Sensational Spider-Man (Vol. 1) Annual 1996

Background

Kraven the Hunter was one of Spidey's greatest nemeses, coming from his roots in Amazing Spider-Man #15 to his tragic death in the saga of Kraven's Last Hunt.

However since recent events have shown more of a connection between the Chameleon, Spider-Man's first enemy, and Kraven, it is only logical that the engineer of those tales, J.M. DeMatteis, would come up with an expanded version of what we didn't see in Kraven's first appearance.

Story 'Gifts'

Kraven is in the jungles of Africa and receives a letter from his friend Dmitri Smerdyakov, the Chameleon, who tells him of the Spider- Man, who intrigues Kraven enough so that he may abandon Africa for a concrete jungle, New York. Meanwhile, we see the Chameleon pull off a robbery by disguising himself as the store's clerk. He admits he has no life except what he takes from others' - but someday he will once again embrace his identity as Smerdyakov.

Spider-Man swings through the city and defeats crooks before returning to Aunt May's for the "celebration" of Uncle Ben's birthday. Meanwhile another celebration takes place on board a cruise ship to America. Kraven is on his way to New York, and tries to distinguish between Kraven the man and the animal, finding it hard, in particular due to Smerdyakov's findings of Spider-Man. And on the docks in New York, the Chameleon waits, knowing Kraven on his way. He disguises himself, blending in with a crowd that consists of Daily Bugle staff and Midtown High School students, as well as Peter Parker. As Kraven de- boards, J. Jonah Jameson asks for an interview but is denied his request. Just then a loading crane full of animals "accidentally" snaps, and Kraven rushes to the rescue, taming the wild beasts while both Smerdyakov (in-disguise) and Spider-Man watch. Kraven notices Spider-Man and afterward nearly recognizes his scent when Peter is in his civilian identity. Kraven then goes with Smerdyakov and reluctantly allows him to drink of his special potions, all the while seeing him as a "boot-licking slave".

Spider-Man defeats more criminals one night but is then confronted by Kraven, whom he fights for a while before he is injected with a poison and Kraven departs. Chameleon meets Kraven in an alley and accuses him of being weak. Kraven snaps at Smerdyakov until he apologizes, and returns to the hunt, snaring Spidey in a net. Although Spidey is weak he manages to get free but Kraven places magnetized manacles on his hand and foot, slowing him down momentarily. Spidey webs the magnets so they cannot attract and believes he has trapped Kraven, when in fact it is the Chameleon whom he has caught. Spidey webs him up and goes after Kraven, who is then defeated and ensnared in a web, crying for Spider- Man to kill him. Days later, on a steamer bound for Europe, Kraven and Smerdyakov share their suffering...

General Comments

This was about as formidable a tale as I had expected from DeMatteis, and so I really liked the story, though the art lacked a little - everyone having pencil-necks, for example.

Overall Rating

Four webs. The only things that brought this book down were the slight flaws in the McManus art.