“Kraven’s Last Hunt” was a story that ran in Amazing Spider-Man in 1987, about three-hundred-and-more issues ago: Amazing Spider-Man #294 features part five of six, for example. It’s one of the most well-known Spider-Man stories of that decade. In that story, Kraven the Hunter, enraged and disgusted at the pointlessness of his own life, finally manages to defeat Spider-Man. This act – plus some vigilante work that Kraven undertakes while wearing a Spider-Man costume – allows Kraven to persuade himself that he is indeed the superior man. Having achieved happiness, Kraven kills himself.
It was a spectacular story. Kraven was, in one stroke, elevated from the second or even third tier of Spider-Man’s rogues’ gallery right to the top. Unfortunately, that same stroke also removed him from the roster of active villains. In the intervening years, Marvel has tried to fill Kraven’s place with a few different people, most of whom are his next of kin: his sons Alyosha and Vladimir (the latter now deceased), his daughter Ana, and his wife Sasha. Now, it seems, we’re going to have yet another new Kraven, namely the original: he’s coming back from the dead. “The Grim Hunt” seems to be the story of how that happens.
For the last twenty-four issues – ever since Amazing Spider-Man #612 at least – Spider-Man has been running “the Gauntlet,” as his classic foes come at him, one at a time. Months of this constant assault have left Spider-Man at low ebb physically and emotionally. This is all according to plan: the Kravinoffs masterminded the Gauntlet in order to make Spider-Man vulnerable. Having done so, they’re coming for him. The Grim Hunt has begun.
|Editor In Chief:||Joe Quesada|
|Artist:||Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano|
Peter is in bed, sleeping off not only the effects of the Gauntlet, but also swine flu. Roused by a knock at the door, he stumbles out of bed expecting to find a pharmacy delivery-man bringing him antibiotics. (Do pharmacies in New York actually deliver? Must be nice.) Of course it’s not a delivery man, it’s Kaine, who’s bleeding to death all over the hallway. Charged with adrenalin, Pete drags Kaine inside and tends to his wounds, wondering who could have done this. “...If someone was able to do this to Kaine,” he thinks, “I’m in for a hell of a day. Kaine is the ‘stronger one.’”
Hearing an explosion outside, and intuiting that it must be connected to Kaine’s injuries, Peter changes into mufti and swings into action. This doesn’t seem wise, given that any passerby would freak out if they saw the amount of blood left on Peter’s front doorstep, but while Peter is aware of the problem he doesn’t see an alternative – before passing out, Kaine mumbled a warning that “there are other spiders.” Sure enough, following the booming noises, Spider-Man finds Julia “Arachne” Carpenter fighting Ana and Alyosha Kravinoff. This is no surprise to us readers, as the first two pages of the story showed Ana and Sasha recruiting the heretofore-absent Alyosha into the Grim Hunt.
Arachne doesn’t have any idea who the Kravinoffs are, or why they want to kill her, but she’s grateful for Spider-Man’s help, even if he hasn’t brought his A-game. The Kravinoffs are armed and prepared, while Spider-Man is sick and Arachne is surprised and wrong-footed. All told this makes it a fair fight, which runs on for eight pages or so, a third of the issue. Let's recap!
Spider-Man shows up in time to save Arachne from falling to her death, but is partially deafened by an explosion from Alyosha’s gun. He tosses Alyosha through a skylight as Arachne webs up Ana, and Arachne carries the stunned wall-crawler to a nearby rooftop. Arachne wants to know what's going on, and Spider-Man provides a brief, remarkably callous explanation:
“Maybe it’s a revenge thing? Kraven offed himself because of me, and they never really got over it.”
“It’s the H1N1 talking, really.”
Man, I hope so, Peter, for your sake. Thankfully the Kravinoffs arrive before our opinion of Peter can sink any lower. Ana peppers Arachne with tranquilizer darts while Alyosha wrestles with Spider-Man. Disgusted, Peter says “...you have a bad habit of getting too close... your father would be disappointed.” And with that he tosses Alyosha over the edge of the building. As Alyosha falls to what you would expect to be his death, Peter web-swings over to the next building and webs up Ana. Fortunately for Peter, Alyosha isn’t smashed to pieces on the street below: instead, he’s impaled on piece of rebar jutting out of a rooftop, which passes right through his shoulder to a depth of what looks to be about two feet. He screams in agony, leading Peter to quip “Now that sounds like the Kraven Junior I know. A whining, screaming failure.” What was that I was saying about our opinion of Peter sinking lower? That’s an express elevator to the basement right there.
Alyosha doesn’t seem fazed by his predicament. In fact, he’s even making smug, cryptic remarks: “Wait until you see... you’re going to love it.” Dazed, Spider-Man passes out and falls backwards into the street. So is he going to fall to his death?
Of course not. Arachne saves him and takes him back to Mattie 'Spider-Woman, but not that Spider-Woman' Franklin’s apartment. The place is a mess, which makes Julia – and Peter, when he wakes up – that much more spooked. Julia wants answers, but Peter doesn’t have any. Luckily, someone arrives who does... it’s Ezekiel Sims, looking beaten and bloody! He warns the pair that “this is a war between tribes... spiders and the hunters. A war we are already losing.”
You’d expect that to be the cliffhanger ending, but no, we’ve got other threads to pull on. Back at Peter’s apartment, Kaine wakes up and flashes back to how he got sliced up by Ana and Alyosha. We don’t flash back to how he got away, however. That must have been quite a trick, given how fresh they were and how hurt he was. Or perhaps they let him go?
Anyway. The capper to the issue takes place at the Kravinoff estate, where the hunters have imprisoned Mattie Franklin and Madame Web. Thanks to her psychic powers, Madame Web knows that Mattie is about to die, and comforts her as best she can. Mattie is scared, but stoic about her fate, accepting Web’s assurance that there will be “balance” for what is about to happen to her. Alyosha enters the cell, looking remarkably healthy given what we saw happen to him. He brings Mattie outside and ties her to an altar. Two surprise guests appear: Diablo and Electro. Diablo hands over a potion that he has brewed on commission, and Sasha smears a few drops of it on a knife. Electro supercharges the knife with electricity, and Sasha uses it to stab the helpless Mattie to death.
With a scream of rage, a lion-headed figure claws its way out of the earth. Kraven? No, it’s Vladimir 'Grim Hunter' Kravinoff, who died at Kaine’s hands back in Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #55. He’s back from the dead, albeit in an inhuman form. Ana is nonplussed, but Sasha isn’t. This sacrifice was merely a trial, apparently. “To bring my beloved back from the dead... we will need the blood of the spyder [sic]... the one true spyder.”
Let me say, this book delivers what it promises. We’ve got sickness, blood by the bucketful, impalements, beatings, and the ritual sacrifice of a helpless woman. If you want grim, the Grim Hunt has got you covered.
What else have we got? Tons of continuity. This arc is paying off the Gauntlet cycle that’s been running through the book since the beginning of 2010, i.e. the last 24 issues, or what would have been two years’ worth of story back when this title shipped monthly. What’s more, it’s a direct response to “Kraven’s Last Hunt” from 1987, and relies on the reader being familiar with a lot of 1990s stories also: Kaine and the Grim Hunter, Madame Web, the various Spider-Women. I pity the poor reader who picks this up without a firm grounding in Spider-Man’s world, because that reader is going to be lost.
Now, personally, I don’t care for gloomy sadism, and I don’t care for stories that punish readers who haven’t done their homework. But the comic racks are large, they contain multitudes. There are readers who enjoy this sort of thing, and they’re allowed to get it. So fine, I’ll concede the Grim Hunt its right to offer Grand-Guignol to an audience that’s well steeped in Spider-Man.
What I won’t concede is any right to lousy writing. Man, the recap page is terrible: "'Alea Jacta Est'. It means 'The Die is Cast.' And for those who wear the Spider, it is also a fact. The Hunters have come." And if that's not bad enough, there's Madame Web’s voiceover captions. Here’s a taste: “My shame comes from other moments I see. Those times in my life when I will be tested... and fail... at a cost. Such a great cost. Like today. Today, I have failed all those who have ever called me friend.” It’s overwritten to an extreme – only the final sentence is necessary – and it’s repetitive. ‘Cost’ twice in four words is bad, but ‘today’ twice in two words is cruel and unusual. The icing on the cake is that these voiceovers illustrate panels where nothing is happening to move the story along: lions staring moodily at spiders (ooh, portentous). If you’re going to charge me $3.99 for an issue, Marvel, have the courtesy not to pad the story like this.
While you’re at it, please also give me a Spider-Man who doesn’t behave like a monster. The dialogue about Kraven “offing himself” was bad enough, but I took it as a deliberate move, establishing just how worn down Peter is, thanks to the Gauntlet. But then it got worse. I had to stop and re-read the section where Peter throws Alyosha into the street because I was certain I had missed something: Peter wouldn’t just casually throw a man to his death, would he? Because Alyosha should have died from the impact, either on the street or on that rebar. I just suppose it’s possible that Peter knew there was a roof a few storeys down, and that Alyosha’s jungle hoodoo or whatever would allow him to survive the fall... but if that rebar punctured him a few inches in either direction, popping a heart or a lung, Alyosha would have been as dead as his brother. But Spider-Man, seeing this, makes a very unfunny remark about what a wimp Alyosha is, because he screams when impaled. This Peter behaves like a sociopath, and sure, maybe the Gauntlet is responsible, but I don’t want to read about the adventures of a man who acts like this, even if he comes by that behaviour honestly.
Grim Hunt? You bet. It’s so grim they forgot to include any fun, unless seeing helpless girls being stabbed to death is your idea of a good time (it’s certainly not mine). Chacun son gout, and all, but I can’t overlook the fact that Peter behaves abominably and the story seems to take his side. One web.