The Vulture In Animation - A Retrospective

Part One - Part Two - Part Three

Cartoons had changed by the time the 80’s came along. They were still words apart from Justice League Unlimited of course, but people realised that there was money to be made from cartoon in the 80’s with the syndication market (and later national networks) and hopeful action figure tie ins. Marvel wanted a piece of this action and came to conclusion that their flagship would probably be the best place to start with their intention to get all of their big money players in their own animated shows.

They financed the production of an entire show themselves and Spider-Man returned to TV in 1981. Most of Spider-Man’s rouges gallery (or what there was of it at the time) appeared in the show, albeit each one enjoyed a single appearance, probably due to the fact that they felt each villain could do with the promotion that comes with TV).

The Vulture was of course one of Spidey’s relentless rouges and appeared in an episode entitled The Vulture has landed. Vulture’s design here is more faithful to his previous and it looks like the original way Dikto originally intended. The casting is better too - the late great Don Messick sounded more like a ruthless old man, which is more fitting to the character.

The episode draws from the typical Peter Parker luck – he requests a story about a scientific experiment from Jameson but he is denied and is sent to see Harry Osborn, his millionaire inventor friend. Harry isn’t actually seen, but after losing his civilian clothes, Spider-Man heads to Harry’s apartment to borrow some threads and is mistaken for Harry by the intruding Vulture. In a nice nod to the comics, Peter remarks to Betty Brant how Harry wouldn’t have got through high school science without him. There’s some typical 80’s fluff in here (invisible paint of all things) but it’s a fairly entertaining episode and it’s fairly pleasing to the eye.

There’s not really all that much to it – there’s only so much you can do with a character in the 80’s in 22 minutes and given how most of the show’s episodes made time for Peter Parker, his adventures as Spider-Man, a few trips to see J. Jonah Jameson and his on/off relationship with Betty Brant, it doesn’t really come as much of a surprise to me when I don’t really have a lot to say about Spidey villains’ appearances in retrospectives. The Vulture was one of the few villains not to appear in Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends too, so I can’t comment on that either.

The next time Vulture would soar onto our TV screens would be in the 1990’s Spider-Man: The Animated Series on FOX KIDS. He wouldn’t appear towards the later end of the second season, a daring storyline in which Spider-Man found himself suffering from a mutation disease. As the storyline progressed, Spider-Man learned that the spider bite which infected him to give him his amazing abilities had now evolved and we eventually going to turn him into something inhumane, as Dr. Conners’ explained in the finale moments of Battle Of The Insidious Six

SPIDER-MAN: Come on Doc! My powers came back and I feel great! How bad can the test results be?
CONNERS: This bad. The mutagenic factor in your blood has undergone another transformation.
SPIDER-MAN: Did you say mutagenic, as in mutant?
CONNERS: I'm afraid so. Whilst I can't tell you exactly what your DNA is turning you into, one thing’s already clear. It won't be human…

Spider-Man spent the rest of the season searching for a way to cure himself – he originally went to Charles Xavier for help but learned that he couldn’t cure mutants but advised him to turn to his friends. Dr Kafka presented him with an untested cure that eventually turned him into Man Spider and he never got an opportunity to see if The Tablet Of Time could help him because Hammerhead sold it to an old man at the episodes conclusion. I remember thinking when I first saw it that it could be The Vulture, but you never could predict this show, something was always ready to throw you a curveball – you could always expect a Kansas City Shuffle from this show.

With Spider-Man: TAS, in this author's opinion, being the best Spider-Man cartoon to date, how did the fowl feathered villain fair?