Monday, December 16, 2019

Prey Of The Vulture!

When a hero is on the injured list, we as comics readers often find ourselves counting the days until their recovery, at times feeling as debilitated as the fictional character who leaps into the fray regardless of the fact that the odds are now heavily in their foe's favor. Depending on the circumstances, I imagine it would be something of a challenge for the book's writer to hold our attention in the book until the lead character was back in action in top form, physically or mentally. At times it was no fun reading Iron Man in his Tales Of Suspense days, I can tell you--in addition to his armor running low on power more often than not, Tony Stark's heart condition was a constant presence, even when buffered by a suit of armor designed to protect it. Even so... if handled in small doses, the heroism of the character of Iron Man would still have made for good reading while falling in line with Marvel's main theme of "heroes with problems"; but as it was, Stark's condition all but cried out for 'round the clock hospital care, not taking on the Mandarin et al.

To a lesser degree, writer Stan Lee would indulge in similar treatment of Spider-Man (as if the poor guy's personal problems weren't enough). But while there are several examples to choose from, two which come to mind actually feature the same foe--the Vulture, one of Spidey's deadliest nemeses and someone who isn't likely to show you an ounce of mercy just because you're injured or otherwise feeling under the weather. That would hold true for both men suiting up as the Vulture during 1967-68: Blackie Drago, who managed to lay his hands on the Vulture's suit and equipment and went on to defeat Spider-Man while the web-spinner was afflicted with the flu--and Adrian Toomes, the original, who dealt with Drago and then gleefully turned his attention to Spider-Man, at the scene but hampered with an injured shoulder (from web-swinging in the pouring rain--serves you right, you dope!).

And yet, what you're about to see is a battle issue that doesn't disappoint, a story that stands out in both story and art and definitely goes down as a classic. But in fighting 'til he (literally) drops, will Spider-Man see another defeat at the wings of the Vulture?

With this fight gearing up near the offices of the Daily Bugle, you can bet your last cigar that publisher J. Jonah Jameson will be atop his building to catch the breaking story, made all the sweeter by the possibility that Spider-Man will get his webbed head handed to him by the Vulture. To that end, the icing on Jameson's cake arrives in the person of a Bugle photographer corralled by the paper's City Editor, Joe Robertson--to record this event for the Bugle, yes, but you can't help but wonder if the photos would also end up as souvenirs for Jameson.  But with the savvy Vulture catching on immediately to the fact that Spider-Man is injured, only the Vulture is liable to be captured on film in all his glory.

That's not to say, however, that Spider-Man won't put up a fight.

By now, though, Lee doubtless knows what an asset he has in Jameson, a character who remains popular in the mag even while using his newspaper's resources to hound the title character--and who now is virtually foaming at the mouth here at having yet another chance to witness the downfall of this "webbed menace." But tucked away at his vantage point, he's not being used to his full potential, despite his caustic comments and ravings; and so, when the artist has the battle recklessly move to the Bugle, Lee takes full advantage of the situation and gives Jameson his full due, with both the commendable and deplorable parts of his character on full display.

It's an explosive scene which ramps up an already tense situation, one which can only fuel Jameson's sense of outrage toward Spider-Man--a hero in our eyes, but who will no doubt receive withering criticism in the Editorial section of the next day's Bugle.

As for the Vulture, Lee's work with this villain's character is frankly astounding, giving him one of his best showings ever--dealing with Drago and then pivoting to viciously taking on Spider-Man with both his power and his confidence at their peak. We can't say the same about Spider-Man on either score, though it isn't from his lack of trying.

With the outstanding artwork being displayed here, it may come as some surprise to discover that the book's regular penciller, John Romita, has only provided layouts for this issue (as well as the prior one)--leaving the completion of the work to, believe it or not, Don Heck, who turns in splendid panels throughout (inked by Mickey Demeo, a.k.a. Mike Esposito). The styles of the two artists couldn't be more different, so I should probably be seeing a good deal more of Heck's influence here--either that, or Romita's layouts must be among the strongest in the business for us to be seeing his hand so prominently in this story.

Just as was the case with his fight with Drago, it's become clear that Spider-Man is on his last legs here--presumably due to the severe pain his aggravated shoulder is in, given that until now he's suffered no direct blows from the Vulture. That all changes, however, when the Vulture does strike, with a hit designed to send his foe plummeting to the street. But it becomes only the prelude to a brutal assault of punishing blows delivered to the web-spinner which inevitably accomplish the Vulture's intention. Almost.

In a last-ditch effort, Spider-Man has managed to save himself--but to what end? Helpless and apparently out cold, he's at the mercy of the Vulture, and we all know how that's likely to go. Everything rides on these last few fateful moments, which will determine who walks or flies away from this battle. Smart money is on the Vulture, if he makes no slip-ups or grows overconfident--and as for Spider-Man, perhaps all that he needs to have going for him other than his spider-sense is his mask, with its one-way vision, to give him the element of surprise just when he needs it the most.

While technically a notch in the "win" column for Spider-Man, his last sight of the Vulture doing the equivalent of limping away unfortunately precedes his losing consciousness; and while the crowd has considerably more mercy than the Vulture would have demonstrated, it's obvious that a passed-out Spider-Man offers the man (or woman) on the street an opportunity too tempting to pass up in terms of learning his identity. And with Jameson on his way down, you can bet he'll echo their sentiments.

Can the keen-eyed among you spot the two "oops" moments by the story's colorist?
(Hint: They're not exactly "crowd"-pleasers!)

Amazing Spider-Man #64

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: John Romita and Don Heck
Inks: Mike Esposito (as Mickey Demeo)
Letterer: Artie Simek


dangermash said...

Spider-Man was also injured when fighting the Vulture in ASM #7, having to web one of his arms to his body.

dangermash said...

Also, it's interesting that in the next appearance of a Vulture (in ASM #127-128j we find out that the original Vultiure is in prison. So he doesn’t escape at the end of this story but 8s caught by somebody else behind the scenes and locked up.

Normally it's the other way round with the villain making a reappearance so quickly that he must have escaped prison behind the scenes. Mysterio in ASM Annul #1 must be the best example, coming so soon after ASM #13. Or maybeThe Enforcers appearing in ASM#10, #14 and #19.

Big Murr said...

Quite the dynamic issue indeed! I would never have suspected Don Heck in the mix of that art.

Even after all these years, my knowledge of the Vulture is piecemeal. I never had issues like this one in hand to get something of a rundown on the character, but now seeing him smash bricks and masonry with his stocking feet, I went researching. Okay. Temporary super-strength thru magnetic (argle-bargle). Now it makes some (comic book) sense how Toomes can hold his own against Spidey.

Even so, it must frustrate Spider-Man to now end to fight these physically mediocre dudes (Vulture, Dr. Octopus, etc) hiding behind jazzy hardware. Managing to duck-dodge-parry-weave and land a punch should end the fight immediately, but of course Spider-Man needs to carefully monitor his strength so as not to knock Toomes' head clean off. Dang!! Not enough juice on that one!

(Nope. Can't spot the "oopsies" you mention)

Anonymous said...

I just can't take the Vulture seriously - a flying old man?? One punch from Spidey and the Vulture would be out cold, surely?

Anonymous said...

Just read Big Murr's comment (he posted his comment exactly the same time as mine) so now I see how he can match Spidey.

Comicsfan said...

Murray and Colin, while the panels don't depict it well enough in this story, Spider-Man's ability to clock the Vulture with a spider-strength punch is somewhat mitigated by the Vulture's technique of using his wings to buffer said punch by effectively rolling with it, as Spidey himself has noted here to his disappointment. On that note, if either are you are curious as to the mechanics of the Vulture's wings and the advantages they provide him, you might find his origin story in a previous PPC post interesting.

Anonymous said...

I understand Colin's skepticism about the Vulture; I mean, we're talking about a guy who can fly. Big whup.
But the Vulture doesn't just float around, he's an expert aerialist who uses speed, gravity and momentum like a bird of prey. He's a master of tactics, particularly hit-and-run attacks. He can use his wings as offensive weapons and if memory serves, has some small degree of super-strength and stamina. In the man-made canyons of New York City he can be a tricky guy to fight.
And, most importantly, like the Shocker he's cool!
Cool counts for a lot in the supervillain game.


Haydn said...

And remember, in the preceding issue, the "old" vulture (Adrian Toomes) easily beat the younger, stronger, "new" Vulture, Blackie Drago. Just goes to show that experience and tactics count for something!