The Lizard In Animation - A Retrospective

Part One - Part Two - Part Three - Part Four - Part Five - Part Six

With the Spider-Man movie receiving far more critical and commercial success than anyone dared dream in 2002, Sony cancelled their plans of a 3D Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon and decided that their new Spider-Man would follow on from the movie to capitalise on it’s success. In a rather bold move, they also decided that this wasn’t going to be aimed at the kiddies – this was going to be aimed at an older audience – it wasn’t kids and comic book nerds who helped the original Spider-Man movie make $800 million, it was general Joe’s. Selling the show to an older audience meant most of the animation networks wouldn’t be interested – Kids WB! is a kiddie grabbing demographic and is notorious for ignoring older audiences, CN was and still is in a shocking state and… there’s not really a lot of networks that want cartoons.

So it went to MTV and essentially doomed itself.

MTV came with many mandates, most of which go against Peter Parker. Peter is a nerd – the MTV audience apparently don’t like nerds. He also has an Aunt to look after (and visa versa). MTV don’t like old people – no Aunt May in this show folks! By the time they got around to airing the show, it was clear they didn’t want anything to do with it. Sticking two episodes in the Friday night slot on MTV is pretty much a guaranteed cancellation, but the show actually pulled some of the network’s strongest ratings. Someone noticed, and they began airing one episode on Friday nights to spread the show out a little longer. It still wasn’t enough to save the show, unfortunately.

So how was the show itself? Pretty good, in my opinion. Despite the obvious restrictions and mandates, Spider-Man: The New Animated Series was a very entertaining show. One does wonder how many improvements they could’ve made with a second season – this opening season was much better than that of Justice League, The Batman and Teen Titans, the other superhero cartoons which were running at the time. A lot of people whined that it wasn’t a straight up superhero show – imagine! Those silly creative people for trying to do something different. The series focuses on Peter’s difficulty with duality and the problems it caused his relationship with Mary Jane and his friendship with Harry, who blamed Spider-Man for the death of his Father. Unfortunately with Spider-Man 2 on the horizon, they weren’t allowed to conclude anything; the majority of the characters were simply spinning their wheels instead of moving forward. There are some good character bits in the show and the three leads are actually really likeable but they didn’t seem to be able to go in their natural direction, there’s a significant lack of growth from each episode. Adding to the confusion was MTV’s silly airdate order which broke the structure of the season’s arc – I admit this wasn’t a huge one, but compared to watching the show on DVD in correct order than from the original TV airdates greatly improved my enjoyment of the series. The show gets ragged on a lot – I realise it’s not for everyone but some people were ignorant to what the show was supposed to be – they pretty much wanted a Batman: The Animated Series that could actually have people killed, show blood and have brutal fight scenes – this was an adults show, well, technically, a teenagers – not a straight up superhero cartoon. Think the first few seasons of Smallville, but animated, and the creative team not pooping their pants at the mere thought of a someone wearing a costume. In that respect, I thought the show did very well. Being that I was the same age as Peter at the time the show aired and was at college, working and struggling with women (ahh, sweet Mel, if only I had an actual reason for speaking to you, other than to tell you I think you’re really pretty!)

The Lizard appeared early in the show’s run and is scribed by Marvel animation stalwart Greg Johnson in what would sadly be his only contribution to the show. Executive producer Audu Paden does a fantastic job directing what may just be some of the very best fight scenes I’ve ever seen animated.

The episode has the benefit of feeling like it actually takes place in the movie’s continuity – this really does feel like something between Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, had Connors not appeared in Spider-Man 2. Law Of The Jungle sees Harry going through Norman’s estate while Peter returns to work with Dr Connors as his research assistant. Connors himself isn’t the mild mannered scientist as usually depicted – he is much more of an arse to Peter as he is bitter over the loss of his arm which was caused by Oscorp and the Judge threw his case out due to lack of evidence.

Finding promising results in his research into cellular regeneration, he injects himself with the serum and became later becomes a ferocious beast. Unlike previous versions of the character, this one appeared more reptile than man – he couldn’t speak and there was nothing human about his design – he looked more like something out of Jurassic Park than a comic book, which worked extremely well in my opinion. Exacting revenge on a robber who tried to mug him earlier, The Lizard eventually battles Spider-Man at the cop shop and the show delivers a really creepy fight scene between Spidey and The Lizard. I mentioned this in my review at MAA – it’s difficult to do scary scenes in animation but this one had a real Alien vibe about it – The Lizard’s model is kept mostly shadowed as director Audu Paden displays the golden horror rule that Hollywood forgot with all their special FX - the thing that frightens people the most is the unseen monster lurking in the shadows – that way the viewer themselves is left to imagine their worst horror, not just something some dude drew on his computer.

The episode gets more interesting as Conners’ focuses’ his attention to Osborn and tries to exact his revenge for the loss of his arm to Harry – Conners’ willing injects himself here to turn himself into The Lizard again, which is a complete 180 from the classic depiction. It actually works really well in my opinion – again, with the exception of the utterly outstanding finale, this episode is by far the best in the show’s short run time. There’s a really good triangle of friendships turned horrible here – Harry hates Spider-Man, The Lizard hates Harry, Peter likes Harry, Peter likes Curt but they are all fighting each other.

It inevitably reaches it’s conclusion as The Lizard falls from a webline to his doom on the streets below. This show had an odd habit of killing its villains (even stranger, as the returning villain episodes were usually a lot stronger than the introduction ones).

The Lizard would possibly return in the finale as a figment of MJ’s imagination of something that truly frightened her – whether or not it was truly The Lizard or just a decoloured model of a generic monster to save production costs is up to the viewer, and how much they wanted to see an actual fanboy nod in the show.

It was The Lizard really, all right?

The Lizard’s had a pretty good batting record so far in animation. I am thankful to say the next time would be just as spectacular.