The Amazing Spider-Man: The Gauntlet Vol. 5 — Lizard begins with a couple of short stories by Fred Van Lente, Jefte Palo, Roger Stern and Xurxo Penalta, reminding us of who Curt Connors along with his alter ego The Lizard, is while updating his story a tad. In an odd move that is tough to explain other than to say that the author must have really wanted to write a Man-Thing story, Van Lente links the origins of the Lizard with the Man Thing’s origin and it’s just a throw away idea that does not help or harm either character’s back story. The heart of The Gauntlet Volume 5 is “Shed,” Zeb Wells and Chris Bachalo’s cold blooded tale of the monster Curt Connors fears becoming. So many Lizard stories have been about how Curt Connor’s own family, his wife and son, are the only things that keep him focused enough to overcome the curse of being the Lizard. So what happens when the cold blooded lizard part of Connor’s brain takes over the warm-blooded human part?
Over the years, it seems like the classic Spider-Man villains, those created by Stan Lee, Steve Dikto and John Romita, have suffered at the hands of later creators because no one has really known what to do with them. After the wild popularity and offshoots of Venom, the older villains have been rehashed, remade and eventually transformed into jokes as creators scrambled to figure out how to make villains like the Lizard, a humanlike lizard who wears a lab coat as his costume, threatening. Usually they failed as none of the villains could be as memorable as the original Green Goblin or Kraven or any of the original members of the Sinister Six. With The Gauntlet cycle of stories, these original villains have been brought back and tinkered with just enough to remind us why they were great once upon a time. But with “Shed,” Wells and Bachalo succeed in remaking the Lizard into a more reptilian monster who can do more than just wear a lab coat. The Lizard is no long a scientist trapped in a mutated body. The scientist is gone and all that remains is the beast.
The Gauntlet stories have been the flip side of the first Brand New Day stories, concentrating on Spider-Man’s villains instead of for him. These villains have been re-introduced without the baggage of years and years of stories. If you look up the Lizard’s entry on Marvel.com’s wiki page, it’s just laughable what the character has gone through. Wells’ wisely just brushes past most of that while focusing on the important things like the relationship Curt Connors has with his son. You don’t need to know all of the details about the past but you just need to know that Curt Connor’s son is very scared of Curt and of the Lizard. Wells and Bachalo also cross a line with the character that has never been crossed before.
Chris Bachalo has often been a fantastic artist but an awful storyteller. There are still pages of his from the past 10-15 years that remain incomprehensible as a story but are images that are full of energy and excitement. In The Gauntlet Vol. 5, he does the majority of the art work and his art is more fluid and more clear than it has been in the past but no less playful. Bachalo enjoys using the whole page, playing with how images are places in relationship to or even juxtaposed with each other. Bachalo picks all of these interesting but odd angles to show the action from. He keeps you moving around the characters, never getting really comfortable too long in one shot before swinging you around for another. Bachalo’s artwork is always exciting to look at but when it makes sense as a story, it shows you just what a great and energetic cartoonist Bachalo really is. Emma Rios provides about a quarter of the art in “Shed” and it is a poor mismatch to Bachalo’s. She’s got a nice, clear, light Paul Pope-ish/Nathan Fox style that works really well for Spider-Man but it doesn’t play well with Bachalo’s heavier, darker style.
In “Shed” and in their previous Spider-Man work, Zeb Wells and Chris Bachalo have produced some of the tightest and strongest stories. While they incorporate some of the current continuity into their story, such as Kraven’s daughter or Aunt May’s odd behaviors, their stories have been focused on one, simple conflict. By concentrating on The Lizard and making him a truly horrific and driven villain, Wells and Bachalo have creatively rejuvenated an old threat for Spider-Man.