Friday, November 28, 2014

SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED #19 - February 1998

Where Monsters Dwell
Credits:  Mark Bernardo (writer), Joe Bennett (penciler), Joe Pimentel (inks), John Kalisz (colors), Jack Morelli (letters)

The Plot:  Peter and MJ join Ben Urich in Miami as he covers a crime wave.  They spend time with Curt Connors and his family.  Spider-Man discovers Billy Connors is now robbing stores, but Curt refuses to discuss his family issues.  As Ben Urich investigates a new player in the Miami drug trade, Curt grows increasingly unstable.  When Spider-Man deduces that the Lizard is responsible for Miami’s new street drug, he’s knocked unconscious by Curt and taken to the Miami Reservoir, where the Lizard plans to poison the city’s water supply.  MJ and Martha Connors follow, and after Martha appeals to Curt’s humanity, the Lizard becomes Curt Connors again.

The Subplots:  Martha Connors is worried about Curt’s increasingly cynical view of humanity.  Unbeknownst to her, Curt has been using Billy as a test subject for his drug, which unleashes man’s “reptilian brain.”  The drug eventually causes Billy to collapse and he’s taken to the hospital.

Web of Continuity:  
  • The Lizard has been subconsciously influencing Curt Connors’ actions since his last appearance in Spectacular Spider-Man #239.  He claims he’s responsible for Curt revealing his dual identity to the world, which was done to take suspicion away from his latest scheme.
  • The Slug gives Ben info on the new street drug, which he views as unhealthy competition.

*See _________ For Details:  Curt Connors says he last saw Peter when he was “at death’s door” in Spectacular Spider-Man #237.

I Love the ‘90s:  Spider-Man tells a group of kids robbing a video game store that getting to “the last screen” on Final Fantasy IV isn’t worth a jail sentence.  Later, we have references to Andy Sipowicz, Ted Kennedy’s alcohol problem, and Peter getting paged at the hospital after Billy collapses.

Review:  A fairly ambitious story by Unlimited standards, Mark Bernardo takes the Lizard’s quaint “reptiles rule the Earth” motivation and actually does something smart with it.  The Lizard can work as the freaky monster single-mindedly determined to kill Spider-Man, but every time he starts talking about his latest scheme to destroy all humans so that reptiles can take their proper place on top of the food chain, I’ve always checked out.  Bernardo plays with the concept a bit and makes the Lizard a subconscious influence on Curt Connors this time, which enables him to develop a far more elaborate scheme.  Connors has created a variation of his original serum that exploits the human brain’s R-complex, allowing an individual to be free to give in to his darkest desires.  With enough doses, the humans will grow more reptilian, thus giving Lizard the revenge against humanity he’s always desired.  By the standards of Lizard plots, this is quite clever.  The issue does seem to be running two separate stories that never fully come together, Connors is simultaneously dosing the societal elites that attend his lectures in order to exploit their connections while also selling the serum as a street drug, but it’s not a conspicuous problem.  Bernardo spends much more time with the drug trade story, which is probably the best choice.  Had this been a multi-part storyline in one of the monthly titles, I’m sure more could’ve been done with Lizard’s army of upper-level civil servants.

The best Lizard stories are the ones that make the Connors family sympathetic, and this issue handles that material rather well.  Connors’ contemptuous view of humanity is an obvious clue that he’s being subconsciously influenced by the Lizard, but there’s more to the story than that.  Connors’ Vietnam background is explored for the first time in ages, with Vietnam simply becoming “the war” for obvious reasons.  As Martha eventually realizes, Curt is a surgeon who went to war and came back without an arm.  Robbed of his opportunity to help others, Curt buried his anger for years, until the Lizard wakened Curt’s own issues with humanity.  Revealing that Curt on some level understands the Lizard’s hatred of humanity is a risky move, but the story manages to avoid any cheap cynicism and offer Curt some redemption in the end.

I wish I could say that Joe Bennett delivers his best art this issue, but unfortunately he’s back to the inconsistent work seen in his earlier Unlimited issues.  This is still more attractive than his Amazing fill-in work, but too many pages look rushed, and it’s hard to forgive his inconsistent Spider-Man.  From one panel to the next, Spider-Man’s eyes regularly change shape and the web pattern on his costume can never stay consistent.  Bennett also gives Spider-Man this boxy, squashed anatomy in certain panels that doesn’t suit the character at all.  Some of the pages look great, but the inconsistency is very frustrating.  Had Bennett turned in an issue as strong as Unlimited #17, this would’ve been one of the better comics from the post-clone era.

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