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Why You Should Read: Spider-Man: Kraven's Last Hunt

In 1987, Sergei Kravinov went from joke to A-list villain and then exited in incredible fashion. It's definitely worth checking out.

The year is 1985. Dark Knight Returns has come out and wowed an ever-fickle readership by reinventing a well-established, and frankly toothless, character into a kinetic, mad engine of wild justice and inner turmoil. The same year that came out, Watchmen redefined what a superhero book could even be about, managing political intrigue and psychological realism tinged with incredible emotional depth. Two years later, a Spider-Man story is released by J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck containing all of these themes, and more, set in a well-established superhero that doesn’t get NEARLY the credit it’s due in the modern era. Spider-Man: Kraven’s Last Hunt deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Watchmen or DKR and, in my humble opinion, is a far superior book in terms of quality, though perhaps not deconstruction.

He worked REALLY hard on this cosplay, but it was clearly worth it. Look how happy he is!

The story takes place when Spidey was still wearing his black and white duds (though they were no longer secretly sentient) and tells the tale of Kraven the Hunter at the end of his proverbial rope. He’s been humiliated and beaten by Spider-Man so many times, that he realizes his only choice is to BECOME the Spider-Man. Symbolically and metaphyiscally, though, you'll find no brain-swapping here. He treats himself with mystical herbs and even poisons in order to strengthen his body and mind, sets out against Spider-Man and, seemingly, shoots him in the head after trapping him in a net, burying him in a grave on Kraven's estate grounds. He then sets out in Spider-Man's costume to prove himself against a villain that DeMatteis and Zeck recently pitted Spidey, alongside Captain America, against in the hideous sewer-dwelling manrat Vermin.

Much of this tale is bookended with Mary-Jane and Peter’s new marriage being somewhat rocky due to Parker’s dual identity, but we also get to see inside Vermin's fractured, tortured psyche at a creature that barely knows what's going on around it beyond his most basic needs. The plot threads seem frayed, but all come together in amazing ways that work on a thematic level, and that’s what sets this book apart from so many others: the underlying themes and symbolism. It’s not precisely subtle, a lot of it is revealed in the text of the book itself, but that actually makes it more accessible, and since it’s not all crystal clear, it makes rereading the tale an absolute joy. Kraven proves that he has become something more than a mere villain, even Spider-Man at one point thinks he has the situation well in-hand, commenting on Kraven's normal MO of spiriting him to his hideout to gloat until Spidey breaks free, but this is a Kraven that had never before been seen, and a turn for a villain that was every bit as shocking as Green Goblin back in 1973.

NIPPLE LASERS!

This story isn’t as acknowledged for how ahead of its time it was, I feel, because it came out in the wake of two of the most influential comics of all time, but, and DeMatteis goes into incredible detail about his process in the absolutely must-read intro to the hardcover, he does for Kraven what Frank Miller did for Batman and helped expand the kinds of stories that Spider-Man could be involved with.

Kraven had been a joke, even below D-listers like Shocker or Electro, for a number of years (nipple lasers, people. Nipple. Lasers), but something about the character and the writer’s life at the time clicked and he crafted a being of incredible madness and obsession.

A fallen nobleman from a long-dead way of life that he could never reconnect with. Kraven had been established as Russian previously, but it had never really factored into his character beyond giving him an accent and a name. DeMatteis, in a few panels, gives us an incredible, tragic backstory of a boy raised by an insane mother and a despondent, dishonored father all while sidestepping the usual "abusive family" villain trope. He has a storm raging in his mind, and DeMatteis acknowledges the influence of Russian author Dostoyevsky in this influence, of the duality that he faces: animal VS civilization, noble VS dishonor, death VS life and, of course, man VS beast.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the absolutely immaculate Mike Zeck art. DeMatteis mentions him repeatedly in the introduction, but Zeck’s style fits this story more than perfectly and I'd be hard-pressed to find an artist better suited for it, then or now. His muddy, grimy pencils are perfect for a story where the sun never seems to rise and the rain never seems to stop, and they’re paired with incredible linework from Bob McLeod and Zeck himself, with Ian Tetrault on colors. Every panel of this story is intentional, there’s not a single one that doesn’t serve the tone or advance the story and the entire thing comes off as a gorgeously realized project. Even the letters, supplied by Rick Parker, are a sight to behold and become an integral part of this dark, haunting tale.

Kraven was a Superior Spider-Man LONG before it was trendy!

The book works so amazingly well as a collected work (it was originally six issues across three different Spider titles) and, again, doesn’t get the credit it deserves. This was still when books were branded with the Comics Code Authority label, though its relevance had begun to wane, yet it deals with themes like loss, depression, clinical insanity and the duality of humans all while using things like drug use, incredible violence, and even a bit of nudity. The characters behave like real people, the lense we use to see inside their inner-workings is clear and it paints the principle players in ways they’d rarely, if ever, been painted before.

Kraven’s Last Hunt remains literary, deep and, most importantly, relevant after over 25 years later (and fortunately, Kraven’s return in Kraven’s First Hunt was actually handled very well, paying proper respect to the source) and should be read if only to remind what a talented creative team can do with a character long relegated to being a joke.

42 Comments
Posted by FastestBlender

Tried revisiting it last year, it's now behind the times. Art is fine, but storytelling is slow and clunky

Edited by Wolverine08

This story is surreal.

Online
Posted by k4tzm4n

@undeadpool

+5,000 respect points for choosing this most superb storyline.

-5,001 respect points for calling Kraven a joke.

But really, excellent choice, man.

Staff
Edited by Dernman

One of the first comics I ever read and it had Kraven blowing his brains out.

Posted by DecoyElite

Nice stuff but...

Kraven had been a joke, even below D-listers like Shocker or Electro, for a number of years (nipple lasers, people. Nipple. Lasers)

Just about everything in this sentence made me want to vomit. >.<

Edited by dcguy

One of the best Spiderman story definetly in my top ten Spider list.

Posted by tupiaz

Great Spider-man story however i feel that it has taken some elements from Iron Monger.

Posted by d_bones

I would read it if I could find the trade anywhere GRRRRR

Posted by AWeekInGeekdom

One of my favorite spider reads and first tpb purchase :) , I highly recommend First Hunt and then Grim Hunt. Awesome sequels that pay respect to the original source material.

Posted by AlwaysBeClothing

Contains one of my friend's most favorite covers ever. I ended up getting him a copy of it signed by Zeck. Great choice on the arc, incredibly cerebral for its time.

Posted by jwalser3

Maybe, when I have the money.

Posted by Life_Without_Progress

Finally, I'VE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS ! :)

Posted by Kerrigan

I also reread this recently, if anything it reads better than it did first time. Fantastic art and dialogue, great pacing, and genuinely creepy. Also found Kraven's description of himself as a superior Spiderman interesting, given current Marvel events...

This is one of Marvel's best.

Posted by JetiiMitra

-Kraven "kills" Peter Parker and takes the Spider-man mantle.

-Kraven calls himself a superior Spider-man.

-Peter comes back

-Kraven kills himself

Comics history repeats itself, since there are no original ideas. Therefore,

-Doc Ock "kills" Peter Parker and takes the Spider-man mantle.

-Doc Ock calls himself a superior Spider-man.

-Doc Ock kills himself

-Peter comes back

In all seriousness, this is a story I've wanted to read for a while. Time to go look for it.

Posted by Decept-O

Excellent. Nice write-up of one of my personal favorite story arcs from Spider-Man and comics in general.

I agree with the views expressed in the article and am glad Mike Zeck's art was given glowing praise because I agree, it was an absolute perfect fit for the story.

Posted by Cyborg6971

Funny I just ordered this off Amozon today. Weird. Can't wait to read it.

Posted by Owie

Solid story. This was one of the first real Spidey arcs I read and definitely got me into the character. DeMatteis is such a great comics writer. Let me also recommend his Moonshadow of the time, which was even more radical.

Posted by mickeymayhew

I wouldn't call Electro a d-lister

Posted by frogjitsu

I've had this TPB on my wishlist forever. I need to read this someday.

Now on to Electro. How exactly is he a D-lister? He's been in Spidey's stable of rogues forever, and he's made appearances in most of the other media, including the New Movie. A D-lister would be somebody few people have heard of. Someone like Squid or Freak.

Posted by Michael_Moran

Why you should read kravens last hunt...because it.is freaking amazing.

Posted by spider11211

I have the original issues.

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Edited by The_Titan_Lord

Beware my hidden nipple rays.

Posted by spider11211

Nipples are always dangerous.

Posted by johnkmccubbin91

One of my favourite Spidey stories.

Posted by Ryagan

I still need to read this story... I also need to read The Death of Jean DeWolff.

Online
Posted by 8008S

@ryagan: I highly recommend both!

Posted by PunyParker

"Cuz it's awesome!!"

If someone said only THAT to me,i would have read it.

Posted by zombietag

soooo amazing. i love this.

Posted by mewmdude77

My very favorite Spider-Man arc.

Posted by SupremeHyperion

Hell yeah, one of my favorite stories of all-time (definitely my favorite spider-man story) great choice and one that anyone interested in spidey should/has to read. Kraven is one of spidey's coolest and interesting enemies who really shined in this arc. And don't forget how amazing the cover art was during this story-line....

Posted by RedheadedAtrocitus

The finest piece of Spider-Man literature in my opinion. So action packed and yet, such tragedy. I love this story, and always will.

Edited by CQSP_Atty

@dernman: no kidding same boat, my cousin handed it to me when i was 10. read the end, I felt disturbed and knew life is officially over, you couldn't beat this, then comics was my life

Posted by comicfan11

One of Spidey's best stories, and one of Spidey's greatest and most lethal villains (a threat both mentally and physically).

Kravinof is one Marvel's biggest bad@sses.

Edited by KnightofSteel

Awesome story from what I remember...haven't read it in years. I have the issues buried in a longbox somewhere, but would love to get this in TP. I remember being a big fan of Zeck's artwork as he did that first Punisher mini. Plus McLeod on inks...an excellent inker. Too bad these guys aren't doing any regular comic work these days.

Posted by Extremis

Finally read this superb story. All I can say is wow!

Essentially this is an incredible exploration of four characters and their respective fears. It examines how we, as people, are in constant struggle with our fears and how some of us never break the chain. Some of us, like Kraven and Vermin, remain slaves to our fear, having it dictate our course in life.

Anyway, I definitely put this up there with Watchmen, Killing Joke and Dark Knight Returns. And to be perfectly honest, it actually surpasses those IMO. Can't wait to read it again!

Edited by PeppeyHare

One of my favorite Spidey stories ever. The emotional impact I felt the first time I read it was nuts.

Posted by 8008S

Hey has anyone here read Soul Of The Hunter? Is it great too?