"You fool! Here in the sky we’re in my element! I’ll shake you off -- and be rid of you for good!”
So sayeth the Vulture in his first encounter with the Amazing Spider-Man way back in the May of 1963. Adrian Toomes may be an old man, and not the most famous of Spidey’s various foes, but that doesn’t mean that the villainous Vulture is a lesser antagonist.
Set to be played by Michael Keaton in the upcoming Sony/Marvel production Spider-Man: Homecoming, Tom Holland’s Spidey will surely have his work cut out against such an experienced and intelligent airborne villain.
Indeed, as one of the Web-Slingers’ first major foes in the comics, he is much more than just a thief. This old buzzard has proved himself time and time again to be both a risible (to Spidey at least) and redoubtable rival, even beating our hero on several occasions!
Don’t believe me? Then scroll on down for the greatest, most thrilling, devastating, hilarious and, ahem, “hawkward”, battles between Spider-Man and the Vulture.
After originally using his magnetic flight harness and wings to try and wrestle his company back from his conniving business partner Gregory Bestman, Toomes discovered the adrenaline-fueled thrills and swift monetary gains of petty crime. As his airborne attacks became more and more successful, so did his confidence, and he even publicly disclosed the location of his next robbery; big mistake!
A young and desperate Peter Parker recognized that taking and selling photos of this thief was an opportunity to help support his financially stricken Aunt May. So donning his Spider-Man costume, he lay in wait, surprised the fleeing Vulture and disabled his wings with a magnetic-inversion device that he had invented.
Naturally, Toomes didn’t take kindly to being beaten by a wisecracking upstart, and it was only five issues until he escaped from prison. He built in safeguards to his suit and managed to significantly injure his adversary. But a sprained arm can’t keep Spidey down, and he successfully captured the Vulture once again by webbing up his wings...so whilst it was back to prison for old Adrian, this wasn’t the last that we would hear of him.
If Spider-Man: Homecoming is indeed featuring the Vulture, then we should expect some sort of variant on this tale. Although it might be changed so that it isn't similar to the work-related pressures seen with the Green Goblin and the Lizard, and so that its a bit more connected to Spidey’s other villains, as he is in The Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon, where it is Norman Osborn who has swindled Adrian Toomes instead of Bestman.
Rise of the Sinister Six
A year after his comic-book debut, Toomes broke out of prison (again) and joined up with several of Spidey’s other villains- Doctor Octopus, Sandman, Mysterio, Electro, and Kraven the Hunter- to take revenge upon the Wall-crawler by forming a group called the Sinister Six.
The Vulture played a crucial part in the proceedings, relaying to J Jonah Jameson that they had (unknowingly and conveniently) kidnapped Peter Parker's loved ones: Betty Brant and Aunt May. Though Spidey was struggling due to his powers intermittently fading and returning, he still managed to defeat the sorry bunch, due to the fact that he faced them one at a time rather than altogether.
The Vulture is one of the most prominent founding members of this famous team, and he is one of the few villains to have featured in nearly all of its iterations, which have since included the likes of Venom and the Hobgoblin. A movie adaptation, charting how the group coalesced has been gestating for years over at Sony; however, with Marvel Studios now at the helm, we could be seeing the Vulture join their ranks onscreen very soon.
As Falcon realized in Captain America: Civil War, people may scoff at his “bird costume,” but if they do laugh, they are underestimating him. The same goes for the Vulture’s hardware; after all, it allows quick getaways, enhances the wearer’s strength and features built in weapons with its razor tipped feathers.
Inmate Raniero “Blackie” Drago recognized the benefits of the Vulture identity, and whilst in prison, he engineered a (seemingly) fatal accident for Adrian Toomes and convinced him to give up the location of a second suit on his deathbed. Escaping from prison (another one?), he assumed the guise of the Vulture and managed to overpower a poorly Spidey, but he wasn’t so lucky when he clashed with Kraven the Hunter and Spider-Man in issue #49.
Certainly, Drago failed to make make the same impression as Toomes, since he didn’t use the suit to its full potential.
When Toomes realized what had happened and heard of his middling exploits, he became enraged, soon recovered, and escaped (him too?) to reclaim his reputation. Clashing with Drago, Toomes fought Spider-Man and Drago, defeating both of them before his equipment was damaged in a second fight with Spidey, which forced the Vulture to flee and lick his wounds in Amazing Spider-Man #64.
Whilst Drago swore he would never be the Vulture again, he did appear in a prison cell in Marvel Knights: Spider-Man, a comic run which also included the original Vulture.
Incidentally, Drago is not the only other person to assume the identity of the Vulture without Toomes’ blessing...
Crimelord and Cancer
The '80s and '90s were hectic and crazy times for comics, and notably for Spidey, what with the sprawling tale of the crackers Clone Saga. Prior to this story, Toomes had become involved in a gang run by his nephew Malachi, but he began to suffer from ill health. He struck up a friendship Aunt May’s partner, the paraplegic Nathan Lubensky, and the conflict between Spidey and Vulchy became a bit more personal.
Not knowing who Toomes really was, Nathan did a Robin Williams and urged Adrian to seize the day. Taking the advice to heart, ol’ Vulchy returned to his bad habits in a newly reformed Sinister Six and, not knowing that Nathan was May’s flame, tried to take her hostage, ultimately causing Nathan to have a terminal heart attack. Some time later, after he discovered that he’d contracted cancer due to the materials which powered his suit, Toomes attempted to make amends with Aunt May. Instead, he suffered a severe beating from Spider-Man.
And it didn’t stop there! After inadvertently coming into contact with an android which was part of Norman Osborn’s manipulations, he absorbed its life force, causing his cancer to be cured and his youth to be restored- complete with a very '90s hairdo, I might add. However, his rejuvenation didn’t last too long, and Toomes was forcibly re-aged thanks to a dying, super-powered man named David Kalen in Spectacular Spider-Man #18.
Incidentally, Toomes was also shown to have this youth-sucking power in the popular Spider-Man Animated Series. He utilized his technology against Spider-Man, yet in doing so he contracted Spidey’s mutation disease which turned him, like Peter, into a massive spider.
Crazy times indeed....
A Gauntlet and a Grandson
Sometime after his brush with vigilantism (Spider-Man: Get Kraven), the Vulture was really put through the wringer in Mark Millar’s Marvel Knights: Spider-Man limited series. Before he appeared in the story, Toomes had reconnected with his family, and had become very attached to his grandson, and was devastated when he learns that his beloved relative has leukemia. To fund his treatment, Toomes returns to crime in a new red and black costume. Alongside Electro, he swindled millions of dollars from Daredevil super villain, the Owl.
In retaliation, the Owl manipulated a stressed Spider-Man who was searching for his Aunt May's kidnapper into attacking the two villains, yet they managed to beat the hero so thoroughly that he was landed in hospital. Toomes attacks the ward and tries to finish the hero off, but he is prevented from doing so due to the timely and brutal intervention of Spidey's ex, the Black Cat.
Cat returned the Vulture to the Owl, and after being tortured by the Owl’s goons, Toomes later appeared alongside Electro et al as part of Norman Osborn’s Sinister Twelve. Wearing a helmet to mask the disfigurements inflicted upon him, luck did not favor our featured friend - he was subdued, with his other team members, by the Avengers...he just can't catch a break, can he?
The Superior Spider-Man
Vulture and Spidey most recently clashed in the pages of the Superior Spider-Man series, but both were highly different from what we've seen before. Vulture was a fully fledged crime boss with a new, notably Gothic aesthetic, who used children to commit his crimes. Spidey, on the other hand, was now a reformed Doctor Octopus in Peter Parker's body. Octavius took particular umbrage with Toomes's use of kids due to his own abusive childhood, and viciously put an end to the fight.
The Vulture later appeared when Alistair Smythe took over The Raft, as one of the inmates who were retrofitted to assist Smythe escape. However, like Smythe's plans, Toomes's uprising was swiftly foiled (yet again!) by the Superior Spider-Man.
Whilst Toomes has suffered so much pain and indignation at Spidey's hands over the years, he still is a fitting villain for our wall-crawling hero. Adrian Toomes is in many ways, a ying to Spider-Man's yang; his age contrasts Parker's youth, he's a curmudgeon where Peter is enthusiastic and spiteful where Spidey is compassionate. And though both are defined by their intelligence and reliance on technology, his flight also contrasts with Spidey's wall-crawling.
So what next for their famed rivalry? He will no doubt return to peck at the Wall-crawler in the comics, but what of the movies? An appearance on the silver screen is long overdue; he was meant to feature in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 4 and down the line in The Amazing Spider-Man series. Therefore, if the rumors are to be believed, we await seeing the great Michael Keaton don the flight suit with great anticipation! After all, Spidey has now had some experience with flying adversaries in Civil War...
Which Vulture story is your favorite? Which one should be adapted for the MCU? Head to the comments and let us know!