Friday, 6 March 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #48. The New Vulture

Amazing Spider-Man #48, the Vulture Number 2, John Romita
(One of Spider-Man's oldest foes returns -- or does he? From May 1967.)

"The Wings Of The Vulture!"

Written by Stan Lee
Drawn and inked by John Romita
Lettered by Sam Rosen


Spider-Man's swinging around over the city and, in one of those coincidences that happen only in comic-book-land, his search for action takes him to the boundaries of the local prison, where unknown to him, treachery's afoot. It seems the Vulture's had a an accident in the prison workshop, presumably the same workshop where the Shocker found the resources to put together his very first vibro-blaster. The Vulture, however wasn't so lucky. Whatever he was up to, it's all gone wrong.

Exactly what this accident involved, we're never told but it's made clear that he's at death's door. Realising his time is nigh, the feathery felon demands to see his cell mate Blackie Drago and, when the man in question's brought to him, the Vulture tells him where his secret pair of wings are hidden. He wants Drago to assume the guise of the Vulture and finish off Spider-Man on his behalf. At this point, Drago starts laughing. It seems he arranged the Vulture's "accident" in order to get him to reveal this information. Somehow, this moment feels wrong. The Vulture's one of Spider-Man's oldest and deadliest foes. It feels like Lee and Romita should be showing such a character more respect than having him finished off by what's ultimately some no-mark thug. It's a safe bet the Vulture would agree with me and he hurls abuse at his killer as the man leaves the room. But it's too late to do anything now, as death draws near and, left alone, he reminisces about his past failures to thwart the web-slinger.

Blackie, meanwhile, busts out of jail with the greatest of ease, finds the wings - which are hidden nearby - and, as the prison guards fire at him, soars upwards into the air, ready for his new life of crime.

If Drago's happy, all's not well in the world of Peter Parker. He's come down with a king-sized case of the man-flu and is sent home from college. On arriving home, his TV tells him there's a new Vulture on the loose.

We rejoin the wrong-doer as he flies above the buildings of New York, testing out his new-found powers. He smashes a chimey with one kick, implying that his costume must somehow be strengthening his feet as well as enabling him to fly and, having taken mere hours to master the power of flight, he's off to commit a series of audacious crimes, secure in the knowledge that, "There's no one livin' who can stop a man with wings."

But we all know that's not the case. Man-flu or no, our hero has to do something about this new menace to New York and, quick as you like Spidey's found the villain standing atop the George Washington bridge, about to throw some hapless victim from it. Spidey rescues the man and gets ready for a scrap.

But something's wrong. He just can't get his act in gear. The flu's worse than he thought and it's all Spider-Man can do to even retain his consciousness. Frankly, if a miracle doesn't happen, our hero's had it.

Our hero's had it. The longer the fight goes on, the worse his condition gets and, with one mighty kick from his foe, Spider-Man's sent tumbling, to lie, seemingly lifeless, on the roof of a nearby building as his conqueror flies off in triumph.

If the casual discarding of the original Vulture feels wrong and like a mistake, this scene is one that Lee and Romita get right. It was always a question mark how the Vulture, seemingly a frail old man, could give Spider-Man ("strength of ten men") a fight. Even with wings, he'd simply have had his block knocked off. The only explanation you could come up with was that he must've had super-strength, even though it was never actually said that he did. If someone else, clearly non-super-powered, had come along and been able to give Spidey a fight, just like the original had, it wouldn't make any sense whatsoever. By making it clear that our hero's ill and can't fight in the way he normally would, it equalises the fight and leaves us to assume that the defeat he suffers is more down to his own current weakness than any ability the imitation Vulture has.

Overall, this is a slightly atypical story for the period, very linear, with virtually no time devoted to either Peter Parker or his supporting cast. In fact, the one glimpse of them we get in his absence consists of just three panels, all of which could be removed without making any difference to the story or to what happens in subsequent stories. It seems to signal a move on behalf of the strip towards more action and less introversion. Happily, for fans of the soap that is Peter Parker's life, it's a move that will only last a couple of issues before his private turmoil kicks in big time and leads to one of the strip's all time classic tales.

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