So, for my first Villain Spotlight, I’ve chosen Spidey’s foe from the upcoming feature film, the Lizard. It helps that he’s one of my favorite non-archenemy characters in Spidey’s Rogues Gallery, and as it’s my first one, let me lay down some ground rules: I may be providing facts, but this is mostly my opinion on what makes this villain works, as well as what stories I think he was well used in, not a biography. Take it with a grain of salt.
The Lizard made his first appearance in 1963, in Amazing Spider-Man #6, and it was… odd. After attacking people in Florida, news of the creature reaches Spidey. Thinking how it’d be interesting to fight such a foe, our hero tricks J. Jonah Jameson into sending Peter Parker to Florida for the story. Peter finds the Lizard, who is in fact not just a monstrous reptile man, but also a megalomaniac with plans to conquer the world and make it fit for reptiles to rule. We can all guess how it goes: Spidey finds out that the Lizard is actually scientist Curt Connors, who hoped to regrow his amputated arm using an experimental formula based on lizard DNA. Spidey whips up a cure, and then it’s resolved…. cue the iconic question mark of “OR IS IT?”
Interestingly, Connors ended up moving his family (wife Martha and son Billy) to New York, mostly to serve as another supporting character to Spider-Man. In fact, more often than not Connors plays a bigger role in Spidey stories as a scientist Peter can go to for help with a problem. I enjoyed this development of Connors, and his personal life. It helped sell the horror and tragedy of his affliction to turn into a monster.
The Lizard, however, often became stale as a villain. Granted, he had the most unique look of Spidey’s foes (disregarding his scales, fangs and tail, he’s basically a guy in a lab-coat and pants), but his act got old really quick. He’d often just appear either due to outside circumstances like a new formula meant to permanently remove the Lizard transformation ends up triggering it, or appear because Connors was stressed or pushing emotionally into a corner, making him sort of like the love-child of the Hulk and Godzilla. And he’d always plan to make sure he never goes back to being human, try to start a reptile revolution or turn everyone else into lizard people, have to deal with his feelings towards his family, then get cured. Rinse, repeat, yawn.
I mentioned a long time ago when I talked about the Spider-Man story Torment that a change happened to Lizard’s character. During that plot, the Lizard was being controlled by Calypso, the voodoo witch and ex-lover of Kraven the Hunter. During that story, the Lizard was basically a savage, out-of-control monster. Gone were his speeches and plans, his hissing words. He was basically the shark from Jaws on legs. And it was fresh, and new, and interesting….
So, naturally Marvel had to beat that iteration into the ground. While I didn’t like how unoriginal the Lizard’s old stories were, I did like his character, and its odd idea of what it would have been like if reptiles evolved to be similar to humans. And while some storylines brought back that Lizard, more often than not it would be the snarling, roaring, non-intelligent animal version that would appear.
Lizard eventually got an interesting twist in the graphic novel Spider-Man: Quality of Life. It turned out that some company that was polluting the swamp near the Connors’ home in Florida had given Martha severe cancer. This time, we saw a Lizard that was savage, angry, but focused. He spoke (barely), and made it clear this was basically Connors seeking revenge for the slow death of his wife. It was an interesting story, and showed a new side to Lizard’s character. Sadly, after that, the Lizard just kept popping up in the background of some stories, and essentially remained just an animal on someone else’s leash.
Recently, the Lizard had a very interesting shift in characterization. During the storyline Shed (itself a part of the bigger story called The Gauntlet, which returned a lot of Spidey’s classic foes to form while providing new, updated takes on them), Connors finally snaps after having fallen so far. While working in a pharmaceutical company trying to make pills for adult use, trying to maintain a relationship with a son who was terrified of the monster in him, and finally getting bullied to the point of losing it by his pig of a boss, Connors transforms into the Lizard, but the one who was as smart as he was savage. This time, the Lizard knew how to keep from returning to Connors, and that was by killing the Curt Connors persona within his mind. He achieved this by the ultimate act that Connors would never forgive himself for.
He ate Connors’ son, Billy.
After that, the Lizard shed his old form, taking on a new, deadlier form, with an increase to his reptilian telepathy, allowing him to trigger the flight-or-fight response in humans. Unfortunately, killing Connors in his psyche meant that all of Connors residual emotions, emotions the Lizard never had, are now part of the creature. Right now, the Lizard seems to be seeking a cure for this, or at least, try to find a reason to exist beyond killing.
Personally, I always thought the Lizard should have been like he was in the 90’s animated series. There, he was trying to conquer and transform humanity, thinking he was the first of a better race, free of disease and pain. But when he was pushed or attacked, he would mentally shift into the savage version.
With the new film coming out, I’m curious to see how the Lizard behaves. I’m hoping for at least a return to the would-be conqueror as well as the savage beast. After all, he’s the big villain this summer.