Spectacular Spider-Man #12 Review

Reviewer: Iain Burnside
Story Title: The Lizard’s Tale part 2

Written by: Paul Jenkins
Penciled by: Daimon Scott
Inked by: Rob Campanella
Colored by: Frank D’Armata
Lettered by: Cory Petit
Editor: Joe Quesada
Publisher: Marvel Comics

You there!

Are you tired of silly post-modern pretentiousness infiltrating your comic books?

Did you bang your head against a brick wall trying to figure out exactly what the hell Grant Morrison was trying to accomplish with New X-Men?

Do you wonder exactly why J. Michael Straczynski is getting all mystical on Amazing Dr. Strange, er, Amazing Spider-Man?

Is the lack of super-heroics on Daredevil enough to make you want to demand a refund from Brian Michael Bendis?

If you answered yes to any or all of the above questions then this is the title for you!

For you see, while Straczynski and Bendis have been lapping up all the critical acclaim for their takes on Spider-Man, Paul Jenkins has been quietly toiling away to bring us a top-quality monthly dosage of web-slinging antics. This book, along with its predecessor Peter Parker, certainly doesn’t push the boat out in terms of originality or innovation, but it is a welcome return to basics. Perhaps foreshadowing Joss Whedon’s upcoming stint on Astonishing X-Men, this is unashamedly derivative of what has come before, yet it does this in such a charming manner that it is difficult not to be impressed. When was the last time that happened within a non-Ultimate Marvel title? It’s a pity that the book is not further up the sales chart (at last count it was selling a good 10,000 less than Amazing and 20,000 less than Ultimate) but given the big names writing the other Spider-Man books that is somewhat understandable. Poor ol’ Jenkins will take another hit later on this month when Mark Millar’s Marvel Knights Spider-Man debuts, shoving this book still further down the pecking order. So, if you are indeed one of those people craving a return to the “good ol’ days” then please, give this book a chance.

It is overlooked by many as being little more than a money-milking exercise by Marvel. Not so. If anything, Amazing has become the rip-off title as it has fallen into a seemingly endless cycle of boredom ever since the Peter/MJ relationship was patched-up. This book might not have much going for it in terms of major continuity-shaping events, but at least you can read it and be pleased you got value for your money. Others have been put off by the love-it-or-hate-it artwork of Humberto Ramos, who worked on the opening two arcs of the series. Ramos is replaced here by Daimon Scott, who has a similar style albeit one slightly more restrained than Ramos, who did have a tendency to get rather over-excited. Bless his little socks. So, what’s it all about then?

After skirmishes with Venom and Dr. Octopus, Jenkins has turned his attention to The Lizard, presumably to tie in with the appearance of Curt Connors in Spider-Man 2 (88 days to go at time of writing!). Connors’ wife is dead, his son Billy is staying with Curt’s sister and becoming more estranged by the minute, and his career is non-existent having been passed over for a research grant in favour of Dr. Richardson… who died in an explosion apparently caused by The Lizard last issue. It never rains, huh? To make matters even worse, The Lizard’s transformation back into Connors has been caught on tape and handed over to J. Jonah Jameson by a greedy security guard… as was Spider-Man’s presence. Now you don’t have to be a genius to put two and two together and see that Jameson is going to get five and further antagonize Spidey with this little nugget of information. To put it in the eloquent words of one Jason Mewes – “The whole world’s against us dude, I swear to God.” It makes a refreshing change for a writer to actually take the time and show just how badly things are going for Connors. Usually he finds out that there is no more ice cream left in the freezer and then freaks out or something equally implausible. Here, Jenkins really makes the reader empathise with Connors. Everybody has been forced to travel the depths of despair at some point in their lives. Sometimes even though we know what has to be done to get out of it we don’t actually know how to go about getting started. Sometimes we don’t even really want to. And if there was an easier way out of the depression, sometimes people take that as well. It might be drink, it might be drugs… it might be any number of things. For Connors, it’s his alter-ego, The Lizard, and this dilemma is superbly written by Jenkins.

Jenkins has an uncanny ability to truly get inside the heads of his characters. Dispensing strong character-driven tales instead of far-fetched fables drenched in plot devices is his specialty, and he is truly playing to his strengths here. With just a few throwaway lines scattered throughout the issue he hints strongly at Connors growing increasingly dependent on The Lizard to keep him from falling apart completely. To do this whilst making the reader truly feel for his situation is no mean feat. Even with just one page – one page – everything we need to know about his relationship with his son is summed up neatly. Of course, all this hard work would count for nothing if Peter Parker was acting more like Flash Thompson than his normal self. Thankfully, he’s spot on there too. With just the right mixture of irreverence (“I think they’re for my Aunt May’s Mad Cow Disease or something”), compassion (taking Connors to a safe hide-out and buying supplies for him) and sternness (“It’s time for some hard questions, amigo…”), this is the Parker we all know and love. Hell, he could have stepped right out of a Lee & Kirby classic. He’s that spot-on. Not to mention the hilarious look on his face when Mary Jane gets angry at the woman checking out his butt…

That brings us neatly back to Daimon Scott’s artwork, which deserves some serious thumbs-up action here. I don’t know much about the guy’s previous work, but he has certainly piqued my interest here. The scene with Mary Jane, the shot of little Billy Connors sitting sadly on the stairs, Spider-Man’s entrance into the rain-soaked doorway to meet up with his friendly, neighbourhood police contact, Connors alternate states of sorrow and silent rage, the inevitable appearance of The Lizard at the end… these scenes are all so vibrant and passionate that your eyes don’t move across the page, the panels flow across the page for you. Screw MTV, this is the Spider-Man cartoon of the 21st century right here. One panel in particular stuck out for me. I missed it on first reading, but it caught my eye whilst flicking through the book for this review. Page 16, panel 2… How cool is that?

No, I won’t tell you what it is. You have to actually buy the book to find out! Go on, humour me. You won’t be disappointed. Hell, if you are then I will personally send you a cheque for double your money back. It is rather annoying to hear fanboys moan and moan about the lack of “old-school” Marvel books on the market when this one is constantly overlooked, but then they are also moaning at the return to the old-school style X-Men, so I suppose there really is no pleasing some people. Trust me, Spidey-fans; if Stan Lee’s creative side was still alive then this is the type of book he would be writing today. So, whether you are moaning, hesitating or ignoring, try buying instead.