ByTom Bacon, writer at
I'm a film-and-TV fan who grew up with a deep love of superhero comics! Follow me on Twitter @TomABacon or on Facebook @tombaconsuperheroes!
Tom Bacon

When the Marvel/Sony deal for Spider-Man was finally complete, Kevin Feige must have been beside himself with excitement. Not only could he now involve a whole new incarnation of the wall-crawler in Captain America: Civil War, he also had access to one of the best rogues' galleries in all of comics.

In the MCU, the first supervillain will fight is none other than the Vulture, an avian menace who looks set to threaten Spider-Man's whole world. But who is the Vulture? How has Marvel adapted the character from his comic book roots? And what character arc can we expect him to follow in ?

The Comic Book Origin Of The Vulture

The Vulture! [Credit: Marvel Comics]
The Vulture! [Credit: Marvel Comics]

Introduced way back in 1963, the Vulture was actually the second supervillain to come face-to-face with Spider-Man. Ironically, the character seems to have been rather controversial over at Marvel; when Steve Ditko was told to design the Vulture, he assumed the villain should be as lean and ugly as the bird after which he's named. Stan Lee disagreed; he wanted a thick, heavyset villain, modeled after the movie bad guy Sydney Greenstreet. As Ditko reflected in one essay:

"An elephant’s bulk can be frightening and destructive, but it is easier to escape from than the lean, fast cheetah."

It was Steve Ditko who won the day. The iconic Vulture is an aged (often ailing) scientist who has uncovered the science behind artificial wings, and used this to launch a life of crime. Stan Lee didn't exactly delve into detailed character work during Vulture's debut, but that meant later writers could flesh the character as they wished.

The Vulture tangles with Spider-Man! [Credit: Marvel Comics]
The Vulture tangles with Spider-Man! [Credit: Marvel Comics]

As the years passed, we learned that the Vulture is actually Adrian Toomes, an electronics engineer who was cheated out of his job by an embezzling boss. Furious, and seeing himself as a victim shunned by a cruel world, he decided to use his genius for his own benefit. He wears a special winged harness that grants him super-strength and also slows his ageing. At times, the Vulture has used more of his mysterious science to steal the youth of others, even briefly robbing Spider-Man's youth!

The Vulture has a real pedigree as a Spider-Man villain, cropping up hundreds of times. He is most famous for being a member of the Sinister Six, a band of bad guys who unite to take down our favorite wall-crawler. Due in part to the dubious quality of their teamwork, the Sinister Six has never really had much luck! Meanwhile, the Vulture's own criminal career has wound up with him spending a lot of time in prison, and he unwisely gave away the location of one of his labs to a cellmate. It all led to a battle between Toomes and the Vulture pretender, with poor Spider-Man trying to keep the winged villains from killing each other!

Spider-Man versus the Sinister Six! [Credit: Marvel Comics]
Spider-Man versus the Sinister Six! [Credit: Marvel Comics]

Some of the Vulture's stories have been powerful, intense and emotional. Take, for instance, his friendship with paraplegic Nathan Lubensky. Nathan encouraged the ailing Adrian Toomes to not let his health hold him back, and it led to Toomes suiting up as the Vulture once again. Heart-wrenchingly, Nathan himself became the Vulture's victim; he was dating May Parker, and when the Vulture tried to use May (a random civilian) as a hostage, Nathan intervened. Toomes flew into the air with Nathan on his back, warning the elderly man to get off, and unwittingly caused him to have a fatal heart attack. It all led to the Vulture tormenting poor Aunt May, desperately seeking forgiveness.

The MCU Version of the Vulture

Played by Michael Keaton, the Vulture of Spider-Man: Homecoming looks set to be a timely and character-rich villain. He's the founder of a cleanup company who thinks he's on to a real winner in the aftermath of the Chitauri invasion of New York — but he soon loses the contract to the government's mysterious Damage Control.

As the years pass, Adrian Toomes becomes increasingly bitter, especially when Tony Stark takes charge of Damage Control. Michael Keaton describes him thusly:

"He is somewhat of a victim. He takes things in that he feels like a victim, and some of it is justified actually. He believes that there’s an upper echelon of society of people who are getting away with a lot and have everything. And there’s a whole lot of folks who are working hard, and don’t have much. Does that sound familiar? To anybody, given the political climate? Which I think is an interesting way to go about this."

Michael Keaton's Vulture. [Credit: Marvel Studios / Sony Pictures]
Michael Keaton's Vulture. [Credit: Marvel Studios / Sony Pictures]

It's a very human story, and we've had hints that it will involve a deep-dive into Toomes's family life. Whenever he's asked about Toomes's children, Keaton changes the subject as quickly as possible! Intriguingly, the trailers include the Vulture threatening to kill everyone Spider-Man loves, suggesting he (or his family) has some kind of connection to Peter Parker.

Whatever Vulture's family life may be in Spider-Man: Homecoming, we know that the Vulture will assemble a crew of street-level supervillains, using the wreckage of advanced technology to become a force to be reckoned with in New York. You can clearly see the Chitauri influence on the Vulture's wings, for example, and the Shocker's gauntlets seem to be adapted from the ones Crossbones wore in Captain America: Civil War.

Dangerous technology. [Credit: Marvel Studios / Sony Pictures]
Dangerous technology. [Credit: Marvel Studios / Sony Pictures]

Director Jon Watts is trying for a whole new approach with Homecoming.

"My whole approach for this movie is that we’ve seen the penthouse level of the universe. We’ve seen what it’s like to be a billionaire inventor and to be a Norse god. We’ve seen the very top of this world. But we’ve never seen what it’s like to be just a regular joe."

We're set to see a fascinating character arc, with the Vulture presented as a "dark Tony Stark": a madhouse-mirror inversion of the young Spider-Man's mentor. The Vulture may see himself as a victim, but we know from the trailers that the violence will escalate — with the Vulture even launching a devastating attack on the Staten Island Ferry. (That's an amusing nod to the comics, incidentally; in the comics, the Vulture was born on Staten Island!)

The Vulture almost hit the big screen once before; back when Tobey Maguire and Sam Raimi were planning to team up for Spider-Man 4, the Vulture would have been the main villain. According to Movieline, Sony briefly considered casting John Malkovich for the role! Unfortunately, of course, Spider-Man 4 never happened, and Sony was forced to reboot the franchise.

Concept art from 'Spider-Man 4'. [Credit: Planet Henderson]
Concept art from 'Spider-Man 4'. [Credit: Planet Henderson]

See also:

All in all, the Vulture promises to be a very different villain, bringing some much-needed humanity to the rogues' gallery. What's more, Michael Keaton looks set to play the role with characteristic skill; the trailers give us a glimpse of a villain whose words are dripping with malice, and who's willing to go to any lengths to protect his family. Unfortunately for the Vulture, of course, Spider-Man is standing in his way...


Do you think the Vulture was the right choice for Spider-Man's first MCU villain?

(Sources: Movieline, Planet Henderson, Vulture. Poll Image Credit: Marvel Studios / Sony Pictures)


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