The title of Spider-Man: Homecoming is a clever double entendre. On the one hand, it’s a clear reference to Spidey’s status as a real high schooler, a sharp contrast to the off-putting faux youth of Tobey Maguire. On the other hand, Homecoming is also a celebration of the character’s long-awaited return to Marvel Studios, perhaps the most exciting moment in MCU history for many fans. But the important question is, "Who are the bad guys in Spider-Man: Homecoming?" See, despite the fanbase’s palpable excitement over Spider-Man’s return, many individuals made it clear that they were not interested in seeing a rehash of the material already covered in Sony’s two abandoned franchises. No, this time, fans wanted to see something different.
In reaching back to find new and exciting content for the new and exciting Spider-Man franchise, Marvel Studios went all the way to some of Spidey’s earliest adventures. The Vulture, the main villain of Homecoming portrayed by Michael Keaton, is actually the second-oldest villain in Spider-Man’s rogues gallery, after the Chameleon. The Shocker, whose role in the film was more carefully obscured by Marvel and Sony’s promotional team, was another baddie who showed up within the first 50 issues of the wall-crawler’s career. Most importantly, however, neither character has ever been in any previous Spider-Man film, despite their interesting and impactful comic book histories. So let's dive in and explore some facts about the Vulture and facts about the Shocker in order to really get the story behind the villains of Spider-Man: Homecoming.
As she's usually depicted as an elderly and frail woman, it’s sometimes hard to remember that Peter Parker’s Aunt May has been around for over 60 years of publication history. Since she lost her husband, Ben Parker, in Spider-Man’s very first adventure, it should come as no surprise that May eventually looked elsewhere for love. Her most notable romances are probably her relationships with Doctor Octopus and J. Jonah Jameson’s father, but in between she had a sweet dalliance with retired and wheelchair-bound Nathan Lubensky.
Lubensky was actually an old friend of Adrian Toomes, but he didn’t hesitate to jump on the Vulture when he attempted to kidnap May, a heroic act that cost him his life. Toomes later sought out May and asked for her forgiveness, but she refused to give it.
The Vulture’s criminal career has generally revolved around stealing stuff, and thus he’s often seen as a relatively harmless supervillain in the grand scheme of things. Some villains attempt genocide or spark intergalactic wars, so what’s a little diamond theft at the end of the day? Still, that's not to say that the Vulture hasn’t committed murder and other heinous deeds in his history.
Perhaps his worst transgression occurred when he kidnapped and brainwashed a bunch of children into becoming a group of miniature Vulture sidekicks. At the time, Spider-Man’s body had been stolen by Doctor Octopus, who was attempting a heroic career as the Superior Spider-Man. Ock thought he was fighting dwarf henchman, but when he found out the truth of the matter, the significantly more violent version of Spider-Man beat Toomes within an inch of his life.
Adrian Toomes is easily the most recognizable individual to wear the Vulture costume, but he’s far from the only one. There have been at least four other notable Vultures over the years, with the first and most prominent being Blackie Drago, a cellmate of Toomes who stole his flight suit. Another, Clifton Shallot, was a bio-engineer who actually gave himself a real pair of vulture wings. The Vulturions were an entire group of vulture-themed bad guys.
The most disturbing version of the Vulture, however, was definitely Jimmy Natale, a victim of genetic experimentation who could fly and spit acid from his disgusting, unhinged mouth. Natale definitely played up the most disgusting aspects of his animal inspiration.
Any fan of comic books knows that the Marvel universe is rife with alternate realities. One such reality is the Noir Universe, where Marvel’s biggest heroes start their careers in the 1930s. Noir’s version of the Vulture is perhaps the most terrifying incarnation of Adrian Toomes to hit the printed page. This version of Toomes has a hideous, bird-like visage and was actually a former circus freak who subsisted on chicken heads before being liberated by Norman Osborn. The Vulture soon becomes a famous hitman who specializes in cannibalizing his victims, and he's the one to kill Uncle Ben in this universe.