Tuesday, May 17, 2011

1980's Flashback/From the Dust Bin: Kraven's Last Hunt

I like comic books.

From a very young age, I have always appreciated the way that artwork accompanied by dialog in word balloons blend together to tell a great story that is also fun in and of itself. The narrative format of the comic book art form appeals to me in a powerful way that no other medium truly does. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like movies, television, novels or other forms of entertainment. I do. What I’m saying is basically that I like comic books, and I guess that’s not really going to change.

However, I do find it very challenging to find current product that engages me in the way that titles of the past did and that fact is not tied to the retiring, fading away or death of former writers and artists. The industry itself has changed in ways that – in my opinion – detract from the level of enjoyment that has kept me in “comics”.

I will revisit some aspects of this subject in coming days, but today let me share a wonderful epiphany that rippled out from the recent Free Comic Book Day. As I was plucking stacks of back issues from the quarter boxes marked down for sale at the store event which I attended, one issue in particular grabbed my attention. Web of Spider-Man #32 (Nov.1987); originally published by Marvel Comics, was Part IV of "Kraven's Last Hunt" (also known as "Fearful Symmetry") a storyline written by J.M. DeMatteis and illustrated by Mike Zeck. This classic six-part tale featuring the final battle between Kraven the Hunter and Spider-Man ran through Web of Spider-Man, Amazing Spider-Man and Spectacular Spider-Man during 1987 (the very year that I originally got married) and I never purchased a single issue from this run. Man, was I a dope!

I immediately knew that I would have to have every single one of these issues as soon as I flipped through Web of Spider-Man #32. I headed for eBay and bought the remaining issues for next to nothing. Damn, this a story for the ages. I doubt that many comic book super-villains have enjoyed the kind of magnificent send-off that Sergei Kravenoff did in this multi-part epic. In "Kraven's Last Hunt", the hunter's long-term festering aggravation over his inability to best Spider-Man has finally destroyed his sanity. Kraven hatches a scheme that actually defeats Spider-Man, who is seemingly shot to death and buried, allowing the villain to don a copy of Spider-Man's costume in an effort to prove himself superior at his adversary's former activities.

As “Spider-Man”, Kraven roams throughout New York City, brutally attacking criminals, including a group of thugs attempting to assault Mary Jane Watson (who had only recently wed Spider-Man/Peter Parker). The culmination of these activities is Kraven's successful capture of the super-villain, Vermin, whom Spider-Man had previously needed the help of Captain America to defeat. Two weeks later, Spider-Man revives from the effects of the tranquilizer dart that Kraven had shot him with, and he manages to dig his way out of his own grave. After Spider-Man confronts Kraven, the hunter does not even fight back, considering himself the victor having made his final point.

Kraven ultimately releases Vermin, who attacks Spider-Man, thinking him responsible for his brutal capture. Vermin defeats Spider-Man, but Kraven intervenes before the creature can kill him. Kraven allows Vermin to go free and tells Spider-man he can pursue him if he desires, but that Kraven's hunting days have ended. While Spider-Man goes after Vermin, Kraven retires to his home, reminiscing about his past and the peace that he now feels, and then he commits suicide with a shotgun in his mouth. Spider-Man finally confronts Vermin and is able to outwit him, and then he goes home to his wife and recovers.

DeMatteis and Zeck truly deserve the acclaim they received for this story line, but mention must also be made of the superlative efforts of inker Bob McLeod, letterer Rick Parker, colorist Janet Jackson and Editor Jim Salicrup on this terrific set of books which represent the kind of gold standard that the comic book business used to turn out each and every month.

1 comment:

Slap Bookleather said...

Kraven's Last Hunt is one of my favorite comics stories. Good catch.