Spider-Man and Kraven the Hunter have been going at it for years. The legendary hunter has viewed Spider-Man as his path to glory and honor, a path he's yet to successfully walk. In their most recent encounter, Amazing Spider-Man #209, a new character was introduced that added another layer to Kraven's character...a love interest named Calypso.
Both Calypso and Kraven have returned for the first time since her introduction in this issue of Spectacular Spider-Man, and believe it not, they have their sights set on the web-slinger!
|Reprinted In:||Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #3|
In an abandoned warehouse, four men, equipped with antiquated battle weapons, run for their lives through cardboard cut-outs meant to mimic the buildings of New York City. On their trail is a vengeful Sergei Kravinoff (aka Kraven the Hunter), who is looking to refine his rusty hunting skills on the four men. After using his whip to neutralize the quartet, and tossing one of the men out of the window, Kraven pays them and then sends them on their way instructing them to never speak of this interaction again. The men comply and then leave.
Kraven then joins his lover, Calypso, who was on a nearby balcony producing a ceremonial drum beat that accompanied Kraven's practice-hunt. The two embrace, yet Kraven denies the praise Calypso attempts to comfort him with. Kraven tells her that he cannot regain his honor without humbling Spider-Man first, and that until he has his honor he is not worthy of Calypso's love. Calypso tries to reassure him that he already has her heart, but that he should "hunt the Man-Spider if [he] must."
The next day, Peter Parker finds himself yet again with academic problems at Empire State University. Professor Sloan, head of ESU's physics department, had requested that Peter met with him. Sloan tells Peter that his grades are slipping and that he may have to drop his teacher's assistant gig in order to focus on his studies. Obviously Peter doesn't tell Sloan the reason his grades are slipping (ie, his moonlighting as Spider-Man) and he worries that giving up his TA-ship will deny him his much needed income that he needs to provide for Aunt May. Peter leaves Sloan's office with his tail between his legs as he's greeted by Sloan's secretary, and potential love interest of Peter Parker, Deb Whitman.
The two leave Sloan's office together as their inner monologues reveal why there's an awkward silence between the two of them. Peter thinks to himself that his poor treatment of Deb has pushed her into the arms of Biff Rifkin, while Deb wishes to herself that Peter would open up to her because they could be good for each other. After telling Deb that he has some thinking to do, Peter leaves her company. But Deb is soon joined by Marcy Kane who inquires as to why Deb is bothering the "perpetually perturbed Mr. Parker"? When Deb says that she thinks Peter is in trouble because of his studies, Marcy quickly runs toward Peter to get his attention. She then makes a plan for a study date with Peter, claiming she can help tutor him in physics.
Later that evening, after a long day of teaching and studying, Peter dons his Spider-Man costume and begins web-swinging through the city on his way home. He wants to shower and shave before going to meet Marcy. However that plan is quickly derailed when the sound of the rhythmic beat of a Yoruba Spirit Drum begins to cloud his mind and dull his Spider-sense.
With Calypso's voodoo-like drum-playing occupying Spider-Man's mind, Kraven begins his attack. After evading a war-axe, a weighted net, and a flurry of darts, Spider-Man is confronted by his long-time enemy. Kraven reminds Spider-Man of the dishonor he has brought upon his name, he then hurls three spears at Spidey.
None of the spears make contact, which allows Spider-Man to go on the offensive. After Spidey lands a few blows on Kraven, Calypso tosses Kraven a Bantu War Club to use in his attack. Between the drumbeat that dulls his Spider-sense and Kraven's relentless attack, Spidey soon finds himself in a dire situation. However, his able to gain enough focus to use his webbing to snare the Bantu War Club from Kraven and use it against the hunter. With Kraven briefly subdued, he locates Calypso and the drum, then fires a web-line to remove the drum from the villainess. With his head cleared and his Spider-sense returned, the web-slinger quickly turns his attention back to Kraven.
Spider-Man pulls no punches as he begins to pummel Kraven, making quick work of his long-time rival. Sensing that her man is trouble, Calypso decides to intervene and fires a tiny dart into Spidey's calf, which unloads a herbal hallucinogen into his body. Spider-Man immediately gets woozy from the toxic dose, allowing Kraven to regain the upper hand. Sergei believes Spider-Man has finally succumb to his fear of the Hunter, completely unaware that Calypso had tipped the scales into his favor. Before long though, Kraven realizes this is a hollow victory, and that something was wrong with Spider-Man. He turns his attention to Calypso and shouts, "Woman, what have you done?!!" She explains that she was only trying to help and their argument distracts them enough for Spider-Man to attempt to escape.
Spider-Man jumps from the rooftop, blinded because of the Annuak Trophy Mask that had been placed over his head. Even though he's in the midst of a severe hallucination, Spidey manages to grab a flagpole during his fall off the roof to prevent himself from crashing into the sidewalk below. Kraven, realizing that his honor has been severely compromised because of Calypso's actions, decides that he must save Spider-Man's life.
However, the hallucinations Spider-Man is experiencing prevent him from accepting Kraven's help. Instead, he attacks Kraven when nearby, convinced he's still trying to do him harm. Eventually the two make it to the streets below where oncoming traffic puts Spidey's life in danger. The web-slinger tosses the oncoming cars to the side with ease, still refusing any help from Kraven. When the police arrive, they're convinced (for good reason) that Kraven is up to no good and the scoff at Kraven's rationale that he's trying to help. In order to prove the word of her lover, Calypso tosses a spear at Spider-Man from the rooftop. Kraven catches the spear, saving Spidey, and demonstrating his intentions.
Kraven once again takes Calypso's actions as a shot against his honor, assuming she was trying to kill someone he was trying save. He didn't realize she had done so to prove to the police what he was doing. Thus, Kraven hands himself over to the police to save his honor. Calypso is despondent as her attempts to please her lover fail as she watches him taken away by the police. Spider-Man, still under the hallucinogenic effects, manages to flee the scene.
Soon after, he makes his way as Peter Parker to Marcy Kane's home for their study date. He's greeted by Marcy, who is dressed to the nines, and she suggests they study...after they eat in first.
If there's a villain in Spider-Man's rogues gallery that embodies the term toxic masculinity it's Kraven the Hunter, and that was on full display in this story. Kraven prevents himself from accepting Calypso's love until he's "humbled Spider-Man," even though Calypso claims there's no need for him to do that. And once she bails Kraven out of a potential defeat (by using a poison dart on Spider-Man or when she throws the spear to unveil Kraven's true intentions to the police officers), he castigates her for interfering. Kraven tells her that she's removed the honor from his fight. Hello?? He had no problem with Calypso employing the 'Spider-sense-dulling' drums to compromise the web-slinger's fighting abilities, but I guess that was fine because that was his plan. Not to mention the fact that Kraven had used hallucinogens in the past to fend of Spider-Man, so she wasn't doing anything that wasn't already in his playbook.
I say none of the above as a criticism of the story, in fact, all of this is perfectly in line with Kraven as a character. Kraven's obsession with some uber-macho-man worldview of being the 'supreme hunter' has led to his undoing in almost every battle with Spidey. Which leads to my next point, which is that one can see that Kraven as a character, at this point in Spider-history, was getting a little bit stagnant. There's only so many ways to have a failed 'hunt' of Spider-Man in order to gain glory and honor. And, ultimately, that stagnation led to one of the best Spider-Man stories ever told in The Last Hunt. So that repetitive pattern was probably clear to the creative staff at that point when they put The Last Hunt together.
I want to close on one final point. I've mentioned the Calypso and Kraven dynamic already, and how Calypso's attempts to save her lover ultimately led to his rejection of her. In a weird way, she's sort of the hero of this story. Her unwavering love for Kraven, and her willingness to protect him is probably one of the most appreciable character traits displayed in the story. Yet, in the end, she ends up alone and sad.
And whether intentional or not, Bill Mantlo's depiction of Deb Whitman parallels Calypso. Deb clearly cares deeply for Peter Parker, and knows that the two of them could really be good for each other. But Peter won't let himself be with Deb (because he thinks he's pushed her to be with Biff), in the same way that Kraven won't let himself be with Calypso. And Peter's subtle-rejection of Deb leaves her alone and sad the last we see of her in this story.
Of course, this allows the more aggressive Marcy Kane to hop in there. Suffice to say, Peter doesn't come off as a particularly emotionally mature person in this story. Again, that's within character at this point in his life.
That parallel between Deb and Calypso, and in turn Peter and Sergei, added an extra layer to this story and made it more enjoyable in the process.
deb whitman's story follws a similar arc, she wants to help Peter but he pushes her away bc he thinks he's failed her. ultimately she's left alone as well, as Marcy swoops in on Peter. both ladies clearly want to support and love their man, but are rejected because of the man's shortcomings, not theirs.
It's always great to see a Kraven/Spider-Man battle, and this one gets the added benefit of Calypso's ability to add some depth to Kraven as a villain. 4 Webs.