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The Amazing Spider-Man! Book One

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The Amazing Spider-Man! The Terror of the Vulture!

In the days since the Chameleon’s capture, a new and ominous threat hit the streets of New York City. A threat that struck without notice, without warning, without sound.

A businessman was walking down Pearl Street on his way to lunch when a giant shadow swooped out of the sky and grabbed the briefcase out of the businessman’s hands.

“What the…?” the businessman said. He whirled around to see a bald man in a green bodysuit with green wings flying away.

“Help!” the businessman shouted. “Help! The Vulture’s stolen my briefcase!”

Several members of the crowd heard him. They stopped and searched for the thief. One of them pointed up in the sky.

“Look, it’s him!” she said.

“I don’t believe it!” Another New Yorker said. “I’d heard of him, but I didn’t think he was real!”

“I know!” another one said. “I always thought he was an urban legend, like alligators in the sewer.”

None of this discussion helped the businessman much as the Vulture flew away unimpeded.

***

  1. Jonah Jameson, legendary publisher and editor of the equally legendary Daily Bugle, paced in his office, puffing on a cigar. He wore a blue suit jacket, tan pants, a pair of loafers with black socks and a red-and-blue striped tie. He had salt-and-pepper hair in a buzz cut and a toothbrush mustache.

“What I want, and I don’t think I’m being unreasonable here, are pictures of the Vulture,” Jameson said with an air of forced calm. “Really, that can’t be much too much to ask of a room full of reporters, can it?”

“Jonah,” Robert “Robbie” Robertson said bracingly, “we’re on it, okay? Just relax.” Robbie was the only person, aside from Perry White, who could tell Jonah to relax. Robbie was a thick-set middle aged man with greying hair and brown skin. He wore a light pink striped shirt with suspenders, tan pants and brown loafers with black socks. Robbie sat in a leather chair opposite Jonah’s desk, watching his boss pace with amusement. Robbie was the assistant editor and publisher, Jonah’s right-hand man.

“‘We’re on it’? What does that mean, Robbie?” Jonah demanded. “Does it mean that I’m sending hundreds of photographers to get a lousy artist’s rendering?” he said, picking up the offending document from his desk and waving it around.

“It means, Jonah, that catching a guy who can fly without making a sound is hard to do,” Robbie said. “Just ask Perry White.”

At the mention of his old partner in crime, Jonah calmed down. Sort of.

“At least that blue pyjama wearing freak came in for an interview,” Jonah said, putting his hands on his hips.  “This Vulture character isn’t even giving us that much!”

“True,” Robbie said. “Look at this way, Jonah. At least nobody else is having any luck.”

“Small favours,” Jonah muttered. “Alright Robbie. This is what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna put out a reward of one thousand dollars for anybody who can get us a picture of the Vulture!”

***

Peter Parker was toiling away in the high school chemistry lab on a science project. Flash Thompson, unfortunately, was his partner.

“I still don’t get it,” Flash was saying. “How the heck can something get colder by stirring it? It makes no sense!” Flash laid his blond head on the table. He wore a dark green t-shirt and khaki pants with red sneakers under a white apron. Safety goggles and gloves were firmly affixed to their respective places.

“It is counter-intuitive,” Peter agreed, slowly stirring the mixture.

“Counter what?” Flash asked.

“Counter-intuitive,” Peter said. “As in, not like you would instinctively expect. Like global warming making the winters colder in some parts of the world.

“Or the QB running away from the opposing team in a game,” Flash said, a look of dawning comprehension on his face. “It’s a good idea sometimes, but it’s not what you’d expect from a quarterback.”

“Sure, something like that,” Peter agreed. He had no idea what Flash was talking about, but it didn’t matter. As long as Flash understood the material enough he didn’t drag Peter’s grades down, that was all Peter cared about.

“Hey Flash!” One of the other students shouted at Flash. “Did you hear? The Bugle’s offering a thousand bucks for pics of the Vulture!”

“They’ll never catch him,” Flash said dismissively. “If a couple thousand New Yorkers with cell phone cameras and selfie sticks haven’t got him already, what does Jonah think a thousand bucks is gonna do?”

“Generate publicity,” Peter muttered. Flash snorted in agreement.

“Good point,” he said.

“He’s offering money for Spider-Man, too,” the student said. “Not much, but still!”

Peter perked up at hearing that. Selling photos to the Bugle of his activities could help with his financial difficulties…

“Jonah’s just looking to smear Spider-Man some more,” Flash said. “Lousy prick. What does he know? Spider-Man’s a hero!”

“I agree with Jameson,” Peter said as he continued to stir the mixture. “Spider-Man’s stunts have been dangerous and thrill-seeking. Whoever he is, he should hang up the costume.”

“Nobody asked you, Peter,” Liz Allen sneered. Liz was Flash’s girlfriend and the prettiest girl in school. She was a cool, blue-eyed blonde, with a heart-shaped face and an hourglass figure. Liz wore a tight-fitting pale green sweater and violet pants. She sat at the lab table across from Peter and Flash with her best friend Sally Alvarez.

“Lay off him, Liz,” Sally drawled. Sally was dark-skinned, pear-shaped with long straight black hair, and an oval face with a Roman nose. She wore a dark red long-sleeved tight fitting t-shirt with a light blue skirt that showed off her long legs. In Peter’s opinion, Sally was much better looking than Liz, though he dared not voice that opinion. Even suggesting that Liz Allan was not the most beautiful girl in school was tantamount to committing suicide. “He’s just voicing an opinion. Still a free country, right?” Sally continued.

Still, Peter picked up a little at hearing Sally defend him. It was nice to know he wasn’t totally hated by his classmates.

“All right folks,” the teacher said from the head of the classroom. “Time to finish up! If you will all pay attention to me for once…”

***

Peter raced home to find his aunt taking tea with their next door neighbour, Anna Watson, along with Rabbi Alter Rosenberg and Imam Khayrat Ali.

May Parker was a skinny old woman with a sharp, pointed face, grey-white hair and bright blue eyes. Anna Watson, on the other hand, was plump and curvy, with brown hair that had not yet gone grey. The two men beside them were likewise a study in contrasts. Alter Rosenberg was short and squat, with a wide face, bulging eyes and a snub nose. Khayrat Ali, on the other hand, was all hard lines and angles, with burning eyes that gave the discomfiting idea he could see through into your very soul.

May wore in a dark purple long-sleeved shirt and skirt. Anna wore a dark blue cardigan over a white blouse and tan skirt. Rabbi Rosenberg wore a tan suit with a dark blue tie while Khayrat Ali wore midnight blue robes studded with starts. According to some kids from the local mosque, Ali wore those robes to heighten his resemblance to an ancient wizard. Peter believed it.

“Peter!” Rabbi Rosenberg said as Peter walked into the living room. Rosenberg was the only person Peter knew with a thicker Queens accent than himself, high-pitched and nasal. “We were just talking about you. Come on, have a seat. Drink some tea, make your aunt feel better.”

“Thank you, sir,” Peter said, taking the invitation to sit on an overstuffed chair nearest the door.

“Don’t call me sir, kid,” Rosenberg said. “It makes me feel old.”

“That makes you feel old, and not the fact that your name literally means old?” Ali said to his friend, a gentle smile on his lips. Ali had a deep, sonorous voice; the kind that starts from way down in your toes. It lent itself well to his imperial air and demeanour.

“Ancient and noble Yiddish custom,” Rosenberg said, waving his hand dismissively. “Goyim wouldn’t understand. Shalom, kid.”

“Shalom,” Peter repeated, accepting a cup from Ali. “Thank you all for coming over. Aunt May could use the company.”

“Oh, don’t worry about me, Peter,” May said, waving the hand that wasn’t holding a cup of tea at her nephew.

“Yeah well we couldn’t leave it to your drunk priest could we?” Rosenberg snorted. “Useless prick. I show up to a funeral drunk that’s the end of me. But that schmuck keeps his frock! There’s no justice in the world, I tell ya. None.”

“Agreed,” Anna Watson said, setting down her tea on the table. “I’m getting together some of the church ladies. We’re going to demand a new reverend. Ours is useless.”

“Oh, you don’t need to go through such trouble on my account, Anna,” May said.

“It’s not just you, May,” Anna said. “Bens is not the only funeral he’s shown up drunk to. The last one he couldn’t even finish the service and had to be lead off the stage!”

“Fire the bum,” Peter said.

“That’s the plan,” Anna confirmed. May turned to her nephew.

“Enough of that,” May said. “Peter. I’m glad you’re home. How was school?”

“It was good,” Peter said. “Flash Thompson was even almost decent company.”

“Good,” May said.

“Anyway, I was thinking of getting a job,” Peter said. May slammed her teacup down hard on the table.

“No,” she said.

“What? Why not?” Peter asked, surprised.

“I had a job at his age,” Rosenberg said.

“As did I,” Ali said. “Three of them, actually. And you or Anna were no different.”

“You need to stay in school,” May said, jabbing her finger at her nephew. “You need to keep your grades up! Become a scientist, like you and Ben always talked about. There will be time enough for jobs when you graduate. From college.”

“Aunt May, most jobs now need three to five years of experience,” Peter pointed out. “If I don’t have a job before then, I won’t get a job ever. Besides, it will only be part-time.”

“Did you have a specific job in mind, Peter?” Ali asked.

“The Bugle’s looking for freelance photographers,” Peter said.

“You want to work for Jolly Jonah? You’re braver than I thought kid,” Rosenberg said.

“He can’t be that bad,” Peter protested.

“No, he’s worse!” Rosenberg laughed. “Guy’s a maniac Peter. And he drives his people so hard, he makes the Pharaoh from Exodus look like a layabout!”

“But he’s fair,” Ali said. “He won’t cheat you, will always pay you what you’re worth and won’t interfere with your schooling.”

“That’s true,” Rosenberg said.

“And he fights for people,” Anna chimed in. “Jameson may be an ass, but he’s always been on the side of the angels.”

“I still think it’s a bad idea,” May said. Then she said. “All right, Peter. If that’s what you want to do, I think Ben still had a pocket camera around here somewhere. It’s professional grade, too, unlike those cellphone cameras so you’ll actually get good pictures with it. Let me see if I can find it.”

“Thanks, Aunt May,” Peter said.

***

In a barn on a farm in upstate New York, just north of the city, Adrien Toomes also known as the Vulture, sat in a swivel chair, reading the Daily Bugle. He was tall and lanky with a high, sloping forehead; a receding chin; high cheekbones and a beak nose. He wore a green bodysuit with a white ruffled collar and large green wings.

“Well, well,” he said. “So the Park Avenue Jewelry exchange is moving a million dollars’ worth of diamonds to their new offices across town, eh? It shouldn’t be hard for the Vulture to get his hands on those gems!”

There was no one else in the hideout; Toomes just liked to talk to himself.  He stared up at the ceiling, a wicked smile on his face.

“They’ll probably expect me to try something,” Toomes continued, “but I’ll get those gems in a way no one will expect.”

Chuckling, Toomes got off the chair and flew out of the farm’s silo, making sure he wasn’t observed.

***

Peter Parker stood on a Manhattan apartment rooftop, looking down at the city. He wore a red-and-blue bodysuit with a red face-covering mask with bug-like white lenses. Black lines like webbing covered the red portions of the suit and mask. On his chest was a black spider emblem, on the back a large red one. In his hands, Peter held a small camera.

All right, he thought. Uncle Ben’s old camera works, and I can attach it to the belt under my costume. Now I just need to find the Vulture.

No sooner than Peter formed that thought did his Spider-sense tingle. Peter had learned long ago to trust that mysterious instinct, and he scanned the area for trouble.

No sign of whatever set my Spider-sense off, he thought. Maybe it’s… no! Wait, there it is! It’s the Vulture!

And indeed it was as Peter’s quarry flew through the canyon like maze of Manhattan right past Peter.

I wonder why he doesn’t make a sound as he flies? Peter thought as he watched the Vulture fly past, snapping pictures. Maybe he’s a mutant or something? Oh well. I guess I’ll find out soon enough!

With that, Peter launched himself into the air on a thin strand of webbing, camera securely attached to his belt.

***

Toomes didn’t notice he was being hunted at first. He was having too much fun.

First, I’ll target the Daily Bugle, Toomes thought as he flew through the air. Warn them what I’m up to. I do so love taunting my enemies!

Toomes flew up to the Flatiron building and circled around a few times before finding the window he was looking for. With practiced skill, he lobbed his message tied around a rock through the window. Chuckling at the chaos he caused, Toomes flew off.

Now for the radio station and the police chief! Toomes thought.

***

New York City Police Chief Aaron Stacks sat behind his desk, arguing with Captain George Stacy when a rock came through his window.

“The hell is that?” Stacks demanded, staring at the offending missile. He was a big man, with broad shoulders, a thick waist, a square jaw, a narrow forehead, receding hair and smooth dark skin. He wore a striped white button-up shirt with suspenders, black trousers, black socks and dark brown oxfords.

“It’s a rock, chief,” Stacy said. Stacy was tall, lean, with a pointed chin, strong nose, high cheekbones, a thick head of white hair and leathery pink skin. He wore a rumpled brown suit with a white shirt and dark tie. Stacy poked at the rock with a finger.

“I can see it’s a rock, Stacy,” Stacks said. “What’s it doing in my office? And don’t poke it, please. You don’t know where it’s been. Or what it’s covered in.”

“There’s a note attached,” Stacy said, ignoring his boss. He grabbed the rock and unwrapped the message. It read:

I shall steal the diamond shipment from under your noses! The Vulture.

“Cocky little nuisance isn’t he?” Stacy murmured, cupping his chin with his hand.

“Who?” Stacks asked.

“The Vulture,” Stacy answered, handing the message to his boss. Stacks read it and snorted.

“The mayor,” Stacks said, “calls me up every day to do something about this guy. It’s getting on my nerves. We need to catch him this time and put him down once and for all.”

“He’s never failed to carry out a threat yet,” Stacy pointed out.

“This time he will,” Stacks vowed.

***

The Vulture hovered above the Manhattan rooftops, gloating.

I did it!, he thought. Now that I’ve warned them, my triumph shall be even greater after I’ve seized the gems!

Just then, Toomes heard a noise from behind him. He whirled around to see a red-and-blue clad figure crouching behind an air conditioner on the rooftop below.

Well, well! So Spider-Man himself is on my trail! Good!! It will be amusing to finally face a foe worthy of my mettle!

Using all the power his magnetic harness gave him, The Vulture looped around Spider-Man, kicking him in the head before he could react. The blow knocked a camera out of the wall-crawler’s hands, but Toomes didn’t notice. Instead he kept up his furious beat-down of Spider-Man, never giving the costumed adventurer a chance to react. Finally, Spider-Man went down, felled by the onslaught.

The Vulture picked up Spider-Man and flew him to a nearby water tower. Opening the hatch, Toomes dumped Spider-Man in the water and sealed it up again.

That was disappointing, the old man thought. I hope the police provide more of a challenge than that arachnid did!

***

Peter had a different view of the situation.

The shock of hitting the cold water instantly revived him. Spluttering, Peter took stock of his surroundings.

The Vulture must have trapped me in this water tower, he thought. Careless, Pete, careless! What would Aunt May do if you died?

Shaking his head to clear it, Peter aimed for the top of the tower and fired a web. Or tried to; nothing came out of his wrist-based web-shooter when he tried.

I’m out, he thought. I got so caught up in chasing the Vulture I forgot to refill my web-shooters after that last swing. Okay Pete. This is no time to panic. You can escape if you just use your head.

First, Peter tried climbing the walls of the water tower. But the walls were too slippery even for him, and he kept sliding down.

Refusing to panic, Peter tread water for a few minutes while he worked out his next move. Then he got an idea. Peter dove to the bottom of the water tower and crouched down so that his feet and hands both touched bottom. Tensing his muscles like a spring, Peter launched himself upwards to the top of the tank. The extra power provided by his spider-strength hurled him through the metal opening and down on to the other side.

Whew! I can’t believe I made it! Peter thought. I may not be able to fly like the Vulture, but my spider-strength hasn’t let me down yet!

Peter sat down on the rooftop for a few minutes, catching his breath and getting his bearings. Once Peter was sure of where he was, he made his way back to where the Vulture ambushed him.

Oh, good, Peter thought. Uncle Ben’s camera is still intact. I’d hate to lose that. Hopefully those pictures came out all right.

Peter grabbed the camera and made his way home.

***

Peter sat in his bedroom in front of his desk as his chemistry set bubbled away, feeling rather pensive.

First it was that Chameleon character, he thought. And now it’s the Vulture. I didn’t start out to become a costumed vigilante, but it sure looks like I’m turning into one!

After Peter made his way home and dried himself off, his aunt had turned on the news. The Vultures threats were everywhere. J. Jonah Jameson, the legendarily irascible editor and publisher of the Daily Bugle, went on live T.V. and called the Vulture a coward and a second-rate terrorist. The police swore they had everything covered, and the Vulture would be a fool to try anything.

Peter didn’t doubt the bravery or tenacity of the New York police force. But he was a working class kid from Queens. He knew of too many cases of police incompetence to think the NYPD stood a chance against the Vulture.

Which left him. Oh, there were other heroes in New York, Peter knew. That guy in Hell’s Kitchen in the all red devil costume, for one. And there was that ‘Heroes for Hire’ private investigation agency over in Harlem. But as far as Peter knew, none of those people had the skills to take on a high-flying menace like the Vulture. Unless Reed Richards and his gang took an interest, which Peter figured was unlikely. According to the press, the ‘Fantastic Four’ as the newsies had dubbed them, were out exploring again.

No, only Spider-Man could stop the Vulture.

Which means I need to make a new batch of webbing, Peter thought. Along with a few other adjustments.

First, Peter turned to his web-shooters. They were marvels of engineering, of that there was no question. The web-shooters were circular gauntlets with a lever that extended out in to the palm and a spray nozzle that jutted out over the lever. The lever was pressure-sensitive; if he pressed on it with all fingers, the web-shooters wouldn’t fire. If he made the devil horn’s gesture, a strand of webbing would come out until he stopped pressing on the lever. Other configurations would let Peter create even more variations, including web-balls, maces, hammers and the like.

But even as marvelous as his web-shooters were, Peter knew he could improve upon them. So he adjusted the circular part so each web-shooter could hold six cartridges of webbing, and they’d automatically switch to the next cartridge when one ran out.

Next, Peter set to work on his utility belt. It was a simple matter to add an attachment to the buckle so he could carry a camera and an extra pocket for additional web cartridges.

Finally came the suit. The old circus suit Peter had scrounged up was good for swinging around Manhattan, but it wasn’t suited to battling super-villains.

So Peter had gone out again and bought some new materials for his suit. The blue parts of the torso and legs were of a newer, tougher spandex that stretched with Peter’s body as he swung but didn’t tear if you so much as breathed on it. The gloves, the red parts of the torso and the mask were made of stiffer material; less flexible, but more heavily armoured. The lenses remained mechanical and adjusted by his facial muscles. Once Peter had sown the red and blue parts together, he sewed on thin black lines like webbing; a black spider on the chest and a fat red one on the back.

Satisfied, Peter turned to his chemistry set. The webbing was almost ready.

Peter then turned to the most difficult piece of the puzzle. At first, the Vulture’s flight had confused him. How could you fly without making a sound? Or exhaust for that matter? Not even Tony Stark could do that.

It was reading through old science journals that helped Peter to figure it out. Somehow, the Vulture figured out how to use magnetic force to propel him through the air. So Peter, working late into the night, built an anti-magnetic inverter. Peter could only hope it worked.

The last step were the pictures Peter took of the Vulture. Though Peter was only an amateur photographer at best, the photos came out well. Peter saved them to a USB stick and put the stick in a carrying case.

The webbing batches were finally finished, so Peter cleaned up his chemistry set and the rest of his tools and went to bed.

He was glad it was the weekend. Otherwise, he’d be too tired to function at school!

***

  1. Jonah Jameson, publisher and editor of the Daily Bugle, sat in the chair behind his desk in his office on the top floor of the Daily Bugle building in Midtown. He wore a purple suit, white shirt and dark tie. His hair was cut into a flattop and greying at the temples. He chewed slowly on a cigar, examining the photos in front of him.

The Daily Bugle got crank callers all the time, claiming they had photos of this or that celebrity doing something scandalous, or of UFO’s or whatever. Ever since Jonah had put out that reward, the crank calls had increased a thousandfold. Most them were idiots who tried to sell Jonah copies of real vultures, and more than a few had dressed ugly old men up in costumes.

So when a high-school kid had called the Bugle and said he had pictures of the Vulture, Jonah told him to get lost. But the kid was either persistent or stupid. He’d called up every department at the Bugle to try to sell his pictures, eventually reaching Jameson’s intern, Gloria Grant.

Glory was a soft-touch, and she’d bought this kid’s story. So Jonah found himself meeting with some geek from Midtown High who claimed to have pictures of the Vulture.

And the pictures were… all right, Jameson guessed. They weren’t taken by a professional that’s for sure. But they were in focus with a clear subject, which was more than Jameson could say about any of his professional photographers. And the subject in question could be the Vulture. He hovered and flew in the pictures, and the ridiculous costume the man wore looked like what the witnesses described the Vulture wearing.

Jameson raised his eyes above the pictures to observe the high schooler standing in front of him. He was clean-cut enough, Jonah supposed, dressed in a blue suit with a yellow waistcoat, red tie and white shirt. Curly brown hair framed a rectangular face. Behind the high-schooler stood Joseph “Robbie” Robertson and Glory Grant.

Robbie wore his usual striped white shirt and brown slacks combo, with the sleeves rolled to reveal his dark brown arms. White curly hair, cut short, framed a deeply lined face.

Glory wore a red sundress that belted at her waist, orange-red lipstick and bright blue eyeshadow. She was letting her black kinky hair grow out for now.

Jameson asked: “What did you say your name was, kid?”

“Peter Parker, sir,” the kid answered.

“Peter Parker, eh?” Jameson repeated. “And how did you get these pictures, Parker?”

“That’s my secret,” Parker replied. “All you need to know is that the pictures are legit.”

Jameson considered that. On the one hand, Parker’s reticence might mean Jameson would be publishing fake photos if he printed these. On the other hand, the kid had put more effort into getting these photos to Jameson than any of the other cranks had. And the pictures looked real enough.

“Can you guarantee that these photos are real?” Jameson demanded, deciding to ignore subtlety for now.

“Yes sir,” Parker said.

“Knowing the consequences if they aren’t?” Jameson continued.

“Yes sir,” Parker repeated.

Jameson slouched back into his chair. He studied the pictures a minute longer then said:

“What do you think, Robbie?”

“They look good to me, Jonah,” the man said. “And I had Lance Bannon give them the once over before we brought them up to you. He’s sure they aren’t fake, either.”

“I believe Peter,” Glory said, jutting her chin out to challenge her boss and putting her hands on her hips. Glory was in many ways the teenage daughter Jonah never had; and boy, did she act like it.

“I didn’t ask you, Miss Grant,” Jonah said, turning back to the pictures. Finally, Jonah sighed and said:

“Okay, Parker. You get the reward, plus the standard freelancer fee. Miss Grant, take this kid and get him payed. See if you can’t get him a real camera, too. This one is crap. Robbie, take these down to the presses and get them in. Now! All of you, out of my office!”

***

“How do you work for a guy like that, Glory?” Peter asked once he and Grant were back at Glory’s desk.

“He’s not so bad,” Glory said as she typed up Peter’s information in the computer. “He’s just kind of an ass.”

“He is that,” Peter agreed. He was surprised at how easy he felt in Glory’s company. She was, hands down, the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. Her black skin glistened in the office light like smooth obsidian. The red sun dress was tight over her bountiful breasts and rode high on her shapely legs. She made Liz Allan look like a washed out photocopy. Peter should be stumbling over his words to talk to her and yet he felt completely at ease.

Glory flashed a quick grin at him, and Peter felt his heart stop for several beats.

“All done,” Glory said as she finished inputting the information. “Your bank should get in the money in three to five business days.”

“Thanks, Glory,” Peter said. He thought about asking her out, but chickened out at the last minute. “Um, I’ll see you later.”

“Bye, Peter,” Glory said as Peter rushed out the door.

***

The next day, after school, Peter walked alone behind Flash Thompson and his gang.

“Hey, Peter,” Sally Alvarez said, turning around to face Parker. She wore a light blue tight fitting t-shirt and matching pants with red runners. “We’re going to go watch them move those diamonds and maybe catch a glimpse of the Vulture. You want to tag along?”

Before Peter could answer, Liz Allan interjected with a sneer: “Why did you invite puny Parker along, Sally?” Liz wore a dark green dress underneath a purple jacket, dark green eyeshadow and plum lipstick, and black heels.

Sally shrugged. “Parker got those photos of the Vulture,” she pointed out. “I figured he might want to see the cops catch him, you know? Finish what he started.

“Do you really think the Vulture will try something with all those cops there?” Peter asked. He wore an untucked opaque red button-up shirt over his costume and dark grey cargo pants with blue shoes.

Flash wrapped his arm around Peter’s shoulder. “Ah, we’ll protect you bookworm,” the blond jock said. He wore his burgundy sports jacket over a black t-shirt and jeans. For some reason unfathomable to Peter, he’d also spiked his hair.

“Gee, thanks Flash,” Peter said with a wry grin as he slipped out of from under Flash’s arm.

“Anything for you, Parker, really,” Flash said, thwarting Peter’s tries to escape and squeezing him tighter. Then Flash let Peter go. Peter was surprised by the sudden display of affection, and a little weirded out.

“Have you heard from Kong recently, Sally?” Liz asked as the group walked over to the Financial District, Peter being half-dragged along by Flash.

“No, and I don’t want to ever again,” Sally said.

“It wasn’t Kong’s fault…” Flash started, but Sally whirled around towards him and snarled:

“If you defend him Flash Thompson, Midtown High will be short one football player, do you understand me?”

Flash nodded and put his hands up in surrender. Peter blinked at the heat and fury in Sally’s voice.

“Um, what happened? I always got along with Kong,” Peter asked. Flash sighed.

“Kong’s a great guy, but he and computers are a disastrous combination,” Flash said. “He and Sally took some, um, intimate pictures. And Kong tried to save them to his computer. Instead, he accidentally uploaded them to the net. Some of your fellow nerds,” here Flash shot Peter a dark look, “then shared them around as fast as they could.”

“Ah,” Peter said. That explained a few of the whispers around school lately. Peter knew which of his fellow nerds Flash was taking about, too. In every group…

“I can take those pics down for you if you want, Sally,” Peter offered. Sally and Liz turned around to face Peter once more. Sally looked shocked; Liz had a nasty, knowing smile on her face.

“You can do that? Really? I thought once something was up on the net, it was there forever,” Sally said.

“I might not be able to find all the pictures,” Peter admitted. “But I know which idiots are sharing them around the school. They’re two pigs, but they’re not great at computers. They probably haven’t uploaded the pictures to more than a couple of places, and I should be able to track the images down via a bot. It’ll get most of them, at least.”

“Thanks, Peter,” Sally said. Tears welled up in her eyes. Peter looked away, embarrassed.

“In exchange for what?” Liz asked, that same nasty knowing smile on her face.

“I’m sorry?” Peter said.

“What do you want for taking those photos down,” Liz answered patiently. “A couple for your private collection? A date? Ask politely and you may even go past first base.”

Peter stopped and stared Liz down. “I was going to ask for your chapstick, Liz,” he said. “My lips are kind of dry. But I don’t think I want anything that touched those lizard lips.”

Liz’s eyes bulged out in fury at Peter’s comments. Stifling a laugh, Flash interposed between the two and said:

“C’mon Liz. If we don’t hurry, the cops will have caught Vulture by the time we get there!”

***

Peter, Liz, Flash and Sally all arrived at Park Avenue, which the police had cordoned off in anticipation of the Vulture’s attack.

“Whew!” Flash whistled. “Would you look at that! The Vulture would have to be nuts to try anything with a crowd like this! This is one time he won’t make good his boast!”

“Riot cops on every roof, an armed helicopter overhead, what looks like half the department covering the streets,” Peter agreed, “and I think I see an APC somewhere around here somewhere. No, you’re right Flash. The Vulture isn’t getting away this time.”

Which is a good thing, Peter reminded himself. You’re not a vigilante. It’s not your responsibility to stop every costumed weirdo this city produces! Let the cops handle it.

Underneath his suit, Peter’s costume itched. He scanned the crowd, trying to ignore the gut feeling that the Vulture would pull this one off, despite the NYPD’s best efforts.

The mob of New Yorkers that gathered to watch the spectacle that day milled about behind the police cordon. Camera’s flashed as the press snapped pictures of an empty street. Flash stood on his toes to see over the crowd. Sally leaned back against a wall, eyes half-closed, as if bored with the proceedings. Liz stood behind Flash, cool eyes watching, and dismissing, the crowd.

“Hey, Pete!” a voice from the crowd called out. Peter turned to see Glory Grant emerge, running towards him in red heels, a tight red top and a dark blue skirt. She wore gold eyeshadow and lipstick. On her arm was a red handbag.

“Hi, Glory!” Peter called back. “Um, guys, this is Glory Grant. Glory, this is Flash Thompson, Liz Allan and Sally Alvarez,” he added once Glory reached him and the others.

“Pleased to meet you,” Glory said. Flash eyed the newcomer appreciatively. Liz looked down her nose at Glory. Sally half-opened an eye and nodded in Glory’s direction before returning to her disinterested stance. Glory turned to Peter.

“You here for pics, Peter?” Glory asked.

“I’ve got my camera in my bag,” Peter said, indicating his backpack. “I thought I might see if I can get some pictures for Jameson.”

Flash turned to Peter, frowning. “You work for Jameson, Parker?” he demanded.

“Some of us have to work for a living, Flash,” Peter answered. “We can’t all have fancy cop dads like you.”

Flash’s face went so white Peter worried he’d given the other boy a heart attack. Flash’s hands trembled, and he lunged towards Peter, forcing Peter to take a step back. Liz interposed herself between the two boys, shooting Peter a dirty look as she did so.

“Pete’s a freelance photographer,” Glory interjected, flashing Peter a confused and worried glance. “He got the first pictures of the Vulture!”

“Nice,” Sally said, detaching herself from the wall. “That’s pretty gutsy of you, Pete. I didn’t think you had it in you.”

“Um, thanks, Sally,” Peter said, not daring to take his eyes off Flash. What the heck is that all about? “I think. Anyway, Glory, I don’t think I will get any pictures here. I don’t have a press pass, so I’ll never get close to the action.”

“That’s okay, I got a spare press pass,” Glory said reaching into her purse. “Here you go!” she said, handing Peter the pass. Peter took it, brushing against her hand for a second. An electric shock ran up his arm.

“Thanks Glory,” Peter said, slipping the pass over his neck. “I’ll see you guys later!” he added and disappeared into the crowd.

***

The police stood ready all along Park Avenue as the diamonds were loaded into the armoured car and began their slow drive across the city. The police chopper followed right over top the armoured car while ESU teams crowded every Manhattan roof between Park Avenue and the Diamond District. The cops were on high alert, even as the sun beat down on their heads and sweat pooled under the uniforms.

“I wish the Vulture would make a try for those diamonds, Frank,” an eager young officer said from a rooftop as the convoy raced past them along Fifth Avenue. “We’d nab him for sure!” The officer stood with one leg perched against the rooftop’s balustrade.

Frank, an older and more experienced officer, adjusted his binoculars from his prone position against the balustrade and responded:

“Don’t count your vultures before they hatch, kid. This Vulture character is a cagey bastard; he’ll surprise us somehow.”

“What do you mean?” the young officer asked, turning towards Frank and frowning.

“I mean the Vulture didn’t drop off those memos because he was looking for something fun to do on a Saturday night,” Frank answered, not looking at the rookie. “He knew how we’d respond; he wanted us out here in force. No, kid. I don’t think we’ll get the Vulture today at all.”

***

The convoy stopped on East 47th Street, blocks away from their destination. The police got out, carrying the diamonds with them. They walked towards the Diamond District, two officers on the side with M4 carbines and a third in the middle, carrying the diamonds in a briefcase.

“Why didn’t somebody clear these cars off the streets?” the officer on right asked, referring to the lines of parked cars that forced the officers to park so far away.

“We did,” the officer on the left replied. “They just came back.”

“Doesn’t matter,” the one in the middle said. “We’re almost there. Let’s get these diamonds put away and go home.”

“Right,” the other two officers said, scanning the sky for the Vulture. They were so busy looking up, they didn’t notice the storm drain cover right in front of them. Until the Vulture popped it open and yanked the briefcase from the officer in the middle.

“What the hell?” the officer said as the two cops let out panicked bursts of fire. Not anywhere near the fleeing super-villain, either. The officer on the right fired off to his side, winging a fellow officer enforcing the cordon. The one on the left fired into the sky, forcing officers and civilians alike to run from the falling bullets.

“Hold your fire, hold your fire!” the officer in the middle told his comrades. He pulled out his radio and said:

“Dispatch, this is Delta Three. The Vulture has the diamonds. I repeat, the Vulture has the diamonds!”

***

The Vulture flew through the twisting tunnels beneath New York City, confidant no one would find him.

I’ll be miles away before they even get down here! he thought. And even when they do, they’ll have no idea which of these twisting tunnels I’m flying through!

Toomes continued flying through the storm drain network until he came to a subway tunnel. Pulling his wings in close to his side, the Vulture shot through the gap between the tunnel and the train like a bullet.

“Look! It’s the Vulture! He just flew out of the subway tunnel!” A commuter below the Vulture shouted, pointing up at Toomes.

These fools powers of observation astound me, Toomes thought. At least this will give them something to talk about for years!

Toomes continued to fly out of the subway station, forcing the commuters to scream and dive out of the way.

How simple it was! Toomes thought as he flew out into the daylight. Now I’ll have vanished over the rooftops before the police can converge on this spot!

***

Peter stood with the other photographers along Fifth Avenue drinking watery hot chocolate after taking pictures of the convoy leaving. Peter had taken some good natured ribbing from the other photographers for using Glory’s spare pass, but otherwise the afternoon had been uneventful.

I can’t believe I used up a roll of film for this, Peter thought as he threw his cup into a nearby garbage can. The Vulture must have chickened out after all! Peter walked back up to Park Avenue, hoping to catch Glory before she disappeared for the afternoon. He brushed past an agitated police officer speaking into her mike.

“Dispatch, dispatch, this is Yankee twelve. Say again all after the Vulture. Over,” she said. Peter stopped to listen. The dispatch operator duly responded, saying:

“All units, all units, this is Dispatch. I say again, the Vulture has acquired the diamonds and retreated into the storm tunnels. Last known position was at Uptown station. All available units to converge on Uptown Station. Out.”

Peter ran down a nearby alley way, tearing open his vest and shirt to reveal the Spider-Man costume underneath, his bag and camera bumping against his legs.

That sneaky old buzzard! Peter thought as he ran. He did it all right. He fooled everybody, even me! But I’ll find him. I’ve got to; I’m the only one who can stop him now! And if I get new pictures of the guy, I can name my price for them!

Peter continued to run down the alley, taking off his clothes and stuffing them in his backpack. He grabbed his mask and pulled it over his head. Then he jumped onto a nearby wall and climbed up to the rooftop.

Being Spider-Man’s always been a mixed blessing, Peter thought as he clambered upwards. But I love wall-crawling. I don’t think I’ll ever stop getting a charge out of it!

Peter reached the rooftop and dropped his bag into a corner. He took out his boots, gloves and web-shooters. The web-shooters went on first, then the gloves and boots. Then he webbed up his backpack against a corner of the roof and climbed up to the next rooftop. With a running start, Peter leapt off that rooftop and started swinging around the city.

All the cops are going to 72nd Street, Peter thought. They won’t get there in time, the Vulture moves too quickly. I’ll have to be smarter than the cops if I want to catch him. Think, Peter, think! That gizmo of his isn’t quick, maybe fifteen miles an hour? Good for low-level thievery, but not so much for outrunning cops. Still, that gives him a huge area where he can hide in. Think, Peter, think! Is there anything in the Vulture’s other thefts that might give you a clue? Peter pondered this for a minute as he kept web-slinging across the city. He needs a base to hide out in after every score. The harbour’s out. That place is crawling with tourists, and even that magnetic drive of his would disturb the water. Plus, at the low heights the Vulture operates in, the magnetism would probably interfere with the ships, too. Okay, so he’s most likely heading upstate. If I can calculate the radius inside my head, I should be able to plot an intercept trajectory. I hope!

Peter swung with all his might, cutting through his projected radius as he sought to catch up with the Vulture. Just as he was giving up hope, Peter’s Spider-Sense kicked in over Hamilton Heights. Peter listened to the buzzing sound in his brain, scanning for his winged prey. There, just over Broadway, flapping as hard as he could, flew the Vulture.

I got you this time, you cagey condor! Peter thought as he landed on a rooftop, rolling forward to kill his momentum. Peter scanned the nearby rooftops for a safe place to put his camera that would also get decent pictures. Finding a spot he liked, Peter webbed his camera in place before taking off after the Vulture who had stopped over West 142nd Street, hovering while he scanned the street.

Probably looking for police choppers, Peter thought. He won’t be looking for your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, that’s for sure!

Still, Peter played it safe. He crept along the rooftops until he was in web-shooting distance of the Vulture. Then Peter fired a line to the Vulture’s ankle. The sticky substance snagged the villainous avian’s leg, causing Vulture to look down in shock.

“Spider-Man!” he shouted.

“Hi baldy!” Peter said. “Did you miss me?”

“I killed you arachnid!” The Vulture said, flying upwards and pulling Peter with him.

“Fun fact about spiders, bird brain,” Peter said, “some of us can breathe under water!”

“So I see,” the Vulture said, looking over his shoulder at Peter. Peter decided he didn’t like the look on the Vulture’s face. A decision that proved to have merit, as the Vulture turned into a sharp dive, whipping Peter up into the air. “I’ll just have to squash you like the insect you are!”

It’s a good thing I’m used to pulling crazy G’s from my web-slinging, Peter thought, or I’d be puking in my mask! Out loud, he said:

“Hey, hey! Do I get your class wrong? No! Spiders are arachnids; you know, eight legs, two body segments, no antenna. Totally different from insects.”

“How droll,” the Vulture said as he reached the bottom of his dive and turned into a climb. “Though I suppose I should be pleased you know the difference, wall-crawler. With the state the American education system is in these days, you are in rare company.”

If all I do is hang on here, I’ll never get close enough to use my magnetic inverter, Peter thought. So he pulled himself up (or down, it’s all relative) on his web-line. To keep the Vulture from figuring out what he was up to, Peter kept talking.

“I don’t think a guy who confuses insects and arachnids should complain about the American school system, Buzz,” Peter told him, inching his way along the webline.

“A Woody Woodpecker reference? You’re either cleverer or older than I gave you credit for, arachnid,” the Vulture said as he continued to climb.

“What can I say? I’m a man of infinite mystery,” Peter replied. He continued to inch his way up to the Vulture who turned around just in time to meet Peter’s fist. The Vulture’s beak-like nose broke under the impact, and he went tumbling down towards the rooftops. Seeing his chance, Peter reached for his magnetic inverter. The distraction cost him, for the Vulture took the opportunity to hit Peter with a jab of his own. Though Peter’s Spider-Sense warned him of the blow, Peter wasn’t able to dodge and took the Vulture’s punch square in the head. Peter nearly fell to the streets below; it was by grasping onto the Vulture at the last second that Peter was able to avoid falling to his death.

That was too close, Peter thought as he hung from the Vulture with his left arm and leg. It’s time to end this! With his free arm, Peter reached for the magnetic inverter and turned it on. Suddenly both Peter and the Vulture fell from the sky.

“What did you do? You’ll kill us both!” the Vulture shouted.

“Oh hush you overgrown turkey,” Peter said. Stretching out with his right arm again, Peter fired a series of web-lines to the rooftops, slowing their descent enough to allow Peter and the Vulture to hit West 142nd Street without going splat.

The Vulture got up and cleared away the webs with a quick swipe of his wings. “You, Spider-Man, are going to die,” he said.

“If you could cut through my webs that easy, why didn’t you do so before?” Peter demanded as he fired balls of webbing at the Vulture who batted them away. “I’m glad you didn’t, but still…”

“Shut. Up. Boy,” the Vulture retorted as he charged Peter. Even without Peter’s Spider-Sense, he would have seen that one coming a mile away. Peter leapt clean over the Vulture and fired more balls of webbing as he came down, trapping the Vulture against the wall. The Vulture struggled against the webs, but couldn’t break them.

“Ah, don’t worry about it Buzz,” Peter said. “It’s not your fault you’re old and washed up. Happens to the best of us.”

“Freeze! Both of you!” Peter turned to the east to see a strawberry blond woman dressed in a green jacket, a white pussy bow blouse, a purple skirt, black ballet flats and a dark blue beret. She pointed a pistol at Peter.

That’s the strangest outfit I’ve ever seen, Peter thought, blind to the hypocrisy. She looks like some out of those old black and white movies Uncle Ben used to watch! I wonder why my Spider-Sense didn’t go off? Is she not a threat?

“Hands on your head, Spider-Man,” the woman continued, “and up against the wall with your feathered friend there.”

“Look lady,” Peter said to the woman, letting a little heat into his voice, “I don’t know who you think you are, but…”

“I think I’m a detective of the New York City Police Department,” she replied. “And I don’t recall the brass deputizing any bug-eyed freaks in pyjamas. Hands on your head, Spider-Man. I won’t ask twice.”

“Maybe not,” Peter said, grinning under his mask. “But you aren’t going to shoot me, either.” And with that, Peter leapt over the detective and swung upwards to the city. Peter’s gamble paid off. As he jumped over her, the detective lowered her gun to the ground and took her finger off the trigger. She didn’t fire once.

As Peter sped away, he overheard the Vulture say:

“If you release me, detective, half the diamonds will be yours.”

“Shut up, Buzz,” the detective said. Peter laughed.

***

The next day, Peter found himself in Jonah J. Jameson’s office on the seventeenth floor of the Daily Bugle building. Jonah, wearing a purple window pane suit and white shirt with a grey tie, sat at his desk, chomping on a cigar and looking through Peter’s photos. Peter stood in front of the desk, staring out the east window. Peter wore a blue suit with a white shirt and red tie. He folded his arms behind his back, desperate to ask Jameson what he thought of the pictures.

While he waited, Peter scanned the office. It didn’t look any different from the last time Peter had been in there. On the mahogany desk was a sleek black computer monitor, a framed picture of John, Jonah’s only son, another picture Peter assumed was Jonah’s wife, and enough papers to deforest most of the parks in the city. The walls were panelled with a warm brown wood that reflected and amplified the light coming from the office’s only light source, a lamp with a dingy lampshade that hung from the middle of the office. How Jonah avoided needing glasses after staring at a computer all day in such poor light, Peter didn’t know.

Diagonal from the desk were a pair of overstuffed leather chairs. On both the east and west walls were filing cabinets that Peter assumed were filled with even more papers. Tucked into the corners were plastic palm trees.

“You a magician, Parker?” Jameson asked at last, taking his unlit cigar out of his mouth and holding it with one hand.

“Uh, no. Sir,” Peter said, looking over at Jameson in confusion.

“You’re not a magician, and yet you manage to get pictures my best staff photographers can’t get,” Jameson said. He raised his eyes up to Peter and added: “You can understand why I’m curious.”

Peter shrugged. “That’s my secret, Mr. Jameson,” he said. “That was our deal, too. I get you the pictures and you don’t ask how. Now, if you don’t want the pics…”

Jameson chuckled. “Are you kidding? With pictures like these, I could almost bear living in the same city as these super-powered nuts.” He put his cigar down in an ashtray and turned in his chair to look out the window. “You know about that guy in Metropolis, Parker?” he asked.

“Superman? Yeah, I’ve read about him,” Peter said. “He’s an alien, right? His planet blew up or something, and he came to Earth. He’s been using his powers to help people… or so he claims,” Peter added, remembering that it might not be such a good idea to sound too enamoured of superheroes.

“Or so he claims,” Jonah repeated. “That’s good, Parker. That’s good. Scepticism will help you a lot in this business. And then there’s Reed Richards and his gang. ‘The Fantastic Four’ people are calling them now.”

“They do some impressive stuff, Mr. Jameson,” Peter pointed out.

“They do,” Jonah repeated, still staring out the window. “And that’s the problem. People are already turning against them. Richards had to fight off another mob of crazies while Spider-Man dealt with the Vulture. People are accusing them of being aliens, or spies or communists or fascists or whatever. We have a new generation of superheroes on our hands, and a public that doesn’t want heroes anymore. To the left, any kind of individual heroics is fascism. To the right, anybody who isn’t forcing straight, white, ‘Christian’ values on everybody else is, you guessed it, a fascist. Or Muslim. Or both! This new generation of heroes will end in blood and tears, mark my words.” Jonah turned back to Peter, shaking his head. “Never mind. We just report the news, we don’t make it. Go on! Go grab your paycheck and take Glory to the movies or something. She seems to like you, God only knows why. I’ll see you when you have more pictures to sell.”

“Thanks, Mr. Jameson,” Peter said as he hustled out the door. Jameson’s comments weighed heavily on Peter’s mind. Surely the crusty old man was just being cynical, right? Spider-Man had his fans, didn’t he? Maybe Jonah knew something Peter didn’t.

Either way, Peter knew what he had to do. And it was time to get to work.

END CHAPTER