Friday, May 30, 2014

Marvels: Amazing Spider-Man #6

"Face-to-Face with... the Lizard!" by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
(November 1963)

Spider-Man's parade of great villains continues with the Lizard! We first see him menacing people in the Everglades, chasing them out of his swamp and hurling threats at them. He's got super strength--he lifts a tree right out of the ground--but there's something about the image of this lizard man in pants, shirt and a lab coat yelling at people to get off his lawn that I find disarmingly charming.

As a publicity stunt, the Daily Bugle challenges Spider-Man to go down to Florida and fight the Lizard, but when Peter Parker asks the paper to send him down to try and get pictures, J. Jonah Jameson confesses the whole gag was to sell papers and declares the Lizard a hoax and Spider-Man too cowardly to leave New York. But after rescuing a lovestruck Liz Allan from some robbers at a museum, Peter decides he can't let that affront go and, for the first time, confronts J. Jonah Jameson as Spider-Man. Spidey declares his intentions and warns JJJ that he'd better send a photographer down. (Though, in a moment of humility, Spidey admits to himself and to us that he can't afford his own plane ticket to Florida!)

Peter isn't thrilled that Jonah is going to accompany him to Florida, but it adds some nice comedy. I can always use more of Jonah. But Peter ditches Jonah right away, changes into Spider-Man, and heads off to contact a reptile expert he's read about named Curtis Connors. It's on his way to Connors' home that he first fights the Lizard.

Up until this moment, Spidey seems to have held out hope that the Lizard might just be a guy in a costume perpetrating a hoax, but his speed, power, thick skin and powerful tail put that to rest. This is all taking place near Dr. Connors' home, so Spider-Man rushes in to warn Connors, instead finding his wife, who tells him the truth: the Lizard is Curtis Connors.

Dr. Connors lost his right arm in the war. A former surgeon, he devoted his life to studying reptiles, and tried to create a serum that would harness the regenerative powers of some lizards in order to give himself a new arm. It gave him an arm, but also took his humanity, turning him into a lizard man who is apparently getting more savage by the day. Still, Dr. Connors haunts the area, unable to completely sever his connection with his wife and their young son, Billy.

And at that moment, the Lizard appears, frightening Billy, and Spider-Man fights him again. This time, Spidey tries to calm the Lizard, but to no good, and the Lizard retreats into the swamp. Spider-Man heads into Dr. Connors' lab and creates an antidote that will return Connors to his human self, but how will he get the Lizard to drink it? He doesn't have long to think about it before the Lizard attacks a third time! The Lizard has now become ruthless--talking about wiping out Spider-Man and taking over the world--and can no longer be reasoned with. The lab destroyed, the Lizard goes into the swamp once more.

The antidote is safe in a test tube, so Spidey decides he's got to take it, track down the Lizard, and get him to drink it somehow.

The Lizard has gone full villain now. When Spider-Man tracks him down, the Lizard is based in an old, abandoned Spanish fort and giving grand speeches to alligators. He even does a "Get him, my pets!" and the alligators attack Spidey! It's kind of... madly amazing. The entire fight that follows is epic, with the Lizard and Spider-Man chasing each other up and down the walls of the fort (the Lizard can climb walls with his claws), until Spider-Man manages to shove the antidote serum down the Lizard's throat. While getting it there, the Lizard manages to whip Spidey right in gut with his tail, stunning Spider-Man. Spidey seems about to get his throat ripped out, too tired to fight back, when the Lizard turns back into Dr. Connors and his reason returns. It's that down to the wire. The clawed hands are literally reaching for Spidey when it happens. Dr. Connors has lost his arm again, but he's just happy to be human and back with his family.

The rest is tying up the loose ends. Spider-Man agrees to keep what happened to Connors a secret. He returns to the hotel to find Jonah fuming, having called the police to search for him, and then declares Peter's shadowy Lizard photos--which he claims to have bought from "an old Indian guide"--a fake and the Lizard a hoax... and then refuses to pay Peter. In fact, Peter owes him the cost of his plane ticket and half the hotel bill! Then, when Peter gets home, Aunt May has chores for him and Liz Allan won't go out on a date with him. She's keeping the line clear in case Spider-Man calls.

Nutty luck, indeed.

Stray observations:

:: It's neat to see Spidey out of New York and in a different setting. That Spanish fort locale is really something; it's like Spider-Man starring in a pulp jungle adventure, and it works.

:: Peter's trip to the museum was to learn about dinosaurs. At the time, of course, the prevailing theory was still that dinosaurs were lizards, so Peter thought some of that knowledge might give him an edge against the Lizard. Later, when fighting the Lizard, Peter compares his thick skin to "dinosaur armor."

Peter's been dressing a little more hip these days. Being Spider-Man's really giving him some confidence. He's been flirting with Betty Brant every time he comes into the office, too.

:: Aunt May is uncertain about letting Peter go to Florida until she realizes J. Jonah Jameson is coming with him. She thinks he's a nice man. She also thinks Spider-Man is just awful. These are but the first of her many misjudgments of character.

:: The Lizard appears to actually be stronger than Spider-Man. Even Spidey thinks so. And the Lizard can rip Spidey's webs with no difficulty.

The pathos of a lizard.

:: Another creative use for webs?

Web swamp-shoes. Not a bad way to travel.

:: The art in this issue is much more like one of Steve Ditko's Dr. Strange stories; lots of small, uniform panels rather than experimenting with the layout. This one had a lot of dialogue, locations, and plot to establish, though. Ditko knows how to use his space.

:: The letters page opens with a letter from Ken Dixon. I like to look up the letter writers sometimes and see if I can find anyone who was active in fandom at the time or a future professional. I see there's a Ken Dixon credited with a script in Creepy #32 from 1970. This is the same issue with the story "Rock God," written by Harlan Ellison and drawn by Neal Adams, and based on that issue's great Frazetta cover. You can see that story here. I wonder if it's the same Ken Dixon.

The letters page is also the first time Stan Lee calls Doctor Octopus "Doc Ock" and promises to bring the character back. Alan Oberle of Glendale, Missouri, wants to see the Vulture return, and he will indeed be the villain in Amazing Spider-Man #7. Stan explains to Gerry Johnson of Superior, Wisconsin, that artists don't sign the Marvel covers because usually the covers are the work of several artists: rough layouts, pencils, inks, corrections, etc. He does point out that when it's the work of one man, like Steve Ditko, the covers are signed. The cover of this issue, for example, is signed.

The letters have some praise for Dr. Strange. People want more. There aren't really any special announcements, though. Just a reminder that Spidey was in Strange Tales Annual #2 and an effusive thank you to the fans for all of their letters, positive and negative.

This has been yet another great issue of Amazing Spider-Man. The Lizard, much like Doom, Sandman, and Doctor Octopus, was a believable threat, capable of killing Spider-Man and putting him through his paces, which creates so much suspense. As much as I love Fantastic Four, which is full of wonderful adventure, Amazing Spider-Man stories are the ones that are truly suspenseful. I love this. I enjoy the hell out of it.

Next Marvels: the Watcher returns!

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

Always liked the Lizard. He was a good person at the core.