A recent post to one of the comics groups I follow on Facebook lamented the presence of Stegron in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #166 (cover date of March 1977—but on the racks in December of ’76). Different strokes for different folks, I know, but really, what’s not to like about Stegron? He’s a DINOSAUR MAN fer cryin’ out loud! Sometimes older fans forget what it’s like to see a comic book through a child’s eyes, which can make an otherwise silly story appear truly wondrous. And for most kids (particularly boys, I think) dinosaurs are just plain cool.
It’s also a Christmas issue. Christmas + dinosaurs = glory.
This was the one of the first (possibly the very first) Christmas-themed comics I had experienced in my life, so bonus points for nostalgia. It also featured classic-Spidey foe the Lizard, whom I was seeing in comic-book form for the first time (after having owned the Mego doll for quite a while prior). AND… in addition to all this, the story is brought to us by the timeless team of Len Wein, Ross Andru, and Mike Esposito.
This second half of a two-parter (with Spidey mixing it up with Stegron solo the previous issue), we open with Spidey on his way to the apartment of the Connors family. Just as the webhead arrives, he’s intercepted by Curt Connors in the form of the Lizard. The conflict between the two is cut short by the New York City traffic, which appears totally unfazed by the sight of Spider-Man fighting with a man-sized reptile in the middle of the street. (Which rang totally true by the way. These 70s Marvels always seemed to capture the flavor of the city perfectly. Those jaded New York drivers weren’t even slowing down, let alone stopping, for anyone or anything.)
This is followed by a touching scene of Spider-Man consoling Mrs. Connors—who’s not only got her husband to worry about, but her son Billy as well, as he’s being held hostage by Stegron. It was always a relief to get scenes like this in Lizard stories, as the Connors family was among the very few who saw Spidey as both a hero and friend. It was good to see the webslinger get some sympathy and respect from someone for a change.
For anyone keeping score, we also get a few interludes to keep things moving in subplot land. First there’s Jameson unveiling his latest Spider-Slayer; then there’s Pete begging out of a holiday party with the gang in Far Rockaway, wherein Harry Osborne and Liz Allen announce their engagement. Marvel writers in the Bronze Age had a knack for keeping things rolling, as these developments would be the basis for larger stories in issues to come.
Getting back to the superhero action, the Lizard finally confronts Stegron just as the latter has begun to transform some old fossils back into living dinosaurs. This leads to my favorite bit of the tale: the Lizard stepping up to protect Billy. Now the Lizard personality is supposed to be separate from Curt Connors (in fact Lizzy hates his human half), but Curt Connor’s paternal interests are clearly affecting the Lizard’s actions. “You took something that belonged to the mammal Connors, dinosaur man,” he declares, referring to Billy, “and the Lizard has come to get it back!!”
This paternal feeling appears to increase greatly when Billy calls the Lizard “Dad” and cries out for his help:
With my background, this aspect of the story hits a real soft spot. A father fighting for his son… a son that refuses to lose faith in his father, even after he’s been transformed into a giant lizard-man.
Ultimately, Spidey shows up and hits the Lizard with the serum necessary to change him back to Connors; then Connors returns the favor by zapping the dinosaurs back into piles of bones. As for Stegron, he winds up at the bottom of a frozen pond in Central Park, lamenting not having waited until spring to launch his nefarious plan.
We wrap it all up with Spidey leaving a Christmas present hanging outside the window of the Connors family before wishing a Merry Christmas to the whole city as he swings over Rockefeller Center.
A beautiful snapshot by Andru & Esposito. And so ends another Bronze Age classic. Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays to all!