Ninja does whatever a Ninja can
Publisher: Marvel & Your friendly neighbourhood comic shop
Mon, 11 June 2007
by: Australian Ninja
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"Here lies Spider-Man - Slain by the Hunter"
So reads the grave of one of histories greatest superheros.
"But he's not dead, is he? What happened to everyone's favourite web-slinger? Spidey seems to be alive and well now, what with his three movie deal and a string of monthly Marvel comic-book titles to his name, so why was he buried six feet under?
The year is 1987. The company is Marvel. The character is Sergei Kravinov also known as 'Kraven the Hunter.'
Back in the 60's Stan and Steve (Lee and Ditko, respectively) churned out a heap of cool villains for the title "Amazing Spider-Man."
Doctor Octopus, The Chameleon, The Lizard, Vulture, Sandman, Electro, Shocker, Kraven, Mysterio and of course Spidey's arch nemesis the Green Goblin
Typically the villain(s) would commit some kind of half-arsed bank robbery, then Spidey would arrive on the scene, beat them senseless while teasing the poor fiscally challenged bad guy, then leave him for the cops and often fun jail time. Once there, they would absent mindedly plot to repeat the same stupid scheme that didn't work in the first place. More than likely they would curse the very name 'Spider-Man' and say something along the lines of "You shall rue this day Spider-Man! …Well go on then, start rueing!"
|I command you ... to rise from your grave! |
Kraven was a significant Spider-Man foe over the years, but never one of the cool villains. If you looked at how he was dressed, you could be forgiven for mistaking him for a flaming homosexual.
Flamboyantly dressed in the combo of skin tight leopard print pants and an open vest, Kraven was a walking fashion disaster. His bare hairy chest proudly on display, Kraven walked around like he was king of the jungle. Kraven even wore a mock lion's mane around his neck, with a lion face on the vest. Subtlety was not his strong point.
Kraven was also extremely dangerous. He was supposedly the epitome of physical perfection, and had highly developed senses and 'jungle' themed abilities. No super-powers to speak of (although he augmented his strength with secret elixirs) but being a 'Hunter' he could track almost anything, and would fight or capture / kill his prey with his bare hands. Sort of like an evil Steve Irwin.
While Kraven is not someone you'd want to mess with, Spidey seemed to beat him at every opportunity. Kraven was not really a criminal in the usual sense of the word. He would 'hunt' Spider-man, and considered hunting Spidey to be an honour and his greatest challenge. While I've made a point about his earlier appearances being nothing special, and occasionally laughable, Kraven's final story proved what a great character he could be in the right hands. The talented hands and minds of writer J.M. DeMatteis and artist Mike Zeck.
Now that you're up to speed on Kraven, let's jump into "Kraven's Last Hunt."
The story begins with a rather naked Kraven attacking some jungle animals. Only when the perspective changes do we realise he is attacking stuffed trophy animals in his own mansion. Kraven is deranged and slipping into madness. His many defeats at Spider-Man's hands over the years have taken their toll on his very humanity. Kraven has become obsessed with beating Spider-Man, and that's what he sets out to accomplish. While old jungle pants has been an almost laughable character at times, in this storyline we see a depth and maturity to him. The story gets very dark (but not without hope) for both Kraven and Spidey, and the poor wretched refuse that is Vermin - the minor character in the story.
Next we see Kraven tag Spider-Man in the jugular with a poison dart, then shoot the drugged Spidey point blank with a rifle. Later Kraven buries Spidey-Man in a coffin six-foot underground. Afterwards Kraven takes up the identity of Spider-Man. He dresses in his Spidey's black costume - a material / cloth version Spider-Man used after ridding himself of the alien Symbiote that would later became Venom - and beats up street punks mercilessly. He also bests and captures a minor character called 'Vermin', (a mutated sewer-dwelling rat-man who lives on human flesh and despises Spider-Man) all in the effort to prove himself better than his arachnid adversary.
Two weeks later, Peter Parker wakes up. He has been buried alive and desperately claws his way out of the filth and stench of his coffin. He realises that he was drugged by Kraven, and the only thing he cares about is revenge. He pursues Kraven, which is just what had been planned for him all along. Peter finds Kraven in his mansion along with the imprisoned Vermin. Kraven frees Vermin, who attacks Spider-Man, convinced this is the same man who tormented and attacked him in the sewer earlier.
|Exibit A - The first collected edition |
The two fight to a standstill, then Kraven let's Vermin escape, knowing that Spidey is bound to go after him for fear he will attack other innocents.
Left alone again in his mansion, Kraven (although deluded) is at peace perhaps for the first time in his adult life. With the knowledge that he beat Spider-Man, proving to himself he was better at being the Spider than Peter ever was and with no further goals in life, he takes a high-powered rifle, sticks it in his mouth and proceeds to paint the walls crimson red.
That's the story in a nutshell. One of Spidey's foes buries him alive for two weeks, goes on a rampage while dressed as him, lures him to his home then later commits suicide. It's a dark story any way you look at it.
Originally published as six single issues via three different Spider-Man comic-book titles (Amazing, Web and Spectacular) the Kraven's Last Hunt storyline sold very well and showcased some of the most incredible covers seen on an 80's Marvel comic.
The covers to the original comics this storyline ran in were more 'stunning' than Steve Austin. I own a few of them myself as well as the first version of the trade paperback. But I was surprised to find a new revised edition had been published this year, with yet another stunning cover, one redrawn from images used in the original story.
The covers used in this review are as follows; the top most image is from the new revised edition, the next one is art from the revised edition, based on an old cover, next up is the cover to the first collected edition that I used for this review, and the final cover is from a single issue of the original multi-part story. If you use the page up/down keys you can look at them now easily and return here without losing your place.
Along with big sales, came a fair amount of controversy, with people writing to complain about the story crossing into multiple titles - for example subscribers of one title would only get two odd parts of the story with no re-caps - and then of course there was the whole suicide thing. That's a touchy subject at the best of times. The editor's comments (Glenn Herdling and Jim Salicrup) in the Afterword of the 1989 trade-paperback prove insightful on the topic:
"One outraged mother went so far as to accuse us of advocating suicide and referred to our comics as destroying literature"
Seeing a single issue out of context from the rest of the story did make it look that way to some readers.
|Exibit B - A single issue from the original run of Amazing Spider-Man |
However, the editors and writers stated:
"Kraven's actions were not those of a sane man - that suicide was just a sad conclusion to a sad and wasted life."
Other issues are addressed in the same Afterword:
"Many people wrote us expressing their views that Spider-Man shouldn't be involved with such intense storylines. One would infer that they believe everything about the wall-crawler should be candy coated and totally escapist. We, on the other hand, feel that anyone who believes such nonsense doesn't understand who Spider-Man is or what he represents.
From the very outset, Spider-Man (the comic) explored mature themes. Peter's desire to selfishly exploit his powers led to his allowing the escape of the man who would later kill his uncle. …Is the story of a teenager responsible for the death of his surrogate father typical escapist fare?
Spider-Man has also been involved with stories dealing with child molesting and drug abuse, …(in particular) a series of stories dealing with Harry Osborn's experimentation with LSD …Marvel saw as too important not to see print."
Kraven's Last Hunt - A powerful storyline indeed. An intimate, unnerving story that lets you crawl inside the characters, getting to know them from inside their skin and viewing life from their varied perspectives. A story that deserved and almost demanded a collected single volume, to properly appreciate it in. Reprinted many times over the years, Kraven's Last Hunt earlier this year received a revised hardcover deluxe edition that makes it all the easier to pick up and sink your teeth into this great story.
I'll leave you with what Stan Lee (co-creator of Spider-Man) had to say about this story…
"For here you will find no clichéd cardboard characters, no trite and time-tested stereotypes. Thanks to the genius of Dematteis and Zeck, everyone you'll encounter in this pulse-pounding tale will live and breathe, surprise and startle you, as shock follows shock, carrying you along on a journey into drama that you'll never forget."
by: Australian Ninja
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