Comics Features Film

SPIDERTEMBER: “Kraven’s Last Hunt” and the Future of Spidey’s Onscreen Villains

Written by Jason Wittmer

With an entire month devoted to covering Marvel’s flagship character, it’s a perfect time to revisit one of Spider-Man’s all-time classic storylines: “Kraven’s Last Hunt.” Written by J. M. DeMatteis and illustrated by Mike Zeck, the 6-issue story-arc debuted in 1987 across three separate, ongoing Spider-Man comics – giving the storyline a bit of a “crossover event” vibe. Over the last five decades, the Spider-Man character has endured primarily due to his sense of humor, his dedication to morality, and perhaps above all else, readers’ ability to connect with him. Many comic book readers have been able to identify with Peter Parker/Spider-Man more so than any other superhero because, despite successfully protecting the people of New York City from the likes of Doctor Octopus and the Green Goblin time and time again, Parker is still plagued by defeat when it comes to dating, doing chores, and other dreaded experiences that are commonplace in the lives of everyday, normal teenagers.

It’s no surprise that Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios, has specifically referenced honing in on Peter Parker’s struggles to balancing the life of a high school student with that of a superhero in the character’s upcoming debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – even going so far as to refer to his next solo outing as a “‘John Hughes’ movie.” Moreover, Feige also admits, “Right now we’re interested in seeing villains we haven’t seen before.” Which, of course, brings me back to the focus of this article: “Kraven’s Last Hunt.” There were rumors a few months back that Sony was considering using the Russian as the main villain in the next Spider-Man film, which will be released in 2017. Though the speculation should obviously be taken with a grain of salt, Kraven the Hunter could, arguably, be the best villain in a Spider-Man film since Doc Ock. After discussing Kraven’s most memorable storyline in further depth, I’ll explain why.

First off, though this is Spider-Man’s comic series, Kraven is undoubtedly the focus of this story arc. From the first page, we’re introduced to perhaps Spidey’s most human foe. He may be as sadistic, methodical, and capable as the rest of the rogue’s gallery; yet, by and large, “Kraven’s Last Hunt” is an exploration into the tortured depths of Sergei Kravinoff’s psyche. The storyline begins with an elderly Kraven reminiscing on his life and legacy. Strolling through the corridors of his palatial abode, he thinks to himself, “I have found dignity, not in the cities, but in the jungles. I have found honor, not in the civilized, but in the primal.” Despite his impressive musculature and incredible ability to still go toe-to-toe with the likes of panthers and gorillas, Kraven is almost at the end of his rope. With a tear in in his eye, he thinks, “I will die soon. I must die soon…But not yet.”

Like Kraven, Spidey’s also got Death on his mind. A two-bit thug whom Spider-Man had fought from time to time has died and, regardless of their antagonistic relationship, Spider-Man can’t help but feel sentimental for the loss. Though he’s committed to ridding the streets of criminals and the like, Spider-Man still retains a strong sense of morality that praises Life over Death. And it’s precisely at this time – in which the webhead is feeling so emotionally and mentally vulnerable – upon which Kraven enacts his final plan. Realizing that Spider-Man is the greatest “beast” he has ever faced, Kraven decides he cannot properly rest until he bests him in combat, and, subsequently proves himself as superior. In the final pages of the first issue, he succeeds. After drugging Spidey with a poisonous dart, Kraven captures him and – in a move that’s surely up there in the most heinous, “you just crossed the line” moves in the history of comic book villains – buries Spider-Man alive. So ends issue 1.

KravensVictory

Kraven’s torturous plot to prove himself the superior Spider-Man continues, as DeMatteis explores themes of Identity, Morality, and Animalism as it relates to the legacy we leave behind after death. In hindsight, Kraven’s next move may be reminiscent to readers who have recently read “Superior Spider-Man:” he adopts the Spider-Man costume and fights crime in the streets, albeit in more brutal fashion than what people are typically used to seeing from the superhero. While demonstrating his alleged superiority over his foe, Kraven tarnishes Spidey’s reputation as a hero with a conscience. Without giving too much away in regard to how the rest of the story plays out, it offers an incredibly satisfying conclusion to Kraven’s arc – one that is sure to surprise readers whom are unfamiliar with it – that also serves as an opportunity to better understand Spider-Man’s values as a hero, and how they differ from the villains he fights.

It’s also important to mention the ongoing B-story of the arc, featuring a villain that many fans are probably not too familiar with: Vermin. A former-geneticist who was experimented on by Baron Zemo, Edward Whelan was mutated into a humanoid, rat-like monster, now closer in resemblance and intelligence to a beast than a man. DeMatteis, who created the character along with Zeck five years prior, uses Vermin as a none-too-subtle way to further explore the animalistic tendencies that both Spider-Man and Kraven evoke, in both name and demeanor. Whereas Spidey refers to Vermin as a “man-rat,” Kraven thinks of him as “a vile, tormented, beautiful beast.” Through the character of Vermin, a la Caliban in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” DeMatteis analyzes the differences between Man and Monster, or the Hunter and the Hunted.

For those who have never read “Kraven’s Last Hunt,” I highly recommend it; not only because it is a fantastic story revolving around one of Spider-Man’s less popular villains, but also because it’d certainly influence any future Spider-Man film in which Kraven the Hunter were the villain. Kraven would be a tremendous choice in particular due to what he can offer that previous villains could not. For starters, nearly all of the villains who have already appeared onscreen stem from technology in one way or another. Green Goblin(s), Doc Ock, Sandman, the Lizard, Electro, and Rhino were either aided by technological suits, or created in some sort of horrific accident in a laboratory. I believe the only omission is Venom, and the less said about his cinematic depiction, the better.

SpideyVsKraven

If screenwriters John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein decided to choose Kraven as the villain of focus, then this would open the doors for the film to explore aspects of the Spider-Man character that have been shied over in past portrayals. Especially considering the prevalence of science and technology in recent MCU films (Iron Man trilogy, Avengers films, Ant-Man, even the Thor films), rather than focus on Spider-Man as a superhero bred from science, it’d be interesting to see the writers portray the character as a geeky high schooler who’s part-human, part-insect.

If Kraven were the villain, this would further accentuate the animality of Spider-Man, in addition to giving the Hunter a more appropriate reason for setting his sights on the masked Peter Parker. In order for Marvel Studios to produce a film that finally captures the nuances of the character that fans have been enjoying for years, it is essential to differentiate the film from those we’ve seen in the recent past. Choosing Kraven the Hunter as its villain would be a big step in the right direction.

What do you think? Is “Kraven’s Last Hunt” as good as I thought it was? Is Kraven the Hunter the best choice for the villain in the upcoming reboot? Let us know what you think. Respond in the comments, or send us your thoughts on Twitter!

About the author

Jason Wittmer