Putting aside the absolute co-inky-dink that Marvel would choose to spotlight the Lizard in an Amazing Spider-Man story-arc at the same time that a brand-new Spider-Man movie featuring the Lizard was in theaters (which I still haven’t seen yet, unfortunately), I was actually looking forward to the “No Turning Back” storyline as it would reunite Spidey with a classic villain and also help us all move on from the colossal disappointment that was “Ends of the Earth.”
The thing is, after reading through three of the four issues into this arc (I’m planning on talking about ASM #691 in a separate post since Spider-Man is allegedly getting a “sidekick”), I still feel like writer Dan Slott is in a bit of a rut with Spider-Man lately, though, unlike Ends of the Earth, I don’t really think this is totally his fault. For one, there’s the obvious force-feeding of the Lizard into the comic in order to coincide with any buzz or interest in the title generated by the movie (it’ll be a lot easier to hook in new readers if you’re dealing with a villain they’re already familiar with), but beyond that, I’ve realize that the Lizard has changed so much over the past few years, that he just doesn’t strike me as being capable of carrying his end of a major arc like this anymore.
It’s a classic conundrum creative teams are faced with all the time – on one end they need to honor and respect the past and tradition, but on the other side of the spectrum they need to keep things new and exciting. What was appealing about the Lizard, for me at least, was that the character was a classic Jekyll and Hyde style category. You had the good-natured Dr. Curt Connors, who is just trying to find a way to repair his missing arm, and then you have this hideous monster he becomes after his experiment goes awry. The character borrows heavily from many long-established literary themes, but guess what? That’s okay, because these good-person/bad-person stories are firmly entrenched in our literary canon because they work. Yeah, no one is telling you to plagiarize Robert Louis Stevenson, but the fact remains that he wrote a literary classic and it’s cool if you borrow liberally from him if you want to create a character with depth.
The Lizard is an even more worthwhile foil for Spider-Man because every time Spidey takes him on, he knows he’s taking on a guy who underneath the green skin and tail, is a family-man and a brilliant scientist. He has to pull his punches with the Lizard more than he does with a Norman Osborn or Doc Ock because he doesn’t want to inflict any long-term physical damage for when the character eventually reverts back to his gentle human form. And given that Spider-Man is such a conflicted hero in the first place leads to some really awesome storytelling throughout ASM’s history.
But there’s the rub. These Spidey/Lizard stories have been told over and over for nearly 50 years now, and they almost all inevitably follow the same trajectory. Connors becomes Lizard, Spidey gets a call from Connors’ family, Spidey confronts the Lizard, Spidey “fights” him but holds back, Spidey is near death but still pulls his punches, Spidey eventually overcomes the Lizard who then reverts back to Connors. These stories may take place over the span of one, two or three issues, but they’re all very similar. So I can understand why Marvel would feel the necessity to change the character up in order to avoid what had already become repetitive. The problem is, in the process, they robbed the character of its soul.
What is significant about the current incarnation of the Lizard is that now that he’s killed Connors’ son Billy, he seems to have fully embraced the reptilian side of himself. When Morbius (more on that later) has developed a “cure” for Connors, the readers are in on the fact that he doesn’t want to change back into his human form. Instead he wants to infect more people with the Lizard serum, creating an army of lizards at his disposal. Slott makes a point of establishing that the human side of Connors is all but gone, and we only get the slightest hint that an inkling MIGHT remain in the closing panel of ASM #690 when he’s ready to inject himself with the serum to become permanently Lizard and he hesitates. If we find out in the next issue that he doesn’t want to be the Lizard forever, we’re stuck in the same vicious cycle we’ve been in since the character was first introduced in ASM #6. And if he does take the serum, well then the character has truly run his course in terms of Spidey’s rogue gallery. What’s going to distinguish Lizard from a bad-guy like Carnage who just kills and causes havoc with conscience or thought? And as I’ve said before, those are my least favorite kids of villains.
That’s not to say I hated everything in these last three issues – far from it. But last year there seemed to be a certain “spark” to Slott’s writing that seems to be dimming as we get closer and closer to ASM #700. I don’t know if there are truly “big changes” in store for the character after that issue, or with this whole Marvel Now initiative, but the last few months of issues just read as if they’re being written by someone who’s winding things down and getting ready to hand the reins over to a new creative team. There’s of course been not even the slightest public admission that Slott is off the title soon, and I’d be shocked if there was one, but it doesn’t change the fact that ASM has gone from being a wild symphony of storylines and outside characters being tied together to a more frustrating jazz trio that has moments of brilliance and moments of dissidence playing together. I loved how Mary Jane finally points out the absurdity of Peter’s “no one dies” mantra, and then cringed at what appeared to be the ultimate payoff of Morbius’ reappearance in the title, which was essentially one drawn-out fist-fight with Spider-Man over the fact that he first dug up Billy Connors’ corpse and then took a bite out of someone at Horizon. The fact that Spidey treated Morbius like a total chump made it even more of a letdown.
A part of me hopes that this is all a calm before the storm. There’s still some good storytelling being told. Has anyone checked out Roger Stern’s Peter Parker Spider-Man point one issue, yet? Great stuff. But between Slott’s last 7 or 8 issues, Avenging Spider-Man’s recent lull (using a Spidey comic to sell a new series for Captain Marvel? Really?), and of course AvX, which I will have some choice words for as soon as I have time to type them, it just feels like Marvel is at a crossroads with its most popular character, which of course has my own fan spidey-sense tingling.
All images from Amazing Spider-Man #688-690: Dan Slott, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Klaus Janson & Frank D’Amata