Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #44. The Lizard's back

Amazing Spider-Man #44, Spidey confronts the Lizard in a sewer tunnel, cover by John Romita
(Cover from January 1967.)

"Where Crawls The Lizard!"

Written by Stan Lee.
Drawn and inked by John Romita.
Lettered by Sam Rosen.

In a refreshing development for all concerned (including, you suspect, the readers) Peter Parker finally gets a break from Aunt May. When we join him at the start of this tale, he's at the railway station, about to see her off. Somehow he's managed to scrape together the thirty dollars needed to send her off on vacation and at last he'll have a respite from her constant near-death experiences.

Sadly, Peter Parker's the only one who is anticipating respite because he isn't the only member of our colourful cast at the station. One-armed scientist Curt Connors is there too, to greet his wife and son who're due in from Florida anytime soon. Quite why he's living in New York and his wife and child are resident in Florida is something that's never gone into but, right now, Curt Connors has better things to worry about - because, as he waits, his remaining hand is turning green. Regular readers of the strip - especially ones with very long memories - will know this isn't because he has a penchant for wearing cheap jewellery but because of his penchant for becoming a man-sized, megalomaniac reptile.

Amazing Spider-Man #44, John Romita, the Lizard lives again, in a sewer straight after transforming from Dr Curt Connors
For a few moments, his hand returns to normal but, as his family arrive, he begins to transform again. This time, there's no holding it off and, fearing for the safety of his loved ones, Connors flees into a nearby tunnel. Within seconds, he's the Lizard again and already planning his conquest of the Earth.

But, of course, he's a super-villain and, when you're a super-villain, somehow, things never go the way you want them to. Having seen his Aunt May off, Pete's spotted Mrs Connors and realised something's the matter. Quick as a flash, he's in his Spider-Man gear and asking her what's happened. Curt was supposed to meet her at the station but took one look at her and his son and fled. It doesn't take a Sherlock Holmes to know what must be going on and so Spider-Man sets off to find him. He doesn't find his quarry but he does find a hole that's been smashed into a tunnel wall. There's no doubt about it. The Lizard is back.

Why the Lizard was away for nearly three years is anyone's guess. Right from the start, he was clearly one of the classic Spider-Man villains and, in retrospect, his long absence after just one appearance seems as perverse as it is baffling. Still, he's back now and determined to make up for it by populating the world with giant lizards. Oh yes, and by wiping out the entire human race.

Spider-Man has other problems too. Back at The Daily Bugle, Fred Foswell's getting suspicious about how Peter Parker manages to get all those snaps of Spider-Man where all others fail.

Amazing Spider-Man #44, John Romita, Mary Jane meets the gang at the Coffee Bean, Peter Parker, Gwen Stacy, Flash Thompson, Harry Osborne
Back at The Silver Spoon, the gang are getting a shock to the system, as the non-stop adrenalin rush that is Mary Jane Watson is introduced to them for the first time. In a scene beautifully composed by John Romita, Flash Thompson can't believe Puny Parker's managed to pull a doll like that, Harry Osborn can't believe Pete's been keeping her a secret from them and Gwen Stacy is showing every sign in the book of being jealous of the attention that Mary Jane's getting.

Meanwhile, mischief's afoot as the Lizard decides to frame Spider-Man. He breaks into a jeweller's and robs it, making sure to be seen fleeing the scene by climbing the side of a skyscraper in a way that the whole world knows that only our hero can. Admittedly, the whole world seems to have forgotten that Spider-Man doesn't have a tail and doesn't run around in a lab coat but, hey, it's dark and they reckon that if you can remember the 1960s, you weren't there. Surely however, you weren't supposed to be forgetting the 1960s even as they were happening around you.

Again in his Spider-Man guise, our hero sets out to nab the Lizard, and finds him with startling ease, just hanging around in a back alley, in a very odd pose. They have a fight, which can hardly be said to be going Spider-Man's way but at least a large crowd see the Lizard climbing a wall, just like Spider-Man, and realise that it may have been he, not our hero, who robbed the jewellers.

Amazing Spider-Man #44, John Romita, The Lizard flings Spider-Man away from him, fight
But now, things go wrong again. His webbing cut by the Lizard's tail, Spider-Man lands on his arm. A handily placed doctor rushes to his side, declares he's badly sprained it and proceeds to wrap it in more banadages than it took to bury Tutankhamen.

This phase of the battle over, the wall-crawler goes to report his progress to Mrs Connors. This is where he does one of those things that only seems to happen in the world of Stan Lee because, just as in the early days of The Fantastic Four, when Reed Richards would erroneously declare that they couldn't arrest the defeated Dr Doom because trying to take over the world isn't a crime, Spider-Man tells her that it may not be too late to help her husband because, as yet he's committed no crimes. Well, no crimes, presumably, apart from robbing a jewellery store, vandalising a tunnel, plotting the destruction of the human race, trying to pervert the course of justice, causing a public nuisance and trying repeatedly to kill Spider-Man.

Back home and back in civvies, Peter gets a call from Aunt May and, miracle of miracles, she's managed to get through a whole issue without once being at death's door. Then he gets another call. It's from Mary Jane Watson. She's going to be dancing tonight, at some sort of dance school thing and, lucky boy, she can get him a ticket. Not that she's in love with herself or anything.

He'd love to go of course but how can he? With his arm in a sling, it'll be too obvous that he must be Spider-Man.

Now what can he do? He's blown it with Mary Jane, he doesn't know where the Lizard is and, with his arm bandaged, he can't set foot in public for fear of revealing his secret identity.

And so, yet another issue ends with that metaphorical ball being swiped out from under him just as he's about to kick it. Poor old Charlie Brown. Erm, I mean, Peter Parker.

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