Comics

The Lizard in "Amazing Spider-Man #690": Can a Pop Song Save Your Soul?

Michael D. Stewart

Which of these blessings is killing me?… Rather than rely on the creative reimagining of The Lizard done by the recent movie, Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott crafts his own unique vision of the character.


Amazing Spider-Man #690

Publisher: Marvel
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Dan Slott, Giuseppe Camuncoli
Price: $3.99
Publication Date: 2012-09
Amazon

How do you become invested in the human condition? Perhaps there’s no better way than to experience what has become the pedestrian rituals of our world. Or you could just skim through the facets of popculture.

Can a pop song save your soul? It’s a question we could imagine popculture sage Rob Gordon asking in the pages of High Fidelity, or Don McLean espousing on in the song “American Pie,” but it usually isn’t the type of question posed in the pages of a superhero comicbook.

Popculture provides us with various insights into human experiences, and the excesses of mass culture, whether in the form of pop music, videogames or junk food, give us as much a window to the heights of human experience as anything we’ve created. Is pop culture what makes life worth living? That’s essentially the question writer Dan Slott is asking in Amazing Spider-Man #690.

Call it corporate synergy. Call it good timing. Just as in the movie “The Amazing Spider-Man,” Curt Connors’ The Lizard is back in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man. But this isn’t The Lizard we saw on the big screen this summer. This Lizard has put down stakes in the brain of Curt Connors even though he’s turned back to human physical form. He wants to be a reptile again, but that’s going to take time and experimentation to make it happen.

And in the time it takes to perfect his monster formula, The Lizard is subjected to three different pieces of human experience. While the heights of our culture certainly are not pop music, videogames and junk food, they certainly illustrate the mundane pleasures of a culture obsessed with consumption and momentary joy. Set aside the argument of whether these three points best represent humanity and concentrate on their accessibility. For the purposes of this story, and really if we think it through, Connors experiences some of the most immediate, universally shared and best understood facets of popculture.

As Slott has done from time to time, Spider-Man takes a backseat for an issue so the story can concentrate on The Lizard finding the smallest shard of humanity buried within his twisted mind. That his humanity is somehow awakened by the pleasures and comforts of excess could be a larger metaphor about what we deem essential to life; it only opens the debate further then closes it completely. There’s still a choice to be made, but that’s for another issue.

The remainder of issue 690 ruminates in the conventions of superhero comics. The gimmick of Madame Web predicting doom and gloom is just that, a narrative gimmick to add importance to future installments of the story. It has its place in furthering the possibilities of what’s to come, but it’s also a story shortcut. It doesn’t undermine the story, and while it does potentially enhance it, it is still an overused convention of the medium, adding extra importance where there normally would be none. It would be something special if it wasn’t overused, but the diluting of the gimmick has the effect of watering down the plot advancement.

There is a longer narrative at play, and Amazing Spider-Man 690 is just one installment in the long game as we approach issue 700. This is the broader perspective of why this issue spends the amount of time it does with what seems like side stories.

The art team, consisting of penciler Giuseppe Camuncoli, inkers Klaus Janson and Daniel Green, and colorist Frank D’Armata, does an admirable job with the material, but the result is workable. The artwork doesn’t take away from the story by any means, but it does very little to enhance the storytelling, instead relying heavily on reader imaginations. The pages are nice to look at, but in a story that brings human experiences to the forefront, it’s the dialogue that drives the point home rather than the visuals… and it should be the visual representation that emphasizes the point.

What’s also fascinating about Amazing Spider-Man is that instead of leaning on the movie adaption, Slott works to revitalize and retool The Lizard character. It’s a bold move. That’s a larger point about the last several issues. Here in issue #690, the main point is Kurt Connors rediscovering his humanity through the experiences most of us see as rudimentary. Can a pop song or junk food or videogames save your soul? Given our culture and the stakes in Amazing Spider-Man, let’s hope so.

6
Music

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Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

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(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

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(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

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​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

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(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

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(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

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