Steve Ditko is on his way out, although nobody knows it yet. The story goes that Ditko just walked into the Marvel offices one day, dropped off his work and announced that he was quitting. But he must have been thinking about it for some time beforehand. Though Steve has never explained his departure, it is generally believed that he, like Jack Kirby later, felt that he was doing all the work and getting very little of the credit. And like Kirby with Thor and the Fantastic Four, Ditko seems to have turned his creativity down a notch on his final Spider-Man issues. (In Wizard #162, April 2005, John Romita says, "Ditko and Stan had been having problems working together for like a year. Ditko kept threatening that he was thinking of leaving, so Stan, to protect himself, just tried to have somebody ready to jump in. I think they had mostly plot differences. What happened is at first Stan used to plot it with Ditko, then they disagreed on it so much that Stan said, 'Okay, you plot them and I'll write them.' What I gather happened is that Ditko's plots were personalized. In other words, they were sort of conservative and hard on beatniks and things like that, and Stan would modify them. Ditko kept complaining, 'Don't change my plots.' Ditko would come in with one perspective and one attitude, and Stan would change it. By the time he got to ink it, Ditko saw that it was a different story, and I think he just finally got fed up and told Stan he was leaving." I'm not sure what that "beatnik" remark is all about... I can't remember any beatniks in Spider- Man... but the rest of it sounds plausible enough. Of course this is still JR Sr.'s interpretation of the events. Ditko himself still isn't talking.) In any event, we're down to five Ditko issues and they begin with a slugfest featuring Kraven the Hunter.
Kraven first appeared in ASM #15, August 1964 in such a successful debut that he was included in the Sinister Six in ASM Annual #1, 1964 only a month or so later. Only a couple of months after that, he was one of the villains making a cameo appearance and commenting on the apparent cowardice of Spider-Man in ASM #18, November 1964. Kraven's comment is, "Even though he lost, Spider-Man is still at large! That means Kraven the Hunter might still be able to track him down!" Sixteen months later, Kraven gets his chance.
|Cover Art:||Steve Ditko|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Masterworks #16|
|Reprinted In:||Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus #1|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Tales #173|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Tales #27|
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man Comics Weekly (UK) #28|
|Reprinted In:||Essential Spider-Man #2|
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man Origin of the Hunter (Story 3)|
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man Pocket Book (UK) #20|
I have no idea how Steve Ditko went about plotting this issue but I wouldn't be surprised if he started with the cover. It appears in the body of the story (on page 17, panel 1) but it still feels like an image Steve might have started with: Spidey standing on the side of a building and looking up, surprised, as Kraven the Hunter jumps down on top of him. Whatever it's origin it is a great cover. One of the best things about the issue.
The splash page takes us to the trophy room of Kraven the Hunter. All about are stuffed animals in poses of attack: a tiger, a black panther, a gorilla, a cobra, a crocodile, while the heads of a boar, lion, bear, elephant and rhino are mounted on the walls. Some animal skin rug is on the floor beside the curtained entrance to the room. Half obscured by the curtain, a man wearing leopard-skin pants stands, peering in. It is Kraven, of course, and he muses over the fact that "Every wild beast that walks, climbs, or crawls, I've beaten with my bare hands." And yet, the foe he calls "the greatest prize of all" continues to defy him.
We move into the other room and see Kraven looking at a plaster head mounted on the wall. Kraven is wearing his usual lion's head vest with no shirt underneath and he has that Robert Goulet haircut and mustache, though I'm not sure if Goulet had his mustache yet in 1966. (Maybe Robert Goulet got it from Kraven.) The Hunter clenches his fists and declares that he can stand it no longer. "I must battle and defeat my greatest mortal enemy or else everything that has gone before is but a hollow mockery!" (Kraven always was wonderfully over-the-top in his histrionics.) He vows that the mask of Spider-Man will be placed over the plaster head... "Even if I pay for the victory with my very life!"
This is actually just one of those typical overblown comic book statements but J.M. DeMatteis expands it nicely into a character-illuminating comment 21 years later (whether intentionally or not, I don't know) when he has Kraven commit suicide (in ASM #294, November 1987) after defeating Spider-Man: in effect, completing the contract of paying for the victory with his life. Kraven doesn't put Spidey's mask on a plaster head but he does start wearing a Spider-Man costume and assumes the identity (in ASM #293, October 1987) which, thematically, may come to the same thing.
Anyway, Kraven moves over to a steaming brazier set up on a tripod with a fire built underneath it right on the table top. (He's got ferns hanging on the walls and clay pots on shelves and something that looks a bit like the balloon used by the Looter two issues into the future.) The same steaming liquid in the brazier is in a cup made out of a horn and Kraven quaffs it right down, proclaiming, "Only I know the secret of my special jungle herbs, my wondrous potions of power!" which makes him sort of the Colonel Sanders of the potions of power crowd, I guess. This potion gives him "the strength of the mightiest jungle beasts" which he seems to think is enough to match the strength of Spider-Man.
Now bursting with power and needing a foe to tackle "for he needs combat as other men need air to breathe", Kraven leaps out the window of his hut and confronts a "rogue lion" passing by. (And it's only at this point that it becomes apparent that Kraven is hanging out in Africa. Remember that Kraven and the Chameleon were deported after their capture in ASM #15, August 1964 only to jump ship in Tales of Suspense #58, October 1964. Kraven's defeat in ASM Annual #1, 1964 landed him in jail with the rest of the Sinister Six but he has his foot up on an African drum with a tribal mask behind him in his cameo in ASM #18, November 1964, making it very likely that he was simply deported all over again.) He calls to the lion, which he calls "Simba" (since all lions are named "Simba", don'tcha know?) and crouches right in the lion's path. "Simba" growls and leaps at him but Kraven takes the lion on with one hand and flips him onto his back "with the speed of a serpent". The lion immediately runs off and Kraven lets him go. "But my next victim will be far less lucky" he says.
Now Stan gives us this caption: "Days later, at the bustling port of Nairobi", confirming that Kraven is indeed in eastern Africa. The Hunter, now dressed in purple pants, white gloves and a striped red shirt (his stevedore look) helps the dockhands to load a collection of caged animals (we see a panther and a gorilla) onto a ship. This is apparently how Kraven makes his living, by delivering wild animals to zoos. He declares to no one but us, "Once I've delivered my four-legged captives... I'll be free to begin the greatest hunt of all. The hunt for Spider-Man!
Back in New York, Betty Brant puts her hands on Peter Parker's shoulders and begs him to tell her the terrible secret he keeps (in what Stan calls, "a startling, unexpected tableau" as he tries to avoid revealing the truth of this scene). Peter agrees that Betty has a right to know and he starts climbing up the wall and standing on the ceiling. As Betty wigs out over this, the upside- down Peter rips his white shirt to shreds, revealing the Spider-Man costume underneath. Betty puts her hands up to her face and screams, "Not you, Peter! Not you!" That's the last panel on the page, which is cagily designed to make you believe this is really happening, only to turn the page and discover Betty in the same shocked pose only in her pajamas in bed. Eyes wide, mouth open, Betty realizes that the whole thing was a dream. She has been so obsessed by whatever secret Peter is keeping that she dreamed up this Spider-Man thing. "Whatever Peter's secret is, whatever he's hiding from me" she says now, "It can't be that!" It is still the middle of the night with the full moon shining into her apartment but Betty sits up and rests her arms on her knees. She knows she won't be able to get back to sleep and she knows she must make a decision about Peter. "It cannot be put off any longer!"
Okay, so it either isn't as late as it appears or Peter is up awfully late studying because he's sitting at a desk reading a book at the same time as Betty is trying to come to a decision. Now that Aunt May is out of the woods (from a little dose of radiation poisoning over the last few issues), Peter plans to get back to classes and get back to normal. But now he stretches, yawns, and realizes he's "bushed". (That's how I've been feeling since 2000! Hah! Little joke.) Of course, "bushed" means something different to the Amazing Spider-Man than it does to the rest of us. He does a handspring and vaults around the room. "Yep, it's good to be alive!" he declares.
The next day, Peter is at the hospital visiting May (who is now sitting up in bed with such a big fluffy pillow that Peter must have brought it from home since she sure didn't get it there) when Anna Watson shows up. Anna hasn't been seen since ASM #30, November 1965, before May was hospitalized and she now explains that she "was out of town and didn't know you were ill". May pooh-poohs it as "just a silly old operation" and tells Anna that she is more concerned with Peter since "the poor boy hasn't had a soul to look after him all this time". Peter protests that he is doing fine. Just then the doctor enters with good news. All of May's tests have checked out and she is being released today. "After a few days' rest, you'll be as good as new again" he says. "Doc, you're the greatest!" says Peter. May tells her nephew to "run off to school" since Anna can see her home. "Okay" says Pete, "but no touch football for a while, hear?" which is one of the first examples of Peter making this kind of pretend-she's-going-to-go-out-roughhousing jokes with May. In fact, it may be the very first one. Can anyone remember an earlier one?
Before Peter makes his way to class and back to the students he met in ASM #31, December 1965 that have been forgotten for the last couple of issues, it's time for the "Two More Triumphs For Marvel" page. This month's features that are "On Sale Now!" are Fantastic Four #48, March 1966 with "The Coming of Galactus!" and Tales to Astonish #77, March 1966 with Rick Jones finally revealing that Bruce Banner is the Hulk. My God! What are you waiting for? Go out and buy them!
In a classroom at ESU, five boys surround the beautiful Gwen Stacy all asking for a date. "You promised you'd go to the game with one of us!" says one. "Give us a break, Gwen! Who is it?" says another. But Gwen refuses to commit. "Sorry, lads" she says, "I've got to rush to class now! But I promise to think about it!" Now three more suitors enter the picture unless three of the guys from the previous panel quickly changed their clothes. "But, you've been keeping us on the string all week!" protests one. "I know!" replies Gwen, "And you love it!" "Honey" says another, "the guy who finally takes you out of circulation will be the most hated Joe on campus!" So, I think we can infer from this, even though we've only seen her in one previous issue that Gwen is somewhat popular.
Over at her locker, Gwen muses that "Peter Parker is the only boy who hasn't paid any attention to me" just as Peter Parker comes walking up behind her. As fate would have it, Gwen drops a book out of her locker right in Peter's path but when he stoops to pick it up for her, she steps on it and yells out, "You! Don't you dare touch my book!" (And check out Gwen's saddle shoes and white ankle socks. Not to mention her red sweater and knee length brown skirt. Gwen's fashion preferences are going to change dramatically in the months ahead.) Peter doesn't know why Gwen stopped his gallantry and asks, "What gives?" Suddenly Harry Osborn and three other guys are standing behind Pete and Harry proclaims, "Do we have to spell it out for you? You're as popular here as Mao Tse-Tung!" Urged on by his buddies, Harry lays it on thick. He tells Pete, "You've been snubbin' us since school started. Walking around here like a swell-headed snob, just because you won a scholarship! Well, that's okay with us! But don't think you can become one of the crowd any time you feel like it!" Only now does Peter realize that his worries over Aunt May have gotten him off on the wrong foot since the other kids "thought I was high- hatting them". As Gwen strikes a glowering pose, Peter thinks that "the ol' Peter Parker luck sure is running true to form".
In the school lab, surrounded by several coeds in blue lab coats, Peter decides he "can't blame them for thinking I'm the prize crumb of the year" but he doesn't intend to beg forgiveness and decides they'll all get over it. Now, though, he needs to catch up on the lab work that he's missed. In another part of the lab (in fact, Gwen is right behind Peter on page 6 panel 2 when she was nowhere to be seen on page 5 panel 7), Harry tells Gwen "I guess we told that egghead where to get off" but Gwen wonders why she feels "a bit ashamed of myself". She looks over her shoulder at Peter and wonders if there is a reason that "he has cold-shouldered all of us". Still one look at him convinces Gwen that "he couldn't care less". "Look at him bending over those test tubes!" she thinks, "He doesn't even know I exist!" (Unbeknownst to Gwen, Peter is thinking, "That Gwen is a knockout! If only... aw, what's the use?") Feeling the challenge, Gwen thinks, "Well, Mr. Peter Parker, just you wait!" This is about as sexually forward as Gwen Stacy gets until she rolls in the hay with Norman Osborn as revealed in ASM #512, November 2004
With class over for the day, Peter walks the Manhattan streets when suddenly he sees police cars speeding along with their sirens wailing. He heads for an alley, intending to change into his Spidey suit so he can get some photos. At the last minute, he decides not to bother. After all, he still has money from the pix he sold to JJJ last issue and Aunt May is now waiting for him back at home. "So, I'll just go home and study like anyone else!" he thinks, "Peter Parker, Average American! That's me!"
That evening, a man in a green suit and brown hat, carrying a suitcase in his right hand and a duffel bag over his left shoulder arrives at a building on a quiet side street and enters. Inside, the room is filled with faces mounted on the wall seeming to parallel the animal heads mounted on Kraven's wall. In fact, the man entering is Kraven and this is the Chameleon's hideout from the time in ASM #15 when the two were partners. (It appears that the faces on the wall are Chameleon's masks.) Kraven doesn't know what has become of the Chameleon and he doesn't care, "so long as he stays away till my mission is over". (But, in case you care, the Chameleon seems to be between gigs, having last been seen in the employ of the Leader in Tales to Astonish #66, April 1965 and not to be seen again until ASM #80, January 1970.) Removing his hat, Kraven declares to no one in particular, "the time has come for Kraven to begin his greatest hunt!"
You know that bit about the faces on the wall being the Chameleon's masks? Forget about that. Because as Kraven sits on a green chair drinking another of his steaming brews, we can see that the place is modeled in sort of "oversized, creepy Blue Man Group" with one huge bald head gaping over Kraven's left shoulder and another in profile down by the floor with spider webs hanging all over it. (Which is a nice moody Spidey-influenced image.) Kraven has changed back into his "jungle garb" and feels awful good about it. (Whatever gets you through the night, Kraven. As they used to say.) Now he needs to come up with a plan to trap Spider-Man in a hurry before he is discovered back in the USA, since he was deported, as I'm sure you recall. "But it is worth the risk" Kraven says, "worth whatever price I may have to pay to destroy the one I loathe the most in all the world!" So the first thing he decides is that he needs bait to lure Spidey into his trap. In his caption, Stan tells us that Kraven indulges in "long hours of careful planning... scheming" but it looks like just a minute later since that brew he is drinking is still steaming. In any event, the Hunter stands up, hoists his goblet into the air and announces that he has come up with "the perfect lure!" And once that happens, "The hunt shall begin!"
Back in Forest Hills, Peter Parker is in his room trying to study but Aunt May is trying to fatten him up. She brings a big slice of cake and some milk on a tray. Peter protests, "Another snack?!! Gosh, Aunt May, we just finished dinner a half hour ago!" but May couldn't care less. She's convinced that Peter "didn't eat a thing while I was in the hospital". Peter indulges her by chowing right into the cake (he doesn't even bother to use a fork; just picks it up in his hand). May smiles at him and tells him she thinks it would be a good idea if he found a hobby "to help you relax from your studies". Peter assures his Aunt that he does "have a little hobby". He just doesn't bother to tell her what it is.
Exiting the Daily Bugle building, J. Jonah Jameson hails a cab with one hand while he holds his cigar in the other. Behind him, perched in a crevice on a wall is Spider-Man. Just as the cab pulls up, the web-slinger leaps over and lands on the car roof, confronting Jonah. He then leaps onto Jonah himself, grabbing him by the left shoulder. Jonah screams for help, convinced that the wall-crawler is "out to get me because of the editorials I've written against you". "Stop screaming, you coward" says the web-slinger, "I just want to talk to you." But Jameson's cries have caused a crowd to gather. One red-haired guy calls out, "Somebody call the police! Spider-Man is assaulting Jonah Jameson!" Spider-Man leaps to the wall of a nearby building. The crowd has scared him off. "But I'll be back, Jameson" he promises, "you'll see!" (Jonah, for his part, boasts that he scared the webhead away. "Did you all see that? Spider-Man ran from me!")
Now, if all this seems like atypical behavior for Spider-Man, it is because it isn't Spider-Man. Up on a rooftop, the man in the Spidey costume removes his mask revealing himself to be Kraven the Hunter. This makes Kraven the third super-villain to impersonate the web-swinger (after the Chameleon in ASM #1, March 1963 and Mysterio in ASM #13, June 1964) and, of course, later on he really goes to town in the black outfit in ASM #293- 294 with a couple of "Webs" and "Spectaculars" thrown in there as well. So, it turns out the plan is to harass J. Jonah Jameson so it will get on the news and the real Spider-Man will see it and be the only person to know that the attacking Spidey was an imposter. Knowing that someone is impersonating him, Spidey will come looking for him and then fall into Kraven's trap. And it took Kraven hours to think this up, huh? First of all, by attacking JJJ, I guess he has guaranteed that the event will turn up in the media but why should anyone believe Jonah with all the misinformation he's spewed out about the web- slinger? Second, how can Kraven be so sure that Spidey will even hear about it even if it is in the media? Third, just because Spidey may go out looking for the imposter doesn't mean they'll find each other in a city as big as New York. It seems like there's got to be an easier way. But Kraven needn't worry because the whole thing works like a charm! Peter Parker is sitting around relaxing at home with Aunt May. He is eating an apple while they both watch TV ("Did you remember to wash that apple before eating it, Peter dear?" says attentive Aunt May. "Sure, Aunt May! You know I'm not the type to live dangerously!" says the ever-ironic Peter.) The news comes on and Peter is faced with J. Jonah Jameson's mug on his screen. (Jonah is described by the newsman as "prominent newspaper publisher and man-about-town".) As the reporter tells about Spider-Man's attack on Jonah, Peter sits up in his seat and comes out with a "Yeeullp!" When May asks him what's wrong, he lies (as usual) and tells her, "I must have bit my tongue!" But actually he is realizing that someone has impersonated him and he wonders why. Aunt May starts getting fidgety and upset about "all this awful crime news" which makes Peter realize that he doesn't dare "run out and find the bogus Spidey" leaving his still-recovering Aunt all alone. Instead, he decides to wait and see what happens. "It's probably just some crank!" he figures, "The police may have rounded him up already!" When May asks if the "dreadful" news reports upset him, Peter replies, "No, Aunt May! I don't believe half of it, anyway!" (And Peter has big blue eyes in this panel as opposed to those brown eyes he sometimes has. I knew a woman with big blue eyes like this once. You could lose yourself in those eyes. Humph! Well! That's none of your business!)
Yes, Kraven's plan will eventually work but it sure is moving slowly. Maybe he just enjoys dressing up as Spidey and harassing J. Jonah Jameson because "in the days that follow", Kraven (as Spidey) hangs upside-down outside of Jonah's office window and tells him, "Jameson, you didn't think I'd forget you? You've nothing to fear from me now! I'll bide my time, keep you guessing!", shines the light of a spider-signal right where Jonah is walking out on the street... with a cool Ditko drawing of Kraven looming over the harassed publisher (but where did Kraven get his spider-signal? Can I buy one?), and swoops down on a web so closely that Jonah must pull his hat down over his head, saying "Wherever you go, whatever you do I'll be following, watching, waiting." But back in his office, holding the latest edition with the headline "Spider-Man Threatens Publisher of Bugle", Jonah is defiant. "Let him hang around!" he thinks, "By writing about his harassment, I'm selling more papers than ever before!" (I hate to spoil the party here but didn't Kraven say he needed to hurry up and "trap Spider-Man before I myself am discovered"? Then what is he waiting for?)
Finally, it gets to the point where Peter Parker would hear about Spider-Man even if he had his head stuck in a hole. Everybody in town is talking about it. As Pete walks the streets, a lady in a red hat says, "Imagine! Hounding a public-spirited citizen like Mr. Jameson that way! It's a disgrace!" A blonde-haired guy with his back to us replies, "Someone should put that masked wall-crawler out of circulation once and for all!" In the foreground, a black guy says, "If you ask me, it's time the F.B.I. stepped in!" "You said it!" says a hat. (Well... all we can see of him is his hat.) Nearly every one of these people is holding and reading a copy of the latest paper. There are even three other guys who don't speak who are reading the paper as well. How often do you see anyone reading the paper as they walk down the street anymore? Well, maybe it still happens in New York.
Anyway, Pete hears all this and starts to worry whether he'd even be safe out in public as Spider-Man. At school, he sits at his desk with his eyes closed and fists clenched and makes a decision. (Behind him, unbeknownst to him, Gwen Stacy is giving him the eye.) "I've got to take a hand in this!" he thinks, "I've got to learn who the imposter is and stop him!"
That evening, Peter stands with his hands on his hips, watching more anti- Spidey action on the TV. He wants to go out and salvage his reputation but he can't figure out how to leave without worrying Aunt May. Just then the doorbell rings. It is Anna Watson, looking for "a good, old-fashioned chat" with May. May is looking forward to it, too. She has "the tastiest cookies" and can prepare some tea in no time. Peter quickly grabs his jacket and tells his Aunt that he's going to a movie while the two ladies chat. May agrees to this but adds, "Don't see one of those awful scary films! It might give you nightmares!" "That's what I always tell Mary Jane," adds Anna. (Check it out! A Mary Jane mention!)
Of course, Peter is just lying again. He has no intention of going to the movies. Once he gets clear, he changes into his Spidey duds and heads to the Daily Bugle (in one of those great Ditko panels where Spidey's feet are higher than his head as he swings). He figures this is the place to begin his search since the phony Spidey has been spending most of his time around there. Sure enough, as soon as Spidey gets near, a spider-signal shines on him. (Where do I get one of those?!) The false Spidey is standing on a rooftop, deliberately attracting his attention by shining the signal and waving. (I guess we're supposed to assume that Kraven has been spending his days and nights in the Spidey suit just hanging around the Daily Bugle on the off-chance Spidey shows up. Personally, this is sounding more and more to me like some sort of kinky fetish than any sort of organized plan to get revenge on the web- slinger. "Worth whatever price I may have to pay to destroy the one I loathe the most in all the world!" he said earlier. Yeah. Good one, Kraven!)
Now that Spidey has spotted him, the imposter turns and run; leaping from one building to the next as expertly as the wall-crawler does it. Spidey follows above on his web but he wonders what the point is. "He might be trying to lead me somewhere!" he thinks but he only ends up on the roof of an empty building. In fact, the entire block of buildings has been condemned and is waiting to be torn down. "If this is his destination, he's got crummy taste" Spidey thinks, but in the meantime, he's also lost track of his imposter.
On the street below, three hoods are hanging out and they see Spider-Man land on the roof. They are members of the Nails Hogan gang and they've, apparently, been using one of the buildings as a hideout. Now they plan to "get the boys" to take on the web-slinger. ("I been itchin' to get my mitts on that punk!" says one thug.) Back on the roof, Kraven has changed back into his jungle togs and comes out of hiding behind Spider-Man. "The masquerade is over!" he announces as he poses with his hands on his hips. Not content to just start duking it out, Kraven points at Spidey and starts "monologueing" as they say in The Incredibles. "Surely you didn't think I'd be content to remain defeated after our last encounter! It is time for another hunt and this time, the victory shall be mine!" "Mister" replies Spidey, "You're just a glutton for punishment."
Suddenly Kraven charges the web-slinger. He holds what looks like a lemon or a sponge in his right hand but it turns out to be some container filled with "jungle scent", whatever that is. He sprays it on Spidey and announces that it will "cancel out your accursed spider sense". (I'm not even going to go back to see if Kraven should even know about the spider sense. It's possible, since Spidey has this bad habit of blurting out details about it. But Kraven certainly shouldn't know how the spider sense works and I find it hard to believe he can dampen it with some scent from the jungle. In fact, Steve draws Spidey with black lines radiating out of his head for most of the rest of the battle, which seems to imply that the spider sense is working just fine, although Stan does have Spidey think, "Kraven's jungle scent dulled [the spider sense]" later on in the story.) Even if the jungle scent can somehow do the trick, I find Kraven's follow-up statement that "And now, my victim-to-be, your power is barely the equal of mine!" to be dubious. Spidey thinks so too. "That'll be the day when I can't beat you!" he says.
But it turns out that Kraven is not interested in a straight-up fight. He tells Spidey, "If you can hunt and defeat me, I'll confess that it was I who impersonated you!" and then he dodges behind a chimney. When Spidey follows, his foot hits a tripwire. Kraven has set up a booby trap that causes a big pile of crates to fall down on him. (At least, Stan calls them "crates". I think Steve intended them to be crumbling bricks from chimneys.) Using the phrase "That'll be the day" for the second time in four panels (The movie Spidey went to see must have been "The Searchers". Oh, wait a minute, I forgot. He didn't go to that movie. He was just lying to Aunt May. Maybe it was Stan who just saw "The Searchers"), Spidey leaps away from the crates. He looks around the roof but Kraven is gone. "If I want him, I'll have to play it his way!" he decides, "I'll have to hunt him down!"
He enters the decrepit building and walks down a beaten-up banister. The whole room is a shambles and Spidey's spider sense seems to tingle (even though the jungle scent is supposed to have deadened it) as he looks around and tells himself to be careful. He knows Kraven has probably set traps in this room "and he couldn't have picked a better place to set them". Hiding in a dark corner, Kraven perches on one knee and muses that "while he hunts me, Kraven the greatest hunter of all shall be hunting him".
But, as Stan puts it, "a third force has entered the deadly game". Down at the street, nine men plan to enter the abandoned buildings. These are the hoods that have been itchin' to get their mitts on the web-slinger. "Spread out!" says the guy who first said he was itchin' to do that (only his hat has changed color), "when you see him... holler!"
Back inside, Spidey just barely evades a lasso sitting on the floor. (You know what I mean. One of those traps where you step in it and it yanks you up in the air upside down.) In the next moment, he leaps out the window of one building and into the window of an adjoining one. There are two thugs in that building wearing green porkpie hats and carrying lead pipes. One of them hears a sound in another room and the duo head that way. But Spidey hears them too. Quickly, he leaps straight up, upside down and adheres to the ceiling. At first he thinks he is hearing Kraven's approach but soon realizes that he hears two pairs of footsteps. "How come??" he wonders, "Did Kraven bring a friend?" Then Spidey gets his answer. "Just a couple of plug-uglies" who enter the dark room and don't see him perched on the ceiling. As soon as the men get close enough, Spidey stands straight up on the ceiling putting their jaws within punching distance. "It's him!" yells one thug and Spidey replies, "Tsk, tsk! You mean, "it is he!" Nothing infuriates me as much as bad grammar!" As expected, Spidey takes each goon out with a punch and webs them up. Then he heads out another window and perches on the wall outside. From his bird's eye view, Spidey sees four more thugs walking in the alley between buildings. "It looks like old hoodlums' week", he thinks as he shoots a slinky spray of webbing down on them. The men are enveloped by the webbing (although it looks like there's only two of them trapped) as Spidey swings down on a web trapeze. Hanging by his knees, he puts a couple of punches on the men in the web, putting them out of action.
That job done, Spidey swings back up to one of the upper story windows. Just as he is about to enter his spider-sense starts to tingle. Then Stan remembers that he's not supposed to have his spider-sense so he has Spidey think, "Kraven's jungle scent dulled it! It should have warned me sooner!" Reacting as he is leaping through the window, Spidey puts his hands out and grabs the window frame. He then plans to do a back flip out of the room but before he can make his move Kraven races up and grabs him. The two end up upside down as Kraven brags, "You fool! I can outfight a full-grown lion in his prime while you have only some sort of spider power!" ("You certainly know how to hurt a person!" says Spidey.) Kraven gets on top of Spidey and throws a hard left into his chest but Spidey comes right back with a right that knocks Kraven away from him. (Randy Miller has pointed out to me that the panel in which Kraven throws the hard left, page 15 panel 1, is used by Ron Frenz as the design model for his cover of ASM #257, October 1984. On that cover tribute, Spidey, in his black costume, is in the same position as he is in Ditko's panel. Puma replaces Kraven but is positioned just the same even down to holding Spidey's arm with his right hand while following through with a punch from his left hand. Make the comparison for yourself. And thanks to Randy for pointing it out!) Kraven comes right back and uses both fists to sock Spidey in the jaw... all the time bragging about stopping the charge of a bull elephant. "I've got news for you, Kraven!" says Spidey as he punches back, "You may be a whizeroo with bull elephants but you're a dud at swatting spiders!"
The battle continues with Kraven punching and Spidey leaping around the room when six of the goons show up from two different entrances. (Let's see... there were nine to start with and at least four of them got webbed up. That should leave... hmmm. Maybe there were more to start than were shown to us.) They don't recognize the guy that Spidey is fighting but they don't really care. All they know is that they've got a chance as they rush the web-slinger all together. But they never even get out of the blocks. Spidey leaps out one of the windows, covering two thugs with webbing as he goes. Kraven bellows, "One side, you puny fools! No one shall spoil Kraven's hunt! No one!" as he shoves two of the hoods out of his way and exits through one of the doors. "I got a hunch we bit off a heckuva lot more'n we can chew!" says one perceptive hoodlum. Now standing on the wall right outside the window, Spidey punches out two more thugs (who must have rushed to the window to look outside or something). Kraven takes out two more guys in the hallway. Then Spidey reenters the building and creams another guy waiting outside a doorway. (Which brings us up to nine guys trashed just in the last four panels alone.) Parked on a wall again, Spidey thinks, "Well, that wraps up the last of those ersatz Untouchables!" (Actually, I thought the Untouchables were the good guys.) Now he wonders where Kraven has gone.
Elsewhere in the building, Kraven is wondering where Spidey has gone. He knows the wall-crawler is close since he can "still faintly detect the jungle scent I sprayed on him!" (You don't suppose that was Steve's whole idea with the jungle scent, do you? So Kraven could sense Spidey from a distance? Is it possible Stan just came up with the deadened spider-sense thing on his own? It would explain why Spidey isn't supposed to have his spider-sense but Steve kept drawing him reacting to it.) Just then Kraven realizes that the scent is getting stronger. He knows Spider-Man is near. Climbing out of a window, he peeks around the corner and sees the webster clinging to the outside wall. It is time, he thinks, for "a simple little stratagem".
Spidey is trying to remain alert when his spider-sense emanates out of his head and he hears a "klak!" coming from the building across the alley. He looks over and sees a piece of ledge falling. In the instant that he wonders what made it fall, it is too late. Having distracted Spidey, Kraven now leaps down from above (which is the cover image appearing here on page 17, panel 1) and makes contact, grabbing Spidey by the shoulder and ripping him right off the wall. They fall together with Kraven bragging all the way down. But before they get anywhere near the ground, Kraven reaches out and grabs the top of a window and swings both he and Spidey back into the building once again. (Notice how none of these windows have any glass in them? I've heard of abandoned buildings but this is ridiculous.) "Thus does Kraven win his greatest hunt!" he boasts before he tries to subdue Spidey at all. (What was the point of the hunt? To swing with the other guy into a window?) Actually, it turns out that Spidey is impressed. "I'll be darned if he isn't as good as he says he is!" he thinks, "He herded me into this window like an eagle carrying a lamb." But he doesn't intend for the resemblance to continue. Kicking out, Spidey knocks Kraven off his back. The Hunter responds by pounding Spidey in the jaw with a punch so hard it earns two sound effects. ("Rap! Wak!") But in the very next panel, Kraven is farther away than he was before, even though he is striding toward the web-slinger, announcing Spider-Man's doom. "You've had your inning, loudmouth!" says Spidey, bracing for Kraven's attack, "Now it's my turn at bat!" Saying "I've got to beat you before you bore me to death!" Spidey stands up to Kraven and they go toe-to- toe, whacking each other with super-powered punches. At this point, Kraven's confidence starts to falter. "Why don't you fall?" he cries, "I've hit you hard enough to stagger a rhino! What are you made of??" ("Sugar 'n spice, and everything nice!" replies Spidey. Uh... Spidey, that's what little girls are made of.) At last, Spidey gets "a good, clean punch in". It is so hard that Steve draws what looks like a miniature sun right at the point of Kraven's chin. The Hunter staggers back with his eyes closed and the sound effect is a big "Brak!" that fills up the top part of the panel. Pressing his attack, Spidey hammers away with another powerful punch that loosens Kraven's limbs and finally one more that seems to suspend the Hunter in the air. "In case you haven't guessed, Kraven" says Spidey, "the hunt is over!"
Spidey leaves his spider signal shining until the police notice it and investigate. (Which means he could be hanging around on the roof for hours until the cops arrive. Which may be a good thing because his webbing evaporates after an hour and he may have to web Kraven up all over again.) In the light of the signal is Kraven, trussed up in webbing and hanging in the air. On the sidewalk next to Kraven is "most of the Nails Hogan gang". The two cops who find them are thrilled. "It's like we won a raffle!" says one.
Up on a nearby rooftop, Spidey stands with his spider-signal shining from his belt. Knowing that "the capture of Kraven ought to be big news" he reaches for his camera but after he pulls it out, he changes his mind about taking pictures. If he does that, he'll have to bring the pics to Jameson which means he'll see Betty and he doesn't feel like "facing her right now". This bums his trip all over again and he ends up walking away with his head hanging down, saying "It's only fair for me to stay away from her to give her a chance to get me out of her system once and for all!"
Back at the scene, the cops have managed to get Kraven out of the webbing and Frederick Foswell has shown up with his pen and notepad. Kraven, true to his word, confesses to one of the officers that he impersonated Spider-Man and threatened J. Jonah Jameson. When the cop asks why he's fessing up, Kraven replies, "Whatever else I may be, I am a man of honor!"
Not long after, Foswell returns to the Bugle and relays Kraven's confession to Jonah who shakes a fist and refuses to believe it. But Foswell tells him he's got no choice. "Kraven produced his costume and gave the police a demonstration," he says. Just as Jonah is grousing that Spidey "will end up being a hero", a young woman with black hair and wearing a red dress enters his office and tells him she's done with "all the day's correspondence". Jonah tells her to be back "at 9 sharp tomorrow" since he is hiring her as the replacement for Betty Brant. As the woman walks away, she marvels over the fact that she is now "the personal secretary of the publisher of the Daily Bugle". She never imagined that Betty Brant would leave. "It happened so suddenly!" she thinks, "I wonder what happened?"
Unaware of this development, Peter Parker returns home only to find May and Anna still chatting away. ("And as I was telling my niece, Mary Jane..." Anna is saying. Another Mary Jane mention!) May asks Peter if he enjoyed the movie and Pete lies again. "No" he says, "I can't honestly say I did!" He tells May and Anna that he is going upstairs to do some studying. May tells him not to tire himself out and Anna marvels at what a nice boy Peter is. "Not a wild rowdy, like so many others!"
But up in his room, Peter doesn't study. Instead, he obsesses about Betty. He wonders if he is being a coward by not confessing the truth to her. He wonders if he's afraid to tell her the truth or afraid of her reaction to the truth. He stands in the dark, staring out his window and decides it's useless to think of such things. "I've got to stop thinking of Betty!" he declares, "To me, it must be as though she doesn't exist! It's the only way! Because, she'd never accept me as Spider-Man but Spider-Man I've been and shall always be for as long as I live! (Well, until ASM #50. July 1967 and some other upcoming issues, anyway.)
Steve has left one last panel on page 20 after the story has ended to give us a nifty drawing of the Molten Man punching something into smithereens. "Next" announces the text, "The Molten Man Returns!"
A couple of interesting items in the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins. Under the heading "Didja Know? Department", Stan tells us "the real reason we changed the Avengers lineup" stating, "Iron Man, Thor, and Giant-Man were all starring in their own mags. After a while, it didn't seem right to have one of them captured in Transylvania in his own mag, while he might be taking in the Late Show on TV in the Avengers! The truth is, it seemed to kill all the realism- all the immediacy of both strips!" It's been a long time since I've seen it but I think this is called "respect for continuity". With Spidey appearing in who-knows-how-many stories a month these days, no one seems to care whether he has organic web-shooters or not, never mind whether he's watching the tube while he's captured in Transylvania. And in the "Strictly Personal" department, Stan fesses up to the Marvel method of writing, explaining "all Stan has to do with the pro's [sic] like Jack "King" Kirby, dazzling Don Heck, and darlin' Dick Ayers is give them the germ of an idea and they make up all the details as they go along, drawing and plotting out the story. Then, our leader simply takes the finished drawings and adds all the dialogue and captions!" I've always been a believer that Kirby and Ditko did not get the compensation or respect at Marvel that they deserved but you can't say Stan was keeping their contributions a secret. Here he is, laying it all out for the reader all the way back in March 1966.
There's twenty-six M.M.M.S. members listed this issue. They are: Ray Adkins of Rocky Mount, Virginia, Pat Foley of Chicago, Illinois, Neal Cohen of Newton, Massachusetts, B. Taft of Charlotte, North Carolina, Roy Eichi Muramote of Honolulu, Hawaii, David Turkin of Mount Vernon, New York, Marty Ross of New York, New York, Rolland Regnery of Stanford, California, Charlie Howe of Richmond, Virginia, Ronnie T. Ennis of Dallas, Texas, Richard Geardt of Cleveland, Ohio, Pauline Long of Phoenix, Arizona, David Davidson of Indianapolis, Indiana (you've just got to love that a guy named David Davidson lives in Indianapolis, Indiana), Phil Doggett of Columbia, Tennessee, Scott Marshall of Miami, Florida (actually the address as listed is "Miami 56, Florida" using what used to be called a "postal zone" which eventually metamorphosed into the "zip code". No one else got their codes listed so this looks like a slip-up by the typist), Stephen Lane of Ontario, Canada, Doug Lovett of Cincinnati, Ohio, Fred Daily of New Hampton, Missouri, Ned McElroy of Gulfport, Mississippi, Pete Letheby of Norfolk, Nebraska, Stephen Smith of Halifax, Nova Scotia (I'm not sure why this Stephen got his city and province listed while the other Stephen above got his province and country listed but, hey, that's show biz), Donald Terry of Fair Grove, Missouri, Tommy Grourly, also of Fair Grove, Missouri, Wayne G. Mathieu of Troy, New York, William Warner of Jamestown, New York, and Paul Seeling of Toronto, Ontario (also getting his city and province... what were you, Stephen Lane? Chopped liver?)
On the opposite page is an ad for Marvel merchandise. At the top, it reads, "Paid advertisement (this time you can't blame Stan!)" but since it is an ad for Marvel, I suspect that Stan wrote it. The ad features Dr. Doom and the Hulk at their most sophisticated. Doom says, "Sir, would you mind stepping aside? You are standing on my foot!" "Step aside yourself, sir!" the Hulk replies, "I am not so inclined". He continues, "I am the Hulk! And I come and go where I please!" Doom starts to peel his cape back as he says, "Ahah! So, a formidable appearance is your passport to social acceptance." Then he reveals he is wearing a "Here Comes the Incredible Hulk" sweatshirt as he says, "Well, I too can be socially acceptable! And so can anyone! With a high quality, brilliantly colored, run-resistant, illustrated-on-the-front-and-back Incredible Hulk sweat shirt!" (With a teaser: "Biggest surprise of the year! Just wait'll you see what's on the back of the shirt!" You guys all know, right? On the back, it reads, "There goes the Incredible Hulk" and shows the same shot of the Hulk, only from the back. Now you can see that the rope he is hanging onto on the front is pulling a little bunny toy.) Well, Stan can disavow any knowledge of this ad if he wants but I rather get a kick out of it. (Oh, and it finishes up with opportunities to still buy the Spider-Man pin- up, the stationery kit and the Spider-Man t-shirt.)
Time for the Spider's Web: Richard Weingard of Castro Valley, California caught on that the Master Planner's gang in ASM #30, November 1965 couldn't have been the Cat Burglar's gang as Stan mistakenly said but he didn't get it quite sorted out. "You started off with a crook called the Cat Burglar, who thinks he is too insignificant for Spidey to fight. Then you have a gang of masked crooks whose leader is the Cat. Somewhere along the line you mix up the two and end with the Cat Burglar being captured while being called the Cat. You never see the gang leader so maybe the Cat Burglar is the gang leader, but you never say if anything happened to the gang. The two can't be the same person, for the gang was not said to be apprehended or disbanded. If they were supposed to be the same, then the story failed miserably. If they were supposed to be two different people, the story failed even more." Stan is no help in his answer. "It's not easy dreaming up plots that don't make sense", he says. Let's hope Richard figured it all out over the next few issues.
Richard Pini of Orange, Connecticut (later to be the husband of Wendy Pini, creator of Elfquest) wants Peter to marry Betty and is concerned about Aunt May. "I don't like one bit the looks of those dizzy spells Aunt May has been getting lately. If you're planning to have her "leave" Marvel as you've been doing with so many others, I shall personally sic the Destroyer, the Juggernaut, and Irving Forbush on every one of you." But David Greenlee of Weatherford, Texas thinks, "Aunt May should be removed from the magazine by some means". (Stan replies, "But we can't remove Aunt May, Dave! You may not know it, but she's the favorite pin-up queen of some of our older readers! You don't think our mags are just for the young campus crowd, do you?)
Finally, Gabe Eisenstein of Chicago, Illinois tells a story of browsing downtown stores looking for old Marvels. He talks to one saleslady who "said that the Marvels were the only books you get your money's worth from" and "Then I asked the price of an old Torch or Captain America book and she said $15.00!" Stan replies, "But, fifteen clams for an old Captain America mag - wow! Maybe we oughtta stop producing and start collecting!" I reply, "Fifteen dollars for a Golden Age Cap mag? Where the hell is that store anyway?
The big finish:
Kraven returns in ASM #47, April 1967 in which it is revealed that he was working for the Green Goblin when he took Spidey on in this issue. (Looking less like Robert Goulet under John Romita and more like Frank Zappa.) Unfortunately, this retcon just doesn't work at all. Kraven clearly planned his revenge while still in Africa so I doubt the Goblin paid him a visit and offered him cash. And once in this country, Kraven laid low at the Chameleon's hideout so I doubt the Goblin would know where to find him. On page 2 of ASM #47, it is revealed that Kraven is distracted by the Goblin spying on him which allows Spider-Man to escape. But there never is a time in the fight in ASM #34 where Spider-Man must escape in this fashion. Furthermore, ASM #47 shows Kraven leaving the scene of his first fight with Spidey, going to spy on Norman Osborn, and then coming back some other time to be defeated by the web-slinger. But, as we all know from this issue, Spidey and Kraven only have one fight. From the moment that Spidey encounters his impersonator to the moment he wins the fight, there just is never any time for Kraven to sneak off, track the Goblin, and come back for another fight. In the flashback to the climax of the battle, Spidey says the same thing he says in ASM #34 ("In case you haven't guessed, Kraven, the hunt is over!") and the cop says the same thing (more or less) when he finds Kraven webbed up ("Look! It's Kraven the Hunter! He's all gift-wrapped and ready for mailing!" in the original and "It's Kraven, all gift-wrapped and ready for mailing!" in the flashback) but the retcon also has Kraven still conscious in the webbing and proclaiming "He beat me by a trick... only because I was careless!" when he was clearly knocked silly and unconscious by Spider-Man... though this may just be the way the Hunter remembers it. In any event, as you can see, ASM #47 is hooey. But what the heck. I've seen plenty worse retcons than this one.
And for those of you who still can't accept Kraven's death, he can be seen in an untold tales story in Spider-Man/Human Torch #2, April 2005 and is even appearing alive and well in Stan's Amazing Spider-Man Newspaper Strip (December 2004-February 2005). (Where he even owns a restaurant!)
Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)
The 1969 Marvelmania International Spider-Man Portfolio checklist entry for this story. Warts and all:
"The Thrill of the Hunt" - Kraven goads Spidey into a rematch by disguising himself as Spidey.
Remember what I said at the beginning of this review about Steve Ditko dropping his creativity a notch? Well, I must admit I based that on my years- old recollection of this issue. Now, having gone through the issue again, I've come to realize I was wrong. This is actually a wonderful, moody issue with some great moments for the supporting characters. Betty has an all-too-true nightmare that sends her rushing out of town. Aunt May gets back on her feet again. Gwen Stacy and Harry Osborn make second appearances, with Gwen already scheming to hook Peter in spite of her initial dislike. J. Jonah Jameson thinks he has the goods on Spidey at last because of Kraven's continual harassment. I love the panels showing Kraven hanging out in the Chameleon's surreal hideout and the fight is nine pages of great Ditko action with the web- slinger in some of his best spidery poses.
But I do have to deduct for four different things.
So, let's call it Four Webs.
Next: The Molten Man... and the merest touch of Sandman.