Previously, on Spider-Tracer, we took a look at the criminal career of Dr. Jonas Harrow. For this Spider-Tracer, I thought we’d take a look at the many criminals who’ve all laid claim at one point or another to the villainous identity that one Adrian Toomes originated: The Vulture! I’ll only be covering those Vultures from the main Marvel Universe continuity, or Earth-616.
It’s kind of odd when you think about it. While I myself really like the original Vulture, even I’ll be the first to admit he’s no Green Goblin in terms of popularity or threat level. And yet, he’s had almost as many criminals try to take up his villainous identity over the years.
First, allow me to clear something up that I find some readers might find confusing. The following image, while that of a younger-looking Vulture, is, in fact, the classic, original Vulture, Adrian Toomes. Discovering at one point that he was dying, the Vulture was able to use technology to steal the youth of his enemy Spider-Man and others, an act that was adapted for the 90’s Spider-Man: The Animated Series. The look lasted a few years until Vulture went back to the look we all know.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the first man to take up the Vulture identity after Adrian Toomes: Black Drago. In Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1, #48 (1967), the original Vulture (who would not receive his real name until a Roger Stern story) is lying in a prison hospital wing after an accident in the prison workshop. Thinking he’s dying, Toomes agrees to tell his cellmate Blackie where he’s hidden his wing harness in hopes that he’ll kill Spider-Man for him. Blackie gleefully explains to Toomes that it was he who caused the accident that injured Toomes before escaping prison. His desire for revenge on Drago allowed Toomes to overcome his injuries and escape in the confusion started by Drago.
Meanwhile, Blackie decided to alter the outfit with a protective helmet that also had a built-in short wave receiver, before engaging in acts of air piracy throughout the city. This, of course, would attract the attention of Spider-Man.
Blackie was surprisingly successful in his first battle with Spider-Man due to a cold that the Web-Slinger was concurrently dealing with.
Blackie by this point was feeling rather overconfident due to believing he’d killed Spider-Man (he didn’t realized his foe simply collapsed from his illness). Soon, Blackie was confronted by Kraven the Hunter in the following issue, believing he’d been deprived of the honor of killing Spider-Man. Of course, Spider-Man would soon show up to deliver the good news that he was still alive and well. The two criminals hoped to overwhelm Spidey, but he was able to use them against each other. Dodging Kraven’s rays managed to take Blackie out of the fight before Spider-Man took down Kraven as well, gift-webbing them both for the police.
Using this time to fully recover, Toomes made his move in Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1, #63, breaking Blackie out of jail and even giving him his flight harness back.
Blackie was arrogant enough to believe Toomes broke him out only to take orders from him, but Toomes stated he wanted to best Blackie in a fight for the right to the Vulture name and identity. Toomes’ experience and undying desire for vengeance allowed him to claim victory over his hated usurper. Blackie vowed to never don the outfit again, and he’s remained behind bars ever since.
Drago did get one up on Toomes in the end, however; he was the first Vulture to be featured in animation, debuting in the 1967 Spider-Man cartoon. You know, the one with the super catchy theme song?
Sometime later, a new Vulture took to the skies in Amazing Spider-Man vol. 1, #127-128. This new Vulture was ESU’s Professor Clifton Shallot. Shallot’s funding was cut, causing him to snap as a result. With Toomes’ costume, Shallot was able to give himself a nearly identical look to Toomes, albeit with jagged teeth and claws; even his wings became attached to his body at one point.
Wanting to keep his new identity and powers a secret, Shallot attempted to kill his lab assistant Christine, but ended up mistakenly killing her roommate Gloria instead. Unfortunately for her, Mary Jane Watson witnessed the murder, making herself a target for the new Vulture. Of course, Spider-Man was going to have to get involved.
No stranger to curing scientists of their animal-themed afflictions (see Dr. Curt Connors, aka the Lizard), Spider-Man managed to find a way to make the professor human again and end his avian adversary’s reign of terror. Nothing has been seen or heard of Clifton since, so it can only be assumed that he’s still in custody serving his sentence for killing Gloria.
Sometime later (in Web of Spider-Man Vol.1, #1; yes, that same issue with Spidey and a certain black costume in a bell tower, 1985), Adrian Toomes was back in prison, this time sharing a cell with a heroin dealer named Honcho. Why Toomes would share his Vulture suit designs with anyone, especially after what happened with Drago, is anyone’s guess, but he did, and, with Honcho also being an engineer, he mesmerized said designs, and built himself four suits. He outfitted himself and three others, Pidgeon, Gripes, and Sugar Face, with the new red and yellow flying suits.
The criminals attempted to kill Spider-Man and cash in on the fame and fortune it would bring them, but failed in several attempts. Of course, news of their exploits reached Honcho’s old cellmate, and Adrian Toomes built himself a new flying harness to escape and teach them a lesson. By teach them a lesson, I mean Toomes beat and would have killed them if not for Spider-Man’s timely intervention.
The five flying felons (man, dig that crazy alliteration!) were soon caged up where they belonged. The Vulturions would show up a handful of times since then, however; as recently as Civil War II.
If you thought Clifton Shallot was the weirdest Vulture on this list, wait until you get a load of next guy. Jimmy Natale, who first showed up in Amazing Spider-Man #592, was a mob fixer, or cleaner, mutated by the same technology that created the Scorpion and Human Fly. Going to the higher ups and claiming he could use some help, Jimmy suggested a human-vulture hybrid to help him clean up some of the dead guys that usually turned up on his job. The mob agreed, but also, much to Jimmy’s regret, thought he’d make the perfect candidate for such a transformation.
In addition to gaining sharp wings, fangs, and even the ability to vomit a corrosive acid (which he used to temporarily blind Spider-Man in their first encounter), Jimmy also had a serious memory loss following his transformation, and began to feed on the weak and the wounded members of the criminal underworld.
Spider-Man of course intervened, having to break his arms in the end and rendering his wings useless for several months.
The mob was later able to use this memory loss to their advantage, claiming it was J. Jonah Jameson who created him. Not one to let innocents get hurt, even if it is “Jolly” Jonah, Spider-Man stopped Natale, which led to the inevitable truth coming out that Jonah had indeed, been framed.
Natale, also known by some readers as Red Vulture, wouldn’t last much longer. Following a brief appearance during the “Origin of the Species” story-line, Red Vulture met his horrific end battling the Punisher in Vol. 9, #3 (2011) of his comic. Hired to take out Frank Castle by the Exchange, their battle took to the skies, ending with Natale stabbed to death and his body left for the police and forensics to deal with.
It wasn’t too long before Toomes was out of prison again, only this time, he had his own youthful gang to aid him in his crimes. Each given their own flight suits, Toomes also installed a failsafe that would cause their suits to fail should any of them become brave enough to try and cross him.
His gang-led exploits came to an end thanks to Spider-Man, and later still, the Superior Spider-Man, or Doc Ock’s mind in Spidey’s body.
Adrian Toomes is the last person to assume the Vulture identity, and for good reason; things don’t tend to go well for anyone else who takes up the name (not that things go particularly well for Toomes; he does get his clock cleaned by Spider-Man on a regular basis, just not as badly as the other Vultures).
Who’s you’re favorite Vulture? Be sure to let me know in the comments below!