Thursday, June 3, 2010

Kraven's Last Hunt

The main comic podcast I listen to - CGS (Comic Geek Speak) - does a monthly Book of the Month Club. They rotate through Marvel, DC, Geek's Choice, independent, manga, and others. The book is offered at a larger discount usually at In Stock Trades. And then they record an episode discussing the book.

The latest one was on Kraven's Last Hunt, the Spider-Man story from J.M. DeMatteis, Mike Zeck, and Bob McLeod and can be downloaded here. It's a great Spider-Man story and a favorite from childhood. Below is my contribution to the forum thread for this BOMC discussion. If you haven't tried out Kraven's Last Hunt yet, I hope this spurs you to find it and read it. If you have, I hope it adds a little bit to your enjoyment of it.


I can remember buying these issues right off the stand. I was heavy into Spider-Man at the time, and I can’t remember if I’d seen any house ads (were there house ads for this?), but the thought of a storyline carrying through the three different titles combined with Mike Zeck’s artwork made this a no-brainer. And the story . . . I was blown away. It was so different: Spidey’s defeated and buried, then he’s not even in the book for the second and third chapters, and the ultimate fate of Kraven – totally unexpected.

These issues had a special place in my collection for a long time, but I don’t know what happened to them. Lost in a purge or a move somewhere along the line, I guess. But last year I went to Amazon and found a used copy of the original hardcover for a good price, and when I re-read it, I was pleased to find that it stood up incredibly well. And now, reading it for BOMC, I’ve found even more in it that I missed during that initial re-read.

First, there’s the story from DeMatteis. This is such an emotional tale. The internal monologues of the characters work well in this respect, showcasing the feelings they normally keep bottled up, subjects not typically discussed or utilized in superhero comics – fear from our hero, the implication of depression or other mental illness on the part of Kraven and its manifestation in his feelings of despair and resignation. These are far more realized characterizations than one sees in most books from the “Big Two.”

The manner in which Kraven breaks down Spider-Man, “killing” him in the minds of the public by becoming a more vicious form of Spider-Man is intriguing and worse than if he’d actually killed him (which we all know isn’t happening). Kraven has ruined the good name of Spider-Man while believing that, by enacting these harsher punishments and defeating Vermin (a villain Spidey needed assistance to defeat), he has surpassed what this hero is in every way. It’s an interestingly warped view of the situation that is fitting. Every villain believes himself or herself to be the hero of their own story. Kraven sees a corrupted civilization and believes it needs a sterner, more brutal defender of the masses.

On the surface, this is a well-crafted adventure story, but DeMatteis adds thematic layers that elevate this story to a new level. His exploration of duality within this narrative is rather overt, though it didn’t resonate too strongly with me the first time I re-read it earlier this year. It’s a natural progression from these characters, particularly the then-new reality for Peter Parker of being a married man, and does not supersede the main spine of the story.

It makes sense that a tale dealing with heroes and their secret identities should delve into this, exploring who is the true man and who the mask. We get a Peter Parker who is afraid – afraid while in his Spider-Man costume. How does he deal with this? (Has it been dealt with much in any other Spidey comics?) He goes off the handle, reacts in ways that are uncharacteristic for Spider-Man but all too human, allowing the readers to relate to him better.

It makes Spider-Man a more interesting character, and the fact that his fear is emanating from the fact that he now has a chance at a “normal life” with his new wife gives Peter far more to lose at this point. The stakes have been raised, and we see a Peter Parker questioning why he does what he does. It feels as if he could give up the suit if pushed far enough.

And in Kraven, we have a man of honor questioning his place in this new, corrupt world. He wishes to leave this life with honor restored, and in order to do this he must defeat the Spider that has plagued him for years (is this the genesis of the Spider totem?). It’s obvious he is feeling beaten down by this world, but we can also infer that there may be something amiss with his psychological makeup from Kraven’s continuing mantra that they called his mother “insane.” Could he have inherited this malady? The final resolution of this story, for Kraven anyway, suggests that maybe there was some truth to this diagnosis. If he wished to leave this world with honor intact, would he necessarily take his own life? I’d be interested in that debate.

It’s also worth noting that the year this was originally published, DeMatteis was working his comedic magic on the revamped Justice League series.

And finally, the art. This is, in my opinion, Mike Zeck’s best artwork of his career. The way he differentiates between Kraven and Peter when they are in the costume is perfect. Just by body language and the slight differentiation in body type, we can easily tell who is who. It’s a testament to his craft that he’s able to do this.

And he also adds to the emotional resonance of the story with his facility of body language.

Zeck – no doubt in conjunction with DeMatteis – also utilize the splash page to great effect. Excellent storytelling.

There’s not much more to say regarding the art, other than the black and white costume never looked better than during these six issues, and with much of the tale taking place at night or in the sewers, Zeck took advantage of the use of negative space offered with a b/w costume.

A couple of other notes: I appreciate the fact that this ran through the regular books and wasn’t an “event” not unlike Daredevil: Born Again. I also appreciate, though I am not up to date on any recent Spidey history, that Kraven’s death seems to have had meaning.

Great story, great art.

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