Tuesday, February 28, 2006

KRAVEN'S LAST HUNT Marvel Comics, 1987

(Note: I am going to spoil this story for you. If you haven't read Kraven's Last Hunt - and you should - do yourself a favor and don't read past the SPOILER ALERT. You will thank me.)

Kraven the Hunter is one of those villains that could fall on either side of the Cool Median, depending on whether you have taste or are stupid. Kraven is an eccentric/psycopathic Russian noble big game hunter who dresses in a Siegfried & Roy outfit and tests his considerable skills by hunting the most challenging game of all: superheroes! He basically looks like a big gay lion tamer. I happen to think Kraven is cool as hell.

If you know anyone who thinks that Kraven the Hunter belongs on the Uncool Side of the Median, punch them in the neck without warning. When/if they have regained the ability to breathe, gently set them in a chair, get them a glass of water, and hand them a copy of the trade paperback Kraven’s Last Hunt. If they still think that Kraven sucks after reading it, curse them and call them a donkey and strike them with the bottom of your shoe.

How can you not like this story? I mean, look at that cover from part two (above)! Kraven standing triumphant over Spider-Man’s grave, screaming, "MORTAL KOMBAAAT!" That’s what comics are all about right there.

Kraven’s Last Hunt is a psychological thriller in which Spider-Man’s old adversary Kraven, the maniac Russian hunter, goes totally batshit-psycho-Capt. Insano and tries to “kill”, then in effect become Spider-Man. Kraven also spends a lot of his time naked in this storyline – dude gets naked more than Paris Hilton. Oh, snap!

Kraven’s Last Hunt, aka "Fearful Symmetry" (and I may be wrong here) came out on a weekly basis in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker The Spectacular Spider-Man, and Web of Spider-Man in 1987. The creative team of writer JM DeMatteis and artists Mike Zeck and Bob McLeod remained the same for all six-issues, which is as it should be, but I remember thinking it was kind of strange the way the story ping-ponged between Spider titles. One month you’d be reading about Spider-Man chasing Slyde or somebody and the next month, you’d get buck naked Kraven.

DeMatteis’s story is operatic and grandiose and deep and creepy all at the same time, and his approach is effective a good 85% of the time. The rest of the time the script comes across as a little pretentious and overly enamored with symbolism. Like they say, your mileage may vary. I am now officially a blogger because I have used that line: “your mileage may vary.”
"Kraven also spends a lot of his time naked in this storyline..."

What makes Kraven’s Last Hunt a significant comic story is that it was arguably one of the first of its kind: a multi-issue event storyline built around the death of a character that was delivered in a solemn, self-consciously artsy way and was “written for the trade,” i.e., paced to last five or six issues. These days every other issue is “The Death of Speedball, part 7 of 18”, but back in the day, Kraven’s Last Hunt stood out from the crowd.

Penciller Mike Zeck does a fantastic job conveying the rain-drenched mood of the story. I’ve always been a big fan of Zeck’s muscular, well-staged art, and in Kraven’s Last Hunt he shows that he’s equally facile at capturing facial expressions – he really nails Kraven’s raving mania and his more subtle emotions. DeMatteis’s script clearly allowed Zeck room to work – they weren’t afraid to take their time laying out some of the more dramatic sequences. In some comics this kind of cinematic pacing feels like padding, but here it feels right. Check out these panels from part one’s funeral scene, where Kraven and his helpers bury the “dead” Spider-Man:

That’s some good shit right there.

One criticism I do have of Kraven’s Last Hunt is that on occasion the narrative captions clutter the page and bog down the flow of the story. When you throw dialogue into the mix, you’re asking the reader to keep track of the visual elements on the page, the dialogue balloons and the narrative captions all at the same time. Here’s a beautifully drawn sequence where Kraven is about to shoot Spider-Man that has captions which “compete” with the art:

The red captions represent Spider-Man’s subconscious or primal inner-dialogue and the yellow captions represent Spider-Man’s surface thoughts. There are other parts of the story where the panels get even busier, but I thought this was such a pretty sequence that I had to throw it in.

Perhaps I should mention something about the actual story.
The aging Kraven seeks redemption and final victory over his longtime foe Spider-Man – not by merely defeating Spider-Man, but by becoming Spider-Man. Kraven “kills” and buries Spidey, then dons his foe’s mask, symbolically eating the flesh and wearing the skin of his enemy. While Spider-Man lies in his grave, Kraven takes to the streets, brutally fighting crime as Spider-Man. In his ultimate act of triumph, Kraven captures the monstrous rodent-man Vermin, whom previously Spider-Man could only defeat with the help of Captain America.

As you might imagine, Spidey eventually returns from the grave, and boy is he pissed off. Kraven shares his triumph with Spider-Man, and then sets Vermin free to kill again. Spider-Man must overcome the trauma of being buried alive in a climactic sewer battle with the beast.

The whole story is very Jungian and heavy on the symbolism. There’s lots of talk of “becoming the Spider” etc. Sometimes the visual metaphors are a little heavy-handed, like this sequence where Vermin gets the drop on Spider-Man, which is intercut with a rat eating a spider:

First of all, do rats really grab their prey like that? What is that, a monkey rat? Secondly, the symbolism is SO in-your-face that it’s almost patronizing.

These are minor quibbles, however. For the most part, Kraven’s Last Hunt hits what it’s aiming for, and even when it doesn’t work for me, I have to admire the skill and craftsmanship involved. The real achievement of DeMatteis’s story is that he transforms Kraven from a second-string villain into a tragic, twistedly noble character who is totally out of step with the world around him. He has divorced himself from the mundane and found honor and meaning in the hunt.

And now that his final hunt is over, Kraven blows his own head off with a rifle:

“They said my mother was insane.”

For me, this haunting, beautifully done scene is the true climax of Kraven’s Last Hunt, and Spider-Man’s fight with Vermin is more of a denouement. When I first read this I was absolutely floored.

Sure, I have some minor beefs with some of the writing, but there are damn few superhero comics that pack the emotional punch of Kraven’s Last Hunt. In the span of six-issues, DeMatteis and Zeck paint a fascinating portrait of madness and misplaced nobility – and then they crush it like you would step on a spider.

Loved it.


Anonymous said...

....aaaaaaand McFarlane utterly pissed all over it in Adjectiveless Spider-Man. Thanks Todd!

Chris Arndt said...

There is something to be said for the idea that killing a character as cool as Kraven is a bad idea.

as for what McFarlane did... that first storyline of Spider-Man, "Torment" was stupid and artsy and at the same time a little creepy and unsettling; at the end of it Kraven was not back from the dead. Spidey's wife was poorly written. The continuous catch-line was annoying.

But it ain't timeless and Kraven's Last Hunt is remembered more; no problem. Tormet is a product of its time: it is the self-indulgence of the number one penciller of the year. To say it pissed on anything is elevating it beyond what it deserves and I won't have that.

Anonymous said...

This storyline blew my adolescent mind. As you mention, I was accustomed to Spidey cracking jokes and being late for work at the Bugle.
This storyline came out of nowhere, and many of the panels still haunt me to this day. I haven't read it in a long time--glad to hear it's in trade...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for another great, nostalia-inducing review.
This arc was toward the end of my run of colecting Amazing SM. I remember really liking it, but being miffed at needing to buy Web of SM, and Peter Parker Spectacular SM too (75 cents wasn't small potatoes to a 12 year old with a paper route).

It was actually McFarlane's debut on art a few issues later where I gave up the book. I thought the art was absolutely horrible. Like I've ever been able to predict a fad. . . .

Anonymous said...

Bought this series in my early collecting days. I haven't read it in 20 years (+/-) but every time I pass by it in my own long box, it makes me feel good. It has survived numerous purges of lesser comics over the years. Thanks for bringing it back.

Can I get a F*&# Yeah!

Anonymous said...

One of the FEW Spider-Man story arcs that I KEEP...no matter what else I toss into the "out" box.

These issues are bagged TOGETHER.
(One big-ass Golden Age bag (or magazine bag) with them all tucked in as one book.)
Never to be separated into their own individual titles.

AND I bought the hardcover when it came out.
I KNEW I'd mangle the issues from over-reading.

DeMatteis has always been a favorite (despite his sometimes heavy-hand) and Zeck made me a fan right there.
(although I suspect it had a LOT to do with the inks by McLeod, himself a FINE artist, since Zeck's Captain America -with Paul Neary inks- always left me with a bad taste)

Still...THIS was GOOD comics!
Excellent choice, sir!


Tegan O'Neil said...

Best use of the black costume. Ever.

Anonymous said...

Holy crap, DeMatteis wrote this too?

I was attended the panel on fiasco saturday at the nycomiccon, the one where he talked about his children's series, answered questions about Bwa-ha-ha, and signed the single issue of Moonshadow I had gotten before been locked out. That man has some written some seriously good and pretty wide ranging stuff.

Chris Sims said...

I picked the whole storyline (and its sequel) up at HeroesCon last year after Chad was shocked that I had never read it, and you're right, Campbell: It's awesome.

I just picture a big crossover super-villain convetntion, and Dr. Light's walking around thinking he's all badass and talking shit about how he's the most devious and dramatically insane super-villain, showing everybody the panels from Identity Crisis with the close-ups on the hands and the screams of women and whatnot.

Then Kraven walks over and casually tosses the page where he's bare-ass naked eating a roomfull of spiders.

Check and mate.

Davinder said...

Also worth noting is the parody in issue #3 of What The--?! that told the Kraven story except with Spider-Ham. That one is funny but still manages to be oddly disturbing, as well.

Kevin Church said...

Whatever happened to Zeck's art, anyway? Comparing this to the phoned-in, ugly crap that plagued The Kingdom is like day and the pitchest black night ever, full of goblins and Dr Light-costumed freaks.

Cesar- said...

I remember reading Kraven's Last Hunt getting to the end and feeling totally spent. Thanks for the ride down memory lane Dave.

Anonymous said...

I miss comics like this.

Word verification - sjdlqass.

WTF?!?!? Alright, Blogger, now that was uncalled for....

Anonymous said...


Rise above it All......


Anonymous said...

Davyd Davyd blogging bright,
In the longbox all the night,
What immoral gal or guy,
Could match your clever comment'ry?

Peter said...

I've always loved the hell out of Kraven's Last Hunt myself. They also did a follow-up to it, a self-contained one-shot. Maybe something to talk about some other time?

Something nobody else has mentioned yet is that DeMatteis made perfect use of Peter and MJ being newlyweds at the time. Quite the way to put their marriage to the test. This is why I've always hated the continuous marriage-bashing, because dammit, for me it works and there's nothing weird about a regular guy marrying a regular girl who *also* happens to be an actress and a model (supermodels don't exist anymore, don't let anyone fool you :p)

DeMatteis/Zeck were also responsible for more awesome goodness over in the pages of Captain America, creating one of the coolest Zemo/Zola arcs (and DeMatteis was responsible for the fantastic fight to the finish between Cap and the Red Skull in #300. It doesn't matter that he comes back and dies again and comes back again and what not, that right there was another Frell Yeah comic :D)

Aaanyway. "They said my mother was insane" has always been one of my favorite final words. On a note on how weird I am about final words, I also really liked movie-Ock's final words, proving to me that somehow they made that character work for me too.

I think I'll have to re-re-re-re-read Kraven's Last Hunt again. By the way, I'm totally arachnaphobic, so you can imagine reading it takes me some courage, what with the spiders all over the place and the big-ass symbolic transmogrification and everything (gross!)

Keep on blogging, Dave, it's totally Airwolf.

(word verification's "xfqaqzr" sounds like lightning striking to me)

Anonymous said...

Remember when 6 issues was a long story? Man, I'm 21 and I feel old.

znfbkvqv: The sound Spider-Man made as he had those freaky dreams.

Bully said...

So...who ruined it and made Kraven come back from the dead eventually?

I just know somebody did, right?

Anonymous said...

Please don't get into Kraven's kids. There were two horrible ones, right? ...or his weird mentor/brother/abuser relationship with the Chameleon, of all people. Heck, I'm not even sure about that one-shot sequel Peter mentioned (my only recollection right now is that it was a little pretentious, but a cool cover).
Six issues. Good. Done.

Harvey Jerkwater said...

DeMattis did a couple of brilliant stories killing off old Spider-villains in them days. After Kraven, he did a story about the Vulture dying of cancer in Spectacular Spider-Man that was kickass, and then he capped it with the death of Harry Osborne as the Green Goblin, one of the best friggin' Spider-Man stories ever.

Sure, he could get over-the-top and pretentious, but dammit, I loves me DeMattis.

The DeMattis/Zeck/Beatty run on Captain America was what got me into comics. Fine, fine stuff. The Giffen/DeMattis Justice League was my favorite superhero book ever. Yeah, he ruleth.

Anonymous said...

I just read this story for the first time a few weeks ago as it was reprinted in the excellent Essential Spider-Man comic published in the UK & Ireland. It's a brilliant story and actually made me give a damn about kraven.

Have you read the follow-up? Soul of the hunter? I read that years ago. Peter is haunted by the ghost of Kraven. Sort of. It's better than you might think.

Anonymous said...

I've give my left nut for more DeMatteis Spider-Man stories. The guy is right up there with Stan Lee and Peter David, IMO.

I saw some Abadzad at the NY Comic Con. Really boss stuff and totally Airwolf Mike Ploog artwork.

Ray said...

Not only is there a one-shot sequel, but there was a thematic sequel in DeMatteis's first run on Spectacular Spider-Man, where he hutns down vermin by himself. Comes with some of the best artwork ever done by Sal Buscema.

I don't think there's any doubt that if you're doing a list of the best Spider-Man writers ever, it goes like this:

1. Lee
2. DeMatteis
3. Paul Jenkins
4. JMS (pre-slutting of Gwen Stacy)
5. Everyone else

Anonymous said...

Roger Stern deserves some consideration in that group, if only for the Kid Who Collected Spider-Man. I've really enjoyed the issues of Busiek's Untold Tales I've read, and I'm quite partial to the first 20-some odd issues of Ultimate Spider-Man, even if I'm not sure you should count those two in with the people who were working on the character without being able to start from scratch. David Micheline is a sentimental favorite, because his run on Amazing is one of the first I followed, but even I can't put him in the top 5.

Edward Liu said...

Dave's "Kraven's Last Hunt" blog post? 'Twas worth the wait.

The one-shot follow-up was written to address the idea that some might believe Kraven's suicide was noble and therefore maybe something to be emulated. It was exacerbated by the fact that a lot of readers didn't buy all the titles, making it easier to take things out of context. Clipped from the afterword to the TPB:

"Of greater concern...was the quantity of letters we received castigating us for what some believed to be a glorified suicide in our comic, especially at a time when teenage suicide is at an all-time high.
when editor in chief Tom DeFalco invited DeMatteis to read part V separately, the writer suddenly understood how his story could be misunderstood
DeMatteis realized that another story was needed to illuminate the confusion concerning Kraven's death."

The entire afterword of the trade paperback (which hopefully is still included with the book), by Glenn Herdling and Jim Salicrup, is pretty informative. Plus, it's easier to pick up and re-read.

Does anybody know if Marvel ever re-issued the trade with the follow-up story included in it?

David Campbell said...

That's very interesting - thanks Edward!

Anonymous said...

I first hit this story in the "40 Years of Spider-Man" CD-ROMs, and even though you only get parts 2 and 5 of the story that way, the suicide is in part 5, and the impact still hit me hard, even with only 1/3 of the story and 18 years after it came out.

It's also very interesting to note, as Joe Shakespeare did, that this story marks a definite change in tone for Spider-Man, which is especially obvious if you're reading large chunks at a time, as you can with the CD-ROMs. It's definitely a mixed blessing -- the "dark and gritty" movement is responsible for so much of what was wrong with comics in the 90s, but it also made stories like this possible.

(And yeah, I had to double-check the credits page when I first read it, going, "DeMatteis? The BWA-HA-HA guy? Really?")

Anonymous said...

Great story, great art (mike zeck, where are you?!). If I remember correctly the black costume has been out of use in spidey comics for some time when this arc ran? One of the few non traditionary things I was ever for in comics was the black costume. Maybe because it was a big happening as I starting reading comics in the mid 80's. Im still an unabashed fan of the dark threads. Damn, I think the costume is as cool now as it ever was. Not even a thousand cheap venom clones could detract from that.

Regardless, the kraven story was way cool and dave has proudly illstrated yet another bright corner of a great comic arc. thanks.


Unknown said...

I'm glad they did the follow-up because I was totally going to kill myself after reading these issues.

But I was too sleepy after eating a whole room full of spiders, naked.

I felt better in the morning.

gorjus said...

The black costume RULED. And on that closing sentence--"They said my mother was insane"--it's bitter, contemplative, resolute, and . . . just very, very sad.

Kudos to the letterer, who was--I think? Rick Parker? The guy ran the gamut in this, but I love the handwriting-esque Kraven internal dialogue, back when letterers handwrote stuff.

Anonymous said...

The 80s were a time of Airwolf comics at Marvel, but this was truly one of the Airwolfiest. When I get home tonight, I'm pulling this TPB off the shelf and giving it another read.

Anonymous said...

Zeck co-created the black costume, remember.

Also worthy of reiterating is the subplot where MJ almost loses her shit at Robbie's place, trying to work out whether or not he knows Peter's secret. You know that bit in Spider-Man 2 where Bill Nunn gives Tobey Maguire that look? Like that, only better.

(no, not "that look," fiendish internetners)

The Kraven Kids were weak shadows of their illustrious father...although...Gregor, the Kravinoff equivalent of "Alfred" was FUCKING DEMENTED.

Funny, innit: they won't do a MAX Spider-Man because, ostensibly, he has to be kept "all-ages." Yet the last three years have seen swearing, sex and gratuitous mutilatory violence (not to mention pseudomystical mumbo-jumbo and metatextual nonsense) in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man.

Not entirely relevant, I know, except that there's that whole homoerotic subtext in KLH. Just thought I'd mention it.

(veri: tmhomd. Huh.)


Anonymous said...

My two, un-invited, drunken cents:

I was 13 when this story came out and, in a prelude of my literalist failing to understand literature or pass the AP English test, couldn't understand much of the subtext of the story. I got the basic plot, but I think, like you pointed out, all the captions and word balloons were confusing young Haole. Plus, I was a little grossed out by Kraven eating all them Spiders. Yuck-o!

I've re-read the story several times since, and enjoyed it more, but it was a little intense at the time.

What really aggravated me, an aspiring Spidey-fan, was that they followed this dark, six-part intra-Spidey-title story with a three-part, intra-Spidey story, "What's the Matter with Mommy?" For a kid looking for fun comics, I was pretty turned off by Spidey after three months of this kind of storytelling, and completely turned off once McFarlane started his shit.

I wanted Spidey fighting the Sinister Six or chasing Slyde or saving a baby from the Mauler.

But, black costume -- sweet idea.

And, btw, you rule -- I had a dream where you announced your were going to quit posting at Dave's Long Box. That was a sucky dream!

Phillip said...

My 8th grade English teacher asked me to reccomend a comic book with a complete story arc that could be taught in class. I reccomended "Fearful Symmetry" because I had read (and enjoyed) it when it came out a year or two earlier. (In retrospect, Watchmen would have been better, but I hadn't yet read it.) Anyway, nothing really came of it, but that's how I ended up with my first hardcover comic book: My English teacher bought it for me!

Adam said...

Did anyone think that some of the crappiest bits of dream sequences in the The Other storyline were totally ripping off the buried-alive dream sequences in Kraven's Last Hunt?

In one, it's "are you the spider or the man?" and the answer is The Man

In the other it's "are you the spider or the man" and the answer is The Spider, but only if you give me powers that are supposed to be spider-powers THAT HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH SPIDERS.

Okay, spider-sense is dumb, too, but it's canon now.

shut up.

Anonymous said...

Jesus, three out of the last four pages you showed on your site have the onomatopoeia "KRA-KOOOOM" or some variation thereof.

I'm too drunk off my ass right now to decide if that was symbolic or allegorical or whatthefuckever, but shit, I wish my mom would send me my old comics from home.

Anonymous said...

Marvel needs to reprint this in an oversized hardcover today, complete with the one-shot follow-up and maybe even that Buscema-drawn story down the road. (I read that one when it first came out, before I read the Kraven story. It was weird at the time.)

Edward Liu said...

augie sez: "Marvel needs to reprint this in an oversized hardcover today, complete with the one-shot follow-up and maybe even that Buscema-drawn story down the road."

I'd double-dip for that, but at this point, I'd settle for getting the original TPB back in print. At least as far as Amazon goes, it doesn't look like it's available any more. I wonder how many people who like the current stuff would feel if they could compare it to stories like this.

Should have asked Joe Q. about this at the NYCC State of the Industry panel, especially when he and Paul Levitz seemed to be making such a big deal about trades and making classic material available in bookstore markets.

Anonymous said...

It's funny how many of the comments posted that I relate to, because I thought that this was a great arc to showcase the marriage, which probably only had happened the week before in real time, and I stopped reading with ASM 299.

I was 11 when this came out, and I was buying all three Spider-Man titles at the time, so it was no big deal for me to follow the story.

I'm sure I never read the whole thing except for the last two parts (Kraven's suicide and the battle with Vermin) because the artwork scared the hell out of me. I would read a few pages, then put the issue away. I'm pretty sure the scene with the giant spider and Kraven eating spiders turned me into an arachnaphobe. I let someone borrow the issues nine years ago, and thought she had returned them, but I started reading comics again recently, and noticed two issue gaps in my Amazing, Peter Parker and Web of collections, so I'll never know if I have the courage to actually finally read this.

For the person that said that they thought the black costume came into play after awhile without, that's not the case at all. I'm pretty sure the previous year had been exclusively stories told in the black costume. Certainly the previous three issues (Peter proposes) were all done solely in the black costume.

Anonymous said...

According to Rich Johnston today, a "Kraven's Last Hunt" hardcover is coming this summer. How's that for timing? Sneak? Suspicious? Someone in Marvel's Collections Department -- a closet Dave's Long Box fan?

Or mere coincidence? Yeah, most likely. . .



Anonymous said...

One of my fav Spidey stories ever. If I were a power in hollywood, and for some reason I'm not, this would be turned into a screenplay and done as a Spidey movie that would confuse and disturb movie-goers everywhere.

Anychace you'll follow up with a review of 'Child Within'? I thought that was a worthy follow-up, and the defining seven issues of Spectacular Spidey's first run.

Mister Sinister said...

Why does it look like in that one picture, Kraven was extra-cruel farting or taking a dump at that funeral?

He's back?
I thought his emo kids replaced him & one of them's already dead, due to Riddler Factor?!!


a fart noise

Anonymous said...

Nice write-up.
This was probaly my favorite Spiderman story arc in the late 80s. I still have my originals. Mike Zeck did an impeccable job here. I'm still waiting for this to make it to film. Would have to be more than 1 movie though.
Incidentally if you love Mike Zeck's work, go back and check out Ten Nights of the Beast in the Batman comics.
Do they still sell comic books in carousels? I used to get a lot of mine from 7-Eleven.
Aaah 7-Eleven there I dicovered Mighty Thor #379.

Anonymous said...

As the letterer of this particular comic book and many others over the years, I remember I had the distinct impression at the time I was working on this, "This is certainly one of the best penciling jobs that ever crossed my drawing board". Hats off to Mike Zeck. The man can draw.