Last time, Kraven the Hunter tried to shake down Norman Osborn to get the money owed him by the Green Goblin. Norman, with amnesia concerning his Goblin identity since Amazing Spider-Man #40, September 1966, doesn't know what Kraven is talking about. Kraven's jungle senses tell him that Norman is telling the truth so he runs out on his fight with Spider-Man. Meanwhile, Flash Thompson is heading off to Viet Nam. All of this stuff remains important but not in this issue.
Back in 1994 (Amazing Spider-Man #387, March 1994 to be precise), David Michelinie and Mark Bagley attempted to deal with the advanced age of the Vulture (an old codger since Amazing Spider-Man #2, May 1963) by turning him into a young man. This was not the first time this was done. Back in 1967, Stan and Johnny did the same thing but while David and Mark did it by rejuvenating the original character, Stan and Johnny did it by introducing a new Vulture altogether. Neither concept ended up lasting for very long. Although both were interesting tries, I suspect both changes stemmed from the belief that the wizened Vulture was not threatening only to later realize that the original's vulture-like appearance is far more intimidating than a young man wearing wings. Here's the de-aging of the Vulture: attempt #1.
|Pencils:||John Romita, Sr.|
|Inker:||John Romita, Sr.|
|Cover Art:||John Romita, Sr.|
|Reprinted In:||John Romita's The Amazing Spider-Man Artifact Edition (IDW)|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Masterworks #22|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Tales #188|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Tales #34|
|Reprinted In:||Essential Spider-Man #3|
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man Pocket Book #27|
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man Annual (UK) 1982 (Story 1)|
John Romita's cover shows Spidey looking up at an attacking Vulture, whose head cannot be seen. The brilliance of this illustration resides in the fact that this doesn't look unusual. The Vulture dominates the drawing, his outspread wings spanning the cover but his back is to us, apparently so that we can view Spidey turning back to look at him in our direction. The "camera" angle is at the Vulture's height as he hovers above the web-slinger so that he looks down at Spidey, his body obscuring his head. It doesn't seem to be anything more than an artistic choice. And look at how effective it is. Spidey is down in the lower left corner. The perspective of the skyscrapers and the traffic far below makes us feel like we're high in the air and while the Vulture has wings, Spidey is clinging to a wall with his toes and his fingertips. Spidey rarely looks this vulnerable. So that must be the reason for the composition, right? Well, no. It's just Johnny's very clever way to introduce the new Vulture without tipping his hand. The cover copy says, "The Vulture's Back and Spidey's got 'im!" and even that isn't too deceptive. The Vulture is back. It's just not the same old Vulture, that's all.
The story begins with Spidey on patrol, looking for Kraven the Hunter. (Spidey, you'll recall, rescued Norman Osborn from the Hunter, which, in the long term, you'd have to agree, turned out to be a big mistake.) "Can't let that tin-horn Tarzan go through life thinking he's beaten me," he says (which Kraven sort of did even if he had to resort to his double-barreled-turns-muscles-to-mush ray to do it.) The weather has turned cold and the snow is coming down in great clumps. This worries our hero, NOT because his long johns aren't very warm but because the snowfall muffles his spider-sense. (So, the spider-sense works like... footsteps?) Lost in thought, (such thoughts consist of: 1. A feeling "that the deadliest fight of my life will soon be coming up!" 2. It's not as cold if he moves fast since "as soon as I start slowing down, it's freezeville!" 3. Since webbing is so expensive, he might as well leap over the rooftops rather than swing over), Peter doesn't notice that he has swung all the way to Municipal Prison. (Where the heck is this prison anyway? Central Park?) This calls him back to himself and, having failed to find Kraven, he decides to go home and hit the sack.
Inside the prison, an old convict lies near death because of a mishap in the prison workshop. The doctor says he cannot live more than an hour but the old man hangs on to life, waiting to speak in private with his cellmate, Blackie Drago. The old man is the Vulture and he promises himself that he "won't cash in until I make sure that Blackie will finish the job I started." He chides himself for not bothering to escape since his sentence was up in another month. Now Blackie will have to escape in his place.
Soon after, Blackie Drago, a scowling, heavy-lidded man with curly black hair, is ushered into the room. The doctor tells him that the Vulture is hanging by a thread but Blackie doesn't seem particularly concerned about it. When he enters the hospital room, Blackie immediately gets on the Vulture, saying, "This is your last chance! You gonna tell me what I wanna know or let it just die with ya?" Blackie has hounded the Vulture for months for the location of his last pair of vulture wings. "I swore you'd never get it out of me," says the Vulture. Now, dying, he gives in, obsessed with the idea of someone destroying Spider-Man for him. But when the Vulture reveals that his wings are stashed just outside the prison ("500 yards from north gun tower near broken pines. I did it months ago so I'd have an extra pair in case police jailed me." Had a lot of faith in himself, didn't he?) Blackie gloats that he arranged the workshop accident that hospitalized the old man, hoping to grab the wings for himself. Now, he will be the new Vulture. Drago taunts his cellmate as he leaves. ("S'long, Vulch! It was nice talking with ya! Yeah, real nice!") The old Vulture rises up on an elbow and reaches out toward Blackie but lacks the strength to fight back. He settles back in his bed and rues his lost opportunity. He is sure he would defeat Spider-Man next time. (And he conjures up some nice Romita illustration-thoughts of punching Spidey in the snoot and kicking the webster in the chest.) Now he'll never have the chance. His only consolation is that Blackie, younger and stronger than he, is sure to destroy the wall-crawler for him.
The "More Marvel Masterpieces..." page is a bit bland this time. Thor #139, April 1967 sits in the middle. It features a Kirby cover showing a large robot-like figure looking much like one of Kirby's later Celestials looming over Thor and Sif. The cover-copy reads, "To Die Like a God!" Cool stuff, but not something that would necessarily draw me in if I weren't already reading Thor. That cover is bracketed by the two reprint titles. Marvel Tales #8, May 1967 on the left and Marvel Collector's Item Classics #8, April 1967 on the right. We'll get to that Marvel Tales issue next time.
"A short time later," Stan tells us, "Blackie Drago takes the most desperate gamble of his entire sordid career." In his capacity as a trustee, Drago can roam within the prison walls at will. He uses that privilege to knock out a guard and steal a car that is just exiting the compound. (As he clubs the guard, he thinks, "There's no one livin' who can stop a man with wings!" As I recall, the original Vulture made pronouncements like this, too, even though, he kept getting beaten by Spider-Man: in Amazing Spider-Man #2, May 1963, Amazing Spider-Man #7, December 1963 and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, 1964. Nice that the wings inspire such confidence I guess.) Blackie drives the car through the prison gate (into Central Park?), gunning it through the snow. The clubbed guard is already recovering and reaches for a nearby phone to report the escape. He knows it was Blackie Drago who clubbed him because he recognized Blackie's voice. (Blackie felt the need to say, "Sweet dreams, Mac! I need that heap a lot more than you do!" as he clobbered the guard.) This call brings the escape siren but Blackie doesn't have far to go. He leaves the car in a snow bank. (Or is it a truck, as one of the guards calls it? Looks like a station wagon.) So two guards quickly find it (they only send two for a jailbreak?) but they're in no hurry. With the snow piling up they figure it will be a "cinch" to follow Blackie's tracks. But before they arrive, Drago has found the Vulture's wings (in a plastic bag "here behind the boulders"). He slips them on pretty quickly considering they are some sort of full body suit with no obvious zipper, that he has to take his prison clothes off, I assume, in order to fit into the skin-tight things and it must be pretty cold outside. Hearing the guard's voice, he decides he has no time to practice. He has to take off right away. It takes him a moment to get the hang of them. He flounders, losing altitude, flapping his arms, as the guards take shots at him, but he remembers what the Vulture always said "about air currents, down drafts, wind velocity" and at last he controls them. Now there are five guards down below but it's too late. Blackie soars out of range. They've lost him. (Nice touch by Stan to make Blackie struggle with the wings at first. Isn't that what we'd all do?)
Next morning, Pete accompanies Harry in his car to school. The snow of the night before has buried Manhattan but Harry seems to be navigating through it all right. Peter, on the other hand, is not doing so well. As Harry puts it, "You look like a TV ad for headache pills." When Pete replies that he's probably only getting a cold, Harry says, "You look as though every virus in town is having a convention right in your noggin." And Pete admits that he feels that way too. "A few minutes later", the boys are at Empire State University (got there, parked, walked into the building all in a few minutes time) and they bump into Gwen Stacy. Peter compliments Gwen on her new hairstyle but when Harry pipes up with, "No wonder Pete likes your hairdo, Gwen! It's more like the way Mary Jane's been wearing hers," an embarrassed Miss Stacy slips away. "Harry! Harry! Why must you have such a big flapping mouth!" thinks Pete. Later in the day, Pete is sent home by Professor Warren who can see that his student is too sick to be in school. "I guess you're right, Mr. Warren," admits Pete, his hand to his forehead, "I do feel kinda woozy." So back home, Peter plops himself down before "humanity's all-purpose pacifier", the television. He catches a video editorial from J. Jonah Jameson ("Sheesh! As if I wasn't sick enough!" says Pete) who claims that Kraven would be in custody by now if Spider-Man had left it to the police. "Instead another dangerous killer now roams our streets, thanks to that scurrilous, sinister super-heel." And JJJ provides us with our one panel look at Kraven for this issue; a black and white photo that Jonah shows on the TV. (But, hey, is Kraven a killer? I don't remember him killing anyone. Unless JJJ is referring to his attempt on Norman Osborn.) Peter is about to turn his TV off in disgust when the report comes through on Drago's jailbreak and possession of the Vulture's wings. Peter sits on the (bright yellow) couch and holds his head in his hands. Not only is Kraven still at large but a younger, stronger Vulture is at large as well. "And naturally it all has to happen when I feel like a refugee from an oxygen tent." "Ohh", he adds, "my achin' head!"
Meanwhile, at his hideout, Drago has whipped up a helmet to go along with the wings. It is a V-shaped headpiece that looks like a big green widow's peak and Blackie has built it for protection, to look scarier, and to house a shortwave receiver...though he never really uses it in any of those ways. He takes to the skies "to practice maneuvering in the air." As he dips and soars over the city he discovers that, "It gets easier each time I do it" and admires the old Vulture's genius. "These wings of his are like magic!" But he scoffs at the idea that "that whimperin' fool" thought he'd "waste time trying to get revenge on Spider-Man for him." Blackie has his own plans and they don't include "any crummy super-heroes". Getting carried away, he flies down and kicks a chimney that shatters with a "Scrumk!" Then he zips off above the "city waitin' down below just ripe to be looted!"
He begins his crime wave by stealing a payroll satchel from a guard outside a bank. (Spotlighted in a nice JR panel showing the guard draped in the Vulture's shadow.) Blackie snatches the bag so fast that the guard doesn't even have time to draw his gun. He next smashes through a window and robs a Hercule Poirot look-alike (complete with bow tie and "mustaches"), then perches on a snowy ledge glowering over the city like his namesake. "Even Spider-Man hasn't dared to show himself!" he says, "He knows I'm his master!" At home, Peter listens to radio bulletins announcing the Vulture's crimes and decides that enough is enough. He tries to get into his Spidey duds but is so sick and feverish, he falls against the wall, almost passing out. (We can tell he's really sick because he has these little asterisks floating around his head. Unless he's caught the Jupiter spores that John Jameson had back in Amazing Spider-Man #42, November 1966. "Parker, you better hit the sack again, fast!" he says and reaches for the phone intending to call Matt Murdock to get Daredevil on the Vulture's trail. "It's the least he can do after me fighting Stilt-Man for him!" he says. (In Daredevil #27, April 1967, which we just covered in FTB back on, er, February 2nd. I guess I have gotten a bit behind schedule on these things. (You may recall that Pete used his spider-sense to determine that Matt Murdock is Daredevil, sending him a letter, of all things, read by Karen Page and Foggy Nelson in Daredevil #24, January 1967 informing him of that fact. That letter prompted Matt to invent and assume the role of brother Mike who was supposed to be the one who was Daredevil. I'm not sure whether Spidey fell for this ruse along with Karen and Foggy or even knew about it for that matter, so I don't know if Spidey knows that Matt is Daredevil, at this point. But I suspect he does.) Before he makes the call, Pete slams the phone down. His sense of responsibility has kicked in. It doesn't matter how sick he is. The Vulture is HIS problem and he can't let a "little cold" knock him out "otherwise next time around I'm liable to cry uncle if I develop some dandruff or a case of chapped lips. I might even become the only super-hero in town who won't fight because he's got acne!" But this bravado is tempered with his subsequent comment of, "If only I could just stop shivering." And who can blame him! After putting on his mask, Spidey leaps out his window into the Manhattan winter. It's got to be cold out there and he isn't wearing all that much. He swings around town hoping to track down the Vulture who isn't even "bothering to hide." As he swings he decides that he may actually be feeling better. "Unless it's just that I'm getting numb from the cold," he says.
Downtown in the Wall Street district, the Vulture tries to steal a briefcase of negotiable bonds from a courier only to discover that the messenger is handcuffed to the bag. Declaring, "I'm gonna get that bag one way or another," Drago decides to fly off with the man as well. A guy in a blue coat runs off in terror and a guy in a yellow coat points Blackie out to the police who, amazingly, show up moments after the Vulture's attack. But Drago is already aloft and the cops don't dare shoot at him, lest they hit his victim. Drago soars the length of Manhattan only to land on a snow-covered tower of the George Washington Bridge. He flaps his wings at the courier who kneels in the snow atop the tower. "Now, I'll find a way to get that case," says Blackie, "and no one can reach us in time to stop me!" But Spidey spots police cars "racing towards the Hudson River" and he soon sees two figures "at the very top of the nearest tower" of the bridge. It must take Spidey some time to reach the bridge but Blackie is still standing there flapping his wings at the courier. He now declares that he will drop both man AND case to the ground to see if the contents of either will come out. The web-slinger stealthily climbs the tower behind Drago. "Just my luck he has to be perched up here in the coldest spot in town," he thinks. He decides he must strike and end this confrontation quickly but the slippery snow throws him off-stride, preventing a full-powered punch. Still, the Vulture topples off the tower, descending in a tailspin and "heading for the drink", apparently defeated. Spidey takes the opportunity to lower the bond carrier to the ground. "Spider-Man...how can I repay you?" the man asks. "Well", says Spidey, "you could lend me a Kleenex!" The cops are right on the scene to spirit the courier away. Perched on the side of the bridge, Spidey realizes he didn't hear a splash and knows that the Vulture did not fall into the water. "And that means my job isn't finished yet no matter how blechh I feel!" he thinks and then his spider-sense warns him to lunge back allowing him to evade a blow from a dive-bombing Vulture. "You were a fool to butt in, Spider-Man," says Blackie, "Now I'll finish where the original Vulture left off." Spidey shoots webbing that snags his enemy's feet as he replies, "Suit yourself, chum! But, as I remember it, he left off with me pulverizing him." Spidey clams up soon after, though, when Blackie soars upward, pulling the web-slinger off his perch. Using his speed and maneuverability, Drago whiplashes Pete against the cables of the bridge. Spidey manages to twist around so that he strikes the "flexible cable instead of the steel grid" but he is too ill to recover quickly. Clinging to a cable with only his left foot, Spidey's vision blurs, everything gets hazy, and he starts to fall, nearly blacking out. He plans to let the Vulture grab him, hoping that it will give him a few seconds to snap out of it. The Vulture attacks again, putting a scissor lock on Spidey's head and flying off with him, never realizing that this grab helps keep Spidey from passing out. "The rush of air, the sudden shock" clear Spidey's head "just enough to keep [him] conscious" but he can't find a way to reach his opponent. Rather than drop his enemy right away, the confident villain decides to fly around the city for a bit to show everyone that he has conquered Spider-Man.
"And at that very precise, exact self-same instant", MJ, Aunt May, and Anna Watson show up at the Parker-Osborn apartment to see how Pete is doing. (Since Aunt May "heard they sent him home from school." What is she doing? Checking up on him?) Harry answers the door and tells them that Pete "didn't come home after class" so he assumes he felt better and "probably stopped at the Silver Spoon for a soda!" (And how did Harry know? Is he checking up on him?) Aunt May is much relieved to hear it and MJ talks Harry into driving May and Anna home, then accompanying her to see if Pete is hanging out at the Silver Spoon. Or as she puts it, "Let's drive Mrs. P and my ever-lovin' Auntie home in your chariot then we can join Petey-O for a Coke! Oke?" And what was the point of this scene? "We just tossed in that titanically tame tableau for the benefit of Jazzy Johnny who'd rather draw slick chicks than flying fiends!" says Stan.
But it's back to the flying fiend we go. In the air, Spidey plays possum, conserving his strength. As the Vulture flies by a flagpole, Spidey puts all his strength into two karate chops on the villain's thighs. "Those have to do it" he thinks, "I'm too weak for another try." The pain, which we can see radiating off of Blackie's right thigh, makes the Vulture drop Spidey, who leaps for the flagpole, using it to spring back and strike his opponent again, getting in a good kick in the face. But his strength is gone and as he rests on a snow-covered ledge the Vulture strikes with a slash from his right wing.
Instinctively, Spidey clings to a wall but he is on the verge of unconsciousness. He is so feverish that he can barely remember what happened. "How can Spider-Man be beaten...by a common cold?" he thinks, as the Vulture zeroes in on him. "Stay where you are, Spider-Man. This'll only take a second!" brays the Vulture but Spidey "can't hear, can't see [with] everything going dark." Just as our hero begins passing out, the unaware Vulture kicks him off the wall, bragging "it was even easier than I expected!" The wall-crawler lands on a snow-covered roof, unmoving. The Vulture flies off, bragging, "Spider-Man has been destroyed at last...by the high-flying Vulture!" (Although he doesn't bother to check.) As for Spidey? He ain't making snow angels, folks! Needless to say....to be continued.
In the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins ("A Profound Potpourri of Perplexing Pronouncements and Preposterous Philosophy, All Portending Practically Nothing!"), Stan says, ""We get a zillion letters a week asking about Honest Irving Forbush the world's most famous non-entity" and asks, "[W]ould you like to see a picture of Honest Irv or is it more fun to let him remain an unknown enigma?" (Hmmm. I sense Forbush-Man is on his way.) He also addresses the "Brand Echh" controversy, saying, "We've gotten a kick out of the funnin' and feudin' with Brand Echh, thinking of it as a good-natured rivalry which you could enjoy sharing with us...We're not mad at anyone except the hambone who said we don't write all our own stories!" (Hmmm. I sense "Not Brand Echh" is on its way.) And in a revealing note, Stan says, "If Stan (the Man) Lee and Jack (King) Kirby happen to meet in the street, they might not recognize each other! The two characters have been so busy lately that they haven't seen each other in weeks. Can you imagine producing sensational strips like theirs by collaborating over the phone? Well, you better believe it!" Oh, and Stan omits the "Mighty Marvel Checklist" replacing it with a list of TV stations showing the Marvel cartoon show and tells readers they can "easily find out what we're featuring in our other mags by merely looking at the covers, or reading the "coming attractions" panel at the end of each of the letters pages." I wonder how well that went over? The checklist is back next issue.
And what would a FTB Spidey issue be without the 26 M.M.M.S. members? Here they are: Clifford Fortune of Forest Grove, Oregon; Dean Carroll of North Arlington, New Jersey; Mark Campbell of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Paul Buchanan of Burnsville, North Carolina; Ronnie Harris of Gretna, Louisiana; Mike Holt of Little Rock, Arkansas; Bucky Bracey of Miami, Florida; Ron Merkel of Greenbelt, Maryland; Ernie Meynard Jr. of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Gary Mills of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Jerry Abel of Green Bay, Wisconsin; C. McCarry of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Paul Carvalho of Newark, New Jersey; Les Metelits of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Richard Kirtley Jr. of Chicago, Illinois; Bill Beyer of Indianapolis, Indiana; J. Hill of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (That's not cutting and pasting, folks! I really did type "Philadelphia, Pennsylvania" four... and now five... times!); Nathan Iwata of Kaual Eleele, Hawaii; Ray Caldwell of Big Bear Lake, California; Michael Hagan of Louisiana, Kentucky; Jeff Jacobs of Trenton, New Jersey; Matthew Gartland of Poughkeepsie, New York; George Goff of Long Island City, New York; Thomas Chesus of Alton, Illinois; Dan Gerber of Baltimore, Maryland; and Tommy Howlin of Landover Hills, Maryland. (Everyone know the trivia question, "Which state capitals have the name of their state within the name of the city?" They're both featured in this M.M.M.S list.) And, as always, if you happen to see your name in this list, drop me a line and let me know what you're up to!
In the Spider's Web, Don Pozniak of Trenton, New Jersey, asks, "Why don't you have Pete date Gwen rather than Mary Jane?" Great idea, Don. Then, when you hire Gerry Conway and he doesn't know what to do with her, why don't you kill her! Yeah, and have the Goblin do it and then kill him but then later bring him back so that he can get away with murdering Spider-Man's girlfriend and then even have him become a government employee, yeah! That's justice! Yeah, and then after killing Harry why don't you create some hair-brained storyline that brings Harry back to life but don't bring Gwen back, no! Don't ever do that! Too many people want that! Ahem, but I digress. Jon A. Stilliman of Cederville, Ohio says, "Have you ever thought of publishing the first forty issues of Spider-Man as a limited edition set?" Was this guy twenty years ahead of his time or what? And Maryellen Flaherty of Radnor, Pennsylvania says, "Don't turn MJ into an ick." Er... I don't know whether they did that or not.
In the next issue blurb, Stan refuses to say anything about ASM #49 except "buy it"! Yes, kids, that's right! Once upon a time, it really WAS 1967 and readers had to wait 30 whole days to find out what happened! There was no Previews, no chat rooms, no fan press to speak of, no leaking to the fan press. If Stan didn't want you to know, then you didn't know! You waited 30 whole days with Spidey lying lifeless in the snow! Deal with it.
Taking my ball and going home:
The new Vulture returns next issue along with Kraven the Hunter... which you knew already because it's not 1967 and we're not going to let The Man keep us down anymore. Note that we never see the original Vulture die so it's likely Stan planned to bring him back in Amazing Spider-Man #63, August 1968 all along... or at least was hedging his bets in case Blackie didn't turn out to be too popular. Blackie appears in that issue too and gets his head handed to him by the original Vulture, never to return again... until Stan uses him in the newspaper strip this Summer (2008) even using the ol' Peter-is-sick device again so that poor Pete, with the snail's pace of the newspaper strip, has the flu the entire summer! Sure was good to see Blackie again, though.
Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)
The 1969 Marvelmania International Spider-Man Portfolio checklist entry for this story. Warts and all:
"The Wings of the Vulture" - Blackie Drago inherits a pair of wings as the old Vulture apparently dies and defeat Spidey.
I don't know about you guys but I like the Blackie Drago Vulture. He doesn't have the same pizzazz of the original, lacking that bald, beak-nosed vulture look, but Johnny gives him that dark-eyed glare and that mocking smirk so that you can't help but want Spidey to clobber him. (And how about the way he set up and turned on the old Vulture. You've just got to hate this guy!) If you can read the final scene in which the web-slinger is laid low by a virus while Blackie actually thinks he won fair and square without your gut churning with indignation, then you aren't the Spidey fan you should be. After fighting one of his most courageous battles, the web-slinger is left to die in the snow. Who doesn't read that without getting a lump in the throat? It was a long thirty days for a certain nine-year-old, I'll tell you that. Stan and John manipulate our emotions wonderfully here with Johnny coming more and more into his own, dispensing with his imitation of Ditko, his pencil line becoming rounder, his action panels becoming larger and more dynamic. And yet, something is missing here. Maybe it's that the very viral-handicapping of Spidey lessens the tension, like watching him run a race with one leg tied up. Maybe it's that there is less plot here than we've become used to (which may further explain Johnny's larger panels). Whatever it is, it keeps us from a five-web enjoyment. Call this one, four webs.
Next: The big conclusion, right? Naw! First, more Marvel Tales!