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The untold truth of Vulture

In Sony's first trailer for its long-rumored Morbius film, starring Jared Leto as Marvel's vampiric antihero, MCU fans were treated to a potential Easter egg of epic proportions. In the teaser's final shot, Leto's Michael Morbius surprisingly interacts with a character played by Michael Keaton, who of course played the villainous Adrian Toomes, a.k.a. the Vulture, in 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming. The internet was quick to note that Keaton's apparel in the clip appeared to match that of Toomes' prison jumpsuit in Homecoming's post-credits scene. While neither Marvel nor Sony have confirmed anything yet, it's certainly possible that Vulture could be the key to connecting the MCU to Sony's Marvel-affiliated Spider-Verse, which already includes 2018's Venom.

Keaton's Toomes was undoubtedly one of the MCU's best villains to date, but you might be surprised to learn that Spidey's winged foe has a long and storied history in comic book culture. The character was nearly brought to the big screen a few times before, and he has had some truly wild arcs on the page. Here's the untold truth of Marvel's crotchety bird of prey.

Business ethics

Like some other Marvel villains, Adrian Toomes was not an inherently evil man. In fact, one could even argue that the rise of Vulture was a consequence of Toomes' taking action against those who had wronged him. To boil it down, Toomes started out as a skilled entrepreneur who had a knack for designing various electronic contraptions. He and his business partner, Gregory Bestman, founded B&T Electronics, where Toomes created products and Bestman managed the finances. 

All seemed to be going well until Toomes discovered that Bestman had been stealing from the company checkbook. Toomes confronted him about it, but in response, Bestman simply fired him. Furious and jobless, Toomes fashioned a costume out of an electromagnetic flying harness he had designed, and the Vulture was officially born. He first enacted revenge on Bestman by robbing and burning down the company he had helped build, and then turned to a life of crime. The rest, as they say, is history.

Look, Ma, I made the cover!

Spider-Man's rogues' gallery houses some of the Marvel Universe's most notorious baddies, including legendary villains like the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Venom, and Mysterio. While he may not have the brand appeal as some of the bigger names, Vulture is actually one of the wall-crawler's oldest foes. First appearing on the page in May of 1963, Adrian Toomes in his flying electromagnetic flying harness was the second super-powered criminal Spider-Man ever squared off against, only following Chameleon in 1963's Amazing Spider-Man #1.

The issue introduces the Vulture as a new criminal terrorizing the citizens of New York City, prompting the Daily Bugle's J. Jonah Jameson to offer money in exchange for pictures of the flying menace. Peter Parker, at this point a very novice Spider-Man, views this as an opportunity to earn some extra cash to help Aunt May. Spidey manages to get the pictures, marking the first time he ever sold a photo to the Bugle, but Vulture ends up defeating him in the process. The next day, Parker goes in for round two, and this time uses an anti-magnetic device to bring the bird down. 

Although Vulture just barely missed being Spidey's first foe, he does at least hold the honor of being the first supervillain to share the cover of a Spider-Man comic. Not a bad consolation prize!

He's a legacy to a sinister fraternity

You'd be hard pressed to find a more iconic team of super villains than the Sinister Six, a pairing of six individually evil criminals with one particular thing in common: their hatred for Spider-Man. Throughout the years, the team's roster has featured a carousel of Spidey's foes, ranging from iconic pillars like Doc Ock and Electro to lesser-known names like Speed Demon and Overdrive; however, one baddie is almost always included in the lineup: Vulture.

Vulture is actually a founding member of the team, first joining in 1963's Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, which featured the first appearance of the Sinister Six in comic book history. In the issue, Doc Ock, sick and tired of losing to Spider-Man, assembles a group of the wall-crawler's foes in the hopes that six heads are better than one webbed one (spoiler alert: They weren't). In addition to Toomes' Vulture, the squad also consisted of Electro, Kraven the Hunter, Mysterio, and Sandman. If the Sinister Six is like the Backstreet Boys of the supervillain world, does that make Vulture the Kevin or the AJ?

A wake of Vultures

It's not uncommon in the Marvel universe for multiple people to take up the mantle of a particular superhero or supervillain. Venom, for example, was once inhabited by both Eddie Brock and Flash Thompson, and the Ant-Man costume has been donned by several people, including Hank Pym, Scott Lang, and Eric O'Grady. Similarly, Vulture's wings have not been exclusively owned by Adrian Toomes.

In total, there have been four individuals to become Vulture: Toomes, the original creator and most popular iteration, Blackie Drago, Toomes' prison cellmate who stole the suit but failed to defeat his predecessor, Clifton Shallot, a college professor who biologically mutated himself into a man-vulture hybrid, and Jimmy Natale, a mutated ex-mob enforcer who briefly terrorized NYC, literally eating people, before the Punisher killed him. There's also the Vulturions, a C-list gang of thugs who were gifted knockoff Vulture suits by one of Toomes' old cellmates. Talk about a band of buzzards!

Family Man

It's no secret that without his winged flying suit, Vulture is little more than a feeble old man, albeit one with a fairly formidable intellect. Still, there's one thing for certain: you don't want to mess with the man's family. As a child, Toomes took care of his older brother, Marcus, after he was involved in a motorcycle crash, so family values were seemingly always a priority for him.

In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Michael Keaton's Toomes is revealed to be the father of Peter Parker's high school crush, Liz. This is kind of a subtle twist on the comics, where Toomes similarly has a "secret" daughter named Valeria. While Adrian and Val don't exactly have a close relationship, Vulture is not without some fatherly features. 

In 2010's Web of Spider-Man #5, Titus Purves, fellow inmate and president of the Aryan Brotherhood, orders Toomes to build him a flying suit to breakout, threatening his daughter and grandson should he not comply. While he does actually build the suit, Vulture rigs it to repel Earth's magnetic field, sending Purves flying towards an icy death in outer space. Birds of prey take care of their chicks!

Blinded by the light

As with most comic book characters, Spider-Man has definitely had some weird things happen to him on the page. Arguably one of the hero's stranger arcs came in The Superior Spider-Man, a 31-issue series that ran from 2013 to 2014. In this iteration, a deathbed-ridden Otto Octavius successfully manages to switch bodies with Peter Parker, finally killing his longtime nemesis once and for all. However, Otto isn't able to rid his new body of Peter's memories, and they actually help sway the one-time big bad's perspective on things. He vows to be a better Spider-Man than Parker ever was.

That being said, old habits die hard, and Otto's newfound morality isn't without the occasional flare-up of Doc Ock's ruthlessness. One instance in particular involved Otto's old friend and fellow supervillain, Vulture. When he learns that Vulture had been using children as his henchmen, Otto's Spidey is thrown into a rage. He mercilessly takes Toomes down, blinding him in the process. Bats may be able to fly without sight, but not vultures.

From old vulture to spring chicken

Speaking of weird things to happen to poor old Peter Parker, you can't forget the time that his youth was literally sucked out of him by Vulture. In 1994's Amazing Spider-Man #387, Toomes, who is suffering from cancer, steals a "Juvenator" device from Empire State University. When Spider-Man intervenes, Vulture uses the device to steal Peter Parker's life force, leaving him withered and old while Toomes is once again a young man. He is even cured of his cancer.

Vulture flies back to his lair and tries on a new costume, reveling in his strapping young body. Unfortunately for the buzzard, the effects of the Juvenator are only temporary, and soon his body morphs back into his elder form, also returning Parker's youthfulness. Still, it's no small feat that he was able to both defeat Spider-Man and momentarily cure his own cancer at the same time. You have to assume that's one of Toomes' better days.

You belong in a zoo!

If you're an animal-themed vigilante, you might want to steer clear of Kraven the Hunter. Through the years, the Russian wild-man has hunted heroes including Tigra, Black Panther, Spider-Man, and even the Hulk. During the events of 2006's Punisher War Journal, he even turned on his own kind and started catching animal-themed villains, storing them in a superhuman zoo.

Vulture was one of the imprisoned villains in Kraven's zoo, among others. All of the captured characters wore bomb collars, but Kraven knew that Vulture's intellect was too great to keep him locked up for long, so in order to ensure the old man couldn't escape, Kraven repeatedly broke Vulture's hands. 

Although Vulture eventually managed to escape with the help of Rhino, you have to assume that such a savage act brewed some bad blood between the two one-time Sinister Six teammates. That'd surely be one awkward reunion.

Play as Vulture

Marvel fans of all ages were seemingly united in their love for 2013's LEGO Marvel Super Heroes video game, which was incredibly well-received by game critics. One of the game's best features was its free-roam aspect, which allowed you to select a Marvel character and walk around in their shoes through settings familiar to both the comic books and MCU films. Even cooler was the game's incredibly expansive list of unlockable characters you could play as, ranging from major heroes like Iron Man and Hulk to less significant names like Pepper Potts and Rick Jones.

It also marked the first time that Vulture was featured as a playable character in a video game. While Spidey's nefarious villain had appeared in games dating back to Nintendo's Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six in 1992, gamers had never been able to strap into the Vulture's wings and soar around Manhattan before. Perhaps even more interesting, Vulture's limited dialogue in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes was provided by Nolan North, who is most known for voicing Nathan Drake in the wildly popular Uncharted video games.

Near onscreen roles

Michael Keaton was ultimately the first actor to play Adrian Toomes onscreen, but you might be surprised to learn that this was very nearly not the case. In his tell-all book The Spider-Man Chronicles: The Art and Making of Spider-Man 3, producer Grant Curtis divulged that the early scripts of Spider-Man 3 included Adrian Toomes' Vulture — and that director Sam Raimi had met with Sir Ben Kingsley about the role in 2005. All signs were pointing towards Kingsley taking Toomes' wings until a major script change swapped out Vulture with Venom. "The villain swap soon became official and the Vulture's wings were packed away, along with the opportunity to work with Sir Ben Kingsley, to make way for Venom's fangs."

A few years later, a 2009 report indicated that Raimi was looking at John Malkovich to play Vulture in a potential Spider-Man 4. Malkovich seemingly confirmed that he was indeed involved, but then Sony canned the film altogether and instead chose to reboot the franchise with 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man.

Luke Sky-Vulture

As it turns out, the role of Adrian Toomes not only attracted the likes of Keaton, Kingsley and Malkovich, but Luke Skywalker himself. When speaking to Rotten Tomatoes at 2017's D23 expo, Mark Hamill publicly  expressed desire to step into the Vulture's wings. "I don't want to jeopardize any potential roles I might have in a future Marvel film. I had my fingers crossed that Michael Keaton would turn down the Vulture but darn it. There's not a lot of villainous roles for senior citizens so I had my eyes on the Vulture."

This actually wouldn't have been the first time Hamill went toe to toe with a superhero. Aside from his pivotal part in the Star Wars franchise, Hamill is perhaps most known for voicing DC's clown prince of crime, the Joker, in several animated adaptations. While Keaton certainly did a great job with the role, you have to assume that Hamill would've had the upper hand in the evil laugh category.