This is the latest in a recurring feature recommending classic comics that you should probably reread now you’ve got some time on your hands. The last one was Marvels. Next up: Kraven’s Last Hunt.
In the mid-’80s comics were growing up. Batman and Superman were locked in battle in a corrupt future timeline and we wondered who was watching The Watchmen, but in the regular Spidey titles, JM DeMatteis was putting Peter Parker through the wringer, with some incredible artwork from Mike Zeck.
The tale would run through Web Of Spider-Man #31 and #32, Spectacular Spider-Man #131 and #132, and Amazing Spider-Man #293 and #294.
Kraven had always been a bit of a gimmicky villain. His big game hunter persona seemed to be his only motivation, as he made various attempts to kill his arch-nemesis Spider-Man. It looked initially to readers that this story would follow the usual plot, until, at the end of the first chapter, Kraven traps our hero in a steel net, and shoots him.
The end of the first chapter caught Spider-Man as much off guard as it did the readers, as Spidey suddenly realizes that Kraven is now dangerously unhinged and prepared to just shoot him like an animal in a deadly hunt. However, for Peter Parker, the nightmare was just beginning as we learn that Kraven hasn’t simply murdered his prey, he has tranquilized him and buried him alive so that he can take the place of Spidey and prove he is a better hero than he ever was.
This shocking turn of events becomes an unnerving and incredibly dark storyline. We have Peter struggling to come to terms with his fate, Mary Jane knowing that something terrible has happened to him, and Kraven turning Spider-Man into a violent psychopath on the streets of New York.
Peter is missing for two weeks, drugged and buried in the grave, before awakening and digging his way out, but the damage has been done. Kraven has claimed victory and then frees the animalistic villain Vermin to attack him.
Kraven’s Last Hunt is a violent, dark and tragedy-laden story that must surely be one of the greatest Marvel stories of the ’80s.
You can’t help but feel that if Marvel had released this as a Dark Knight style book then it would have garnered more attention; instead, it was just part of the normal continuity in the books, even though it did seem out of place at the time.
The themes explored were much darker than we were used to, and the pairing of Zeck and DeMatteis was lightning in a bottle.
The team would return to the story in 1992 with a one-shot prestige format book entitled Soul Of The Hunter, but the more metaphysical aspects of the story fell a little short for a lot of fans at the time. It does bring a bit of closure for Kraven though and is worth a look, but as far as epic tales of Spider-Man go, Kraven’s Last Hunt is up there with the best of them.
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