As I suspected Spider-Man:Homecoming was a resounding success and it was really gratifying to see how much audiences embraced Michael Keaton’s portrayal of the Vulture. Many viewers cited him as one of the highlights of the film and one of the MCU’s strongest villains.
With this in mind, I thought I’d dive into the character’s back catalogue and tell you what I consider Adrian Toome’s (got to love that name) greatest hits.
As one of Spider-Man’s earliest foes (debuting in Amazing Spider-Man issue #2) he has a long lasting enmity with the wall crawler and has been through various changes from a wannabe Kingpin to a youth vampire and even becoming a Fagin-like character recently.
He’s also been replaced more often than most of Spidey’s rogues gallery but it always comes back to Toomes. There is something about having an elderly villain that’s instantly more interesting than other run of the mill baddies. This often becomes a factor in most of his stories mostly in the form of geriatric gags from ol’ web head.
It also brings a humanity and a vulnerability to his character, although he is probably the most vengeful and bitterly twisted character in the MU. Imagine Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino (2018) but with super strength and anti-gravity wings and worse demeanour.
Here’s the first entry winging its way to you…
In order to have a reasonable amount of stories on this list, I will only be considering single issues, arcs, annuals & one-shots set in the main 616 Marvel Universe. I won’t be using alternate realities or possible futures and also I have to have physically read the stories.
If there are others I’ve missed out on or you think I’m wrong please let me know because I honestly can’t get enough of this stuff and I could always do with more reading material. All stories featured here are currently available on digital comics subscription service Marvel Unlimited.
Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #240-241
by Roger Stern & John Romita Jr.
It took over 240 issues until we learned The Vulture’s origin but it was well worth the wait. In these issues Adrian comes out of hiding to kidnap a former associate and only Spidey has the power to stop him.
We soon learn that Adrian went into business with Gregory Bestman. While Adrian worked night and day to develop an anti-gravity harness, Bestman was secretly embezzling the company’s money. After making a breakthrough on the harness (with the added side effect of super strength) Tomes is shocked to discover the truth.
Unfortunately, he didn’t realise that he had been duped into signing the business over to Bestman. Working secretly to fine tune his wings, he broke into his former place of work and robbed the place and thus The Vulture was born.
I highly recommend Roger Stern’s run on Spider-Man he is a big fan of using unconventional villains for our protagonist. The Vulture was his personal favourite and it shows here giving us a new level of depth, potential and appreciation to an old and underused character. I love how artists really go to town on Adrian’s aged features and JRJR gives us story with every wrinkle & liver spot.
Web Of Spider-Man Vol. 2 #5
by Fred Van Lente & Francis Portela
In a story that combines American History X with Spider-Man? It’s the comic you never knew you wanted. While in prison, Toomes is approached by Purves; the leader of a White Supremacy group, who has an intriguing offer…. Build him a flying harness or he has Adrian’s family killed. Toomes reluctantly agrees.
A month later, during a riot, Toomes activates Purves’ harness and he flies out of the prison barge as free as a bird. Toomes delivers a chilling monologue that tells us a lot about Toomes himself and his motivations, talking about how he changed after Bestman. he talks about how he used to be weak and prey for other predators.
He then informs Purves that he cut a deal with a rival gang in prison that manage to protect him and his family from the white supremacists as long as Toomes can insure that Purves’ death can’t be linked back to them. All the while Purves continues to float higher and higher and higher…
This issue proves that, even without his wings, The Vulture is never in a position of weakness as he barely lifts a finger yet manipulates any scenario to his advantage.
We also see the fierce protection of his relatives which has been present in other stories in the past (and is obviously a huge part of Spider-Man: Homecoming). There’s always been strong link in my mind between The Vulture and The Birdman Of Alcatraz and it’s never more evident than in the story two murderous intellects (who even kind of look alike too).
You know what they say about birds of a feather.
Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #63-64
by Stan Lee & John Romita
After discovering he was the cell mate to the infamous Vulture, small time hood Blackie Drago secretly poisoned Toomes and convinced him to give up the location of his last remaining set of wings. Leaving Toomes for dead, Blackie became the new Vulture only to be sent directly back to prison after he was defeated by Spidey.
But Adrian recovered and escaped himself the same night. Upon his return, he breaks Blackie out and gives him a set of wings as they battle to decide who will be the ultimate bird of prey!
In this story, not only do we see Toomes decimate Drago but he almost kills Spider-man by beating him senseless with an assist from JJJ with no rest in between.
This goes to show that experience trumps youth every time. There is only room for only one true Vulture, and that’s Adrian Toomes. Proving to himself and the world that you can’t keep an old buzzard down.
Peter Parker: Spider-Man Vol. 2 #37
by Paul Jenkins & Mark Buckingham
Paul Jenkins is possibly the most underrated Spider-Man writer of all time. He wrote some absolutely beautiful, heart wrenching and funny stories concerning Peter’s life.
This is quite difficult to do in a secondary book to the main which could’ve been quite restrictive but he used it free himself to tell some of the best, this one included.
In “Snow Day” bad weather shuts NYC down but Aunt May needs her driveway cleared, and there is only one man for the job. Coming down with a cold and freezing his dangly bits off, Spidey tries to make his away there as he slips and slides and is pelted by snow balls all the way until he bumps into The Vulture during a heist.
Comically, Spidey says he’ll give the villain a free pass as he’s so busy. Incensed by this idea, Vulture doggedly pursues the web-slinger spouting stereotypical cliched villain dialogue which all culminates in a hilarious climax.
In many stories The Vulture a is character who is often played for laughs. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but this story is comedic gold and I couldn’t recommend it more… Or indeed anything by Jenkins.
Daredevil Vol. 1 #225
by Denny O’Neil & David Mazzucchelli
Surprisingly, my favourite Vulture story isn’t actually one that features Spider-Man. Denny and David step in during Frank Miller’s hiatus.
In a story that has Toomes with, quite literally, one foot in the grave as he finally embraces his ravenous scavenging moniker and begins grave robbing the recently dead… a “Toome Raider” if you will.
This includes the resting place of Matt Murdock’s dearly departed ex, Heather Glenn. Daredevil doesn’t take too kindly to this at all. They have a knock down, drag out fight. Clearly outmatched, Marvel’s ultimate underdog proves successful just in time to stop Vulture from convincing Foggy Nelson to commit suicide.
This is Adrian Toomes at his most creepy and weird, obsessed with death and it’s power over the living. In the story we actually find him living in a bird house. This is a big departure from his characterisation in the past, but it really works because let’s be honest, there’s nothing scarier than a crazy old man with super strength who can fly rings round you with a death obsession.
Well that’s it my fine feathered friends. Until next time, True Believers!!