Michael Keaton reintroduced one of Spider-Man’s oldest foes to a new generation in 2017 when he portrayed The Vulture in MCU’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. But while Keaton’s winged villain proved popular, he differs considerably from the one in the original Spider-Man comic books.
Introduced in The Amazing Spider-Man #2 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko back in 1963, the Vulture was the first villain Peter Parker faced with physical super powers. His character contrasts with the teenage Spider-Man, since the Vulture is an elderly man who can overpower young heroes. Here’s what you need to know about Marvel’s terror of the skies.
VULTURE’S COMIC BOOK ORIGIN STORY
While the Vulture first appeared in the 1960s, it wasn’t until 1983 that writer Roger Stern and artist John Romita Jr. crafted his origin in The Amazing Spider-Man #241, which was further fleshed out by Peter David and Scot Eaton in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #15. In these issues, readers learn Adrian Toomes was once a sensitive child caring for his paralyzed brother Marcus. Marcus despised his crippled body, believing it made him unfit to live, and told Adrian to be strong like an animal. Years later, an elderly Toomes invented a flying harness that augmented his strength. When he discovered his business partner was cheating him out of company profits, Toomes used his invention to become the become the supervillain Vulture, first to destroy the company and then to become a thief.
The Vulture first battles Spider-Man when Peter Parker tries making money by taking photos of the villain. When the Vulture discovers this, he grabs Spider-Man and drops him in a water tank (a move referenced in Spider-Man: Homecoming when the Vulture nearly drowns Spider-Man in a lake). Spider-Man survives and goes on to beat the Vulture even after Vulture teams up with other villains to form the original Sinister Six. Other criminals have also taken up the mantle of the Vulture, including Toomes’ cellmate Blackie Drago (who stole one of Toomes’ suits) as well as Dr. Clifton Shallot and Jimmy Natale (who both mutated into bird-like creatures). In Spider-Man 2099 #7, future Spider-Man Miguel O’Hara encounters a new version of the Vulture who enjoys consuming human flesh.
VULTURE’S COMIC POWERS EXPLAINED
Vulture’s powers stem from an anti-gravity flying harness that lets him fly silently with the aid of his costume’s bird-like wings. The harness also grants him superhuman strength, speed, endurance, and durability, enabling him to deliver superhuman blows and take extreme punishment. Without his harness, Toomes is frail, but once he dons his costume, his vitality returns.
Unfortunately, repeated exposure to the harness also gives Toomes cancer in The Spectacular Spider-Man #186, driving him to create another suit that drains life force from others, aging people while rejuvenating him into a healthier, younger form. This effect is temporary, however, and the Vulture must constantly “feed” on others to survive. Eventually, he reverts to his elderly (but cancer-free) form. Aside from his physical powers, Toomes is a brilliant engineer who can build a flying harness out of any usable devices. He once built a new pair out of some hospital equipment and used them to escape custody!
THE VULTURE IN OTHER MEDIA
Beyond his comic book appearances, the Vulture has been featured heavily in Spider-Man media for years. He first appeared in the 1960s Spider-Man animated series and subsequently showed up in virtually every Spider-Man animated show including the 1990s Spider-Man: The Animated Series (where he was portrayed as a youth-draining energy vampire) and The Spectacular Spider-Man (where he was voiced by horror actor Robert Englund). Two animated shows, Spider-Man Unlimited and Ultimate Spider-Man, even featured versions of the Vulture who became heroic allies of Spider-Man.
In live action, John Malkovich was originally slated to play the Vulture in Sam Raimi’s cancelled Spider-Man 4 project. The role eventually went to Michael Keaton in the MCU’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, whose Vulture wore a suit powered by alien Chitauri technology and had a personal vendetta against Tony Stark.