In just a matter of days the world will finally get to see the cinematic version of one of Spider-Man’s most dangerous foes, the Lizard. What some might not know is that the Lizard, much like Two-Face to Batman, is also one of the web-slinger’s closest friends and allies. Who is the Lizard? How did he come to be? And what might we expect on the big screen in The Amazing Spider-Man?
The Origin of the Lizard
The Lizard, also known as Dr. Curt Connors, first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #6 waaay back in 1963, in a tale called “Face to Face with… The Lizard!” Gotta love them Marvel Age exclamation marks. Yeah, he showed up early in Spidey’s career, in his first year of web-swinging, created by the legendary team of writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko. He was probably the fourth or fifth (it’s subjective, do the Tinkerer and/or Doctor Doom really count?) of Spider-Man’s major classic foes to be introduced. This is the real thing, baby.
Curt Connors has a pretty simple backstory, even with retconned details that were added later. He’s a geneticist who lost his arm in the war. Considering the original tale takes place almost fifty years ago, what war we’re talking about is entirely up to your continuity-soaked or not brain. After all, how many different wars has Iron Man’s origin been set in so far? So anyway, Connors loses his arm, returns home, and settles in Florida with his wife Martha and young son Billy.
In the Everglades he starts studying reptiles and is quickly quite the expert. From his work he becomes obsessed with reptile DNA, specifically their ability to regenerate lost limbs. Connors begins work on a serum from reptile DNA that will regrow limbs in mammals. In typical mad scientist (not that he was one, he was just desperate) fashion, he tests the serum on himself – the arm grows back, but the serum also transforms him into a humanoid reptilian monster, The Lizard.
After being challenged to stop the Lizard Man running rampant in Florida, Spider-Man, in his Peter Parker identity, cons his boss at the Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson, to send him to Florida to investigate and take pictures. In special Marvel angsty style, Jameson tags along to make sure Parker doesn’t screw up. It’s an odd change of pace for the usually city-bound comic, and a memorable one.
Seeking help from noted reptile scientist Curt Connors, Spider-Man makes the acquaintance of Martha and Billy Connors. In a flashback similar to the Silver Age origins of Flash’s Rogues Gallery, we learn the beginnings of the Lizard in beautiful Ditko-esque wonderment. Spidey quickly learns that Curt Connors is the Lizard.
After a few clashes with the Lizard, Spidey decides he needs to find another way to fight him. Using Connors’ notes he concocts an antidote to the doctor’s serum. This is something I have always liked about Spider-Man, and that many writers over the years have forgotten – he is a science hero. As logical and cool as Sam Raimi’s theories on organic web shooters seem from the first film trilogy – I like Parker better as a thinking wannabe scientist who can do this stuff with his head.
When next the Lizard and Spidey tangle, in a nearby abandoned Spanish fort in the Everglades (giving artist Ditko more of a chance to branch out in this particular feature) the antidote is served. The Lizard reverts back to Connors, sans arm unfortunately, but much to the relief of his family. Happy endings all around, except for Parker who still has to deal with the ravings of Jameson.
The Animated Lizard
My first impression and introduction to the Lizard (get your age jokes out of the way now) was in the 1967 “Spider-Man” cartoon. The villain shows up in three different episodes as well in the opening of the show itself, just a few seconds of the Lizard getting webbed. In re-watching these episodes I was amazed at quite a few things.
The introductory episode, “Where Crawls the Lizard,” is damned close to the story set up in Amazing Spider-Man #6. The only differences were the absence of the Steve Ditko visuals and Curt Connors’ motivation for making the serum. Loss of an arm must have been a bit much for the censors back then, so he is said to working on a cure for swamp fever instead. The voice of little Billy is notably that of Billie Mae Richards, who you might also recognize as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer from the Rankin-Bass holiday specials, among dozens of other characters.
The Lizard has gone on to appear in most animated television versions of Marvel’s web-slinger, excluding “Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends,” but has shown up in most of the videogames based on the flagship character. Notably the Curt Connors character has also appeared in all three theatrical movies yet never as the Lizard, until this newest feature.
Both in the comics and in the animation, these first meetings between Parker and Connors, as well as Spider-Man and Connors, lead to friendship. Peter Parker worked for a time as Connors’ lab assistant when he moved back up to New York to be a professor at Empire University. Connors became, and remains, a close associate of Parker’s and a constant resource when his own scientific prowess just isn’t enough. When that whole clone nonsense and the genetic mutation thingies were going on, Doc Connors was Pete’s go-to guy. A scientist friend is always a good friend to a superhero, even if sometimes he becomes a monster who wants to kill you from time to time.
And yeah, then there’s that. The Lizard, the reptilian bestial side of Connors, became over the years its own personality. Much like the Hulk (another member of the purple and green Silver Age Marvel villain wardrobe club), Connors would become the Lizard when stressed, and return when calmed down. The Lizard was becoming more dangerous as the years went on however, more brutish, larger, meaner.
One might blame this on the comics getting darker. I kinda think maybe someone took at peek at the Distinguished Competition, and saw Batman’s Lizard wannabe foe, Killer Croc. Marvel adjusted accordingly. Nobody likes being outreptiled, especially when you’ve got the original reptile. Of course however as comics got darker, things moved on. I am all for change, but not just for change’s sake, and especially not for the worse. We lost Mrs. Connors, and Billy grew up and away from his father, making the Lizard a much less rich character in my opinion. Still he does remain one of Spider-Man’s most popular foes.
In just a few days we will see the Lizard on the big screen as played by Rhys Ifans in The Amazing Spider-Man. This version will have some insight to both Spider-Man’s origins, as well as what really happened to Peter’s parents (stay tuned, I’ll soon have an upcoming article about that mystery). He looks fearsome and very dangerous. We shall see how resilient the reptilian rogue is in theaters, can’t wait.