The Pitiful Human-Lizard is a contradiction of a comic. The book, written, drawn, and lettered by Jason Loo and edited by Allison O’Toole, stars a minor superhero living in Toronto. It’s a comic about judgments, about the difference between praise, dismissal, and condemnation.
The title itself is a judgment of the main character, Lucas Barrett. It serves as a subversion of the superlative-ridden titles of early Marvel comics. Instead of being Amazing, Incredible, or even Mighty, the Human-Lizard is Pitiful.
This title also serves as a reference to Amazing Spider-Man, which this series is clearly inspired by. Lucas even has wall-climbing as his main ability, as highlighted on the cover, although his is a glue invented by his dad instead of a superhuman ability. While I wouldn’t go quite so far to say that the Human-Lizard is a pastiche of Spider-Man, he is clearly heavily inspired by the Marvel character.
As for the cover itself, it features Lucas making his way to the top of Honest Ed’s, a major former landmark of Toronto located at Bloor and Bathurst. Famous as a discount store, Honest Ed’s projects its image onto our Human-Lizard; he’s a discount superhero, one not published by the Big Two, but one that started out on Kickstarter back in 2014.
Jumping into the comic itself, the very first panel subverts our expectations. After all, the cover and title have both worked to establish the Human-Lizard as a sub-par hero, but within the first couple pages, we see him on TV, saving a child from a burning building.
Furthermore, the first issue follows him gaining a true superpower on top of his wall-climbing boots, hanging out with his hero friends, and defeating his foes. It even ends with school-age children being inspired by his heroics, showing off their art projects adorned with his face. What is there about this hero that makes him deserve the title pitiful?
Well, for one thing, Lucas is a terrible offensive fighter. At his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes, he constantly takes a beating. Whenever he’s in a fight, his style is extremely defensive, mostly relying on blocks and dodging. Instead of winning with a KO punch, Lucas is a lot more likely to trip his opponent into a nearby taxi. Even in the final fight of the issue, he ends up using his foe’s momentum in order to hurl him off of a building before finishing him off with a small poke.
In contrast Mother Wonder, the greatest hero of Toronto and one of Lucas’ main foils, is a great offensive fighter. When they team up to help fight a monster, she repeatedly barrages it with punches before tearing off its horn. Lucas, on the other hand, gets his arm torn off.
Which brings me to his superpower; regeneration, a blessing for someone as defensively oriented as Lucas. After signing up to test an experimental pill, he ends up with regenerative abilities at least strong enough to reattach the aforementioned torn-off arm.
Even though it’s also the power of the two best-known Canadian superheroes, Wolverine and Deadpool, regeneration is not exactly a captivating ability. Wolverine’s better known for his claws, and Deadpool for his fourth-wall breaking. Both of them are also much better fighters than Lucas, who’s one of the worst fighters in his Jiu-Jitsu dojo. In terms of physical combat, all Lucas has really going for him is that he can take more hits than most, and hopefully find some way to turn the tables.
Lucas also doesn’t have the best luck socially. He can’t get a date, and his best friend is a dorky hero who goes by Majestic Rat. Majestic Rat’s superpower is controlling rats, as you might expect by his codename. His rats hang around wherever he’s currently located, making Lucas’ apartment look rat-infested when someone comes to check on him after he gains his powers.
Honestly, Majestic Rat (aka Kenneth) isn’t all that bad. He’s a pretty good friend, and even offers to pay Settlers of Catan with Lucas at one point. This reads more like a punchline, though; playing Settlers of Catan isn’t exactly how you’d expect two heroes to spend their Wednesday evening, and the fact that Kenneth seems to care more about that than being a hero makes him seem like less of one, superpowers and costumes notwithstanding.
Then there are Lucas’ parents. They may mean well, but they’re slightly overbearing and embarrassing. This is compounded by the fact that Lucas is technically a legacy hero. His dad was the first Human-Lizard, and invented the glue that Lucas uses to climb up walls.
The main difference between the two is that Lucas’ dad Hugh wasn’t much of a hero, only using the costume and glue in order to become famous and earn a bit of money. Lucas has to step out of his dad’s shadow in order to become a hero, using the name in order to help people out around Toronto. This is one of the main things holding Lucas back from being seen as a true hero in the eyes of the public.
Lucas also struggles with money. He has a basic office job, but between his Jiu-Jitsu classes, costume repairs, and rent prices in Toronto, his finances are almost always in pretty rough shape. The reason he was part of the experiment in which he gained his powers was for money; there was a classified ad in the newspaper that he signed up for in return for five hundred dollars.
His financial status is further conveyed through his apartment. It’s a one-bedroom apartment with a fairly small kitchen. It’s made very clear that being a superhero costs Lucas money as well as time. He’s a minor hero, especially compared to Mother Wonder, so it isn’t like he gets that much praise from his heroics either.
The only way he really benefits is from his own self-fulfillment.
Lucas may be pitiful, but he’s constantly driven forwards by his own desire to help others and to give back to his city. And really, who’s to stop him?
There was no life-altering event for Lucas. His parents didn’t die, he hasn’t gone through any major trauma, and while he does gain a superpower it’s well-established that he was a hero even before that. What I love most about this character, and this series, is that at the end of the day Lucas is just a normal dude who wanted to help out those around him.
I think this is why the character resonates with me so much. Lucas Barrett could be anyone; not necessarily the best at anything, but not the worst either. He’s not trying to impress anyone or to make a statement. He just does what he does because it makes him happy.
Even Spider-Man had Uncle Ben’s death, not to mention the infamous Parker Luck. Looking at Lucas’ life, there aren’t really any of the commonplace superhero origin elements. He’s just… normal. Maybe that’s pitiful. But I think it’s inspiring.
In 2019, the last issue of The Pitiful Human-Lizard was released, five years after its Kickstarter first launched. In that time, Honest Ed’s had been torn down, a relic of a Toronto rapidly growing, gentrifying, and losing its character.
The cover of the final issue features Lucas walking by Honest Ed’s former location, head down. Despite it all, no matter what anyone else thinks of him or how things change, no matter his reputation, he continues to be true to himself. That’s the character in a nutshell.