It’s been a few months since I’ve found time to get back to this “From the Beginning” series. In the time between, John Romita Sr. has died at the age of 93. He was the last of the big three who shepherded Spider-Man to greatness. Stan and Steve are the co-creators but Johnny earned a co-creator asterix. It was Johnny who illustrated the Green Goblin reveal in his first issue as artist (ASM #39, August 1966). And, in subsequent issues, he and Stan broadened out the series, giving Peter a motorcycle, some friends, and two beautiful women to date. Johnny’s women were always beautiful and the kids I knew in the neighborhood at the time were in love with one or the other…or both. His reveal of Mary Jane in ASM #42, November 1966 is one of the great final panels of any Spider-Man comic. His cover for ASM #50, July 1967 is iconic as is his depiction of the Kingpin in those pages. His renditions of Joe Robertson and Captain George Stacy exuded fatherliness and trustworthiness. Ditko got the ball rolling but the issues that truly made Spider-Man were illustrated by Romita. Like Stan and Steve, Johnny had a long life but that doesn’t mean we still can’t miss him. I’ll miss him every time I pick up a 1960s to 1970s issue to review. But I’ll also miss him every time I pick up a current issue of the web-slinger (as I have for decades) and seen that Johnny’s work is not there.
Well, we’ve gone through eight issues of the Petrified Tablet saga, Silvermane is dead (sort of), Man Mountain Marko has been knocked flat, and the tablet, not seen since page 3, panel 2 of ASM #74, July 1969 is not seen again for over 30 years. But there’s still one aftershock stemming from all this so that you can argue that the saga continues for two extra issues. Dr. Curt Conners is so stressed by his encounter with the Maggia that he has again become the Lizard. Last issue’s final panel was a close-up of the Lizard’s angry eyes with the caption, “Only the beast remains!” How can we have waited so long to find out what happens next?
|Cover Art:||John Romita, Sr.|
This issue’s interior is composed by John Buscema and Jim Mooney but we do have a John Romita cover. It’s a fairly standard one with the Lizard attacking Spider-Man but it does have a nice perspective. The first thing we see if we look at the title font is the Lizard’s curved tail. If we follow it to its end, it steers us off the page so maybe we’d better follow it to its source. And there we find the Lizard, upside-down, clinging to the side of a building, wall-crawler-style. If we follow the Lizard down the length of his body, we come to a punch from a swing of his arm that started back where his tail is, as seen by the arc of sweeping lines. If we’d wanted to, we could have followed that sweep from Liz’s tail to the point of impact, presented as a burst of light. Below it, is the victim of the punch; Spidey-Man who has been knocked completely off the building, his hands and feet awkwardly hanging in the air. The tilt of the camera allows us to see the street below. It looks a long way down. Did I say at the start that this cover is “fairly standard?” Never mind. It only seems standard. It’s actually quite ingenious. The cover is mostly spared blurbs over the artwork except for the three words that are also our title; “The Lizard Lives!”
The splash page shows the Lizard bursting through a wall and heading right towards us. Bricks fly outward and his hand stretches out giving the page an almost 3D effect. The Lizard talks to himself as he bursts through, mainly about how he must destroy Spider-Man. I’m not sure where that brick wall was because the Lizard now finds himself on a Manhattan rooftop. He has a dim recollection of his wife Martha and their son Billy (shown smiling in a cloud above Liz’s eyes) but “they grow dimmer with every passing second. And now they have vanished completely.” Instead, Spidey’s head occupies a cloud as the Lizard remembers their last fight back in ASM #45, February 1967 where, as Liz recalls it, “He lured me into a refrigerator car…where the icy cold temperature made me weak…and sapped by superior strength…the strength which had almost beaten him.”
Meanwhile, Spidey has taken a cab with Martha and Billy to, apparently, a hotel, although we never see anything but the room. The cabbie complains, “A lousy twenty cents? I coulda got that from anybody!” Spidey, carrying two suitcases, tells the cabbie, “Sorry, Sport! It’ll have to do till us super-heroes get unionized! Anyway, you’ll have a groove tellin’ everyone how cheap Spidey is.” So, was the twenty cents all Spidey could afford for the fare or was it the tip? And where did he have that money, anyway? Doesn’t Martha have any money? Well, maybe she doesn’t since she and Billy were kidnapped, but then who is going to pay for the hotel room…assuming this is actually a hotel?
Do you remember how all of this transpired? Let’s recap. In ASM #73, June 1969, Peter calls Dr. Connors in Florida. Mrs. Connors answers the phone and tells him that Curt “left unexpectedly with a couple of men.” In ASM #74, Man Mountain Marko tells Curt (and us), “We also ‘invited’ yer wife and kid up here to keep ya company!” The first time we see Martha and Billy, they are tied up and in a car with Caesar Cicero after Spidey has confronted Big C in his office. Martha and Billy were abducted by the Maggia in Florida, held in a secret room in Cicero’s office and then moved to Maggia headquarters, where Spidey finds them. So…where did the suitcases come from?
The panels skip from the cab driver to Spidey, Martha, and Billy in a hotel room (assuming it is a hotel room) so we don’t get to see them checking into a hotel with Spidey serving as their bellhop. (But he must have done that, right?) The room is one of those 1960s places that has a window you can open that has no screen, so Spidey departs that way. He clings to the outside wall as Martha leans out to warn him that the Lizard will “no longer know you’re his friend.” But Spidey does know and, as he swings away, he promises Martha “no matter what happens, no harm will come to him.” Alone with his thoughts, Spidey tells himself, “I oughtta change my name to Stan Laurel! This is another fine mess I got myself into!” (Sometimes it’s Another Nice Mess.) But, hey, all that can wait. It’s time to head home, put on a tie and call Aunt May! (He left a note for himself to call her back in ASM #74 but it was almost dawn then and he was too tired to call. He couldn’t have gotten much sleep because the following caption was “The Next Morning” as he briefly went to Empire State University where he bummed everyone out before going back to searching for the Maggia. So, what time is it now?) At least he remembers that Gwen has been mad at him since ASM #72, May 1969 when he got jealous of Flash Thompson. But, first…Aunt May! She went to Florida with Anna Watson in ASM #72 and it looks like she’s been spending all of her time down there worrying about Peter. “Be sure to get enough sleep, dear,” she says, “and take your vitamin pills.” Just as Peter is hanging up, Harry arrives. He parks a red convertible right in front of his apartment building (at least, I assume that’s his car; we don’t actually see him get out of it). Peter sees him from their apartment window, which looks like it’s only about 10 feet above the street and makes sure to hang up with May, get his coat and head for the door as Harry shows up. Pete notes that Harry still has his Fu Manchu mustache. “You know it, son,” says Harry, “It may not turn you on but it drives Mary Jane maaad!” (Another Mary Jane mention but we haven’t seen her since Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #2, November 1968.) Peter bails on Harry who says, “You’re gonna give me a complex.” As he walks past a newsstand that is selling Silver Surfer #7, August 1969 (and maybe a blurry copy of Thor), Peter thinks, “Harry’s right. I’ve been a crummy friend to him!” But he’s on his way to see Gwen.
Before he gets there, we’ve got a Bullpen Bulletins page to look at. (“Batty Bulletins to Bewilder, Bewitch, and Bedazzle You!”) In one “Item,” Stan promotes “our two new romance mags…My Love and Our Love Story” which contain art by “Ring-A-Ding Romita and Big John Buscema” who will “blow your cerebellums when you see the way they handle these tintinnabulatin’ tear-jerkers.” That may be true but, as for Stan’s comment “Know something? With our nutty luck, they’ll probably become runaway best-sellers and we’ll be stuck doing ‘em forever!” um, well, no.
In another “Item,” Stan writes, “Here’s a belated ‘Thank-u’ to Blushin’ Bill Ryan, an old fan of ours who’s now a song-writer/vocalist with the wildly sensational Snow. Their newest album cover is probably the artiest of the month.” Never heard of Snow? I hadn’t either. According to the Rockasteria blog, “Snow was formed from the demise of Muthers Oats. MO members Jim Sikela and Dan Mahoney hooked up with Will Ryan and started writing and performing original songs. The group got an audition with CBS who suggested they add a female singer. The group became Snow and recorded the LP for Epic. For some reason, live performances of this group were infrequent. Around 1970, members of the group, minus the female singer, started performing around town using their surnames. Sometimes all four of them (Sikela, Morris, Ryan, and Mahoney), sometimes three, and sometimes solo. Sounding a bit like CSNY. Probably not accidental. The sound was folk/rock. In the mid 70s Will Ryan formed a duo with Phil Baron called Willio and Phillio.” And, as for that album cover, is it the “artiest of the month?” Judge for yourself.
Let’s move on to Pete’s visit with Gwen. She thinks she has figured out why he disappears so often. He’s found another girl! Peter assures her that “There’ll never be anyone else for me…but you!” Until Mary Jane and the Black Cat and Debra Whitman and some others because Gwen…well, you know. Peter then promises that he will tell her his secret except that “There’s something I must do, honey…Something important! If it works out…things will be different…and…and maybe then…!” I don’t know what he’s referring to here unless he’s just trying to stall her but Gwen tells him, “I’ll be waiting, Peter…even if it takes a lifetime.” And that’s just what it does.
In our next panel, a man whose face is in shadow hands a picture of Spider-Man to another man of whom we only see a hand. I don’t know what’s up with the mystery since the caption reads, “Meanwhile, in the very next room,” and the shadowed head has a pipe in its mouth that pretty clearly identifies him as Captain Stacy. The panel sure fooled the colorist through because the hand that’s taking the picture is colored Caucasian. We find out in the next panel that the hand belongs to Joe Robertson. He and Stacy agree that Spider-Man is “no more a menace to society than we are.” That being the case, they wonder why he keeps his identity a secret. (I don’t see what’s so puzzling about it. He has enemies, after all. Just look what the Green Goblin ends up doing to Gwen because he knows Spidey’s identity.) Joe and George go into the other room and, when they see that Peter is visiting, they ask him if he’s noticed something about Spider-Man, “some peculiarity in his walk perhaps…in his speech…or in some mannerism” that would help to identify him. Gwen complains that “Peter came to see me!” and they back off. But Peter grabs his collar with his index finger and looks haunted. It’s probably these kinds of reactions that helped Captain Stacy eventually figure it out.
So, it looks like everything is copacetic with Gwen again. Stan jumps us ahead to the next morning as Peter leaps out of bed, having heard a radio report that a “Scaly-skinned madman throws city’s East Side into early morning panic.” On the East Side, the Lizard has tossed a car aside with the driver still in it. “He ain’t even human,” the driver says, “He’s like…a two-legged Lizard.” Spidey shows up soon after. There are five cars and a bus spread out over the road. Spidey swings down and asks two men, “How long ago did the Lizard pass by?” One replies, “First, the Lizard and now Spider-Man” and the other says, “It looks like the weirdos are takin’ over.” Which brings up the question, “Is the Lizard known to the world at large?” The guy in the car doesn’t know him but the other guys seem to. If we look back at ASM #6, November 1963, there were reports of the Lizard in Florida but nothing was ever confirmed. In ASM #44, January 1967, Spidey fights the Lizard in New York but they end up too high for the crowd to see clearly. One guy comments “There’s someone else up there…scaling the wall after Spider-Man.” Another says, “That means…he’s not the only one who has a power like that.” (Page 16 panel 7). So, it appears that the Lizard is not known to the public but Spidey takes photos of him anyway to sell to the Bugle and Jameson publishes an edition in ASM #45 with the headline “Lizard Menaces New York” (Page 6 panel 5). So, the answer to “Is the Lizard known to the world at large or not?” seems to be “Yes.” No wonder the two bystanders seem to know him but the driver’s never heard of him.
We’re about halfway through but the whole rest of the issue is one big fight scene. As Spidey webswings along, complaining as he goes (“If I ran for mayor, even Mao Tse-Tung would beat me.”), something slashes his webbing. It’s the Lizard standing on a rooftop, using “one simple slash,” presumably from his claws. He holds a fragment of webbing in his hand and says, “Now fall, Spider-Man, fall to your death at the hands of the Lizard!” Spidey thinks, “It’s hard to believe he’s actually Dr. Connors” and I agree because he seems unusually stupid. He just sliced off Spidey’s webbing. Doesn’t he realize Spidey has more webbing he can shoot? That’s just what Spidey does, shooting some webbing to stop his fall and then adhering to the side of the building. The Lizard comes down to meet him, clinging upside down. This is our cover image except that Liz uses his fist on the cover and his tail in the issue. He also connects on the cover but misses here.
Spidey swings up to the roof and awaits the Lizard who crawls up after him. Once he gets there, the Lizard leaps, allowing Spidey to grab him and throw him against a wall. “Haven’t you realized yet that my skin is like armor?” brags the Lizard. And Spidey thinks, “I gave it all I had and he’s not even bruised.” But that’s just the point. He hasn’t given it all he has because he promised Martha and Billy that he would go easy on Liz.
The Lizard gets on his feet and leaps at Spidey who ducks underneath. “Words aren’t enough to satisfy the hatred for you that never gives me peace,” he says. “If it’s peace you want, just say so!” Spidey replies, “I’m the only web-spinning dove in captivity!” (Everybody out there knows the usage of “Hawks and Doves,” especially during the Vietnam War era, right?)
Spidey tries to hurl the Lizard over his head but Liz uses his tail to grab him by the neck. He slams Spidey on the floor with a BTAM! Then lifts him up by his neck and swings him around, bidding him farewell, “And so, I win,” he says, “Spider-Man is destroyed at last.” Well, I’m finding it even harder to believe he’s the brilliant Dr. Connors because, instead of strangling him, he flings Spidey off the roof, allowing him to use his webbing again, This time, though, Spidey shoots his webbing at the Lizard’s face and starts to wrap him up with it. But the Lizard uses his claws again to snap the webbing and then uses the webbing to whirl Spidey around, sending him crashing into a rooftop smokestack. “All because I tried not to harm him,” thinks the web-slinger.
The Lizard moves in for the kill but Spidey kicks him in the jaw with a THROKK! Spidey is dazed and the Lizard recovers first. He does…something…in attacking the wall-crawler with a BRAKK! (The panel is filled with a burst of light and the sound effect but I can’t make out what is happening.) Then he grabs the defeated Spidey by the head. But, after declaring, “Still alive, are you? You’re stronger than I thought you were! Not that it will do you any good!” he starts to leave! “But, there’s little satisfaction in finishing off a barely-conscious man,” he says, “I’ll wait until you’re on your feet again!” Huh? What happened to satisfying that hatred that never gives him any peace?
Spidey won’t let him get away. He’s still lying on the floor but he shoots some webbing that pulls the Lizard from the edge of the roof. He gets up, deciding “I was a fool to worry about hurting him before!...Now I have to perform the greatest act of my life!” So, he’s going to wallop him with all his strength, right? No. He allows the Lizard to swat him in the face with his tail because he has “to make him think he’s beaten me.” Wha?? Just pop him one, Spidey!
He doesn’t. Instead, he plays possum as the Lizard holds him over the edge of the roof. It’s getting harder and harder all the time to believe he’s actually Dr. Connors because this is the third time he tries the “fall from the roof” thing. “That’s it, drop me! I’ve got it all planned,” thinks Spidey.
A crowd has formed down below and one guy, his finger pointing upward, certainly knows who the Lizard is. “Look!” he yells, “Up there! It’s the Lizard!” And then, as Stan puts it, “an unpredictable fate takes a hand” as the Human Torch just happens to be flying by. He sees the Lizard drop Spidey and flies down to catch him. This is not at all what Spidey wanted because he had this, you know, plan, “It worked! He dropped me! Now, I’ll spin around again and web onto a nearby window! Then, I’ll swing in, and wait for him to come to me! And by the time he reaches me, I’ll be ready for…” We never find out what he’ll be ready for since the Torch steps in but, all in all, it sounds like a pretty lame plan. He should have just walloped him. The Torch, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to be thinking any clearer than the other two. Spidey is too weak to stand but the Torch brings him back up to the roof where the Lizard is. He plops him down and prepares to take on the Lizard himself. “Unlike me…that flaming kibitzer will use all his power to destroy him,” thinks Spidey, “and I’m still too weak to stop the Torch or save the Lizard!”
Our “Next” blurb reads “Friend or Foe!” which means, I suppose, that Spidey will have to treat his friend like a foe in order to protect his real foe, the Lizard.
The “Two More Triumphs for Marvel” has been reduced to a third of a page but it’s still hanging in there. This issue spotlights The Incredible Hulk #119, September 1969 and Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandoes Annual #5, August 1969. SGT. Fury (& His Howling Commandos) Annual #6, Augusrt 1970, believe it or not, will feature a Spider-Man reference.
On to the Spider’s Web. C. Kochmanski, self-proclaimed head of the National Association for the Advancement of Marvel Comics, from Detroit, Michigan writes, “Ask yourself this question: Is the Spider-Man cartoon show spreading the word of Marvel to future Marvel marchers, inspiring them to go out and pick one up some time? I saw thee nay! Many an occasion, I will be caught in the possession of a Spider-Man comic by a non-Marvelite friend (?) and will be put to the test we all dread, but must eventually face. ‘You read THAT JUNK?’ “Sure, it’s great.’ ‘You crazy or somethin’? I’ve seen that guy on TV. Peter Pottamus is better than that creep.’ Another said, ‘Heck no, I hate Spider-Man. Anyway (get this) it’s physically impossible for anyone to shoot webs out of a hole in his hand.’ Frustrated to the point of releasing all my pent-up emotions in one wild explosion…I gave up completely and didn’t bother to answer. I try my best to convince them that Marvel is great, that Spider-Man is philosophical, inspirational, and just what this country needs…to no avail. To them, the world is one big happy place with a handy Man of Steel (groan) to do all the dirty work: Somehow, someway, we’ll reform them!” Stan replies, “That we will, C.K., given enough time and the rising educational standards in our fair country.” He goes on to explain that he has “little or no control over the popular Spider-Man TV show, which is aimed at a different (and generally younger) age group” and refers C.K. to the letter by Steve DeForrest of Fresno, California for “one erudite explanation of Spidey’s webbing.” Erudite is one way to describe it. I got as far as “The basic liquid polymers are strengthened by additional chain hydrocarbons, this mixture is placed in the container under pressure of compressed nitrogen (a totally inert gas), and the fluid catalyst is added” and that was enough for me.
Mark Fromm of Glen Head, New York wants “a Spider-Man story in which Pete gets drafted and must decide on his course of action…including his going to jail for five years…and his going to Viet-Nam…Think of the complications; fighting with Flash in Southeast Asia…a Dear John letter from Gwen, the complications of Aunt May, and even old JJJ will be in there somewhere.” Stan puts it up to a vote but the real answer is “no way.”
Tommy Kidd of Waco, Texas feels “that you should let Captain Stacy learn of Spidey’s secret identity.” Patience, Tommy, patience!
And Dennis Bassi of Mishawaka, Indiana thinks “that if you can print complimentary letters on such organizations as C.O.R.E. [that’s the Congress of Racial Equality] and S.N.C.C. [and that’s Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee], (issue #35) you can give an all-American organization like the John Brich (sic) Society a fair shake also.” Dennis has been stewing about this for about 40 issues, it appears but, really, the John Birch Society as “an all-American organization?” Stan doesn’t challenge any of this. On the contrary, he tells Dennis “We’re in your corner on this one” and that “the mere fact that we print a letter does not mean that we agree with each and every statement- or possibly even any statement – that the writer makes.” And he finishes with “isn’t that what freedom of speech is all about?” That’s great, Stan but…the John Birch Society? Oh wait. Dennis’ letter talks up the John Brich Society. That must be something completely different.
Our “Next” blurb at the bottom of the page announces, “Spidey and the Torch in Battle Together!” So, are they in battle together on the same side or on opposite sides? I guess we’ll have to pick up the next issue to find out.
Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)
The Spider-Man checklist entry for this issue (exactly as written):
“The Lizard Lives” – Spidey battles to defeat the Lizard yet save his alter ego of Dr. Connors, then the Human Torch interfers.”
Yes, that’s right. He “interfers.”
Well, if you like battle issues, I expect you’ll like this one but it is 11 pages of fighting with no winner (and it continues for another 14 pages next issue). I’m not opposed to a good fight scene but I’d really like to have a little more than that for my, ahem, 15 cents, and I need the combatants to be thinking a little clearer. What’s up with the Lizard trying to throw Spidey off the roof three times? What’s up with Spidey coming up with some cockamamie plan instead of just walloping the Lizard? At least, Stan manages to work in Aunt May, Harry, Gwen, Captain Stacy, and Joe Robertson, none of whom will show up next issue, but their appearances don’t accomplish anything except, perhaps, to show that Peter and Gwen are on good footing again.
After all the excitement of the Petrified Tablet, it all seems a bit humdrum and a bit drawn out. I’m only giving it two webs.
Next: So, there’s an issue where the only Spidey appearance is a reprint of a cover…a cover that you covered in its original form… and not the original story that went with the cover because that was reprinted already and you covered that reprint too, and you’re actually going to review the thing? Yeah. Sorry. It’s Marvel Super-Heroes #22.