Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #166

 Posted: 2002
 Staff: Al Sjoerdsma (E-Mail)

Story 'War of the Reptile-Men!'

The snow has started to fall as Spider-Man slings his webs and travels to the apartment of Curt Connors. As he nears the window, his spider-sense starts to tingle. He knows there is something wrong in Curt's place but he doesn't expect the Lizard to leap out the window and collide with him. The two super-beings freefall toward the street. Spidey knows that the Lizard is actually Dr. Connors and so he does what he can to rescue the both of them. He grabs the Lizard by the tail and shoots out some webbing at the wall. But, for the second time in minutes, he encounters the unexpected: a yellow awning set up over the front door of the apartment building. Before he can steady himself with his webbing, Spidey crashes through the yellow fabric. The Lizard crashes through right next to him and wastes no time in taking advantage of the situation. He leaps on top of the web-slinger and wraps his hands around Spidey's throat. The wall-crawler slings the Lizard away but Liz recovers quickly, picks up a nearby manhole cover and throws it like a discus at his opponent. Spidey ducks, allowing the cover to smash into the building's front door. He braces for the next attack..., which never comes. After all, the Lizard is more interested in conquering Stegron at the moment. So, the scaly villain disappears down the manhole.

Spidey knows he will never find the Lizard if he gets into the sewer system. He braces to shoot his webbing at the fleeing reptile but, already, nothing can be seen but Lizzie's tail. Then he decides to follow down the manhole himself but the traffic light changes and Spidey is confronted with a wall of speeding automobiles. (Where was all this traffic when the Dinosaur Man was terrorizing the museum last issue?) By the time the cars clear, Spidey must face up to the fact that the Lizard has escaped. So, he runs up the wall to the Connors apartment to "find out what in blazes is going on around here".

Spidey enters through a window and finds Martha Connors picking up Christmas gifts that were knocked about by the appearance of the Lizard. The wall-crawler helps with the packages, as Martha breaks down and cries. "We were all going to trim the tree tonight", she tells Spider-Man, but now Billy has been kidnapped and Curt is the Lizard. Even the tree has been knocked over onto its side. Spidey sets the tree back up, asks Martha to "calm down a bit" then asks for an explanation. Martha obliges and gives Spidey a quick rundown of last issue's events which God knows we don't need because, by God, we're completists! Martha is terrified of what will happen to her son "caught right in the middle" between two monsters. Spider-Man gives her a comforting hug and promises to bring both Billy and Curt home "safe and sound".

Over at Empire State University, J. Jonah Jameson is heading into the building that houses Marla Madison's lab. Marla drives up right behind him and yells to him but Jonah is so preoccupied that he doesn't hear her. They meet in the hallway outside her lab. Marla greets Jonah by yanking the lit cigar out of his mouth and stubbing it out in an ashtray. Jonah protests that she has ruined a "five-dollar Havana" but Marla doesn't care. Jonah rescues the crushed stogie, puts it back in his cigar case, and tells Marla he didn't hire her "to start playing nursemaid". But any impending argument is cut short when Marla whisks away a sheet to reveal what is hidden underneath: a brand-new, formidable-looking Spider-Slayer. Jonah couldn't be happier. "Marla, my dear", he says, "I take back everything I was thinking about you!"

In Far Rockaway, Glory Grant meets Randy Robertson (both carrying gifts) on their way to a party at the "pad" of Flash Thompson and Harry Osborn. Flash opens the door to admit them. Harry is inside with Liz Allen. Mary Jane is also there, running to answer the ringing telephone. The call is from Peter. MJ tells him he was supposed to be over an hour ago. Pete, who is actually calling from a pay phone in his Spidey suit with the mask raised up so it doesn't muffle his voice, begs off. "Wish the gang a Merry Christmas for me", he tells her, and MJ, still obeying the new rules, breezily tells the others that "the ghost of Christmas past isn't coming". But she's all ears to hear Harry Osborn's "earth-shattering news".

Before we get to that news, may I delve into another of these odd time shifts that seem to occur when stories get continued over more than one issue? Recall that Pete was at the planetarium with MJ when Stegron struck. Curt Connors appeared to become the Lizard that very same evening. Spidey seems to head right for Connors place after fighting Stegron to find the freshly-created Lizard just leaving. Same night, right? Just after that, he calls MJ at Flash's place in Far Rockaway where a Christmas party is going on. Say what?

Anyway, back to Harry's news... first he tells Flash that he is going to have to look for a new roommate. Why? Because Harry has asked Liz to marry him. "And would you believe I've accepted?" Liz says. Glory Grant says, "Well, far out."

Now, in a (very large) "abandoned storage vault beneath Central Park", Stegron shoots his dinosaur skeletons with his "retro-generation ray", even as he argues with a tied-up Billy Connors. The ray gun turns the skeletons back into flesh and blood creatures but the effect is only temporary. Stegron is impatiently awaiting the arrival of the special formula that Curt Connors is fixing up. That formula "will enable [Steggy] to clone a veritable dinosssaur army!!" (No, no, Steggy! Don't say "clone"!) Billy doesn't think that his dad will "betray the whole human race" but Stegron believes a man is capable of anything if it will save the life of his son.

Now, I know what you're thinking. How did Stegron whip up this "retro-generation ray"? How can it possibly create flesh out of thin air and wrap it around the bones of dead dinosaurs? If Steggy is capable of creating such a ray and has concocted a special formula to clone dinosaurs, why doesn't he just produce the formula himself and not drag Curt and his family into it? Need any more questions? How about this: how does the Lizard know where Steggy is hiding out?

You heard me. The Lizard suddenly barges in, reminds Stegron that he took something belonging to "the mammal Connors" (namely, Billy) and demands it back. Then he leaps into battle, knocking Steggy down with his two feet. From the floor, Stegron kicks back and tells the Lizard that they will make a good team "once I teach you who isss massster here". The Lizard believes he is the master of reptiles and he trips Stegron up with his tail to prove it. Steggy leaps onto the Lizard's back, even as his four re-fleshed dinosaurs open their eyes and start to move forward. The battle of the reptile-men goes on, with Liz socking Steggy in the snoot, but he is distracted by a cry from Billy. The revived dinosaurs are heading right for the boy and are sure to crush him if something isn't done. The Lizard tells himself that he doesn't care about Billy ("He is only a mammal.") but he wraps his tail around the boy and pulls him out of harm's way anyway. But this rescue allows Stegron to strike the Lizard. The transformed scientist and son get knocked right between the tyrannosaurus rex's legs. The Lizard recovers quickly. As Steggy is bragging about his "long-tailed brothersss", Lizzie twists around and grabs the Dino Man by the throat.

Spidey is swinging along above the roadway through Central Park when Stegron's dinosaurs make their appearance. They immediately start smashing cars and sending people running. (So, where was this "Central Park storage vault" and how did these huge dinos get out into the park anyway?) Spidey's plan is to blind them by covering their eyes with webbing. The sightless monsters start tripping all over each other. While they are occupied, the web-slinger helps people out of their tipped-over cars. Just then, the police arrive and Spidey decides that they will be able to handle the dinosaurs (With what, Spidey? With their handguns?), allowing him to go after Stegron and the Lizard.

Only minutes later, Spidey shows up in the storage vault. (How did he find it? He just followed the dinosaur footprints back to their source.) Stegron and the Lizard are still pounding on each other. As soon as they see the wall-crawler, the two reptile-men forget their feud and unite against their common enemy. Spidey socks the Lizard in the jaw with his right hand while he kicks Steggy aside with his right leg. (A move that looks just fine in Ross Andru's illustration but which has to be awkward as hell, when you think about it.) Then, before the Lizard can retaliate, Spidey (who came prepared) squirts a stream of liquid from his web-shooter right into Lizzie's mouth. The Lizard clutches his throat and cries out that he has been poisoned. Then he collapses. But, in fact, the web-shooter contained the formula that turns the Lizard back to normal. Already, the Lizard is re-assuming the facial features of Curt Connors. (A far-too-rapid defeat of the Lizard in my humble opinion.)

But Spidey has gotten so caught up in this success that he has forgotten that there is another opponent to deal with. Next thing he knows, he has the spiked tail of Stegron wrapped around his throat. Poor dim Steggy could probably strangle Spidey to death right then and there but instead he flings him against the wall, picks up Billy Connors, and makes a run for it. Spidey is knocked so dizzy (and no wonder! Look at the size of the hole he created when he hit the wall!) that he can't get up. The now-restored-to-normal Curt Connors helps him to his feet. After he shakes the cobwebs out (no pun intended), Spider-Man asks Curt to "stay here out of harm's way" while he goes in pursuit of Steggy and Billy. Curt looks down at Stegron's discarded retro-generator ray and decides to stay put as instructed "but I won't just twiddle my thumbs".

Spidey makes his way back out into the snowy New York night. He has no problem finding Stegron, since he is riding the back of his tyrannosaurus in the midst of a herd of dinosaurs with Billy Connors still grasped in his left arm. The cops are lined up around their squad cars with guns drawn but they don't dare shoot as long as "that kid is in the line of fire". Now with Spidey arriving, they sit back and wait.

Stegron threatens to kill Billy if Spidey comes any closer but, seconds later, the wall-crawler has swung in on his webbing, snatched Billy away, and kicked Steggy off his mount. Unfortunately, this move drives the dinosaurs berserk. The t-rex swings its tail and knocks a police car on its side. The two cops behind it are knocked unconscious. Spidey leaps down to help. He knows he must get the two officers to safety before the dinosaurs crush them. But he has three people to rescue and only two hands. He sets Billy down on the ground and tells him to run "while I try to hold off the Godzilla gang!" But Billy refuses to run out on Spider-Man. Ominously, all the dinosaurs approach, cutting off any escape lanes. Spidey knows "we're all going to get squashed".

But as the dinosaurs get closer to their prey, their flesh "begins to wither and fade". Within minutes, they are simply skeletons once again. Now lifeless, the dinos all collapse, scattering their bones so thoroughly "it will take the Natural History Museum's Archaeological staff a good six months to piece [them] together". Why did the flesh fade? Because Curt Connors has managed to "reverse the effects of Stegron's retro-generator". He stands in the snow with the machine around his neck, having just trained it on the dinosaurs and saved everyone's bacon. Spidey asks Curt to "hold down the fort" while he goes in pursuit of Stegron.

The snow is getting worse. It has whipped up into quite a storm. Spidey tries to track Stegron but the snow is covering up the dinosaur man's footprints. Steggy is only a few yards ahead, shivering under a bridge, standing on an iced-over pond. The cold has so thoroughly sapped his strength that he can barely move. But with Spidey just behind, the d-man must do something. As the web-slinger runs under the bridge, Steggy climbs halfway up the snow-covered hill on the other side. He flings a rock, making a noise to attract Spidey's attention, planning to attack the webhead when he goes to check out the source of the sound. (What? No spider-sense?) Spidey falls for it but Stegron can't follow through. He is completely exhausted. His cold-blooded system can no longer take the low temps. Unable to move, Steggy slides down the hill and crashes through the ice of the pond. "If only I had ssstayed hidden till the Ssspring", he thinks, "I could have been massster of the world". The sound of the breaking ice attracts Spidey's attention but he doesn't even bother to investigate. (What? No spider-sense?) Instead, he uncharacteristically gives up, proclaiming Stegron "long gone". And Steggy is long gone but not in the way Spidey thinks. We see his hand protruding through the ice as he slips away into the pond. And then the ice closes up, leaving nothing behind but the cold.

Later, on Christmas Day, Spider-Man webslings through a snow-covered Manhattan. He stops outside the window of the Connors' apartment and spies on the cozy family scene inside. Martha, Curt, and Billy are happily opening presents under their Christmas tree (Billy has just opened a pair of ice skates) and Spidey doesn't want to spoil the moment. So, he webs a Christmas gift outside the window. The tag says, "Season's Greetings from your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man" and I sure hope the Connors find it before that webbing evaporates! Feeling in the spirit of things, Spidey swings by the big tree at Rockefeller Center and yells out, "Merry Christmas, New York, you great big shiny apple, you! And God bless us... every one."

Stegron still isn't dead, of course. He shows up again in The Lethal Foes of Spider-Man Mini-Series (September-December 1993) when a homeless man in Central Park is struck by the "nuclear blaster" accidentally shot off by the Vulture. This blast turns Vincent Stegron back into the Dinosaur Man with no explanation as to how he survived or as to how he returned to human form when all indications were that his transformation to dinosaur-form was permanent. Steggy's most recent appearance was in Sensational Spider-Man #14-15 (March-April 1997) where he was actually upstaged by the Che-K'n Kau.

Harry Osborn and Liz Allen still haven't set the date by the time they, Flash, and Sha Shan show up at Pete's apartment in ASM #199 (December 1979) (or by the time Harry and Flash take Pete to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture in ASM #203, April 1980) but by their next appearance in Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #63 (February 1982), they are married and living in the suburbs of Jersey. Their son, little Normie, is born by Caesarian section in ASM #263 (April 1985). Then it's downhill for the poor doomed couple as Harry eventually becomes the Green Goblin again and dies in Spectacular Spider-Man #200 (May 1993).

Marla and Jonah pit their Spider-Slayer against the web-slinger in ASM #167-168 (April-May 1977). They bust up a battle between the webhead and the Will-O'-The-Wisp and end up getting their robot smashed under the Prometheus statue at Rockefeller Plaza for their troubles. They are married in ASM Annual #18 (1984) and have lately been the guardians of Mattie Franklin, the latest in a series of Spider-Women. (But don't worry about that last part. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Mattie is never mentioned again.)

 Posted: 2002
 Staff: Al Sjoerdsma (E-Mail)