Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #45. The Lizard

Amazing Spider-Man #45, the Lizard closes in on an injured Spider-Man who has his arm in a sling against a yellow background of webbing, John Romita cover
(Cover from February 1967.)

"Spidey Smashes Out!"

Written by Stan Lee
Art by John Romita
Lettering by Sam Rosen


This issue quickly establishes one thing - that Spider-Man can defeat common, everyday crooks with one hand tied behind his back. Of course, he doesn't really have his hand tied behind his back when he launches the tale by taking out a couple of small-time thugs who're in the process of hi-jacking a truck but he does have his arm in a sling. However, our hero isn't delusional. He knows full well that stopping a couple of petty crooks doesn't stand any comparison with trying to defeat the Lizard.

Meanwhile, the Lizard is out to make it even harder for Spider-Man to stop him because he breaks into his own apartment and searches for the human-to-reptile formula that will enable him to create a whole army of lizard people. There's only one thing he hasn't thought of - that you have to be a scientist to understand that formula and, in his current guise, the Lizard ain't no scientist. Still, not to worry, he can always kidnap Dr Curt Connors and force him to make the formula for him. Poor old Lizzie. He doesn't know it but his plan is doomed to failure before it's even conceived.

Someone who's determined that his own plans won't fail is Frederick Foswell who's still at The Daily Bugle (does he ever have time off?) and still determined to get to the root of how Peter Parker gets his sensational shots of Spider-Man. It has to be said that, bearing in mind how Parker gets his photos - by randomly hanging the world's cheapest looking camera from a piece of string, and setting the shutter to automatic - it's anyone's guess how he gets any photos of anything but clearly Peter Parker must have some kind of magic camera. Sadly for Foswell, his plans are delayed by J Jonah Jameson sending him off to try and get the goss on the reappearance of the Lizard.

Back at Empire State University, Pete's in his everyday guise and agonising about Gwen. He clearly doesn't seem to be able to make up his mind from issue to issue as to whether he fancies Gwen most or Mary Jane. Not that he's greedy or anything.

Never mind. There's one good way to get all thoughts of girls out of your head and that's to go fist-to-fist with a giant killer reptile. So, now he's back in his Spidey gear and looking for the homicidal herpeton wherever he can think to look. No sign of him in the sewers, so he checks out the zoo. No sign of him there. But what there is at the zoo is a lovely big poster that boasts of the world's biggest collection of reptiles which has apparently just packed its (not crocodile skin) bags to set off for Philadelphia.

Quick as a flash, Spider-Man's at the railway sidings, out to intercept the goods train for Phildelphia. Bingo. He's found it. There's the Lizard, out to release the train's cargo and use them as the first in his army of reptiles. Of course, this does beg the question of what happened to the Lizard's plan of a few pages earlier, the one that involved finding Curt Connors and forcing him to create an army of lizard men but that's clearly all forgotten now. Cue another fight. Cue another beating for our hero.

And does the Lizard finish off his mortal foe?

No.

He decides that, now he's got Spider-Man where he wants him, he can turn his back on him and start droning on about his plans for world conquest. It has to be said that this is a recurring motif in Spider-Man, right from the early days. Villain gives Spider-Man a good hiding, has the chance to finish him off and instead, goes wandering off, talking to himself. If super-villains possessed the focus to actually kill Spider-Man when they had the chance, it's doubftful May Parker's favourite nephew would have made it to the end of issue #3 alive.

Still, the Lizard thinks he knows better. Instead of finishing off Spidey himself, he's going to let his friends do it. He opens up the cargo train and releases its reptiles. Now Spidey's in trouble. How's he going to hold that lot off with only one arm? Simple. He's not going to use his arm. He's going to use a croc. He grabs one by the tail and uses the hapless beast as a whip with which to knock all the other reptiles senseless. He then sets off after his foe who's hopped aboard the now moving train.

So, again they're fighting and, again, Spider-Man's not got a hope of winning.

But then there's hope.

Why? Because he's realised just what this cargo train must possess. Quickly, he finds the car he needs and leaps into it. The Lizard follows him and they start to fight. But there's something wrong, the Lizard's getting sluggish. A swing of his tail, meant to batter Spider-Man, misses its mark. And now, for seemingly no reason, the Lizard goes out like the proverbial light.

At last we get our explanation. This isn't just any train carriage. This is a refrigerated carriage. Being a cold-blooded reptile, the Lizard can't function in the absence of warmth, and Spider-Man has again won the day.

Concerned for the Lizard's well being, he wraps the literally out-cold villain in webbing, to keep him warm. It should be pointed out here that wrapping a cold-blooded being in insulation would, surely, keep him cold but never mind. Clearly, science student Peter Parker really has been falling behind in his studies. Regardless, Spidey takes the Lizard back to Curt Connors' apartment, administers the Dr's formula and, hey presto, the good doctor's back with us, and the Lizard is again nothing more than a bad memory.

So, that's it, a happy ending. Except this is Spider-Man, not Superman and so, once he's back home, Peter Parker's agonising about his life. This final page is actually the weakest part of the story because, while there's usually a good reason for Peter to be agonising about the state of his life, this fit of self-pity seems to appear from nowhere, sparked off by nothing in particular and gives the impression of just having been tacked on by Lee/Romita for the sake of it. It's like the formula demands that each issue ends with Peter Parker feeling fed up and therefore this issue has to end with Peter Parker being fed up.

There's also a slightly odd incident in the scene before this one, where, on the way home from his triumph, Pete bumps into Harry Osborn and Mary Jane. They offer him a lift but he turns the offer down. As Harry and MJ drive off, Peter decides that he really doesn't like Mary Jane at all, opining that she's as, "pretty as a pumpkin seed but just about as shallow." He then labels her, "icky." You get the feeling that, having introduced MJ, Lee and Romita aren't really sure what to do with her. She seemed to have been introduced as a new girlfriend for Peter but, within a couple of issues, she was turned instead into a love rival for Gwen Stacy and now, just one issue later, Peter seems to have gone off her completely. This lack of a clearly defined purpose for such a strong character in fact dragged on for years and it's surprising, knowing what was to come in future decades, just how quickly MJ became a peripheral figure.

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