Greetings, fellow Crawlspacers! Welcome to a brand new series that I like to call “Overlooked Gems”. My goal here is to shine a little much-deserved light on some great Spider-Man comics that unfortunately tend to receive very little recognition from fans for unspecified reasons. There are many lost classics out there, so let’s begin!
First, we will be taking a look at Funeral Arrangements in SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN vol. 1 #186-188 by J.M. DeMatteis and Sal Buscema from 1992.
Adrian Toomes a.k.a. The Vulture is one of Spider-Man’s oldest enemies (in more ways than one), first appearing in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN vol. 1 #2 in 1963.
But like many of Spidey’s B-list foes, people tend to have a difficult time coming up with really good, defining stories that feature them. Well when it comes to The Vulture, there is no competition as far as I’m concerned. Funeral Arrangements is truly the character’s shining moment, most memorable appearance and just an all-around great story in general. I was always surprised that this arc receives so little recognition considering it is set during J.M. DeMatteis and Sal Buscema’s highly lauded stint on SPECTACULAR. Perhaps it was merely overshadowed by the pair’s work on the excellent Harry Osborn Saga occurring at this same time?
At any rate, the story begins with The Vulture cold-bloodily murdering an underworld snitch who previously finked on him to the police.
It is through his narration that we learn he has terminal cancer (ironically caused by his own flight technology) and is planning to settle his scores with all of the people he feels have wronged him in the past before dying. His remaining targets include Spider-Man (no explanation needed), his former business partner Gregory Bestman (who swindled him out of their company) and…Aunt May?!?
That’s right, it turns out that sweet, innocent old Aunt May is at the top of Toomes’s list. But what could she have possibly done to earn the ire of a violent thug like The Vulture? Without giving anything away, let’s just say it isn’t what you’re expecting…at all.
What primarily makes this story so compelling is The Vulture’s characterization. He is absolutely ruthless and unnerving in his desperation to settle his dues before succumbing to the cancer, but he is also surprisingly sympathetic. DeMatteis has always been great at crafting multi-layered villains who are pitiable without losing their threatening edge. While The Vulture is clearly a remorseless killer, he’s also portrayed as a sad old man who is angry and even depressed that he has wasted his life on crime with absolutely nothing to show for it.
Surprisingly enough, Aunt May also shines in this story. Far too often, May is portrayed as a senile old fool with no real direction (hence her constantly becoming ill and being on her death bed) or just flat-out isn’t very bright (like almost marrying Doctor Octopus). Here though, she is presented as a strong old woman who has experienced numerous tragedies along with much emotional agony and simply isn’t having any more of it. She is tired and fed up with people like Toomes constantly hurting her and those she loves. Many people like to credit J. Michael Straczynski as the only writer to every portray May as a good character (and for good reason), but DeMatteis’s take on her here also deserves a lot of praise.
Track these issues down if you can or just look for the more recent Spider-Man vs The Vulture TPB which collects this story.
Even if you’ve never been a fan of the old feather-head, I would still highly recommend this arc. It just might change your mind on the character.