• Jake Wright

Kraven's Last Hunt: A Deep Dive into The Mind of The Hunter

Updated: Feb 1

The 1980’s were a fantastic era for comics with many of the historic comic creators at the top of their game at both Marvel and DC, but it was also the era known for bringing in a lot of adult themes and dark tones to the storylines as well. Fan-favourite hero Spider-Man was no exception to this treatment as writer J.M DeMattheis, penciller Mike Zeck and inker Bob McLeod carefully crafted a wild and nightmarish storyline in the six-part epic “Kraven’s Last Hunt” published in 1987.

“Kraven’s Last Hunt” gives long-time Spider-Man foe Sergei Kravinoff , aka Kraven The Hunter, the spotlight by having him attempt to finally kill and replace Spider-Man to prove his own worth after years of failed attempts. The story is a fantastic look at the journey into Kraven’s depleting sanity and how he views the wall-crawler as a whole, but then it is also a fantastic Spider-Man story without giving the titular superhero that much of the main focus.

(via: Marvel Comics)

From the first issue, it was easy to tell that J.M DeMatteis was getting straight to the point with how he wanted this story to unfold as instead of crafting the stereotypical supervillain plan, Kraven gets straight to the point by drugging Spider-Man, shooting him at point-blank range and burying him in a grave all within the first issue of the story! What follows is an intense descent into the psyche of a mentally ill Kraven and the terrifying journey that one hero must take in order to return to the light.

Published across alternating, consecutive issues Web of Spider-Man #31-32, The Amazing Spider-Man #293-294 and The Spectacular Spider-Man #131-132, the idea of this story was to take over all ongoing publications of Spider-Man comics to really push the emphasis on Spider-Man being killed. This story ranks amongst the darkest Spider-Man stories ever published and paved the way to a new era of Spider-Man tales with the likes of fan-favourite character, Venom, debuting less than a year later.

One of the key critical points of this 6-part series is the contrasting of mindsets between a hero and a hunter. Although Spidey is thrown into one of his most difficult and terrifying challenges, he never turns into a darker character, still keeping those core elements of his personality and never losing hope. Instead, the attempt to turn Spider-Man into a tormented protagonist is fulfilled by Kraven himself when he takes on the mantle of Spider-Man as he attempts to prove that he is indeed superior to Spidey. However, in doing so, Kraven lives out his desire and obsession which has been born from a complete misunderstanding of how the character of Spider-Man functions.

(via: Marvel Comics)

Kraven views “The Spyder” as a mythical beast much greater than a human whom he must conquer, claim for himself, and symbolically wear its skin. To help transform into this “beast”, Kraven destroys the last fragments of his sanity through strange, venomous drugs and heads out for his final hunt.

After he buries the wallcrawler, Kraven dons the hero’s black suit and starts desperately searching to discover what it truly means to be Spider-Man. However, the reason Kraven never succeeded in truly knowing what it took to be the wallcrawler, was because he ignorantly disregarded the humanity that came from Peter Parker. The reason Kraven is haunted by Spider-Man is simply because he is the one person Kraven could never beat, no matter how hard he tried, Spidey always came out on top.

His view of Spidey is pretty 2-dimensional in the sense that he saw the punching, kicking and web-swinging but never saw the internal struggles that it took for Peter to become Spider-Man and led to him to become the hero we all know and love. Kraven simply underestimated Spider-Man in that sense by not realising the suffering that Spidey had endured.

From the get-go J.M DeMattheis makes it obvious why Kraven must defeat Spidey: to satisfy his ego and desire to defeat his bitter rival. He even states that defeating Spider-Man is about restoring his honour as he goes out to subdue a gang of thugs, ruthlessly beating them to a pulp, yet he still remains unsatisfied. He decides that to prove his worth as the “superior” Spider-Man, he would have to defeat a foe that Spider-Man could not defeat in combat single-handily, that being the rat-like Vermin.

(via: Marvel Comics)

Vermin is a lesser-known character in the Marvel universe who was created by J.M DeMatteis and Mike Zeck during their run on Captain America and was defeated by both Captain America and Spider-Man during that run. But Kraven feels that in order to fulfil his transformation into Spider-Man, he must defeat Vermin by himself and on his own turf, the sewers.

Kraven succeeds in defeating Vermin and feels as though his job of proving he is superior is complete, but we have always felt that this never truly proved that Kraven was superior to Spider-Man however what this story did do, was cement Kraven the Hunter’s place as a Spider-Man A-lister, forever.

Whilst this is going on, Peter Parker, still buried in the grave suffering from a drug-induced coma, attempts to escape through an almost spiritual-like journey as he clings onto his humanity. From the start of the story, it is shown that Peter fears death more than ever before, reminding himself of Uncle Ben, Captain Stacey, Gwen and the recently deceased Ned Leeds, his worst fear is put to the ultimate test as Kraven “kills” him right at the beginning of the story. But as he is breaking free from the grave, his love for Mary Jane is what ultimately gets him through this torrid time.

(via: Marvel Comics)

Peter and MJ had been recently married in the famous story “The Wedding!” published in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 so the status quo of Spider-Man had slightly changed and in “Kraven’s Last Hunt” part of the focus is on Mary Jane Watson and her worries of her new husband being dead after not seeing him for 2 weeks. But as stated before, the love Peter has for Mary Jane would never allow him to stay down and accept defeat, his escape from the grave is shown through clever panels of him breaking free from a spider to once again become a man, gruesomely birthing himself from the body of the spider until we see a single panel with a hand breaking out from the ground.

(via: Marvel Comics)

Now a free man, Spider-Man realises how long he’s been out for, however he doesn’t go after Kraven straight away, he rushes back to check in on his newly wedded wife MJ. This moment is possibly one of our favourite Spidey moments of all time and really highlights where Kraven gets it wrong. It highlights one of the things that keeps Peter motivated to be Spider-Man and that is his loved ones, and it was a truly wholesome moment in the story.

Moving onto the final act of the story we see a now free Spider-Man hunting down the hunter as tracks him down to his home and sees Kraven with his back turned yet expecting his arrival. But because Kraven has “defeated” Spider-Man, he no longer desires to fight him.

Spider-Man is lured by Kraven into fighting Vermin, whom Kraven had caged after defeating him, and Spidey gets the upper hand due to his built-up rage over being buried alive. But succumbing to his own humanity, Kraven’s plan of getting Spider-Man to now embrace the darkness ultimately fails and with Spider-Man now holding back his strength – as he usually does – Kraven is forced to step in to stop Vermin from killing Spider-Man, further cementing his own confirmation that he is indeed the superior being.

(via: Marvel Comics)

Vermin escapes and what happens next is probably the biggest talking point of the whole story. Finally at peace with himself, Kraven promises to never hunt down Spider-Man again and although Spider-Man wants to apprehend Kraven right there and then, he knows Vermin is too dangerous to be left unchecked roaming through the gritty streets of New York and takes off after him.

For proving that taking over the mantle of the mythic beast of “The Spyder” was his last reason to live, Kraven, now satisfied with his life’s work, shoots himself and ends his own life.

The depiction of suicide in a major comic book story at this time was a sudden shock which caused many readers to write in and accuse writer J.M DeMattheis of “glorifying” the act of suicide although Mattheis himself has stated numerous times that this is certainly not what he intended when including the act of suicide.

Throughout the story Kraven shows signs of manic depression, often expressing extravagant highs immediately followed by miserable lows and monologuing about mental illness running through his family, specifically from his mother. But instead of seeing Kraven’s suicide as an end to a villain’s story, it should be viewed as a heart-breaking end to a man’s struggle with inner demons who ultimately just needed support.

The story, however, perfectly juxtaposes how we the readers can also look to Spider-Man as a symbol of hope and optimism. Brave in the face of death yet willing to show compassion with even the worst things that life can throw at us.

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