It is a sad indictment of my admittedly shameful comic fu that it was not until 2015 AD that I read and imbibed KRAVEN’S LAST HUNT. I feel like had I read this eons ago it would have been as big a game changer as THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS.
I always knew about this book. I’ve always loved Kraven. But coming up in the game, as a pre-teen, it was hard to track down back issues but whatever was at the local newsagent was fair game. So when I started running the streets, spending a Saturday morning covering 20-30kms on my bike with my brother scouring all the four colour peddlers for their goods, all I found were a tonne of MAD Magazines [which were rad] and most stores wouldn’t stock the new Venom comics but they’d always have some Spidey. My earliest true hunting memory is getting drawn in deep to the MAXIMUM CARNAGE storyline and absolutely needing to get all 1 million of those issues. It was arduous and while I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Carnage and that pretty woeful storyline all it will make me think now is I missed KRAVEN’S LAST HUNT and everything else put in my path was mere webbed distraction until I could find this. This masterpiece.
Before I enter into the dark void this comic is, I want to ensure anyone who stumbles across this missive out there in space understands that KRAVEN’S LAST HUNT is some particularly amazing comic storytelling. I’m going to wager a strong amount – the sort of coin your parents bought and sold whole houses with – that this is the best Spider-Man story there is or ever has been. I say this because my mind is filling with good stuff, the aforementioned Carnage, the whole Venom-to-Carnage affair, the Clone Saga, those Ditko issues, Slott, Spider-Island, and nothing touches this story. Perhaps I’m missing something and if I am, GREAT, because that means there are even more phenom comics out there waiting to tickle my whiskers. But until then, I want to fill a bath, tear up twenty trades of this storyline and have the pages steep in the warm broth, and then soak until morning, ahhh.
J.M. DeMattis is a writer who I know I’ve read but his name has never stuck in my brainpan. I’ve certainly not sought him out. And it would seem I’d mentally blocked that it was the blessed Mike Zeck on art, and that I should have remembered and should have aggressively tipped me over the line years before. Though I never would have expected what we get in this story because it’s always sat in my head somewhere around maybe THE DARK PHOENIX SAGA, which for me means it’s wickedly good, it’s super enjoyable, it’s a touch dated, but the overall quality will make up for it despite it being something that maybe wouldn’t quite land today as strong.
Hell, no, KRAVEN’S LAST HUNT could drop in 2015 and people would lose their minds over it. It’s a comic about important things, that’s very very well made, and features a bare-chested Russian losing his mind. I can’t imagine what other check boxes the Eisner committee have in their clipboards [though they probably use Wunderlist on their tablet as they read through the nominees now]. This storyline has and does it all, no pretending, it will cross new paths in your brain and unlock visions.
With that promised, now let’s get onto the juicy stuff: this mainstream Marvel story is a noir masterpiece. Kraven hunts and kills Spider-Man in the first act and that’s the first marker that we aren’t following our webbed friend on this ride. No, this is Sergei Kravinoff’s ride and we are just strapped in to view it until it hits the last station in the line and blasts right through it in black flames.
The mental descent of Kraven is one of the most shocking ways to chart a villain’s downfall in a comic based around arguably the most wholesome superhero in the world. Superman might be safe but Spidey is downright alluring and yet this comic is intense and really resonates on an adult level. Perhaps this is because of the way Mike Zeck brings gritty determination to the page. Or maybe it’s the layered structure DeMattis plays the narrative through, making us work for it, thus making us think about every piece on the board and their moves.
There is no doubt Kraven is the antagonist of his own downfall. He’s trying to understand the American dream, he’s wrestling with it, trying to best it. In the end, he sees the hunt as the show of power, but once he kills Spider-Man he obviously feels he must become him. He should now own the American dream. But what he finds is wholly unsatisfying. What he finds is that his spirit is lacking for the job. In order to chase this seemingly unattainable perfection, he had to change himself to best hunt. The person he subsequently became was not ideal to represent that which he sought for so long. He spoiled himself and there was nothing to be done but accept this, hand it all back, and take himself off the board. It’s a sad indictment of how people chase glory and what it does to them.
Kraven is so single-minded that he never considers others and yet all Spider-Man ever does is consider others. His whole existence is for others, which is why it sucks to be Mary-Jane, especially in this book. But Kraven can’t quite handle this, he’s been working hard for number one all his life, his background, his struggle, it’s all been for number one. That realisation must’ve stung having come from a Communist location and essentially conformed to the capitalist ideal. He has become the antithesis of what his whole family did when they arrived on US soil.
Hubris is such a great accelerator for a noir narrative engine and here you see Kraven believe he’s right for the job and after inner scrutiny understand he’s not the man for the gig. So if he’s not for that, and his default position is as a man who fights for that, this storyline leaves him nothing and nowhere. Unlike when Wonka tells us about the man who got everything he wanted, this time it only serves to hold up a dark mirror in front of him and box him in with his ghastly reflection. Kraven places the gun in his mouth and we see his youthful portrait sullied with blood, because a visual can represent the entire noir theme of a man’s life.
KRAVEN’S LAST HUNT is a deliciously nasty analysis of what happens when a villain, who believes he’s the hero of his own story, suddenly realises his heart has been pumping black blood this whole time. It is also a deeply meaningful reminder to us that we should care for the context of every life lost, because it’s always a tragedy.