infinite worlds of potential, and one hopes that they live up to the promise of the #0  in the coming months.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Darth Vader #4
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Salvador Larroca and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

It’s hard to watch someone as powerful and imposing as Darth Vader and feel ambivalent at their fighting. Sadly, that’s exactly what happens in Darth Vader #4 as the mission to Geonosis proves to be a little lackluster. That’s not to say that this isn’t a solid issue in terms of craft and story, it just doesn’t compare with the momentum built up from the past three issues and instead lets the first mission between Darth Vader and Doctor Aphra sizzle out of memory before the issue even ends.

Writer Kieron Gillen missed a real opportunity to flesh out Doctor Aphra and give us a substantial reason to like her beyond how admittedly cool and collected she is. It takes guts to talk bluntly to Darth Vader, and Gillen makes it clear that Aphra’s a woman to be reckoned with, but we don’t get anything about her character beyond that she has a backbone and seems like the female response to Indiana Jones. She may be smart and resourceful, but that doesn’t give us any indication as to why she does what she does and why we should care that she could be killed at any minute by Darth Vader—a point he makes painfully clear in the last few pages. It doesn’t help that most of the panels Doctor Aphra’s in it’s her shoulders and head that are in the frame and nothing else. There are a few times we get full body shots of what she’s doing, but artist Salvador Larroca does that far a few between in this issue. This just makes it harder to feel invested in her safety when most of the time she doesn’t feel as present in the book as she could be.

The actual writing of the issue moves quickly. There are four primary scenes in the issue and each moves so quickly into the other that there’s really no time for the reader to breathe and take stock of what’s happened. The worst part is that all the events preceding the last few pages feel inconsequential. Sure, Darth Vader and Doctor Aphra go through their mission to Geonosis without any consequence or difficulty and then Triple-Zero is able to provide the location of their next destination easily as well. There’s a distinct lack of obstacles for our protagonists to overcome this issue, which makes the issue move too quickly. There could have been a whole issue devoted to Geonosis that gave Darth Vader room to reflect on his past for more than just a panel and give Doctor Aphra a chance to be fleshed out more as a character. Much of Darth Vader and its characters rely so much on the idea because much of the world building has already been done, but with the new characters Gillen still has to give us a good reason to become invested in him and, so far, the story just hasn’t accomplished that.

The art is here and there for this issue. The strengths come from the backgrounds, while the weaknesses come from the character designs, layouts, and panel structure. Because this issue primarily consisted of the group either going from one place to the next or having conversations—the only exception being the fight on Geonosis—the panel structure and composition sometimes became repetitive, especially towards the end conversations, and made the characters just feel stiff. There were times, such as in the major two page spread, where Larroca took risks with perspective and just didn’t pull it together well enough for it to pay off. Edgar Delgado’s colors are decent enough to carry the majority of the art, but Larroca and Delgado both do phenomenally well with backgrounds in space and in the sky. Some of the most beautiful artwork of the book comes from the team flying away from Geonosis and more than makes up for some of the most awkward pages.

Standing alone, this issue was mediocre; however, compared to the previous issues, Darth Vader #4 pales in comparison to the quality we’ve experienced so far. It’ll be interesting to see how Doctor Aphra and Darth Vader’s partnership progresses, and hopefully we’ll see Aphra become something more than just a cool archaeologist. All of that taken into consideration, the final page of the issue will have you waiting in baited breath for the next issue as Darth Vader forays more deeply into the Emperor’s secrets, because that ending is just as good and satisfying as the previous issues.

Credit: DC Comics

Convergence: Batman & Robin #1
Written by Ron Marz
Art by Denys Cowan and Chris Sotomayor
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

DC's Convergence event has got off to a wildly inconsistent start. Whereas some creative teams have used the opportunity to return to old universes as a way to provide new insight into old heroes, others have simply dusted off the tired old tropes and thrown them into the Dome without further thought.

Ron Marz and Denys Cowan takes us to a time before the brutal climax of Batman Incorporated for Convergence: Batman and Robin #1. Part Convergence tie-in, Convergence: Batman and Robin #1 is mostly an exploration of how Damian Wayne fits into the Bat-family in a world where Bruce Wayne and ex-Robin-turned-arch-nemesis-turned-antihero Jason Todd have fixed burnt bridges.

Denys Cowan's rough and scratchy artwork makes for intimidating figures, but is less effective when it comes to faces. With wildly uneven eyes, Poison Ivy looks plain off but the Penguin's grotesque design ensures that Cowan's illustration just about gets away with his portrayal. Cowan's pencilling is interminably busy, with every possible space dotted, creased and hatched to the point of over-complication. Complex characters like Killer Croc seem hastily drawn, with uneven detailing between panels and an unintentionally malleable snout. Still, Cowan's style is a good fit for the Dark Knight himself, who looks convincingly hard-bodied and imposing.

Ron Marz's story here is acceptable, but it's well-trodden ground for Bruce, Damian and Jason. The Convergence tie-in material is once again relegated to the sidelines, with Telos once again laying down the rules to the pre-Flashpoint Gotham City. Marz elects to not mix things up with Telos' announcement and keeps it to the final few pages, in much the same form as everyone else who wrote a Convergence book last week. Marz has a firm grasp of the Bat-family's dynamic, but he struggles to say anything new or of any interest. If you're familiar with the past few years of Bat-happenings, Convergence: Batman and Robin #1 feels like a truncated greatest hits of Bruce Wayne's struggles with Damian, as well as Bruce's struggle with a (mostly) rehabilitated Jason Todd. On a more positive note, the issue is solidly paced, with an action-packed start and a tense battle between Jason and Damian.

Klaus Janson liberally inks across the issue, over-highlighting every little nook and cranny in sight. Cowan's work is busy and Janson has treated every line equally, which is an approach that's a little too heavy-handed across an entire issue. Elsewhere, Chris Sotomayor's colors are appropriate. From the green-ish blue of the dome, Mr. Freeze and Killer Croc to the crimson of Red Hood's helmet and Robin's costume, Sotomayer's got the palette for the job. His background work is solid too, especially in the marbled red-and-orange of Killer Croc's attack on Batman and the mahogany tones of Wayne Manor.

At the end of the day, Convergence: Batman and Robin #1 feels like a workman-like piece of work-for-hire. There's a solid creative team behind this issue, but neither artist nor writer nor colorist seems particularly enthused to be back in a pre-Flashpoint Gotham. It isn't offensive, just bland. Even the most hilarious failure can be interesting, but a boring comic book is often worse. And unfortunately, Convergence: Batman and Robin #1 is one boring comic book.

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