Amongst all the excitement for Columbia Pictures’ Amazing Spider-Man reboot, there lurks a nagging question: Why the Lizard? There were, after all, proven commodities like the Green Goblin and Dr. Octopus, to say nothing of Venom or the Sandman. (No, I’m begging you: Say nothing about Venom or the Sandman.) If you or your curious tween wants to know more about the web-head’s latest cinematic foe, you should pick up two recent Spider-Man collections: Spectacular Spider-Man: Here There Be Monsters (2004) and Amazing Spider-Man: The Gauntlet #5 — Lizard (2010).

The Lizard is a venerable character — Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created Dr. Curt Conners in 1963 — but these two stories treat the Connors/Lizard dynamic with a psychological depth only hinted at in previous comics. Dr. Connors — who lost a limb while has was a U.S. Army field surgeon — researches combining human and lizard DNA in the hopes of making himself whole. But his transformation into the rampaging Lizard costs him his family. In this way he is a bit like a funhouse mirror version of Peter Parker himself, another animal/man hybrid who seeks acceptance after experiencing loss. Here There Be Monsters suggests that Dr. Connors, unlike Peter Parker, is slowly losing touch with his humanity, that he now needs to cut loose as the Lizard and is increasingly uninterested in the benefits of his research. This turns the tragedy of the character on its head, making him less sympathetic. The Gauntlet story, originally titled “Shed” merges the formally fractured Dr. Connors and the savage Lizard personas into one, and features one of the most genuinely horrifying scenes depicted in a recent comic. I’ve always ranked the Lizard third among Spidey’s villains, but these stories are as good as any featuring Dr. Octopus (the Green Goblin remains in a class by himself).

Curt Connors was a bit character played by Dylan Baker in Spider-Man 2 and 3, suggesting that the studio had plans for the Lizard all along. In Spider-Man 2 he castigates Peter for missing class, and in Spider-Man 3 Peter brings Dr. Connors a piece of the evil Venom symbiote to analyze. After reading these comics you’ll understand why the screenwriters chose to go with this character for the reboot instead of one more familiar to the movie-going public. Hopefully, and the casting of Rhys Ifans as Connors does a lot to give me hope, the Lizard’s depiction in the movie will be as nuanced as in these books.

Jonathan W. Gray is an assistant professor of English and Gender Studies at John Jay College/CUNY. Follow him @elmcitytree

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The Amazing Spider-Man
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