This is probably the most difficult PIP article I’ve had to write.
It is infuriatingly difficult to express myself in regards to this story.
Perception, murder, suicide, fear, bitter rivals, courage, honour, rats, love, tight pants
and the soul of a Russian aristocrat. All this and more are what makes “Kraven’s Last Hunt” a fantastic piece of sequential art.
Anyways, welcome again, to the fifth installation of Peril In Panels. It is I, your intrepid guide to good reads, Jonathan Kruschack. And I’m back with another comic in tow, shackled around the ankles like Blanka. But enough talk of Street Fighter characters
I dislike (sorry, Woolie), onto business.
Now this one isn’t as full of monsters as the others. There’s only two, maybe three (and that’s only if you prescribe to Kraven’s logic). In fact, it’s really less about monsters and more about how this story has this overwhelming sense of doom, of dread that takes hold of you as you read for the majority of it. Or maybe that’s just me, because I knew how this book was going to end years before I finally got to read it (stupid not-being alive yet).
Not that it’s all doom and gloom. There’s a few happy moments among the multitude of sadness, insanity, fearfulness and blind, white-hot, vengeance-fuelled rage.
It really depends on how you look at it. But first, let’s get down to brass tacks, people.
“Kraven’s Last Hunt” is a comic written by J.M. DeMatteis and pencilled by Mike Zeck, with inks by Bob McLeod, colours by Zeck and Ian Tetrault and letters by Rick Parker.
It’s a story about the idea of what a person is versus what they are perceived to be and what they have the potential to be. A tale of pride-fuelled obsession, an attempt at a sort of redemption and cleansing of the soul. Kind of. It’s hard to explain until I get all the spoilers out of the way. But first we gotta talk about Mr. Dematteis and Mr. Zeck.
Dematteis’ writing is simply phenomenal. He really captures the thoughts of all his characters, what’s going on inside their little fictional skulls as they move about on the page. He also has a knack for dialogue, with I’d say around 99% of it being perfect.
There’s only really one part of the story where the dialogue is just straight-up terrible but
I let it slide because of a bunch of, well, many reasons. Mainly because the characters speaking are one-dimensional assholes and only exist to be brutally attacked.
So it’s forgivable because we never see them again. But everything else is spot on.
Kraven’s thoughts and dialogue are exactly what you’d want them to be. He’s obsessive and refined, yet wild. He’s clearly not well and he kind of knows it. Peter Parker’s another one who thinks, speaks and acts just like he ought to. He’s an everyman to his core.
Even when he’s Spider-Man and he’s supposed to be the wise-cracking adventurer,
he’s kind of incapable of not-wearing his heart on his sleeve. He gets prideful and sad, angry and remorseful, just like we all do.
In internet-speak: These characters got all the right feels.
DeMatteis’ pacing is also wonderful, meshing well with Zeck’s art choices. I said it before about Emily Carroll and I’m saying it again: no wasted panels. They all exist to do something. There’s no useless shots in here, even if some might be unintentional in what they show verses what they were meant to. KLH also features this great use of thought panels to portray when someone is trying to focus on one thing but the thoughts they’d rather not focus on are kind of echoing in the background. In this page right here, Spidey is hallucinating about Joe Face, a person he’d known who died because of his interactions with Spidey in the past. Spidey tries to remind himself that Joe’s dead, he’s seen the body and everything. His mind though, keeps repeating Joe’s name. This is an incredibly good use of thought panels, as it mirrors exactly what happens when people are in a panic or stressed. You have one train of thought being poked and prodded from all sides.
Now for the art, I gotta say I can’t really find any problems with it. Zeck does sequential art right. I guess one problem is this was set when Spider-Man just wore the black costume (not the symbiotic Venom one, he just traded ol’ Red and Blue for Black and White).
And my problem is that it kind seems…less expressive. It’s great when its the Venom symbiote but when it’s just the black and white one I dunno, I don’t see Spider-Man.
I see Venom. Or Spider-Man trying to seem more intimidating when really, he doesn’t need to look intimidating but that’s an argument against the choices Marvel was making and not Zeck. This story just doesn’t feel like a black costume one to me, I guess.
The black costume is for when people think Spider-Man needs to be Batman*,
which is bullshit but whatever. Back to the art.
I love all the body language in this book (especially the fight/action sequences), all the gestures and expressions are just right for each interaction. It also has this great art-trick I’ve noticed (an art-trick I needed to have pointed out to me years ago) that tons of great comic art has: people are usually making the correct facial expression in relation to the kind of sound their word(s) would be making. If somebody shouts “YOU!” at someone else, there mouth will probably be shaped like an O. Corresponding facial expressions to dialogue is a subtle but effective technique that is sometimes very much over looked.
Another good point is that Bob McLeod’s inks are superb. They compliment Zeck’s pencils very well and really help it all pop out just a bit more, making the story even better.
The heavy blacks of shadows or Spidey’s costume or Kraven’s moustache, the great uses of cross-hatching or stippling occasionally. These inks are also complimented well by Zeck’s and Ian Tetrault’s colours (which I’m very sure have been digitally touched up in a few spots but that’s fine by me) as well.
Alright, alright. It’s time to get to the nitty, oh-so gritty part of this article. Wherein I give copious amounts of spoilers. Which I will preface with my old standby of SPOILERS AHOOOOOOOOOOOY!
Okay, so KLH is about Kraven the Hunter feeling his age. While he looks like a man in his physical prime he’s actually close to 70/80 years old but has managed to stay in great shape via secret jungle-potions. So Kraven’s been fighting Spider-Man for a while now (since Peter Parker’s been a teenager and since Pete’s about in his mid-to-late 20’s in this story, so let’s say about 9 to 10 years) and he’s kind of sick of it. And by it, I mean living. Mainly because his life consists of being defeated constantly, considered a joke-villain and of being almost entirely alone. He’s also gone off the deep-end in the insanity-pool because getting your ass handed to you by Spider-Man is humiliating. Why? Well, he insults you all the time, then foils whatever master plan you cooked up, usually within 20 minutes or so. And for a guy like Kraven, a man who’s lived nearly his entire adult life as an unstoppable alpha-male, it’s a pretty big shot to the ego. So years of bottling up that, plus his family’s tragic backstory (Aristocratic Mom and Pops are driven out of Russia by Communism and forced to live like crap in America, which drive’s Kraven’s mom to insanity and later suicide) have kind of forced Kraven to think he has no option left but killing himself.
He blames all his worries on The Spider, an all encompassing force of evil, whom he thinks Spider-Man is a kind of physical representation of. So it’s suicide time for Sergei.
That is, though, not until after he kills Spider-Man, his greatest foe and proclaims his superiority to the entire world over the Spider. Hey, if you’re gonna go down, go down swinging’. That’s the Sergei Kravinoff way.
So Kraven readies himself to stalk Spider-Man by crouching in a room as it fills with spiders, which he then proceeds to angrily eat as he thinks of a single word over and over. “Tonight.” “Tonight!” “Tonight!” “To…night…” And this happens the same time Spidey has a crazy dream and is unable to sleep, so the story is kind of implying they have some type of unknown connection. Like soul-mates. Which is oddly adorable.
Anyways, Spidey can’t sleep so he goes swingin’ around town and Kraven straps on his loincloth, gathers his helicopter-piloting henchmen and sets off to find Spider-Man.
The dreams really have Peter Parker on edge, along with his general lack of sleep and all the other crap in his life, which causes him to not notice his Spider-Sense going off in time enough to dodge the dart Kraven fired into his neck. He begins to panic and hallucinate as the drug dulls his senses, allowing Kraven to take a swipe at him with a staff and cause him to lose his balance and almost fall to his death off a roof. Spider fights through the drug as best he can but Kraven catches him in a net and blows him away with a point-blank rifle shot saying “Honor — will be restored.” Then the story smash cuts to Kraven burying Spider-Man’s body in a coffin in a huge rainstorm. A little while later he’s wearing an exact copy of Spidey’s costume and laughing at the foot of the grave.
The story then introduces it’s second villain: Vermin. A low-tier baddy who’s essentially half-rat and half-man, who occasionally eats people and is so strong it took both Spider-Man and Captain America to barely be able to beat him. That is pretty dang impressive. He’s also kind of insane as well and able to control rats telepathically. Then the story cuts to Mary Jane, thinking about being a newly-wed and wondering where Peter is, trying not to think about him being possibly dead/dying, as she often worries about that. Then she brutally murders a rat in her apartment and is disgusted by it. Back to Kraven as he assumes the mantle of Spider-Man so he may “merge with the Spider” and prove himself superior. Vermin, on the other hand, wants to kill Spider-Man because he just fucking remembered how Spidey and Cap beat him up and he wants to prove he isn’t afraid of the surface world. I feel bad for how dumb Vermin is, like if he were real I’d buy him a Hooked On Phonics set or Go Dog Go book. ‘Cause he is really, really dumb.
Kraven goes out to fight crime as Spider-Man, inadvertently saving Mary Jane from an attempted sexual assault and kills one guy, beats the other to near-death. Mary Jane now realizes that Peter is in trouble, because Peter Parker does not kill people so that’s somebody else in the costume and Peter’s been missing for days. Kraven goes out and kills more criminals. This time, he leaves tons of evidence for the cops, ruins Spider-Man’s reputation and makes him an even bigger wanted criminal than before (vigilantism is not legal, kids). Kraven then thinks about how he’s almost proven himself.
He’s “hunted the Spider’s hunts…consumed the Spider’s prey.”
Only the final proof remains, apparently.
Back with Vermin, he kills a guy, eats a lady, licks a cop’s face and thinks about his mom and how much he loves her. Then Vermin goes back to the sewer but unfortunately he’s got some kind of soul-link to Kraven to because Kraven’s found a way to somehow mess with him by stabbing at a rat in a cage and thinking about how hunting and defeating Vermin is the last test for himself. If he can defeat a foe Spidey couldn’t on his own, then he’s the better in that scenario. Kraven and Vermin go and have a fight in the sewers beneath New York, while Kraven the Spider mocks him and pisses him off. Spider-Krave is almost defeated but goes into a fucking unstoppable rage and nearly beats Vermin to death with his fists. Then he captures Vermin and returns to his mansion, cradling him like a small child.
Smash-cut to Peter Parker who thinks he’s dead and is kind of enjoying the peace. But the Spider-Man part of his mind refuses to let Peter lay there until he dies and makes him have a crazy, Kafkaesque dream about being a giant fucking spider. About being THE Spider! The same Spider Kraven’s been fucking blaming for all his problems. How does he know about it?! An immortal, imperishable, all-consuming thing! Which is then killed when he thinks himself a coward, a weakling, “I AM PETER PARKER!” Then he realizes that “The Spider” never was a thing, it was an incorrect idea given strength by those who needed a monster to blame. He breaks free of it, naked and covered in effluvial grime and blood, crawls towards the darkness that murdered The Spider. He thinks about Kraven, and how Kraven was an idiot for thinking the Spider was something larger than life, magicical, even. But it’s always just been Peter Parker who defeated him, with his inner-strength and resolve and not purely his abnormal physical prowess. But then his dream goes even crazier, he freaks out and thinks about Mary Jane and dying and Kraven and then RIPS HIS WAY OUT OF THE FUCKING COFFIN THEN CLAWS HIS WAY TO THE SURFACE.
Fuck. Yeah. Spider. Man.
Peter staggers into Kraven’s mansion, sees newspapers that read all about a monster eating people and how the world thinks Spidey’s lost it and has gone rogue. For two weeks. Two weeks and all the while Peter’s been “dead” in the ground. This causes Peter to lose his Grodd-damned mind and wreck all of Kraven’s taxidermied animals. Two of Kraven’s henchmen find him (one even thinking he’s too weak from being buried alive) and consider attacking him. Then they probably shit their pants as he leaps at them, grabs ’em by their collars and demands to know where Kraven is. They say nothing and he thinks about how much he wants to tear them apart just to spite Kraven. He resist the temptation and decided he’ll find Kraven and deal with him, but not like a spider. Not like The Spider. No, like a man.
Peter then goes to Mary Jane, and they embrace and have what I can only assume is “Hey-turns-out-I’m-not-dead-and-I-love-you”, off-panel sex. He wakes from his small bit of pre-coitus sleep and prepares to face Kraven, Mary Jane is not happy about it but can’t really stop him because of his sense of responsibility and silently accepts this as they share one last tender moment before he swings away. Kraven waits for Spider-Man to arrive almost gleefully. As he’s come to the conclusion that he does not hate Spider-Man,
because he is not The Spider, the demon who ruined his family or his country or the world.
He’s just a man. Spider-Man grabs Kraven and punches him in the face really hard,
which Kraven just takes, spitting out blood and smiling. Because while he doesn’t hate Spider-Man, he still hates the Spider. And that there is some of the Spider inside Spider-Man. And that he’s finally defeated the demon. As thunder crackles overhead Kraven understands that the time is drawing near. But he must first make Spider-Man understand why he did this, and how he has been beaten. He even says that Spider-Man can hit him as many times as he wants, because there’s no reason to fight anymore as he’s already, finally won.
Kraven explains how he killed him and took his place. Spidey counters that he didn’t really kill him and Kraven calmly my states (while he gets buck-naked in front of Spider-Man) that he could have killed Spider-Man if he cared to. He allowed him to live so Spidey could know he beat him. After Kraven gets out of the Spidey costume and into his own, they go into the basement. Kraven shows him how he captured Vermin on his own, something Spider-Man couldn’t do. He proclaims his greatness, Spidey knocks him off his high-elephant and Kraven comes to realize that Spidey’s putting it together. That he knows the “game” is over and he lost, while Kraven won. Kraven then thinks that Spidey is even kind of saddened by not having Kraven for a foe anymore, and admits he’s sad to.
Except Spidey isn’t quite there yet. So Kraven releases Vermin, and tricks Vermin into attacking Spider-Man. Vermin goes in for the kill as Spidey tries to convince a guy with limited thinking capabilities how it wasn’t really him, just a guy dressed like him. Yeah, that’s gonna fly. The two fight, with Vermin gaining the upper hand and Spider-Man losing control of his temper and deciding to take his rage out on Vermin. But he refuses to kill again, allowing Vermin to knock him down. Just as Vermin goes to eat him alive Kraven stops him. Saying that Vermin has “won” and is now free to leave, Vermin quickly loses all interest in killing and runs off to probably kill someone else later because he’s
a rat-monster. Spider-Man tries to get Kraven to help him stop Vermin but Kraven ignores him and helps him up. Spider-Man tells Kraven he doesn’t understand everything and Kraven just says to go after Vermin and stop him, because he’s a good man and his conscience won’t allow Vermin to run loose. Spider-Man thinks Kraven wants him to leave so Kraven can escape and get right back to hunting people and Kraven counters with “After all these years you surely know that I’m a man of my word and I give you my word: from this night forward, Kraven the Hunter will never hunt again.”
Spidey reluctantly accepts, saying he’ll be back once he finds Vermin. Kraven then watches him leave and realizes that every man, woman, nation and age has it’s own Spider, in some form or another. Some evil burden to carry. And that Spider-Man has been his burden, and he feels honoured by it. He says a silent goodbye, thinks about his life and how until recently he’s never known happiness and certainly never peace. Until now. He then puts his rifle in his mouth, pulls the trigger and dies, his blood staining a nearby picture of the Kravinoff family.
The rest of the story is about Spider-Man fighting Vermin, almost being defeated because he lets Vermin’s strength and his own fear get the better of him. But Peter finally manages to get a hold of himself and defeats Vermin, webbing him to a wall and knocking him senseless to scare Vermin into not controlling his rats and having them kill Spidey.
He even says he’ll bring Vermin to the surface to Reed Richards and have him try to cure Vermin. But Vermin freaks out at the idea of being brought topside into the light (he hates light) and rips free, chasing Spider-Man through the sewers. But Spidey heads up and Vermin follows, gets terrified by moving traffic and sunlight, almost gets flattened by
a truck but Spidey saves him. The police arrive to take Vermin away, having just checked out Kraven’s mansion finding that Kraven actually left post-mortem notes saying he stole Spidey’s identity, with evidence and clears Spider-Man of all charges. Spider-Man tells Vermin he’ll call Dr. Richards anyway for help with a cure even though Vermin hates
him and doesn’t want to be cured. He goes back to Mary Jane and the two joyfully embrace. The comic ends with Kraven’s solemn, silent funeral and the following homage to “The Tyger” by William Blake:
Spyder! Spyder! burning bright
In the forests of the night
What immortal hand or eye
could frame thy fearful
So whew, now that THE SPOILERS ARE OVER (kind of), we can talk about what everything meant.
The story implies a lot of things without saying them so lets just get it out of the way.
#1 The connection between Kraven and Spidey, Kraven and Vermin and then Spidey and Vermin as well. Basically it implies that Kraven and Spider-Man are connected because they’ve been foes for so long, even though Kraven’s never really been much of a problem for Spider-Man as say, the Green Goblin, Venom or Doc Ock, he’s certainly been better than The Vulture or The Shocker or The Rhino, who are all strictly low-tier books at best. Kraven’s just never been considered top-tier as a Villain because of Spider-Man having a bunch of villains already more of a threat. So he gets stuck in-between shitty and amazing. Until he finally beats Spidey and Spidey realizes how Kraven’s been a huge part of his life. He gets it then, and even begins to finally respect Kraven, because he never did before because he always thought Kraven was just an asshole who used human beings as moving targets to say how cool he was.
Kraven and Vermin’s connection to each other is more Kraven than it is Vermin.
Vermin represents a lot to Kraven. He’s both man and animal, so he’s already something Kraven would love to try and hunt. He’s proven that he’s stronger than Kraven’s greatest foe, so he’s also a perfect test to prove himself Spidey’s better. His limited intelligence allows Kraven to easily manipulate him later and Kraven figured out his telepathic connection to rats is essentially always “on” so any rats within NY city limits can be used to screw with him. Also freeing him allowed Kraven to kill himself without Spider-Man trying to stop him, which Spidey totally would’ve.
Spider-Man and Vermin’s connections aren’t really as deep but still valid. Vermin’s basically just a murderer who can’t help himself from doing so and he’s just way tougher than Spider in terms of ferocity and strength. So it’s kind of like Spider-Man had to pass this test much like Kraven did, to prove he’d learned something from all this. Also Vermin tested the amount of control Spider-Man had over his rage, which had been really weakened after he learned what Kraven had done. He was barely able to not kill Kraven’s goons, only because he knew it’d make him as bad as Kraven. And when him and Vermin first fight in Kraven’s basement, Vermin pisses off Spidey so much he nearly beats him to death just to vent his frustrations. Imagine if Spider-Man hadn’t regained his control and he did that to some mugger? He’d be worse than Kraven. He’d be the Punisher.
And Spider-Man is not the fucking Punisher. He does get a little meaner,
smacking Vermin while he’s tied up after Vermin says he’ll call his rats. That was more out of fear than anger, because he had to scare Vermin into not doing that or he’d be toast. Plus Vermin can take it, since he’s so physically resilient in comparison to the people Spider-Man usually fights who can be kind of strong but not usually that tough.
And Spider-Man is still just Peter Parker, he’s capable of feeling fear sometimes.
It’s what makes him great.
#2 Vermin is trying to prove himself to himself along with Kraven and Spidey.
Yup, Vermin, the idiot that he is is also going on a quest to better himself.
When he remembers about how he hates Spider-Man and Captain America for beating him up previously he remembers that’s why he left the darkness of the sewers he loved so much. To find Spider-Man and beat him. But his mind is so messed up he can’t stop thinking about food because he’s a rat-man and sort of forgets to keep chasing Spider-Man/decides he’d rather just eat people. And the funny thing is he’s not trying to prove it to the world, just to himself and Spider-Man that he can overcome his fear of the light to kill them. He’s like a dumber, hungrier version of Kraven.
#3 Kraven kind of understands that what he’s doing is insane and doesn’t want to die at the same time. In the back of his mind, it’s implied Kraven is constantly doubting himself. While the majority of Kraven’s psyche is on-board for killing Spider-Man and going through with this master plan of his, Kraven’s subconscious is all “No, seriously why I am doing this?” The scene first comes back from “hunting” in the city in Spidey’s costume and drinks the potion in his room next to a glass case full of Spider’s he actually has a secondary red thought-panel in bold font asking “WHY AM I DOING THIS?” as he reels in pain from the potion’s mental effects. Then later Kraven actually admits in his regular thought-panel that his whole plan is insane (as he stares at a hallucination of a giant spider MADE OF SPIDERS, mind you).
Okay there’s more but this article does eventually have to end. Here’s some choice scans that I’ve put up and some I’ve found from “Kraven’s Last Hunt” that I thought were especially great. Enjoy and remember folks: keep it monstrous!
FEAR EATS YOU!
– J. Kruschack
* The reason I say that people think Spider-man needs to be Batman and that that is bullshit is because it’s against the entirety of Spider-Man’s character. Batman lost both his parents in front of him at age 7 or 8 which ruined his entire life and made him swear an oath of vengeance against all of crime itself. To the point where he considers it a “war” which he refuses to ever stop fighting. Spider-Man’s parents died when he was a little kid, leaving him in the care of two loving relatives: Aunt May and Uncle Ben. He had a good life for a long time and isn’t as messed up as Batman, despite being picked on constantly. He’s not as broken of a human being.
He hates seeing people get hurt just as much as Bruce Wayne but when Uncle Ben was killed he didn’t become a colder person. He almost did, pulling on his costume and nearly killing the shooter. But when he realized that the shooter was the robber he could’ve stopped before, because he had the power to already, he turned the guilt on himself.
With Bruce Wayne, all the guilt is on the criminal no matter the interpretation.
Bruce goes insane with sadness and rage but never does he think “I could’ve stopped it.” He wished he could’ve so he spends his life training to be someone who can stop criminals. Spider-Man knows it was his fault (indirectly, but still) but instead of the guilt tearing him apart and making him a spirit of rage he remembered the words of his uncle and accepts the guilt. Then decides “I never want to feel like this again, so I’m going to try harder than anyone has ever tried to do the right thing no matter what.” He uses the guilt to be a hero, to stand for good. Batman isn’t using his sadness or anger for the most part. It spurs him on, like it’s a part of him. Batman is vengeance, Spider-Man is responsibility.
So it bothers me when people think Spider-Man has to be angry and mopey all the time like Batman. Sure, he has his off days. He can lose his cool, he’s killed before a few times and almost killed an infinite number of times. Those times though, they were desperate ones. They were mistakes. Batman is nearly perfect, he is a functional version of what Spider-Man could’ve been because that’s essentially what Batman has been his entire life. Spider-Man couldn’t function if he had to be like that, always growling and crippling criminals. He was raised to be a nice dude, Uncle Ben would not approve of him constantly being an asshole. He jokes around so much partially because Uncle Ben was always smiling and laughing. Batman lives to saves lives through willful determination and doesn’t mind being a mean person to do it. Spider-Man is determined to be a good guy all the time, as much as possible. Batman lives in shadows, Spider-Man goes wherever.
That’s why the all black and white costume isn’t the right fit for Spider-Man all the time, he’s not a spooky criminal hating, bone-crushing master detective who’s more vigilante than person. He’s Peter Parker from Queens. Spider-Man’s the costume, not his real face.
And I don’t hate Batman. I hate when people think all heroes, especially Spider-Man and those like him, should be Batman or are essentially just Batman but not as cool.
No. Fuck you. Spider-Man has a good time, Spider-Man doesn’t always win through intimidation and violence. Those are last resorts for Peter Parker, because he’s not his costume and his costume is not him. For Batman, it goes like this: Bruce Wayne is the costume and Batman is the person. Bruce Wayne hasn’t been himself since Mommy and Daddy got popped. He admits it several times, for fuck’s sake. Peter Parker refuses to lose himself to Spider-Man. He is Spider-Man, not Spider-Man is him. Anyways, I’m getting repetitive and this article is already too long. I’m done.