Prologue, Chapters 1-2
Written by Diane Duane
The Plot: At Cape Canaveral, the Lizard attacks a barge and steals a mysterious substance labeled “fourteen-eighteen.” In New York, Peter Parker is lonely, now that MJ is spending two weeks in Miami. To his surprise, he receives a photo assignment from Kate Cushing that sends him to Florida. Kate pairs Peter with reporter Vreni Byrne to investigate NASA’s heightened security, which could be tied to the Lizard. After connecting with MJ and Aunt Anna, Peter visits the Connors family as Spider-Man, leaving William with a spider-communicator. At a press conference inside Kennedy Space Center, Vreni Byrne questions if NASA is sending an atomic reactor into space as a power source for the space station. Later, after testing out his telescopic lens, Spider-Man overhears a Lizard sighting on a police scanner. Following an inconclusive battle, the Lizard escapes, leaving behind a small container. Spider-Man opens it and discovers a tiny “piece of smoke.”
The Subplots: MJ is in Miami to visit Aunt Anna, and to pursue modeling opportunities now that her acting career has stalled.
Web of Continuity:
This story is set a few weeks after Duane’s first Spider-Man novel, The Venom Factor. That places it shortly before the Clone Saga.
I believe Vreni Byrne is a new creation for the novels. She’s described as a tough, yet beautiful, blonde.
The Lizard is described as a mindless beast, and not semi-intelligent, drawing upon his more recent appearances in Web of Spider-Man.
Billy Connors is referred to as “William” in this story, which happened a few times in the early ‘90s when Marvel seemed willing to age the character a bit.
Peter is able to drive a car without problems, even though at this point in continuity he shouldn’t have a driver’s license.
I Love the ‘90s: Peter has to make sure he gets a longer answering machine tape before leaving town.
Review: I enjoyed Diane Duane’s first Spider-Man novel, and thought it held up very well upon rereading, so I’ve decided to review the second installment in her Spider-Man/Venom trilogy before moving on to any more of the Marvel prose novels. Unfortunately, while The Venom Factor had a strong opening, dropping you into Peter’s somewhat mundane but still entertaining daily life, The Lizard Sanction just doesn’t draw the reader in as quickly. The character work is still there, as Duane does an admirable fleshing out everyone from Kate Cushing to random Bugle employees to NASA security guards, but there’s nothing in the book so far that compares to the fun banter between Peter and MJ in the first novel. I also wonder if Duane’s attention to detail is slowing the book down a bit in the beginning, as we receive copious information on the interior of Kennedy Space Center, how space stations are powered, the exact details of mounting a Questar telescope on to a camera, and even how the Daily Bugle’s travel arrangements are handled internally. The book opens with a fairly generic guards vs. Lizard scene in the Prologue, then goes without any action until the end of the second chapter. The novel’s eighty pages deep before Spider-Man has his first confrontation with the Lizard.
Peter and his supporting cast remain likeable, appealing characters, thankfully. Duane has a fantastic handle on MJ, refusing to write her as a nag or jealous spouse. She actually likes Vreni Byrne, a character you might assume has been introduced as a rival love interest, and is consistently portrayed as someone who supports her husband, even if she needs the occasional break from his insane life. I don’t think any of the comic stories at this point even had MJ considering going to Florida to visit Aunt Anna, which is odd in retrospect. It’s a perfectly logical way to shift the setting of a story out of New York, and not much of a stretch for introducing a new Lizard story since his family lives in Florida.
The Lizard at this point in continuity needs some rehabilitation after “Torment” (the comics couldn’t decide if they wanted to keep him as a mute monster or not.) The prose format could offer more insight into his thought process than a traditional comic could, so he’s not an unreasonable choice of a villain. Duane understands the importance of the Connors family in a good Lizard story, so I’m glad she’s bringing them into the novel early. Admittedly, Martha and Billy, um, William aren’t given a lot of personality yet, but Peter’s inner monologue effectively gets across what the family’s life has been like since Curt became the Lizard. Peter’s sympathetic towards them, of course, which works as a reminder of how empathetic he is when properly written, so at the very least the reader knows that the Connors are important to him. My main issue at this point, aside from the pacing, is the casual way Peter’s traveling to Florida and appearing as Spider-Man with no cover whatsoever. Peter just outright tells William that he’s going to be seeing him in Florida, and Spider-Man just might be coming as well. If we’re to believe that William is any older than eight at this point, it’s hard to imagine the kid’s not suspicious. It’s amusing that some writers go out of their way to have Peter provide some excuse for why Spider-Man’s suddenly appearing in the town Peter Parker’s traveling to, and others just plow ahead.