Monday, June 7, 2010

Iron Age Week: Kraven's Last Hunt

During the Iron Age, the various Spider-Man books hit all the highs and lows that the period represents. On the good side, you have the symbiote story, probably one of the most influential Spidey stories, and certainly one of the most memorable and popular. On the bad side, you have the Clone Saga, which... Well, let's not talk about it. Of all the Spidey tales from that period, one of my favorites is Kraven's Last Hunt.

I first read bits of the story not long after it came out. It was at my granparents' house around '87 or '88. My cousin Jeff, going to school nearby, was living with them, and when my family came to visit, he'd let me read some of his comics. It was mostly Marvel, as he was a Marvel zombie, but that didn't bother me, because at the time I was pretty into Marvel as well. And he had some great stuff. He had the one Avengers annual, where both the East Coast and West Coast teams teamed up to take on the Grandmaster... Oh, that story was so good. I also seem to recall copies of the Punisher Armory, but since that series didn't start until 1990, I might just be conflating all his other Punisher comics, as he was a huge Punisher fan. I certainly hope I'm conflating, because Punisher Armory was the stupidest spin-off concept ever known to man. Basically, it's pages and pages detailing the various guns and other weaponry the Punisher uses. That's like a comic wherein Clark Kent talks about what kind of paper his typewriter uses. *snooore*

Anyway, aside from those, he also had a couple of Spider-Man comics; the story was Kraven's Last Hunt. Right away, I could tell there was something different about this story. It was creepy, it was weird, but more importantly, it was personal. The stakes, I mean. This wasn't a story about saving the world, it was a story about people. I don't think I ever read the end of it, but I remember liking the heck out of what I had read. Over the years, my opinion of it grew.

However, I never went ahead and re-read it. The memory of it had grown up so large in my mind, that I was scared that reading the whole thing as an adult would reveal numerous flaws. After all, I liked Signs when I first saw it in theaters, but now I realize that it's a really, really stupid movie. I didn't want Kraven's Last Hunt to wind up the same way.

Still, recently I came across the trade paperback and, as it was reasonably priced, bought it, crossing my fingers that it would hold up. I needn't have worried.
Kraven's Last Hunt (also known as Fearful Symmetry, a homage to William Blake) is a phenomenal piece of work. Kraven the Hunter, getting old and knowing death is near, wants to put his affairs in order. Of course, that entails the one quarry that always eluded him- he's wants to kill Spider-Man.

This is a story about death. Nowadays, that doesn't mean much in comics. It's trendy (especially for DC) to kill characters left and right. It's so commonplace that it has no punch. And the old saw "No one stays dead in comics" seems more true now than it ever does. But this story... It's amazing that in a period noted for violence, death was actually fairly rare in Iron Age comics, at least as far as major characters were concerned.

But it's not just that. This is a story about accepting mortality; it's a subtle distinction, but an important one. It's about Kraven and Spider-Man coming to grips with the fact that they will inevitably shuffle off this mortal coil.

The psychology of the characters involved is explored brilliantly. Spider-Man, Kraven, and Mary Jane are all laid bare for the reader to better understand.

Also of note is the continuity. It's a black suit Spidey story (but not the symbiote, I believe) and Peter and MJ are newlyweds, but other than that, you don't really need to have read a single Spidey comic before this one to enjoy, which is something sorely missing in a lot of the stories now. In fact, as the author notes in his introduction, the marriage angle really gives the story the edge it needs to drive home a sense of importance. It's a shame that currently, the Peter/ MJ marriage is a thing of the past, though, admittedly, MJ is something of a hussy

Insert quote from Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog here.

The writing is magnificent. Now, I'm not the biggest J.M Dematteis fan (his run on The Spectre left a bad taste in my mouth), but when he's on, he is ON. He's on for this story. It gets a little metaphysical at times, but J.M. mostly limits it to the realm of the rhetorical. (In settings where gods and supermen and magic are accepted, JM's stories have a tendency to go from theory to ham-fisted allegory REALLY quickly.)
The art is superlative. Mike Zeck isn't that big a name, and that's a real shame, as this story is beautifully drawn. The action scenes pop, and the facial expressions are realistic and nuanced... It all just really comes together phenomenally.

Overall, Kraven's Last Hunt is one of the finest Spidey stories PERIOD. If you haven't read it yet, do yourself a favor and do so. It's great.

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