Written by Diane Duane
The Plot: In the Everglades, Spider-Man and Venom collide as they search for the Lizard. Venom attacks Spider-Man, but their fight is short-lived as armed men target them both. The armed men escape in boats; Spider-Man chases the men traveling north, while Venom pursues the boat heading south. Venom eventually catches up with the boat and stops it from picking up several barrels of the unique ink used in manufacturing the ECU. Meanwhile, Spider-Man follows his targets to Kennedy Space Center. He helps end a firefight between security and the terrorists, then stops a bomb from destroying the space shuttle. He soon returns to the Everglades to search for Curt Connors’ secret lab. Venom also returns, and joins Spider-Man and the Lizard in defeating Fischer. Lizard, while briefly under Curt Connors’ control, gives Spider-Man a message to give back to his family. Venom decides not to pursue the fight and disappears in the confusion.
The Subplots: During the attack at Kennedy, NASA security enables Spider-Man to help. While talking to a lieutenant, Spider-Man discerns that the hydrogel is being used to protect the space station from the atomic energy they plan on releasing in order to propel it into deep space. Meanwhile, MJ spots her annoying photographer Maurice signaling someone on the beach early in the morning. She causes a public spectacle in order to scare the men away, and later discovers that Maurice had been blackmailed into helping a group of smugglers. As Vreni Byrne prepares to leave Florida, she tells Peter that Regners Wilhelm and CCRC are now both under investigation.
I Love the ‘90s: The ECU, which was a new concept at the time of the novel’s publication, predates even the Euro. Also, MJ regrets not paying extra for voicemail on Peter’s cell phone.
Review: Not every thread is fully resolved, but the final chapters of the novel do manage to leave the reader with a fairly satisfying conclusion. I was wondering how the hydrogel subplot could possibly relate to the Lizard’s story, and that resolution is particularly odd. It turns out that the smoke-substance can not only absorb any impact, but it can also be injected into the body and used like a nicotine patch to slowly release a serum. Curt Connors needs it to properly disburse the latest version of his Lizard cure throughout his body. I guess if you’re going to be making up pseudo-scientific inventions for a story, there’s no limit to the applications of whatever it is you’ve just made up. In fairness, Duane does a decent job of making the uses of hydrogel sound plausible, and she even acknowledges the existence of admanatium in the Marvel Universe and provides explanations for why hydrogel is a much better solution for what NASA has planned.
My earlier complaint about the excessive amount of technical information is multiplied in the final chapters, as we receive numerous facts about Kennedy Space Center, how the ECUs were manufactured, the justification for how atomic energy could power deep space travel, and even how a thermal imager works. (That last bit relates to a minor subplot that has Spider-Man befriending a Miami detective who allows him to borrow their gear for searching the Everglades. The detective, Murray Anderson, actually receives a decent amount of attention for a section of the novel but doesn’t end up contributing an awful lot to the overall story.) I actually like the touch of realism that honest research can add to a novel, but at a certain point it feels like the story has to stop every few pages to explain another complex concept. The answers you really want, like who’s controlling the Lizard, are left presumably for the next book in the series.
The novel’s at its best when the focus shifts to the characters. Venom has an interesting character arc, as he begins to recognize that the Lizard isn’t any more of a monster than he is, and could be deserving of his own shot at redemption. The novel plays with the theme of humanity, and why we’re willing or not willing to see it in others. By the end, Venom begins to see the Lizard as Curt Connors, Spider-Man wonders if Venom is capable of ending his grudge, and MJ even grows sympathetic towards the obnoxious Maurice.
The Maurice subplot is actually well-played; initially, it seems like an obvious setup for getting MJ at Kennedy Space Center in time for the climatic fight scene, but it turns out that the shoot is cancelled because Maurice really is a flake. And Maurice’s flakiness is explained by his connection to the smugglers, who are also played as a red herring connection to the main plot. (Not all smuggling in Miami is related, of course.) Duane makes you think she’s going in the most obvious direction possible, especially if you’re familiar with the genre conventions, and then turns the opposite way. It’s actually a relief that MJ isn’t being held hostage or somehow in the same building with the main villain at the novel’s end; instead, she has her own story, it’s kind of cute, and the connection to the main plot only comes through what the audience thinks will happen.
Taken as a whole, The Lizard Sanction is an entertaining Spider-Man novel, but I wouldn’t put it in the same category as its predecessor. The momentum of the novel’s dragged down by too much exposition, and the dynamic between Spider-Man and the villains just isn’t as interesting as The Venom Factor, although I confess that I’m automatically biased towards Hobgoblin anyway. I think if Duane tailored the story to truly focus on the Lizard and the Connors family she would’ve played more to her strengths, but instead the novel feels like it’s stretched too thin. The parts that work do work very well, so it’s still a nice read if you’re looking for a story that really understands the main characters in the Spidey mythos.