Curt Conners sought to harness the regenerative properties of reptiles in order to restore lost limbs. I doubt Stan Lee knew, but the idea wasn’t all that farfetched. Reptiles and mammals share a common ancestor. Some of our DNA spiraled from reptiles.
In any case, Conners is one among a rare breed of comic book scientists. He was reputable. He didn’t test his formula on anybody but himself. Sadly, the results were less than successful. Conners became the Lizard.
The Lizard is one Spider-Man’s more memorable foes, but he’s not in too many memorable stories. There’s the original, the one introducing Stegron (the much more malevolent Dinosaur Man) and the Spider-Lizard fancy. The Lizard’s not truly evil, and if Conners decides to become the Lizard, there’s usually a good reason: his endangered son, for example. As a consequence, Lizard stories tend to play to a formula with Spider-Man trying to revert the Lizard back to Conners.
Deviation from the formula often leads to risible or unsatisfying adjustments. For example, when the Lizard lost his mind and became completely feral, the very things that made the Lizard so memorable were lost, and you ended up with a Spidey vs. generic monster comic book.
Writer Paul Tobin follows the formula, and in between pooling the ingredients, he demonstrates how delightful a formulaic story can be. Tobin draws Spider-Man back into the Everglades through the simple catalyst of making Chat, Spidey’s girlfriend in the Adventureverse, cousin to Conners’ colleague, Sarah.
Sophia Sandoval, known as Chat, possesses the mutant ability to communicate with animals. She gets ample opportunity to display her powers in this issue of Marvel Adventures Spider-Man. However, that should not be read as usurpation. Chat isn’t a superhero. She’s an operative for the Blonde Phantom Detective Agency. It’s only her relationship with Peter Parker that eases her into the Lizard Hunt. Despite some terrific Chat moments, this is still a Spider-Man book.
When Spidey and Chat track down the Lizard, they discover a group of locals afraid of the beast. These are your basic angry villagers ready and willing to kill the monster, and while they might have become violent in a Marvel proper book, the tone of the Marvel Adventures series operates by different rules. Tobin instead uses them to bring back some of the old Spider-Man mistrust that ran through the original run of The Amazing Spider-Man. He also exploits them as a threat that’s stymied by Chat in a spectacular well-researched splash page by Robert Di Salvo, Terry Pallot and Chris Sotomayor. Chat, surrounded by Florida wildlife, standing side by side with Sarah and Spidey simply stares down the mob.
The art team pull out all the stops when directing the battle between Spidey and the Lizard. The Lizard’s movements allude to snakes, crocs and, of course, lizards. A standout moment for Spider-Man occurs when he actually crouches in the Lizard’s mouth. The scene is a superb visual summary of Spidey’s powers and attributes. The bite-sized Spidey possesses the proportionate strength of a spider. He out-leverages things. That’s how he can withstand the immense pressure of the Lizard’s jaws. His arachnid-agility and adhesiveness allows him to balance in the Lizard’s mouth. Spidey’s sense of responsibility explains why he’s performing such a feat in the first place.
If you’re a Spider-Man fan that skipped this title because of the all-ages banner or its independence from the other Spider-Man books, you have been missing out. Marvel Adventures Spider-Man is the best Spidey book being published, and Tobin’s tale is the best out of the four memorable Lizard stories.