November 28th, 2008
The Vulture was the first rogue Zom and I ever discussed giving the once over, long, long before Mindless Ones was even a glint in his eye – years ago in fact – so it seems a bit weird that we’re only just now getting around to Mr. Toomes. I think of all the Rogues he’s the one crying out for a bit of understanding – perhaps even a teensy makeover – and it feels really good to get stuck into him now. Because the Vulture is spooky as fuck really, and it’s a crime nobody’s really noticed or taken advantage of just how unpleasant this guy actually is.
I suppose Peter Parker’s (like Clark Kent’s) life can be reduced to two distinct stages: High School Spidey and Big City Reporter Spidey. Whenever we think of Spiderman the eternal teenager is always present, simply because the 60′s spider-mythos is so strong. Essentially, the character has never managed to shake off all that angsty moaning and groaning, inspite of landing a fantastic job, marrying one of his childhood sweethearts and finally achieving sexytime. As Zom’s pointed out, like a teenager, he kind of enjoys playing the victim. The S&M dynamic is very strong between Spiderman and his enemies, but why do they lust after him so violently? What makes them want to play the dom, the aggressor? Is it simply because he’s asking for it – which I’m sure it sort of is – or is something else at play here? Do they covet that youthful physique, just crying out to distorted, rent, violated? Is Parker the ultimate clean and proper surface – the supreme canvas – for Kraven’s tusk-knives, the lizard’s lashing tongue and Electro’s scorching, cracking, death-heat? It’s hard to put your finger on, however there’s something of the brutalising abusive adult about the spider-villains. It’s like they want to carve their petty hatreds, their insecurities and uglinesses into Spideman’s flesh. His soul. They want to see him ravaged as they have been.
Especially the Vulture.
I always say this, but take a look at him.
Not at some new improved future Vulture, not some armoured, hi-tech SUPERvillain, but the stringy, gangly pensioner in his green romper suit. He’s the guy, the one who would HATE Spiderman, with all his exaggerated zest, spring and energy, with his quick jokes and vigorous, pleasing frame. It’s youth vs *wisdom*, folks, and it’s going to be vicious.
The Vulture’s unique in that he’s one of the few Marvel villains who doesn’t boast a perfect pair of pecs – his eligibility for a bus pass really is his schtick. It’s what makes him special, it’s part of what drives him, and a massive element in what makes him creepy. This is not to say the elderly are actually frightening, but the things they represent in the minds of the Pretty Things definitely are – death, decrepitude, physical deterioration and corruption, isolation, losing one’s mind – and the Vulture signifies the intrusion of those fears upon the bright, perfected super-body of the MU. And, is if to underline the point, he picks its most childlike hero to harrass. So if the Vulture embodies everything we’d rather deny about our slowly withering skin, then what does that mean? How should he be depicted – played?
Picture the scene: Spiderman and his winged nemesis tumbling down the side of the Daily Bugle building, chromed windows cascading up behind them like glassy steel fountain-spray jetting from the tarmac below. The Vulture slashes and punches and snaps at Peter’s throat, legs wrapped round his mid-section, clawed feet digging into his rib-cage. There is in this blood-thirsty, frenzied attack something feral, inhuman – it speaks of the indignity of senility and the diseased mind, when selfhood starts to crumble and there are sudden flashes of pure id, pure body, pure dementia – unreasonable explosions and outbursts; the care worker’s disturbing discovery that Mr. Jones is far, far tougher than he expected him to be, and that illness sometimes results in bizzare, inexplicable savageries. And of course the Vulture’s strength is enhanced by his airy, gravity-defying harness, positioning the combat – the violence – within the realm of the doubly ironic. Consider the broken, enfeebled body empowered with flight and the ability to bench-press hundreds of pounds – it’s as though Toomes weathered but artificially enhanced form is somehow making a mockery of physical accomplishment. Symbols of hope and transcendence forever bound to the earthly, sunken and decayed.“You soar through the sky on your webs, but you will never be free of this aging, ultimately humiliating, flesh” , is the secret message he whispers silently into Parker’s ear. As Spiderman might comment to himself in the caption boxes chasing their flailing, plummeting bodies – “Wrists that should snap like twigs upon impact somehow remain intact, trailing fists, talons, pummeling my super-irradiated skull, face, spine…. How can he sustain and deliver such a pounding?” Imagine getting into a scrap with your Grandad. Now you know how Spidey feels. Punching geriatrics isn’t a cool thing to do, and the Vulture takes advantage of this fact, staggering and spluttering like a wounded seagull, putting his opponents of guard before renewing his attack. He’s pretty much a generic supervillain, possessing nothing more than super-strength and flight, but we can already see there’s much more to the Vulture than that. It’s the way he *wears it* that counts.
So let’s theorise for a moment; let’s say the Vulture began his career in his late sixties and he’s now in his hundreds. He’s degenerating but incredibly sloooowly, thanks to his harness. A side effect of the anti-gravity means his cells don’t age as quickly other people’s, and he can violently repel bodies around him, ranging from the Earth to superheroes. He’s not really strong (although he is fit) and there’s something very wrong about someone as deeply haggard, twisted and ghoulish as the Vulture is inside incorporating a noticeably contrived, false, but immensely powerful exteriority. One might also ask – is his mind healthy? Has it deteriorated in ways his body has not? Was it all systems go! to begin with, or, being an inventor, was he of the mad sort: the idiot savant, the enclosed, antisocial shut-in who spent too much time bird-watching and analysing gravitons at the expense of fostering normal, human relationships? Or, in the end, did that weird technology do something to him, warping his psychic processes out of all recognition (perhaps it prematurely piled those years on as well, before he managed to stabilise the process)? People in the MU spend a lot of time around futuristic, alien, technologies; not a lot is said about it, but it’s quite possible all those cosmic cubes and weird chemicals in the pumpkin bombs do something to one’s head. Whatever. lying beneath all this is the dark, unhappy truth that the Vulture is every isolated senior citizen peering up at you beseechingly from Age Concern’s latest mailing, but gone off, bad, septic. He’s the monster we’re all afraid we might turn into if one day we find ourselves just, well, alone. I want the Vulture’s ‘head’ to be as gnarly as his face, if you know what I mean. The guy’s been without explicit motivation, give or take greed and vengeance, for simply forever now, and I mean to rescue him from this sorry state. Personally I can’t get enough of the idea that the Vulture initially set himself up as a grotesque mockery of the beautiful super-people who’d recently converted New York into a spectacular, primary coloured battleground. Deranged by his harness, embittered by betrayal, failure and exclusion in almost every aspect of his life (social, romantic and professional), and seething with jealousy for the gorgeous eternal youths sprouting laser beams and biceps the size of trucks around him, Adrian Toomes decided he’d get his own back. That he’d bring them low.
And then he bumped into the Webhead. It couldn’t have been more perfect. The rest is history.
Vultures are attendant of death – of rotting – and Toomes’s appearance is precisely intended to unearth a deep-seated fear of same in the one group who should otherwise be immune: the superheroes. He’s an omen of doom, but one with intention and directonality – one that actually desires to see you dead. I want Toomes to be fully aware (tho’ now lost in) the role he plays, embodying the principles his namesake represents and enacting the mores, mythology and narratives surrounding it – mimicking its behaviour even. It’s questionable whether or not Toomes ever takes his costume off (afterall he needs it in order to remain…intact), and I can just imagine the local shopkeep, where Vultchy goes to pick up his copy of the Bugle in order to keep pace with Spidey and his dentucream, beginning to get quite disconcerted by the sweet, sweet smell of musty bird droppings following his oddest customer around and… was that fur, or rumpled feathers poking out of his sleeve? *BrrrRR*. The Vulture should stand out from the rest of the themed villain crowd (see the Rhino), in that there’s a fetishistic, ritualistic quality defining his relationship with his secret identity and his, ahem, power animal. Spiderman understands this all too well, and on the hottest day of the year, when the sun threatens to blister the gleaming concrete and the city is transformed into urban desert, he knows to be especially careful – to watch the skies for superpowered carrion, circling, biding its time… The Vulture is a summoning, a conscious and theatrical drawing down of the gangrenous death bird, swooping in to feast itself on the last fiery splutterings of bodies drawn the Marvel way. Indeed, Vultchy should be the first of the Sinister Six to appear to Spiderman (perhaps, while he’s hammering away at a deadline in the Daily Bugle bullpen, Parker snatches a brief yawn and, looking up and through the sheet of glass serving as the building’s wall, he catches a fleeting glimpse of a winged figure, hovering, silhouette bleeding in the last desperate rays of the setting sun, and he knows it’s on…) and also the last. He should always show when our hero’s half dead to gorge on the scraps. This might go some way to explain why he’s been a feature of every one of that ghastly groups incarnations. The guy’s naturally a team player because he likes his meat tattered and bleeding before he digs in.
Or he goes up against his true arch-nemesis, Aunt May, always keen to pick off the elderly and the weak. Yeah, that’s nice (?) on another level too – if Jonah, Flash, Harry, Mary etc. constitute Spiderman’s extended body, but the vulnerable part, then it stands to reason the Vulture would peck away at them first. He’d have a frightening interest in these, errr, exposed areas. A genuine desire to consume Spidey’s life, not out of simple revenge or any of that played out shit (though, as we’ve already discussed, that does play its part), but, moreover, out of a genuine hunger. The Vulture must carry an air of ravenousness about him (even his predeliction for theft is a product of this need to scavenge). That’s really important.
Perhaps, when crazed, he’s actually taken a chunk out of someone, or spirited them off to his Eyrie for a protracted feast. There might be moments when flailing after that damned elusive, slippery taunter, Youth, he’s taken the cannibals and Elizabeth Bathory at their word and set about the corpse of some young stud. Or am I going too far? Maybe. But these dreadful imaginings should flap away at the Vulture’s heels, nevertheless. You wouldn’t put it past our morbid menace if you could see him pacing – clucking and strutting – above Parker’s apartment come midnight, just as our hero’s settling down to bed and starting to relax again; afterall it’s been two weeks since he put Doc Ock, the Goblin and Mysterio away, hasn’t it? There’s nothing to be afraid of.
And the Eyrie – what of it? Well we’re not in the batverse anymore. The Vulture doesn’t have some secret base complete with a supercomputer, special cars and a themed space-rocket. No, he lives in a squalid shack atop one of the city’s tallest buildings. A perfect spot for brewing up those weird anti-aging potions without being disturbed and for surveying the tasty morsels below. It’s possible there are some people who know he’s up there, the caretaker and a friendly, enquiring, charitable, and soon to be deceased, neighbour living in the flat below, but for now they just view him as that eccentric, but lovable old guy up there on the roof, scaring off the pigeons. Everything about the Vulture’s home should speak of the end of the line. Without taking flight, you can’t get any further removed from civilization than his mouldy, leaking, musty nest, but Toomes always has to stay close to the city, prowling the craggy ledge above the sheer cliff-face of the Baxter Building…..
Close to whhheeeere the meat is.