How the Vulture Became the Villain 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' Needed

Michael Keaton steps into the shoes of Adrian Toomes, one of the first bad guys Spidey fought in the comic books.
Chuck Zlotnick/CTMG
Michael Keaton in 'Spider-Man: Homecoming'

Adrian Toomes is an old man with a bad attitude. Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Toomes, better known as the Vulture, first appeared in 1963’s Amazing Spider-Man #2 and was the second supervillain Spider-Man fought while he was still getting his feet wet during the Silver Age of comics. Since their first showdown, the Vulture has grown into one of Spidey’s key antagonists. He’s a founding member of the Sinister Six supervillain supergroup and is the central villain in 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming film. Not bad for a guy who looks like he should be using a walker and some Bengay when he’s out of costume.

Despite his frail looks, the Vulture is unquestionably deadly. Prior to turning to a life of crime, Toomes was a brilliant engineer who developed a specialized harness that gave him the gift of flight and precise maneuverability. The device also augments Toomes’ strength. Toomes originally wanted to sell his invention, but he turned to a life of crime after he was betrayed by his business partner, Gregory Bestman.

The Vulture’s aerial abilities are directly responsible for a key part of Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s biography. In the Vulture’s first appearance, the Daily Bugle newspaper calls on anyone who can get a photo of New York’s newest supervillain. To earn some extra cash, Peter decides to leverage his web-slinging abilities to snap some pics of the Vulture mid-flight, leading to his long-standing arrangement as a Bugle freelance photographer.

While a number of creators have tackled the Vulture across all media over the years, nobody made him as compelling as Roger Stern, who wrote a number of Amazing and Spectacular Spider-Man issues in the early ’80s. Stern has long maintained that the Vulture is the perfect antagonist for Spider-Man: “It’s old age and sneakiness versus youth and determination.” As a result, Stern provided Toomes with an origin story more than 20 years after the character was first introduced, while also adding a more personal touch to the Spider-Man/Vulture feud by having the villain interact with Peter’s Aunt May and her geriatric boyfriend, Nathan Lubensky.

Beyond Toomes, a number of others have taken on the mantel of the Vulture at various points in Spider-Man history. Blackie Drago, a cellmate of Toomes’ in prison, enjoyed a short stint as the Vulture in the mid-'60s when he stole the original’s costume and harness. A third Vulture briefly appeared in a 1973 issue of Amazing when Empire State University professor Clifton Shallot went mad and experimented on himself, turning him into a supervillain. During the “Brand New Day” era of Amazing Spider-Manin the late 2000s, a totally different kind of Vulture was created by Mark Waid and Mike McKone: Jimmy Natale was a lowly Maggia crime family goon who underwent a horrible experiment and was transformed into a grotesque half-vulture creature that could barely speak and who vomited acid into people’s faces. Talk about heartburn.

Years before the villain would make his big-screen debut in Spider-Man: Homecoming, the Vulture was the rumored big bad in the unmade Spider-Man 4. John Malkovich, who was also in the mix to play Norman Osborn/Green Goblin for the first Spider-Man film a decade earlier, would eventually confirm that he had signed on to play the Vulture, expressing disappointment that it never came to fruition.

This excerpt from 100 Things Spider-Man Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Mark Ginocchio is printed with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information and to order a copy, please visit www.triumphbooks.com/100spiderman. In addition to penning this book, Ginocchio is a co-host of the recently relaunched podcast All-New Amazing Spider-Talk.

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