Curt Connors tries to find his inner hero.
“Hunted” is one of those cases where if you aren’t reading the tie-ins, you aren’t getting the full experience. Whether that material should have just been integrated into the main storyline is open for debate, but the point remains – these issues provide in-depth, character-driven stories that we aren’t getting from the core Amazing Spider-Man comic. And Amazing Spider-Man #19.HU might just be the best yet.
Where issue #18.HU focused on the sad plight of perennial D-Lister The Gibbon, this follow shifts to one of the oldest and most iconic Spider-Man villains of them all – The Lizard. Though actually labeling Dr. Curt Connors a villain these days would be a misnomer. He’s just a guy trying to enjoy the second chance at a happy family life in the aftermath of The Clone Conspiracy. And that’s where “Hunted” comes in. With his son Billy trapped inside Kraven’s murder dome, Curt will do whatever it takes to rescue him. Even if it means letting the animal inside run loose once again.
This issue gets off to a relatively slow start as writer Nick Spencer uses Curt’s narration to rehash the character’s origin story and recent struggles. While a bit annoying, this material is necessary for those who haven’t been keeping up with the last few years of Amazing Spider-Man. And it all pays off later in the story. Spencer and artist Chris Bachalo craft an ideal tie-in comic here, one that does genuinely enhance the larger tale while telling a story that doesn’t really fit within the confines of the main book.
Spencer does a particularly great job of tapping into Curt’s lingering guilt. Last time he completely lost control of his animal side, he wound up murdering his own family. The narration offers deeper insight into the mind of a man mourning that loss even as he revels in the second chance fate has granted him. And all the while, he’s haunted by the question of whether this Billy truly is his son or merely a soulless copy. This story also makes the most of Curt’s unusual predicament. As the Lizard, he has great strength, but his own inhibitor chip prevents him from harming another living person. That forces him to act with cunning, using his human intelligence to manipulate his way through obstacles he once would have simply torn to shreds.
This issue also winds up serving as a huge boon for Taskmaster fans. This mercenary villain has been a recurring presence in the main series from the beginning, quietly rounding up animal villains for Kraven’s grand hunt. Here we finally see a different side to the character as he drowns himself in alcohol and tries to forget about betraying his fend and partner, Black Ant, for the sake of bigger payday. He serves as both a humorous foil to Lizard and a character in need of his own redemption.
As with his previous issues on this volume of Amazing Spider-Man, the worst complaint that can be leveled against artist Chris Bachalo is that his style is a drastic departure from the norm. But with this being more a standalone side-story, that stylistic difference isn’t as big a deal. Moreover, Bachalo has done as much as anyone in recent years to define the look of the Lizard. He captures Curt Connors at his most imposing and inhuman. He’s a truly massive presence that dwarfs everyone around him. But as intimidating as the character can look in some scenes, there remains a warmth and humanity to Curt Connors regardless of what form he takes. Bachalo’s heavy lines and washed-out colors serve to give the story a foreboding and unsettling quality. It’s great marriage of artist and material.