When I logged into the Junction - for the first time since April - to write this post, I scanned through the last few things I wrote. Unrealized promises of Moebius tributes, Chronicle reviews, all sorts of things I was never going to follow through with. Looks like somebody isn't very motivated! So it's nice when something riles me up enough to actually commit to writing about it. Like the Lizard.
You see, the Lizard - monstrous alter-ego of Dr. Curt Connors - is my favorite Spidey villain, probably because growing up Jurassic Park was my favorite movie. That scene where the two kids are locked in the kitchen, being stalked by those fucking velociraptors... that's the stuff night-lights were made for. And what's the Lizard but a goddamn super-raptor in a lab coat? The appeal is undeniable.
But you wouldn't know that if, like most people, your only exposure to the character was The Amazing Spider-Man. In regards to the movie itself, there's not a whole lot to write about: it's inferior to the Raimi version, but I still enjoyed it. Most folks seem to feel the same way. Poor Doc Connors (does anything ever go right for him?) was hit worst by the film's script, reducing one of the most complex figures in the mythos to a goofy mad scientist. And as for its version of the Lizard himself... well odds are you're already familiar with the discourse. The less said about the design, the bet--FOR GOD'S SAKE IT BELONGS IN THE MUSICA--
Sorry, these things just slip out. Ahem.
Normally I reserve these posts for Spidey villains struggling for greater resonance - guys like Mysterio, Electro, Sandman, Carnage, the Green Goblin. I didn't see any reason to tackle the Doc Ocks and Venoms and Lizards, the baddies who routinely reach their full potential. There's no reason to delve any deeper, I thought; they can't possibly be done wrong unless that's the intention from the start.
Oh, how I was wrong. So, so wrong. Now let's set the record straight for one of Spider-Man's greatest foes.
|Exhibit A: velociraptor in a lab coat|
Then, of course, there's his personal connection to Peter Parker, which is what really cinches it for me. Curt is not just a close friend of Peter's but a mentor to him as well. Not an idol by any stretch - that kind of thing always complicates relationships - but certainly someone Peter respects and looks up to, just as Curt is proud of and often amazed by Peter. In many ways Curt is the perfect father figure for Peter, the one Peter's been yearning for ever since Uncle Ben died; at the very least he's a better option than the creepy guy with the bowl cut and tentacle arms or that weirdo with horizontal cornrows.
So compared to most of the wall-crawler's enemies, the emotional investment is much higher in fights between Spider-Man and the Lizard: the stakes are always acutely personal. For Peter to see all that warmth and intelligence, the Curt Connors he jokes with, he admires, to witness that all erode away into animalistic madness must hit home in a painful way. It's Alzheimer's - the loss of mental capacity and everything else that makes you you - as the Dragon, complete with scales and fangs and snout and tail. Curt's body goes the way of his mind in these horrible transformations, warping and contorting into this evil hissing serpent, this primal thing... this motherfucking raptor in a lab coat trying to chomp your head off. I can't imagine what it would be like to experience that happening to someone I cared about; Peter has to every time he fights the Lizard (just as Harry does, to an extent, every time his pop goes bonkers). I've been told there was a scene cut from The Amazing Spider-Man where Peter confronts the Lizard, desperately pleading to the rampaging monster as tears stream down his face: "STOP, DR. CONNORS! THIS ISN'T YOU! THIS ISN'T YOU!" As essential as that moment is in any Lizard story, I'm glad they scrapped it. The movie doesn't do enough justice to their relationship for that to have rung true.
There's such a fantastic thing going on between our web-slinger and the Lizard, a conflict that gets at a big part of what Spider-Man is all about. Barring all that icky Oedipal stuff, one of the foundational questions in Spidey's mythology is: "How do you confront those you're supposed to look up to? How do you resolve the influences - and absences - of your elders? How do you reconcile the circumstances of your upbringing so you can finally be you? And how do you do all that without hurting the people you love?" It's Growing Up, 101: Now with Great Responsibility!
|Exhibit B: velociraptor in a lab coat|
Which makes the misfortune that befalls him - damning him and his loved ones to a life of ruin - all the more tragic. You can't fault the poor bastard for wanting his arm back, that's not exactly selfish of him. I can see Connors waking up screaming night after night, drenched in sweat, having relived every traumatic experience from the war. The shrapnel-disfigured bodies writhing all around him. The moans of the men and women he couldn't save. The blast that ripped his arm away by the grisly tendons. "If I can get it back, maybe the nightmares will stop," he thinks.
Yeah, if you think Peter lives an unlucky life - and believe me, he does, he really does - look no further than Curt Connors. What's happened to him, it's just... it's just not fair, y'know? It's not fucking fair!
This stuff shouldn't happen to someone as good as Curt Connors. I mean Christ, how come Peter gets a six pack and pecs from being bitten by radioactive spider while Curt's accident, no more absurd or out-there, turns him into a velociraptor in a lab coat? Or worse, a goddamn goomba?
And that's the whole point, isn't it? The unfairness of an indifferent world, and how people respond to it, is a cornerstone of Spider-Man's mythology. It doesn't matter if you can't make rent or if your aunt is in the hospital (again) or if your girlfriend snapped her fucking neck falling off a bridge, life will just keep heaping on the shit. Spider-Man is ultimately inspiring because somehow he deals with it all, he chooses to persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. But of all the characters in the mythos, it's Connors who draws the shortest stick. The Lizard is an uncaring world's cruel ace in the hole - how can Curt possibly endure when half the time he's not even in control? He can't choose to persevere like Spidey does because he doesn't have choice anymore. He forfeited that privilege.
|Exhibit C: velociraptor in a lab coat|
It's one thing to build a career on the controversial end of the biology - stem cell research, molecular cloning, all that stuff. But for a person to experiment on himself, to defy the laws of nature in such a reckless, arrogantly disrespectful way, that requires a mentality that forgoes scientific ethics. All it takes is one single, fleeting moment where rational thought gives way to overwhelming emotion... clearly we were never meant to have the power Connors sought. The tragedy is that, unlike most of the power-mongers littering web-head's rogues gallery, Connors was and still is a man of great responsibility. He just slipped, just once.
That's all it takes.
Okay! So we've got Curt Connors down, now what about that velociraptor in a lab coat? The... well, lizard part of the Lizard. First thing that comes to my mind is the enormous aesthetic appeal of his (its?) design: he's a goddamn super-raptor in a lab coat, that's cool as shit no matter how you play it. Unless you're on the design team of The Amazing Spider-Man.
So what's this thing all about? Historically, the Lizard's goal has been to overthrow human civilization and replace it with a society of reptiles, with himself as their leader. Or something. I understand where the idea is coming from, and it's a good one - the natural world striking back against its scientifically-minded, technologically-dependent exploiters - but let's be real here, lizard planet is fucking hokey. The movie's take, along the same lines, wasn't particularly compelling either. But there's something much more satisfying at work here, just underneath the surface. There's oil in them hills!
|Exhibit D: something no one will ever dress up as ever|
That's the Lizard I want to see, the one beyond all that dumb world of reptilessss stuff. To me, he's always been a glaring symbol of destructive, uncontrolled irrationality - the very image of a raptor in a lab coat defies reason in a way few other character visuals match. The Lizard is a primal totem of pure id; like the Vulture, he represents the degeneration of reason as mind and body give way to the grotesque whims of nature. Except now he can do that to you, too! If you think the Lizard is a handful in a brawl, imagine confronting him inside your head: his tongue lashing against your brain, beckoning you to give in to your basest instincts, hissing ancient chants as the last shreds of human intellect fade away. The Lizard isn't mindless - in fact he's extremely cunning - but he might as well be. You can't negotiate with rabies... especially if you're just another animal.
In my mind, he's one of the only comic book villains to give the Joker a run for his money as avatar of chaos. Mankind has always associated chaos with nature (how many stories have weird things happening in forests?) and serpents in particular; it's no different with the Lizard. The fact that he's routinely pitted against a technological wunderkind makes that dynamic all the more delicious. There's so much archetypal power behind the Lizard and his visual design - like those raptors menacing Lex and Tim in Jurassic Park, it speaks to something primordial. Something chthonic.
The stuff night-lights were made for.
Did I mention he's a fucking velociraptor in a lab coat?