The Kravinoff family – mother Sasha, daughter Ana, sons Alyosha and Vladimir – have embarked upon a Grim Hunt. They intend to capture and ritually murder Spider-Man, an act that they believe will restore Kraven the Hunter to life.
Peter Parker was warned of this by Kaine, who is now unconscious in Peter’s apartment. Peter himself has joined up with Julia “Arachne” Carpenter to investigate the disappearance of Mattie “Spider-Woman” Franklin. We readers know, but Peter and Julia don’t, that the Kravinoffs murdered Mattie last issue, and that the killing restored Vladimir Kravinoff to life, albeit in the form a lion-headed monster.
Peter and Julia have gone to Mattie’s apartment, where they were surprised to meet Ezekiel Sims, a spider-man Peter had dealings with in the past. Meeting Ezekiel is a surprise because he’s supposed to be dead...
|Editor In Chief:||Joe Quesada|
|Artist:||Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano|
|Add. Art:||Matt Southworth|
We’re off to a bad start in this book when the readers have to learn from the text that Ezekiel is a decaying zombie with spiders leaking out of him. From the art, you’d simply say he’s a regular guy, albeit dirty and dishevelled. Ezekiel admits he’s looked and smelled better, but the priority right now is hearing what he has to say, namely that the spider-goddess released him from hell to provide a lot of backstory – yes, "backstory," that’s what Arachne refers to it as.
Ezekiel explains that Kraven the Hunter had a deep metaphysical attachment to the primal world, a connection that drove him to madness and ultimately to suicide. This attachment has persisted after death, and is the mechanism that will permit Kraven to return, if Sasha and her brood can kill enough spiders. Ezekiel also spills the beans about the Gauntlet being a deliberate effort by the Kravinoffs to weaken Spider-Man, and that the Kravinoffs have captured Madame Web and killed Mattie.
This last piece of news is too much. Spider-Man refuses to listen to anything else that Ezekiel has to say, because he’s determined to save the next person on the Kravinoffs’ hit list. Cut to Anya “Arana” Corazon, who’s tangling with the hunters in Central Park (I think? There’s lots of trees but it’s still New York...) Arana is too quick and agile for the hunters to tag, but they’ve got guns, knives, and a giant lion-headed monster, so the odds don’t look good. Fortunately, the cavalry arrives in time to save her: Peter, Julia, and, surprisingly, Kaine!
Earlier, we readers saw Kaine tidying up Peter’s apartment and changing into clean clothes, so that when Michele returns home she doesn’t find anything amiss (other than the unusual fact that the place is clean). He also found time to do some man-scaping – as was foreshadowed last issue, when he woke up and stared at Peter’s razor – so the new Kaine looks just like Peter, except for some mild scarring on his face.
A multi-page battle ensues, with Ana and Kaine trading smack-talk. It doesn’t go well for Team Spider, unfortunately – Alyosha beats up Anya and Vladimir beats up Julia, and both women are borne off. When Peter tries to follow, Kaine restrains him. Kaine explains that the Kravinoffs have captured Madame Web, so they’re able to see all the angles. They beat up Kaine and let him escape just so that he could warn Peter and incite Peter into going off half-cocked. (Score one for the writing staff: I wondered in my review of last issue how Kaine could have escaped the hunters in his condition, and now we know.) Thanks to Madame Web, the Kravinoffs have all the angles figured. If Peter goes after the captured spider-women, the Kravinoffs will kill him. So why, Kaine asks, should Peter bother? “They’re not your real family, Peter. They’re just bait... run and screw the rest.”
Peter’s witty rejoinder is to sock Kaine in the jaw. I approve of the sentiment, if not the means with which it is expressed. “How can you share my DNA and be so damn selfish?” Peter asks. “...by God, even if it means walking into the lion’s den and not coming out, I’m not going to stand by and let people die to save myself.” So much for the H1N1 sociopath posing as Peter Parker that we saw last issue. This is a Spider-Man it’s fun to read about.
As Peter stalks into the storm (ooh! Convenient drama!) Ezekiel comes out of hiding. He agrees with Kaine that Peter is too weak to find the Kravinoffs on his own. This doesn’t mean Peter should run away, but that he should get smart, and get more help. Venom and Anti-Venom come to mind, as two of the strongest spiders available. Off Peter and Ezekiel go to recruit some symbiotes, Kaine glaring at them as they depart.
As they travel, Ezekiel explains to Peter about "the Gauntlet", how the Kravinoffs manipulated Peter’s old foes into fighting him one at a time, in order to wear down his defences. Ezekiel reveals that while the hunters hired some of Peter’s old foes to fight him, the rest were manipulated into doing it. Thanks to Madame Web’s insight into the future, the hunters were able to “nudge” the rogues into confrontations with Spider-Man, often without the rogues’ knowledge. Sasha preferred to operate in this fashion as she disdains to mingle with the help directly, as befits an aristocrat.
As an aside, this is a satisfying explanation for the whole “Gauntlet” business, which otherwise would seem awfully contrived.
Time for a plot twist! Ezekiel and Peter arrive at their destination – but it’s not Venom’s lair, it’s the Kravinoff estate! Ezekiel has led Peter right into a trap! Why would he do that? Because he’s not Ezekiel at all, but the Chameleon! (Aided and abetted by Mysterio, it seems. Now that’s a winning combination!) Sasha is amused. “‘Spider goddess returned me from the grave to help you,’” she muses. “How does that subhuman frame of yours support such an ego?”
Spider-Man runs into the estate graveyard, looking for Julia and Anya. Team Hunter lets him go, despite Ana’s misgivings. “He’s already out of sight... why are we giving him such a long head start?” “My precious,” Sasha replies, “you know the answer to that. Fear makes the blood more potent, fills it with the nutrients your father will need.” Ick.
We readers see Spider-Man fall into an empty grave. Team Hunter hears him cry out, and fans out for the kill. But perhaps they underestimated their prey, because here’s Spider-Man coming out of the trees, full of beans and ready to fight. He brains Vladimir with some masonry and takes out Alyosha and Ana with a single blow. “For ‘trained killers,’” he cracks, “you crazy idiots talk too much.” But maybe he does too, because while he’s worrying about the younger generation, the older generation blasts him with a rifle. As Spider-Man falls, Sasha explains that “this is the gun my husband killed himself with.” How symbolic. With another rifle shot, Spider-Man is blasted back into the ritual pit where Mattie Franklin died. Madame Web, lurking here, tries to soothe him, but pulls back, confused.
Too late. Team Hunter arrives, and Vladimir, Ana, and Alyosha each tear into Spider-Man with their weapons. Beaten and bloody, he does not resist as Sasha approaches, holds him down onto the altar stone, and stabs him in the heart. As Spider-Man’s blood pools beneath Kraven’s tombstone, Kraven himself, eyes glowing red, bursts out of the ground. Sasha cries, “Kraven the Hunter! You are reborn!”
I have to admit, at first I was afraid this story would be as dire as last issue’s. I wasn’t pleased to see the late Ezekiel Sims back from the dead, with his mystical mumbo-jumbo about spider-goddesses. That stuff was bad enough when ret-conned into Spider-Man’s origins, and worse when ret-conned into “Kraven’s Last Hunt.” Did we really need a magical explanation for Kraven’s madness? Wasn’t frustrated ambition enough?
Yes, it was, and Marvel Editorial seems to agree. I was completely surprised by the Chameleon / Mysterio reveal, and genuinely surprising the reader is a Good Thing. I’m taken aback by the fact that the Kravinoffs knew about Ezekiel’s spider-goddess schtick, but I suppose we can chalk that up to Madame Web’s psychic espionage.
What else was good? The way the writers resolved the Grim Hunt. Mum’s the word for the moment: more on that with next issue’s review.
Best of all was the return of a Spider-Man worth rooting for. Peter Parker, Mr. Responsibility, had a chance to chicken out and let his friends pay the price, but of course he didn’t take it, even though it looked likely to cost him his life. And it did, or at least it seems that way. That’s heroism worthy of the Heroic Age, and it shines through the unpleasantness of the Grim Hunt from last issue and this.
I’m still pretty sure bringing Kraven the Hunter back is a bad idea, but I’m going to suspend judgment until I see where the writing staff is going with this.
I don’t like grim, gritty stories. I do like satisfying plot twists. Latter trumps the former: four webs.