Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #63

Background

When I wrote the original version of this review (back in 2000!), I said that I had just read Spider-Girl #17 (although actually it had to be Spider-Girl #18, March 2000; read Wildman’s review from the time) “which dealt with…the new flying villain called Raptor who turned out to be the daughter of Blackie Drago!” I declared this “Just the sort of lead-in I was looking for to justify my ‘Two Vultures’ blast from the past.” Now I’ve finally caught up with it in From the Beginning while Raptor (and Spider-Girl?) have been left behind in the past. A lot of those Spider-Girl stories are worth reading (if you haven’t done so). And how about this issue? Is it worth reading?

Story 'Wings in the Night!'

If anyone was surprised that the supposedly-dead original Vulture was alive, they found out immediately by looking at the cover. It is a deceptively simple Romita illustration with no Spider-Man but two Vultures and it delivers its shock-value as you approach the comic rack. There you see the “Amazing Spider-Man” logo with an expanding beam of light behind it that spreads down to the bottom of the page, ending in the spider-signal. But on the way, you see Blackie Drago and then the original Vulture (not yet with the name Adrian Toomes). It’s a split-second of difference but, with Blackie a bit higher on the page, perhaps your eye first takes him in (and you think, “Hmmm, new Vulture story”) and then your eye takes in the original (and you think, “What the heck??) The cover text, reading, “Wings in the Night!” is tucked up under the logo on the right, out of the way of the reveal. It may not seem like much now but it may have had quite an impact at the time. “But,” you say, “isn’t it a mistake to give that away on the cover?” No, because it is given away on the splash page anyway and it’s just the eye-opener you need to get a jaded Spidey fan to buy the issue. And, besides, Stan already pretty much gave it away in the “Next Issue” blurb in ASM #62, July 1968 that read, “One Vulture Too Many!” So let’s get to the story.

In a driving rain (and a great shadowy splash page), a bald winged figure perches on the cornice of a tall Manhattan building. It is the original Vulture who, Stan says, "died while in prison in issue #48... or so we thought!" The Vulture, his eyes bulging with madness and rage, reveals that he has actually been in hiding until he was ready to "carry out my carefully laid plan." He let his ex-cellmate Blackie Drago take over the role of the Vulture and be "easily defeated by that snivelling, so-called superhero Spider-Man." (To be fair to Blackie, Spidey did not defeat him easily. In fact, Spidey didn’t really defeat him at all. It was Kraven who did, accidentally.) Now, with Drago in prison, "Spider-Man has crossed the Vulture off his list." The winged man flies off, promising to make the web-slinger pay for thinking him out of the way.

Elsewhere, as the rain worsens, Spider-Man swings around town. The downpour makes it hard for him to aim his webbing and, what's worse, his web formula is not waterproof. Suddenly the walls of the buildings are too slick for his webbing to hold and Spider-Man falls. He tries to grab onto a ledge as he tumbles by but it, too, is "too wet and slippery." He breaks his fall enough so that he is not killed when he lands on a terrace. (It’s not the only terrace that will have an affect on this story.) Still, he has knocked the wind out of himself and he has landed on his right shoulder which now feels like "it was massaged by the Hulk!"

After taking a few minutes to catch his breath, the web-slinger gets to his feet. The pain in his shoulder is so intense, he thinks it must be making him delirious since he just "saw the Vulture flying by." Carefully, Spidey climbs down the building, favoring his shoulder, waiting for a policeman in a rain slicker to pass by, knowing that he could never get away if the cop spotted him now. He finally gets to the street and starts home on foot.

Elsewhere, the Vulture has arrived at a museum that is displaying the wings that Blackie Drago used. (The museum seems to be called, “Museum,” and has hours from 9AM to 5PM weekdays.) He bursts through a window, knocks the guard silly with one punch, takes the wings and flies away. "Soon, the news will be out," he yells, "the Vulture lives again!" (There’s one lonely pedestrian under an umbrella in the rain who could be one of the first to know that the Vulture lives again but he doesn’t seem to be particularly interested.)

Shortly thereafter, Spidey climbs wearily into the window of his apartment. It is late enough that he figures his roommate Harry Osborn is asleep. Good thing, too, since Pete is "too beat even" to take off his costume. He climbs into bed without changing, which must soak the bed horribly, wouldn't you think? His arm throbs so badly that, even though he's tired, he can't get to sleep. And all he can think about is his girlfriend Gwen and how she came in at the end of an incident between Pete and her father, getting the wrong idea. (This happened in ASM #60, May 1968, remember? Captain Stacy was brainwashed by the Kingpin. Peter goes to see him, because he saw the Captain in the Brainwasher's machine while he was fighting the Kingpin as Spider-Man. With his back to the Captain, Pete's spider-sense goes off. The brainwashed retired policeman is preparing to brain Peter with his cane. Instinctively, forgetting his own strength, Pete defends himself, knocking Stacy to the ground. This is when Gwen comes in. Her brainwashed father accuses Peter of attacking him for no reason. And when, an issue later, the brainwashing is reversed, Captain Stacy's memory of the whole incident is too fuzzy to recall the truth. Pete, of course, fears that any explanation would reveal that he is Spider-Man so he says not a word to his ladylove. Now back to the issue at hand.)

The next day, with his shoulder still killing him, Pete rides his motorcycle to Empire State University. Harry is walking with Gwen and he starts to hail his roommate but Gwen stops him. When Harry tells her that everyone figures she and Pete are an item, Gwen replies, "Let's just say they all figured wrong, shall we?"

(Look! In the t-shirt ad, there’s a new Captain Marvel t-shirt. That’s the original Mar-Vell in his original green and white outfit. I’d like to have one of those!)

In class, Pete sits right next to Gwen and he is heartsick at her indifference. He is so absorbed in her that he fails to notice that Dr. Warren is asking him a question. ("Parker, if you're trying to lead some sort of silent student protest," he says, "I wish you'd let us in on it!") Sadly, Pete decides that he must forget Gwen just as she has forgotten him. After class, he watches her depart and he wonders how she could have "put me out of her mind...out of her heart so quickly, so easily" but Pete doesn't see the tears well up in Gwen's eyes. "If only you had one word of explanation," she thinks, "I'd believe anything you tell me. Nothing seems to matter anymore without you!" (Gwen’s looking quite a bit like Carol Lynley in this panel. Anyone remember Carol Lynley?)

Meanwhile, in the exercise yard of a nearby prison, convicts who have heard that the original Vulture is still alive surround Blackie Drago. The men accuse Drago of being afraid of the Vulture, seeing as he stole the old man's wings and then "bungled the job" but Blackie scoffs at all that. "Blackie Drago ain't scared of nobody, least of all a dead man," he says. But, at that moment, the "dead man" flies over the prison wall. He still holds the extra pair of wings in his hand and he orders a fleeing Blackie to hold his ground. Terrified, Drago cries out, "Stay back! Keep away! I don't believe in ghosts!" but the Vulture tells him he's "as alive as you are!" Then, while he holds off the approaching prison guards, he orders Blackie into the extra pair of wings. Blackie gloats as he dons the costume, claiming he fears no one once he wears the wings, but, as the two men fly away, he is surprised by how fast and agile the older Vulture is. "Because I am the real Vulture," is the reply, "not a mere, untalented imitator!"

Back at the Osborn/Parker apartment, Pete is too distracted to study. His shoulder is killing him and he can't stop thinking about Gwen. Harry enters with a letter from Flash Thompson, who is in the Army. Flash's letter says he's soon to ship out for Vietnam. He even sends best regards to Pete! "You two'll probably end up best friends someday," Harry tells Peter. (And they do, but then it gets retconned so they don't, but then it gets retconned so they do. I think. I’ve lost track.) Peter, in a somber mood, tells Harry he can't continue to live in such a fancy apartment and let his roommate pay all the rent. Harry tells him he's not complaining, since, "You know my Dad pays all the bills! And even though you're always in a jam, you're better than no company at all." "Just remember me in your will," Harry finishes, which prompts Pete to reflect on how many times he's been close to death as Spider-Man. He wishes he had someone with whom he could share his secret but he can think of no one. Downcast, he decides to call Gwen. Captain Stacy answers the phone and gives the unwelcome news that his daughter is not home, but "on a date, I suppose." To make matters worse, he asks Pete if he'll have lunch with him the next day. Peter agrees, but, with the Captain's "hobby of studying Spider-Man," fears that Stacy has "finally learned something."

Though it is late, there is a knock at the door. Pete answers. It is Norman Osborn, looking feverish and in a harsh mood. ("Let me in," he bellows, "I'm not accustomed to waiting!") Norman wonders why he thinks of the Green Goblin whenever he sees Peter. (In fact, he thinks of the Goblin with a trapped Spider-Man, a la ASM #40, September 1966. And Stan has the nerve to chide any readers for being “careless enough to have missed ishes #39 and #40” even though they were two years ago. Anyway, in Norman’s thoughts, the web-slinger's mask is in the Goblin's hand but the webhead's face is in shadow.) Norman puts his hand to his head as images of Spidey and the Goblin swirl around in his mind. This only compounds Peter's worries. "What if his past memory is returning?", he wonders. "What if he's starting to recall that he himself had been the Green Goblin?" What if, indeed.

Pete calls Harry into the room, telling him that something is wrong with his dad. Harry hurries to his father's side but Norman, though still sweating, tells his son that the spell is passing. Harry determines that his dad is working too hard so he decides to take him home and stay with him "till you're yourself again." Pete steps away from the Osborns. Norman was "the only living man who knew that Peter Parker is really Spider-Man." (Now, he's only one of dozens...or so it seems.) If this memory comes back to Norman, Peter doesn't know what he's going to do. But I’m sure he’ll find out.

Now, let's shift back to the two Vultures, hovering over the Manhattan skyline. (Love the little billboard in this panel that says, "Think.") They glide down to a nearby roof. Blackie assumes that he's the "top dog" of the duo. After all, "you musta needed me real bad to help me break out like ya did," he tells the Vulture. The suggestion outrages the older man but he puts that aside while he explains how he is still alive.

He reminds Blackie of the time in the prison hospital when he thought he was dying. (As seen in ASM #48, May 1967.) He trusted Blackie but saw how the younger man made no effort to hide his sense of triumph when learning where to find the Vulture's wings. The original realized that Blackie had strung him along, never cared about him, only duped him to gain the wings. "It was then," the Vulture says, "that my will to live grew stronger than my illness." He had to live, had to recover, so that he could get revenge.

During the confusion of Blackie's escape, the Vulture clubs a guard, steals his uniform, and sets a fire in the hospital supply room. With all these distractions, he looks like just another guard setting out in the search for Blackie Drago. Having made his escape, he nurses himself back to health and builds a second pair of wings. Now, he is back to get that revenge.

But Blackie isn't scared. He is the one who actually beat Spider-Man. (Of course, Spidey had the flu then, right?) He believes that he would have permanently finished off the web-slinger if Kraven hadn't accidentally zapped him with a paralysis ray. (And he may be right.) Brazenly, Drago sticks a finger in the Vulture's face and tells him that, in any team-up, "I'm gonna be the boss!" The Vulture can't believe Blackie's stupidity. Even after hearing the story, he doesn't realize that he was freed because the old man needs "to show the entire world which one of us is the real Vulture. Only by defeating you, thoroughly and completely, can I again regain my rightful place in the hierarchy of crime!" And saying this, he punches Drago hard, right in the jaw.

Blackie is stunned but the Vulture gives him time to recover, taunting him and telling him to use his stolen wings. Blackie responds with a head butt right to the Vulture's solar plexus, declaring, "I'm younger and stronger and faster than you!" This is what all the Vulture's enemies have always thought "before I beat them one by one." (Who else has the Vulture fought besides Spider-Man?) The original tosses the pretender casually away. Blackie recovers and attacks again, though now aware that the Vulture is stronger than he looks.

On the street below, Peter Parker takes a walk, worrying about Norman Osborn. A bystander pointing out a sky battle between two men with wings interrupts his reverie. When he looks up, Peter is shocked to learn not only that Blackie Drago has broken jail but that the original Vulture is still alive. Still, he can't do much with his wounded shoulder so he hopes "they'll polish each other off" and heads for the Daily Bugle.

But Peter just can't escape the action. When he arrives at the Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson drags him to the building's roof. He needs pictures of the two Vultures fighting and the battle is close enough to get great shots from his own building.

At the point that Pete and JJJ arrive, Blackie has his hands around the Vulture's neck. JJJ yells at Peter to snap some shots but Pete has to be careful. His camera is attached to his Spidey belt and he can't let Jonah see that. He removes the camera and starts working but when he asks Jonah how much he'll pay for the pictures, the old skinflint replies, "You should pay me! Who brought you up there?" But Pete breaks off that conversation when he realizes that the two combatants are getting far too close to the terrace of a nearby building and that there's a scared little kid stuck out there.

Claiming that he's only been toying with the young man, the Vulture deflects Blackie's next attack and flings him into the aforementioned terrace. The glass of the sliding door shatters and the stone of the terrace crumbles. (Although it looks like the sliding door morphs into a plate-glass window.) The terrified young boy hangs on for his life to a small piece of the tilting terrace. Pete realizes he can no longer be a bystander. As the Vulture moves in for the kill, J. Jonah Jameson turns to find his photographer is gone. "The greatest news pictures of the year," he blusters, "And that spineless milksop chickened out!" But hidden behind a corner, Pete is busy changing into the garb of the Amazing Spider-Man.

Oblivious to the plight of the boy, Blackie Drago flies back to face the Vulture. He hits the older man with everything he's got but it isn't enough. The Vulture responds with a vicious two-legged kick to Drago's jaw. He pummels Blackie, sending him toppling from the skies. But another figure has now attracted his attention. Spider-Man swings by and rescues the little boy.

Back at the broken terrace, a grateful mother hugs her saved little boy. (Though maybe she should think twice about letting her kid play on a terrace without any supervision.) On a nearby roof, J. Jonah Jameson rages that he's "sitting right on top" of "the greatest scoop of the century... without a photographer!!" ("When I get my hands on that chicken-livered Parker, I'll demolish him!") On a lower roof, two policemen capture the beaten Blackie Drago. ("I'll never put these wings on again!" Blackie vows, "The Vulture's too much for anyone!" And, true to his word, Blackie Drago, in all the last fifty years, has never put on the wings again! In fact, it looks like he’s been in prison all this time. Though, really, the Vulture didn’t beat him that severely, did he? Seemed more it was anybody’s fight to me.) And up in the sky, the Vulture can't believe his luck. "A chance to rid myself of Drago and to polish off Spider-Man, all in the same day." And the Vulture's even luckier than he knows, for, having carried the boy to safety, Spidey's injured arm has gone completely numb. Too late to worry about it, though. The Vulture swoops in for the kill.

The Bullpen Bulletins page (“Gangway, World! Marvel’s Marching On!) only has three items and Stan’s Soapbox. The rest of it is filled up with the “Mighty Marvel Checklist” which has recently exploded with new titles. The first item touts the new Silver Surfer series. The second item crows about how Not Brand Echh is now a King-Size 25 cents. (“While you’re triumphantly snaring the Silver Surfer, be sure to grab Not Brand Echh also and you’ll have scored the greatest double play of the month!”) And item #3 promotes the Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine. And, guess what? These are the three items plugged in our last few pages, as well.

In the Soapbox, Stan tries to convince us that the reason why Marvel has expanded its monthly output is “because YOU ask for them….In fact, remember when we tried to discontinue the Hulk some years ago? Your unceasing outcry forced us to bring him back, despite the fact that it imposed a tremendous strain upon our already overworked staff…Personally, we’d be happy to let up a bit. Many of us, including yours truly, haven’t had a vacation in years!...We don’t want you to spend all your bread on our mags, honest. But, so long as the dramatic demand for them continues, we can’t turn a deaf ear.” Good old Stan, he’s all heart. He’s doing it all for us. Profit has nothing to do with it.

A turn of the page reveals a full-page ad for Not Brand Echh #9 which is now “twice as many pages,” as we learned in the Bullpen Bulletins, and which we will get to very soon.

And the Spider’s Web is reduced to one page this time. But, at the bottom, Stan assures us “Don’t get frantic, faithful ones! We haven’t permanently cut our liltin’ letters section to one page. We just needed an extra page this month for a senses-shattering special announcement which you’ll find elsewhere in this ish! Next month everything will be back to normal, meaning two full pages of your cavortin’ correspondence and your batty Bullpen’s agonizin’ answers. We promise, pussycat!” But what is the “senses-shattering special announcement?” The full-page Echh ad? The final page ads for Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #1 (still touted as “the Greatest Event in the History of Comic Magazines!”) and Silver Surfer #1? None of that seems “special” enough to cut the letter page down. Yes, it will go back up to two pages again next issue but this one-page edition is a sign of things to come.

For all those who like to keep track of printed letters written by fans who later became pros, allow me to point out that this Spider's Web includes a note from Don McGregor, then of Providence, Rhode Island in which Don says, “Well, it seems that Spidey is one of the few [Marvel Comics] left where the art isn’t the main factor. The main factor is still Stan Lee’s script and characters.” The rest of his letter is as verbose as his Marvel scripts, which I love, actually. Especially those Black Panther Jungle Action issues. Only 3 other letters are printed this time. Patrick Parker of South Haven, Michigan has an idea for a resolution of Peter’s problems with Gwen. “Then, out of the blue, Spidey asks her to marry him. She utters two words that will go down in history – ‘Marry you????’ Spidey rips off his mask and gives her the biggest kiss any man has ever seen. Now, after all that, I have only one thing to say – hope you read this before you make things happen differently!” Stan replies, “And you got your wondrous wish, PP! We did read our letter first – then we made things happen differently!” John Sinclair of Ft. Washington, Pennsylvania exclaims, “You must really hate Spider-Man!!” to which Stan says, “Not as much as you think, John! Sheesh! At least we didn’t give Aunt May another heart attack that ish!” Finally, David Schneider of Miamisburg, Ohio notes (as I think I did in my Lookback) that, in ASM #60, “you have Spidey entering a ‘sound-proof, steel-walled vault chamber’ via the window? You have to admit that not all vaults have windows! Other than that and the fact that Mr. Stacy carries a lead cane (how else could it knock Spidey out?) and is as strong as a bull elephant, I suppose I could give you an ‘A’.” Stan says, “We’d believe that vaults with window do exist (After all, we showed you one, didn’t we?!) – and that Mr. Stacy carries a lead cane (Seeing is believing, isn’t it?!” Three letter writers tried to tell Stan what’s what and he left them all nursing their injuries.

(And, yeah, there are ads for Spectacular Spider-Man and Silver Surfer on the very last page.)

General Comments

Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)

  1. Third time Spidey is not on the cover. The last time was just a few issues ago, in ASM #58, March 1968. He’ll be MIA again on the cover of ASM #72, May 1969.
  2. Sixth appearance of the original Vulture (after ASM #2, May 1963 ASM #7, December 1963 Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) Annual #1 (Story 1), 1964 ASM #18, November 1964 and ASM #48, May 1967). He’s back next issue!
  3. Third appearance of Blackie Drago (after ASM #48, May 1967 and ASM #49, June 1967). He has one final tiny appearance in Marvel Knights: Spider-Man #10, March 2005 but Stan has no more interest in him. Maybe it’s time to start cataloguing the villains with whom Stan is finished in Amazing Spider-Man. It actually would be easier at this point to list the ones he’s not through with. But, here we go. The Tinkerer, the Sandman, Dr. Doom, the Living Brain, the Big Man, the Enforcers, the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime, the Scorpion, the Clown and his Masters of Menace, Lucky Lobo, the Crime Master, the Molten Man, the Cat, the Looter, Mendel Stromm, Joe Smith, the Rhino, and Dr. Winkler. Did I forget anyone?
  4. What is Blackie’s one final tiny Marvel Knights: Spider-Man appearance? Spidey is breaking into Ryker’s Island Prison to spring Norman Osborn. (Confused by that? Read the comic or the review.) On page 10 panel 4, he passes by a guy sleeping in a cell. “Is that Blackie Drago in there?” he says, “I haven’t seen him since he was doing the whole Vulture thing a few years back. Is he still locked up?” Apparently so, Spidey.
  5. Flash Thompson heads to Vietnam, according to his letter to Harry.
  6. A tale of two terraces. If only the first one had shattered like the second one, then maybe Spidey wouldn’t have that shoulder injury.
  7. Who knew there is a apartment building with terraces right across the street from the Daily Bugle?
  8. First time Spidey doesn’t fight anyone for the entire issue since ASM #18, November 1964 when he runs away from the Sandman.
  9. The Spider’s Web is reduced to one page.
  10. The Spectacular Spider-Man ad is reduced to a half page. But it’s still “The Greatest Event in the History of Comic Magazines!”

The 1969 Marvelmania International Spider-Man Portfolio checklist entry for this issue:

Romita-Heck-Demeo/Lee/Rosen
“Wings in the Night” – The Old Vulture and the New are back and feuding.

Overall Rating

Two Vulture duking it out with each other, Spidey’s sprained arm, Pete agonizing over Gwen, Flash heading to Viet Nam, the Green Goblin about to emerge from Norman Osborn; all of this and Spidey doesn’t even fight anyone! The first five pages in the rain (begun with that great, shadowy splash page making the Vulture look like a gutterspout gargoyle) create a film noir feel that reverberates through the entire book. Even the flashbacks (of Peter standing over Captain Stacy, of the Green Goblin, of the original Vulture escaping prison) maintain that noirish feel. This is great, moody stuff, even without Spidey fighting someone.

After a handful of lesser issues, we’re back to five webs! Now can we make it two in a row?

Footnote

Next: It’s Daredevil #43 with the Man without Fear battling Captain America! Why do we care? Because Peter Parker shows up in one panel snapping a photograph. Does that make it worth it? Let’s find out!