Top of the Pile: Amazing Spiderman, X-Factor, X-Men, New Excalibur, Conan, Batman

Despite the fact that I’ve been buying comics regularly for over a decade, I’ve only rarely reviewed them on Nuketown.

That changes starting this week with the debut of my “Top of the Pile” column where I’ll be running down why I’m reading … and in what order. Almost every geek I know shuffles their comics once they get home, rearranging them into their preferred reading order. I’m no different, but in addition to talking about what’s at the top of my comic stack, I’ll also be talking about my kids’ picks as I search for (and occasionally find) comics for my four-year-old daughter to read.

Top of the Pile: Amazing Spiderman #539

I knew this was going to be the standard Marvel bait-and-switch: show Spidey in his black suit on the cover, but don’t actually get him into it until the final page. The story is ok — an assassin hired by Kingpin shoots Aunt May, Peter freaks out and goes hunting the man responsible — but it fails to build adequately on the events of Civil War. Yes, Peter is on the run, making him feel strung out and powerless, but he’s one of the few heroes who refused to register at War’s End. Shouldn’t a legion of super-teams be hunting him down? And what about the rest of the resistance?

It’s possible all this is being addressed in the other Spidey titles — I stopped reading them long ago, so I don’t know — but it seems to me that the consequences of Civil War should have a greater role in the flagship Spider-man title.

Peter takes a darker — much darker — turn at the end of this book. I’m sure this story arc was at least partly inspired by what’s happens in the Spider-Man 3 movie, but I think parents buying this book for their kids would be surprised by the last panel. I know I was — this isn’t the Peter we know, and I’m hoping they pull him back from the edge before something even more irreversible than going public with his true identity happens.

The Rest of the Stack

The best of the books I picked up last week was X-Factor #17. Peter David has taken some of my favorite third string characters — starting with Jamie Maddrox (Multiple Man) and continuing with Rahne (Wolfsbane), Guido (Strong Guy), Rictor and M, and thrown them into a noir-cum-superhero tale that isn’t afraid to explore the tough questions.

The present storyline seems Jamie attempting to recover the various Multiples of himself that he sent out into the world to learn certain trades, such as government agent, doctor, and private investigator. He plans to reabsorb them, but he finds it an increasingly difficult task — on one case, a Multiple has his own wife and child; absorbing him would orphan a kid and widow a woman … or would it? Would the core Jamie be willing to live on with this family once he’s absorbed the knowledge of his former Multiple?

Another becomes the world’s greatest investigator (no, it’s not Batman – and that’s a joke made in the comic) and learns terrible secrets … secrets he won’t let Jamie discover for himself. It’s a consistently great read, and if you’re not picking it up, you should be.

Next up is X-Men #197, which sees Rogue deathly ill after the team’s confrontation with the a virus-designing super villain. She’s taken to Cable’s island of Providence for treatment, which left me wondering … when the hell did Cable get an island? I can’t say I’ve kept up with Cable as much as I’d like, but something like him getting an island seems like the sort of noteworthy fact that should have shown up in one of the main titles. This has been one of my long-running frustrations with the X-Men: despite being a loyal reader of the core X-Titles, all too frequently I feel like I’ve missed something important. Marvel needs to kill these one shots and mini series, and focus back on the core X-Universe.  There’s no follow-up to Mr. Sinister’s ominous appearance in #196, and I hope we see him return soon. He’s one of my favorite Marvel villains, and I sincerely hope he makes good on his boasts to rekindle the mutant gene.

Uncanny X-Men #484 continues the title’s yearlong Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire storyline. It’s X-Men space opera through and through, and makes for an occasionally entertaining read, but truth be told I was never much into the whole Marvel stellar civilizations-at-war thing. Give me the Brood over Xavier-as-consort any day.

New Excalibur #18 has Captain Britain front and center. It’s the sole surviving X-Title penned by Chris Claremont, and its returned to the fertile ground of the Multiverse and its near-infinity of Captain Britain defenders. I’ve always enjoyed this aspect of Excalibur, and I’m glad to see Claremont’s return to it. This time around, Captain Britain is face with his opposite number in the form of Lionheart. Like the Captain, Lionheart became the defender of his realm. But when Merlin tested him by offering him a choice of amulet (representing Reason) and the sword (representing Might), he chose the Sword, while Captain Britain chose the Amulet. Now a conflict between the two has been set in motion, once that could give rise to a cross-dimensional war. Fun stuff!

My sole DC title this week is Batman #664. I stopped reading Batman for a while, then got back into it with the resent Man-Bat ninjas/Bruce Wayne’s son storyline. The current story arc, penned by Grant Morrison, looks to tie up the “shooting of the Joker” loose end that I apparently missed during my hiatus. #664 is a confusing read for someone not up on the current Batman mythology, but it grabbed me all the same, particularly when Batman starts hunting the monster that’s been brutalizing prostitutes in Gotham. The final pages, in which the Bat refers to a mysterious “black casebook” has me eager to see #665.

Rounding out my pull this week is Conan #48, which sees our favorite barbarian struggling with a cult eager to get its hands on healing elixirs he stole from a caravan a few issues back. Conan is one of my guilty pleasures, and while this story isn’t particularly strong — I prefer those with a more overt touch of the weird — the fight scenes still make for a good ‘read’.

Kid’s Pick

My Kid’s Pick this week was Mary Jane Loves Spiderman, which features anime-style artwork and storylines ripped form the pages of Betty and Veronica … if Archie had been bitten by a radioactive spider. This title has been hit or miss for my purpose, which has been to find a comic short on adult themes and violence, and long on adventure and fun. Some issues have been great,  particularly a recent arc in which Peter Parker has to juggle his friendship with Mary Jane with his crime-fighting alter-ego’s attempt to take down a juvenile Sandman.

This time around, the story revolves around a love triangle involving Mary Jane, Spider-man and Firestar. I appreciated this flashback to Spider-man and his Amazing Friends and it’s a fine story for 12-year-olds … but not-so-great for four year olds. Fortunately I’ve been able to do a little creative re-writing as I read it with StarGirl, editing out the romance, editing in friendships, which is something she gets. Ultimately, I’d like to have these books around for when she’s older, but right now Krypto the Super Dog is more her speed.

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