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The Amazing Spider-Man – The Gauntlet: The Vulture – Scavenging (Review)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

The biggest problem with Scavenging is the villain.

The classic Vulture is admittedly a goof design, but – as with most of Steve Ditko’s villains – there’s an undeniable charm. With his silly “villainous green” colour scheme and the image of a super villain old enough to be collecting his pension, the classic Vulture sticks in the memory. Like so many of those classic Amazing Spider-Man bad guys, the Vulture has a sense of character that extends beyond his goofiness. (After all, Electro, Sandman and Mysterio are no less goofy in design.)

Feeding time...

Feeding time…

In contrast, the “new” Vulture featured in Scavenging feels decidedly generic. More animalistic, with a pinsir-like mouth and the ability to spew hot bile, the character is dressed in red – as if to suggest the classic costume design is more menacing in that colour. Introduced by Mark Waid in the 24/7 arc of Brand New Day, there nothing memorable at all about this version of the character, and he feels like an awkward fit for The Gauntlet, which traverses Spider-Man’s iconic selection of foes.

There is a reason that the character ended up as C-list fodder at the start of Greg Rucka’s Punisher run.

The Vulture has landed...

The Vulture has landed…

There’s a sense that Waid is consciously trying to push the character. Waid wrote all three of this character’s appearances in The Amazing Spider-Man as part of Brand New Day. One imagines that it isn’t a coincidence that Waid was tapped to write the chapters of The Gauntlet featuring the character. However, this doesn’t get around the fact that the character feels like a trade down from the classic model. After all, the “is it a man or is it a monster?” niche in Spider-Man’s rogues’ gallery is already filled by the Lizard.

Old geezers proving that there’s no retirement age for super villains – particularly physically active super super villains – are fairly rare. Animalistic monsters are a lot more common. It feels like we’ve heard this character’s story a dozen times before, so trying to wrap the new Vulture’s origin into The Gauntlet feels distracting and a little unnerving. To be fair, the Vulture isn’t the only “legacy” character who slows down The Gauntlet. The next-generation Scorpion’s appearance in The Sting is similarly disappointing. (In contrast, the only mildly interesting next-gen villain is the new Rhino, with his religious fanaticism.)

Just hanging there...

Just hanging there…

To be fair, Waid does try to make it work. He tries to explain why a mob cleaner makes for a suitable new Vulture. “Even after what you became… what you are… when you started preying on the weakest of us… that was good for everybody,” a mob boss offers. “We respect and appreciate you. You thin out the losers, Jimmy.” In fact, we even get a flashback that takes us back to Jimmy revealing his plan to strengthen the mob by “thinning the herd.”

It’s not a bad hook for the character, it just seems a little bit literal-minded. It’s enough for the character to be called “the Vulture” because his costume physically resembles a Vulture. He doesn’t need a skill set or psychological profile the syncs up as well. It all feels a little heavy-handed, and it undermines the story. Indeed, the Vulture’s quest to discover his origin ultimately feels completely disconnected from everything else going on in The Gauntlet.

Here there be monsters...

Here there be monsters…

Spider-Man doesn’t even discover the tragedy that befell Jimmy. We get a nice little sequence which reiterates Spider-Man’s moral integrity (a recurring theme of The Gauntlet), but no pay-off. When Spider-Man points the Vulture towards the mob, he reflects, “Now Vulchy’s off to face mobsters! Probably! Maybe! I know they’re not the sweetest bunch in the world — but no matter who his intended victim, I can’t just let a murderer go.”

It’s a nice sentiment – similar to Spidey’s refusal to murder an undead vampire in It is the Life. However, Spider-Man never gets to act on that noble sentiment. He never gets to even try to stop the Vulture from hurting the mob. He just says that he can’t let that happen… and then it happens anyway, without any indication that Spider-Man tried to stop it or was even aware of it. If Scavenging treats this as a failure on the part of Spider-Man, it never explicitly identifies it as such.

Hardly a breakout character...

Hardly a breakout character…

Still, there are still attempts made to maintain internal consistency across The Gauntlet. As with the other stories that make up the epic, characters are pushed into horrible situations and forced to make terrible choices. Even the creation of the Vulture is an act of desperation that leads the mob to make a foolish mistake. “Ya see Jimmy,” one gangster explains, “some of the bigger Maggia guys had been using that bowl-headed Mysterio guy to clean up their messes, so we figured why not come up with out own secret weapon.”

The mob are – like so many characters in The Gauntlet – just trying to protect their family. Indeed, one of the gangsters even appeals to Jimmy’s sense of family to protect him. “In the name of the family,” he begs. “For what we went through. Please.” It continues the trend of people doing terrible things to protect their family, something of a thematic through-line that stretches across the entire event.

Justice, eh?

Justice, eh?

Similarly, Peter Parker makes a similar decision. To protect J. Jonah Jameson and the jobs of everybody in the mayor’s office, Peter Parker fakes a photograph exonorating his boss. This plays back to Spider-Man’s sense of responsibility and guilt – he makes the decision because he thinks that he failed to protect Jameson. “Ol’ Ironheart shouldn’t have to go down because I blew a Kodak moment.” This leads him to make some a terrible choice.

To be fair, this element of Scavenging is the most effective. Peter Parker has actually been pushed into the background of The Gauntlet. Very few of the story threads have directly affected Peter Parker – which is somewhat ironic, given the character’s tendency towards bad luck. Peter Parker’s supporting cast escape The Gauntlet mostly unscathed. Harry Osborn is never threatened; Mary Jane Watson never fears for her life. Aunt May and Charlie Cooper face their own minor demons that have nothing to do with Peter.

His operation is going over gangbusters...

His operation is going over gangbusters…

While it’s nice that these enemies aren’t targeting Peter through the people that he loves, this does mean that Peter Parker feels suspiciously detached from The Gauntlet. Spider-Man is very much the focus, and the characters who exist in orbit around Peter’s superhero persona rather than his civilian identity. Scavenging is really the point where The Gauntlet feels most personal, where it really seems like the past few stories have taken their toll on Peter Parker as much as Spider-Man.

Even then, Peter’s moral lapse is very much grounded in his optimism. He does the wrong thing, but for the right reason. He’s trying to help somebody; he’s not covering for a friend, but trying to redeem what he sees as his own failure. The fact that it comes back to bite him is an absolutely brilliant twist, and one that almost redeems Scavenging completely. Some of the best parts of The Gauntlet are stories that play out like regular Spider-Man stories only to end on a mean twist. While the twist here isn’t as mean as Shed, it’s still effective.

Swooping in at the last minute...

Swooping in at the last minute…

The fact that this all happens because of J. Jonah Jameson’s moral integrity makes it all the more effective. Jameson is a character who tends to vary depending on who is writing him. Just how much integrity does J. Jonah Jameson have? If he can be so blind for so long about Spider-Man, what moral credibility does he have? Writers tend to disagree on the matter – and it’s easy to understand why.

Brian Michael Bendis, for example, seems to like the idea that Jameson must eventually come to accept Spider-Man if he is to retain credibility, as demonstrated by his work on Ultimate Spider-Man. (New Avengers and Bendis’ Daredevil suggest that Jonah just has a resentment of all costumed do-gooders and that he is less than objective.) Other comics, like Scott Lobdell’s Operation: Zero Tolerance, suggest that Spider-Man is his only blind spot and that he is otherwise a perfectly solid (and credible) journalist.

Shocking treatment...

Shocking treatment…

Mark Waid seems to agree with Lobdell about Jameson. Here, Peter Parker is essentially doomed by the fact that Jameson is an upstanding pillar of moral integrity. “I cannot support a lie, not even to save my own skin,” he assures the public. You could argue that Jameson is cynically playing the public – realising that Peter’s photoshopping must be exposed eventually, but it doesn’t play that way. Along with his genuine sadness over the loss of his employee and his coming clean over the Scorpion – which is itself a thorny issue for Jameson’s character – it seems Waid wants us to buy Jameson as a man of integrity.

This plays nicely into the themes of The Gauntlet, suggesting that we only ever know who people really are when they are put through the emotional wringer. Jameson is enduring his own private gauntlet here, and he passes with flying colours. It’s just unfortunate for Peter that he winds up caught in the middle of all this. It’s a lovely narrative twist, and one almost good enough to disguise the fact that Spider-Man is very much in the background for most of Scavenging. The Vulture’s story has no real resolution, ending with the Vulture flying past Peter into the night.

Bird of prey...

Bird of prey…

Scavenging is one of the weaker chapters of The Gauntlet, feeling like it loses focus on Spider-Man and is more interested in a rather dull and generic super villain. Despite that, it does have a pretty great twist in the tail that does demonstrate that The Gauntlet is taking its toll. The fact that Scavenging is one of the weaker chapters of the overall events stands as a testament to the quality of the overall work.

You might be interested in our other reviews of The Gauntlet and Grim Hunt:

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