Comics : Spider-Man Super Thriller #4: Lizard's Rage

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Book of the Month Club

This review was first published on: 2003.

Background...

Number four in the series of Byron Preiss Super Thrillers from the late 90's, "Lizard's Rage" is by a new writer to the series, but it certainly doesn't seek out significantly new ground from it's predecessors. That's not to pre-judge the result, but just to clarify that we're in safe territory with this 140 page paperback targetting the teen mass market. I should mention that this particular story proved a lot harder to track down than the other four. Maybe a smaller print run?

Like the previous three books in this series, and indeed like the fifth and final book, Spidey teams up to take on a bad guy with a nefarious plot. In the first two stories, Venom and Kingpin respectively had personal agenda. Here, Lizard (naturally the villain in Lizard's Rage) emulates the preceding novel's villain Doc Ock in pursuing a plan of more earth-shattering dimensions.

In Detail...

Spider-Man Super Thriller #4: Lizard's Rage
Mar 1997 : SM Title
Find ISBN 067100798X
Writer:  Neal Barrett, Jr.
Illustrator:  Louis Small, Ralph Reese
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Lizard's particular goal is to capture scientist Dr. Eileen McKay in order to force her to complete Connor's latest "failed" formula, abandoned by the good Doc when he realised that it a) transformed him into the Lizard, b) greatly enhanced his reptilian strength, and c) could be used to turn other reptiles such as sewer-dwelling alligators into man-reptiles, capable of using rudimentory tools and following instructions in his service.

All fairly standard stuff for the Lizard. The twisty bit comes when rather co-incidentally on that same evening Morbius also comes a-looking for Dr. McKay to help him rid himself of his pseudo-vampiric curse. Of course, Spidey happens to be swinging past, and gets caught up with saving the (naturally lovely, as all female haemo-genetic research scientists are) Eileen. Seems that Eileen is actually Dr. Michael Morbius' pre-transformation junior lab assistant, nowadays an expert in her own right, hence Connors/Lizard knowing of her work.

After the obligatory fight with Morbius (who makes the initial grab for the delicious doc), daylight persuades Morbius to scarper. Dr. McKay does her own exposition, then Lizard turns up for round two. Spidey loses the fight with him, and Lizard gets to drag the classy chemist off to the sewers. Spidey gets KO'd, and while unconscious is returned to his apartment by... somebody. Mary Jane helps patch him up a bit. Heading out later that night to search for the Lizard's trail, the web-head again encounters Morbius, who has done some research, and reckons he can figure what the Lizard will do next.

Spidey and the pale blood-sucking dude agree to join forces to stop the Lizard. Part of the plan being that Morbius's blood has previously been shown to be convertible to a serum to revert Connors (ASM #101 or there-abouts). Coincidentally, it seems that Spidey's blood contains mutagens which can help revert Morbius. Not sure exactly when this was established, but I'm sure somebody out there can help. But that's the deal they make... Morbius helps Spidey/Eileen fix Connors, and then Eileen will supposedly use Spidey's blood to help fix Morbius.

All this stuff in common between the Lizard, Morbius, and Spidey makes for a good little muse on Peter's part about how the three of them basically suffered the same root cause of their fate - scientific accident. Of course, Spidey's transformation didn't leave him with the overpowering anti-social hungers and desires that the others must now face. My theory? The perhaps not-so-irrelevant differentiator is that Peter's transformation was an accident.

I think that you'll find this a common moral thread in Marvel comics, and literature in general. Those who mess with their own genetic code tend to almost universally come out badly off. Those who suffer accidental change are more likely (but far from guaranteed) to receive a better outcome. Just my personal theory. Of course, this makes no sense in practice... surely an accident is far likely to go "bad" than a planned experiment. But that wouldn't give such a good "mortal man should not meddle in the realm of God" message, and so we get what we get.

.

But I digress. Lizard has McKay chained in his make-shift subterranian lab. The "heroes" arrive, kick ass, and take names. But Lizard goes all big and mega-strong, presumably he still had some of the previous batch of the potion remaining. Big fight, the reservoir gets punctured and floods the sewers. Spidey grabs Eileen and heads for the outside. Morbius battles Lizard a bit long, but just makes it out.

Wrap-up. Everybody survives, including the Lizard, whose fate is otherwise unknown. Morbius agrees to submit to the law, in return for a change for Eileen to (willingly) help search for a cure for his condition. Da end.

In General...

The story won't win a Booker, but in general I have to say that the writing is actually pretty good. Barrett coins a nice phrase, and while he flirts with cliche, he doesn't get down and dirty with it.

Furthermore, he goes to some reasonable effort to place the book in continuity. He does some solid re-caps of the three or four seminal Lizard storylines, and also fits Eileen into Morbius' origin very carefully. He mentions that she wasn't on the boat which Morbius set sail on with his associate and his fiance.

But this is wasted by some daft common-sense goofs which stick out rather. There's basic stuff, like the Lizard smashing a steel door which "splinters and explodes". I can't possible conceive of a plate door splintering, or exploding, no matter how hard it is struck. It might breach, split, deform, and maybe some fragments might tear off. But splinter?

There's a few other glaring examples. The Lizard's skin is repeatedly and near-exclusively described as "leathery". But then a .38 slug bounces off it. Now, I defy you to find any "leathery" substance which will deflect a police special. A "scaly" skin might do so. But leathery?

More? OK, it's well known that Morbius has hollow bones, which is how he manages to glide on air currents. But somehow he manages to glide while carrying Spidey. Another one... daylight causes Morbius' clothes to start to smoulder... but Morbius isn't a real vampire, and why would his clothes start to burn anyhow? Still more? the text describes the lizard-men feeding off a cow carcass on a chain, but the illustration shows it on the floor. OK, enough, you get the point. Little stupid stuff throughout the book. It doesn't ruin the story really, but it sure does get a bit annoying.

The big question nagging at me however is "who took unconscious Spider-Man from the lab back to his apartment?" It wasn't Morbius, because he doesn't know who Peter is, and anyhow it was during daytime and he was gone. It sure wasn't Lizard or Dr. McKay. So, that's all the characters in book! Seemingly, some unidentified character who knew where Peter lived, rescued him from the wreckage and took him home, without stopping for coffee with MJ? Bizarre! It must just be a SNAFU which somehow got through the editing. Presumably a chapter was cut for length, and the explanation was just lost. Very strange.

Overall Rating...

The story is perfectly adequate, the writing is just fine. Together they would probably make a better than average mark. But given the continuity and commonsense goofs, and I don't think we can go better than three and a half webs. Better than many efforts in this genre, I guess.