OK, here's the lowdown on this one. I've been wanting to do the story of the Two Vultures from ASM #63-65 for over two years but the time has never seemed quite right. In spite of the best of intentions, the whole idea was eventually shelved and, with all sorts of other Lookbacks taking its place, it looked like it would just never get done at all.
Then I read Spider-Girl #17 which dealt with (Spoilers here!) the new flying villain called Raptor who turned out to be the daughter of Blackie Drago! Just the sort of lead-in I was looking for to justify my "Two Vultures" blast from the past.
|Pencils:||Don Heck, John Romita, Sr.|
|Cover Art:||John Romita, Sr.|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Tales #46|
|Reprinted In:||Sinister Tales (U.K.) #98|
|Reprinted In:||Essential Spider-Man #3|
In a driving rain, 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 reveals that he has actually been in hiding until he was ready to "carry out my carefully laid plan". He was content to 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". Now, though, 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 falls past, but breaks his fall enough so that he is not killed when he lands on a terrace. 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 which is displaying the wings that Blackie Drago used. 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!"
Shortly thereafter, Spidey climbs wearily into the window of his apartment. It is late enough that his roommate Harry Osborne 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. Captain Stacy had been brainwashed by the Kingpin. Peter went to see him, because he had seen the Captain in the Brainwasher's machine while 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 lady love. 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?"
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 her 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!"
Meanwhile, in the exercise yard of a nearby prison, Blackie Drago is surrounded by convicts who have heard that the original Vulture is still alive. 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 Drago 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 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.) 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. 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?"
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 moves 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.
Now, let's shift back to the two Vultures, hovering over the skyline of Manhattan. (Love the little billboard in this panel that says, "Think".) They glide down to a nearby roof. Blackie Drago 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 older man is outraged by the suggestion but he puts that aside while he explains how he can still be alive.
He reminds Blackie of that time in the prison hospital when he thought he was dying. (As seen in ASM #48 and, hey, there's a Lookback on that. Check it out!) 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 the new 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 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?) and he believes that he would have permanently finished off the web-slinger if Kraven hadn't entered the picture and accidentally zapped him with a paralysis ray. 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.
Drago 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". 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. His reverie is interrupted by a bystander pointing out a sky battle between two men with wings. 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. 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. 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 thirty-two years, has never been seen again!) 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.
And, 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 issue's Spider's Web includes a note from Don McGregor, then of Providence, Rhode Island. But let's not dawdle. Spidey's in hot water. The next issue awaits!
The story is far from over, it continues in Amazing Spider-Man #64 in part two of this three-part arc.