Last time, Spider-Man faced his first costumed opponent. This time he faces his first super-powered costumed opponent. (If you want to call an old, bald guy who flies around with wings "super-powered".)
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A new villain has been terrorizing New York City. He strikes soundlessly from the air and he strikes with no warning. In fact, just this moment, a man is carrying a briefcase filled with "a fortune in bonds" and this new menace, the winged villain known as the Vulture, swoops down and steals it from him. (For the one or two of you who don't know, the Vulture wears a green outfit with a white ruff around his collar. His wings are extensions off his arms so that he has to flap, I guess, to get started flying. He even has green tail feathers in this original appearance.)
At the offices of Jameson Publications (a white building with a marquee announcing it as the home of "Now Magazine" with "J. Jonah Jameson Publisher" modestly written across the building above the sign.), Jolly Jonah wants to "devote the next entire issue of Now Magazine to the Vulture". He holds a copy of the magazine in his hand (with a photo of Spidey on the cover and the one word copy, "Menace") and announces that he needs pics of the Vulture. So far no one has been able to snap pictures of the speedy villain. All they have, Jonah is told, is an artist's drawing. JJ won't stand for that. He demands photos of the Vulture "or I'll get some new editors".
At Midtown High School, Peter Parker is working hard in science class but Flash Thompson, Liz Allan, and others are glued to a copy of Now Magazine. Pete overhears Liz noting that "a photo of the Vulture would be worth a fortune" and he realizes that he has the ability to snap "hard-to-get photos" and that "magazines pay big money". Flash tosses the magazine to Pete, telling him to "take a look at what's goin' on in the outside world". Pete is so taken by his new idea that he ends up poring through the magazine to the detriment of his schoolwork. The beaker he has placed above his Bunsen burner overheats and overflows. Mr. Warren lectures him about ignoring "a delicate experiment right in the middle while you pour through a lurid picture magazine". The kids standing behind the teacher think it's all pretty funny.
After school, Peter runs home and asks Aunt May for a camera. She opens a drawer and pulls out a miniature camera that belonged to Uncle Ben. She knows Ben would have wanted him to have it.
In his room, Peter changes into his Spidey suit. He works on figuring out how to attach the camera to his costume.
At his hideout, ("atop an abandoned silo in Staten Island") the Vulture reads in the paper that "the Park Avenue Jewelry Exchange is moving a million dollars worth of diamonds to their new offices across town". (Why do they advertise these things in the newspaper?) The Vulture knows that they'll be waiting for him to try something but he has an idea of stealing the gems that he thinks no one will expect. He takes to the air, heading for Manhattan to put the first part of his plan into action.
Spidey is also in the city now, testing his camera, when his spider-sense alerts him to a flying figure that makes no sound. He turns and sees the Vulture, but the Vulture (who is busy thinking about how smart he is) does not see him. Vultchy has rigged up some notes wrapped around rocks that he uses to taunt his enemies. He tosses them through windows at Jameson Publishing, a radio station and a police station. The note given to the police says, "I shall steal the diamond shipment from under your noses!" and is signed "The Vulture". In spite of this, the cops decide they must go through with the transfer of gems. "We can't let the city think that one criminal can make us change our plans!" one cop says. (Now, this is a common excuse in comics for not changing plans and I've never understood it. So what if the city knows they changed their plans because of one criminal? What's wrong with changing the date or the time of the shipment to fake out the Vulture? Or mayb! e setting a trap so that the Vultu re encounters a SWAT team instead of a satchel of diamonds? Where is the shame in that?)
Outside, the Vulture is thrilled with his little act of vanity. "Now that I've warned them, my triumph shall be even greater after I've seized the gems" he thinks. He is so busy with his gloating that he doesn't notice Spidey coming up behind him busily snapping pictures. And Spidey is so busy snapping pictures that he doesn't notice a loose brick. He accidentally kicks it and the sound alerts the Vulture to his presence. While the web-slinger tries to line up a good picture, the Vulture does a loop-de-loop in the air, circling around behind our hero. While Spidey is still wondering where the Vulture went, the winged villain does a flip and kicks the wall-crawler right in the back of the head. Spidey is stunned by the attack. He drops his camera and goes limp. The Vulture, gloating over the ease of his victory, picks the web-slinger up and flies to a nearby rooftop water tower. He opens a hatch in the top of the tower and drops Spider-Man in. Now, with Spidey out ! of the way, the old meany figures, "the city will be mine!" Then, having "disposed of that temporary interruption" the overconfident villain flies away, ready to "carry out step two of my master plan".
But, inside the tower, Spidey has been awakened by the shock of hitting the cold water. (I can just imagine. Yeooww!) He doesn't feel like he's in any particular danger. He knows he can just shoot his webbing up to the top of the tower and climb out... except that he's been so concerned with his camera, he didn't keep track of how much web fluid he had left. Now the shooters are empty. The next plan is to try to climb up the wall of the tower but "it's too wet and slimy even for me to get a toehold on". So now what? The web-slinger knows he can't stay in there much longer. "I'll either drown or suffocate," he thinks. Then he uses his head and comes up with the answer. The web-slinger dives down to the bottom of the tank. He squats down and uses his extra-strong muscles to spring upward from the floor. Somehow his strength is great enough to allow him to be propelled through all the water, up into the air, and right to the hatch in the roof. (Do not try t! his at home.) After getting out o f the water tower, Spidey goes back to the roof where he was originally attacked and finds his camera still there and intact.
Back at home, Peter Parker (just hanging around his room in his Spidey costume with the mask off) develops his pictures of the Vulture... and they look great. Next, he has to decide to whom he should sell them. He picks up a copy of Now Magazine with the cover banner, "Spider-Man must be caught" and thinks about how much J. Jonah Jameson hates the wall-crawler. "I'd get a kick out of making him pay good dough for my pictures without knowing I'm the photographer" he thinks. Then he gets busy adapting his costume. Originally, the costume was only going to be used in his stage act but now that he has chosen the life of a super-hero, he needs to make some adjustments. He starts by adding "an extra web-fluid capsule" so he won't run out of webbing so often. Then he designs containers in his belt to hold even more web cartridges. He revamps the belt so that he can attach a miniature camera to the buckle (but he has to sell his photos first in order to get money to buy that! miniature camera). He puts the b elt on and is pleased to see that it all fits comfortably under his costume. Finally, working on a hunch as to the source of the Vulture's silent flying power, the science whiz whips up a "little device" which may be useful against the flying villain. (Actually, the caption does say it is "long hours later" by the time the device is complete. Pete is so whipped by the effort, he gets himself some "shut-eye" right after.)
The following day, J. Jonah Jameson receives a call from someone claiming to have photos of the Vulture. He tells the caller to come right over. Soon after, JJJ's secretary (who may be Betty Brant but doesn't really look like it) tells everyone that the boss is in an important conference. In that office, Jameson is raving about the quality of Peter Parker's Vulture photos. He wants to know how a kid like Peter got these shots. Peter tells Jonah that part of the condition of selling them is that he never has to reveal how he got them. Jonah tells Pete he can have his "little secret". All he wants is to put the pictures in the next issue of Now Magazine. They will be sure to make the issue a sell-out. He tells Pete he will "issue a check...immediately". Peter agrees but reminds Jameson that he doesn't want his name used. The credit should read "a Now Magazine Staff Photographer". (And who's this guy also in the office, standing behind J. Jonah Jameson. He l! ooks vaguely like Norman Os born. Is it possible?) Jonah puts his hand on Peter's shoulder and tells him he is in the market for any other great photos. In fact, he'd love some shots "of that public menace, Spider-Man". "Brother, wouldn't you be surprised if you knew" thinks Pete.
A day later, as school gets out, a bunch of the kids plan to head over to Park Avenue to see if the Vulture will try to steal the gems. (Man, everybody knows about this!) A brunette in Flash's group invites Pete and he agrees to come along but he is skeptical. "You don't really think the Vulture would dare try anything with all the police there, do you?" he says. "Don't be scared, bookworm", says Flash, "we'll protect you".
The foursome (Pete, Flash, Liz, and the brunette who is, perhaps, the character Kurt Busiek dubbed Sally Avril) arrives at the scene but it's "like a carnival". The press is everywhere and the area is cordoned off. The police are stationed on every nearby roof. "An armed helicopter" is stationed overhead. Pete realizes that, if he's needed, he won't be able to change to his Spidey duds in the middle of a mob... so he slinks away, looking like a complete loser. "Look gang!" says Flash, "Little Petey is chickening out!"
Then the cross town jewelry move begins. An armored car carries the gems. Squad cars drive on either side of it. The helicopter flies right above. The cops on the roof are actually hoping that the Vulture will make a try for the diamonds. They figure they've got him dead to rights. The armored car reaches its destination. Five uniformed guards armed with shotguns make a protective ring around the back of the car. The metal doors open and a man in a purple suit and hat walks out, carrying a small case filled with the jewels. Now, I don't know who designed this whole "jewelry switch" thing but maybe they should have found a place for the armored car to park that isn't a half-mile walk to the entrance. It's all well and good to have the helicopter and all the guys on the roof but what's the use when it comes down to two guys guarding the man in the purple suit on a long walk that just happens to go right over a manhole! For, while the guards are scouring the ai! r, the Vulture crosses them all up by popping out of that manhole at just the right moment, snagging the case with the jewels so quickly that the guards don't even have time to fire their guns and flying away through the sewer system. He indulges in his love for the theatrical by making his way to a subway tunnel and flying back up to the surface through a station.
Back at the scene, Peter Parker changes to Spider-Man. He marvels (no pun intended) over the way the Vulture has "fooled everyone... even me!" but he plans to do something about that. He climbs the wall of a nearby building, and then stands on the roof, holding his camera and listening to his spider-sense. Soon he gets a tingle that indicates that the Vulture is in the area. He looks to his left and sees the Vulture flying by. (So... what? The Vulture went through all of that subway stuff and then just flew back to the scene of the crime?) Swinging on his webbing, Spider-Man follows.
The Vulture, however, looks back to see if any cops are on his trail and spots the web-slinger. He does another one of those tricky maneuvers (this time around the corner of a building) that allows him to double-back and get behind Spidey. As before, the wall-crawler suddenly realizes that he's lost sight of his quarry but this time he feels "vibrations in the air behind me" and deduces that the Vulture has snuck around back. He leaps out of the way but not fast enough. The Vulture clips him with a wing and sends him tumbling off the roof. This time, though, Spidey is prepared. He shoots some webbing and snags the Vulture on his foot. Then he pulls himself up "hand over hand" (even though he's using one hand to hold onto his camera) and soon has his left hand around the Vulture's ankle. The Vulture is sure he can shake the webhead off but he doesn't know about Spidey's "little gadget" which the webster pulls from his belt and activates. Immediately it takes effect a! nd the Vulture "can't stay aloft". Spider-Man shoots his webbing at a building to halt his fall, and then watches as the Vulture helplessly spirals down to a roof. Just then, the police helicopter arrives on the scene. It lands right next to the Vulture who has the "wind knocked out of me" and can't even move. As Spidey takes pictures from a hiding-place, the cops pick up the no-longer-flying villain and whisk him away in the chopper.
How was this accomplished? Spidey explains it all to you: "The absence of noise gave me the clue! I suspected that he [Vultch] had discovered a way to harness magnetic power! That's why my gadget made him fall... it's an anti-magnetic inverter and it worked!" Ah yes! The old "anti-magnetic inverter" trick! Works every time!
The next day, Peter Parker offers more Vulture photos to J. Jonah Jameson. JJ wants to know how Pete got the pics but the teenager reminds him that, according to their deal, he gets to keep that secret. Jonah buys the photos and even gives a bonus! "Go out and buy yourself some twist records!" he says. Pete counts his money. Jonah may think he's just a typical teenage consumer but Pete has more important things to do with the cash. He goes home and tells Aunt May that he has paid the rent for a full year and plans to buy "the newest kitchen appliances you ever drooled over". Aunt May tells him that he's "the most wonderful boy in the world".
But in a nearby prison, the Vulture (still dressed in his winged outfit!) stands in a cell and curses the name of Spider-Man. He vows to "get free and... develop a flying power that [Spider-Man] cannot overcome!" Then the wall-crawler better watch out!
The Vulture is the first of Spidey's opponents to make a return appearance. He does indeed come up with a way to fly that can't be stopped by the anti-magnetic inverter. That battle takes place in Amazing Spider-Man #7 (December 1963) . Check out the already existing review.
Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)
The 1969 Marvelmania International Spider-Man Portfolio checklist entry for this story. Warts and all:
"Duel to the Death with the Vulture" - First encounter with Vulture. Peter Parker first works for JJJ.
If your hero's a teenager, then why not pit him against an old balding geezer? The Vulture was the perfect contrast to Spidey and, as drawn by Steve Ditko, had a wonderful resemblance to the bird from which he got his name. Fighting a foe that can fly truly messes up our young hero. The scene in which the Vulture dumps Spidey in the water tower and the web-slinger has to figure a way out is classic, as is the scene where the Vulture pops out of a manhole to steal the well-guarded diamonds. Unfortunately, the whole story is tainted by the anti-magnetic inverter... the machine Peter whips up so effortlessly, then uses to defeat the Vulture. What a letdown. Thud. Even Stan and Steve must have known that they cheated the reader with this one because they brought the Vulture back five issues later, put the kibosh on the inverter, and gave us and Spidey a much better fight.