The Plot: Kraven tracks down Spider-Man and shoots him with jungle potions. Spider-Man is buried alive for two weeks before he finds the inner strength to dig out of his grave. He reunites with Mary Jane, but soon leaves to find Kraven, who has usurped Spider-Man’s identity.
The Subplots: Spider-Man attends a memorial for Joe Face, a hood he often used as an informant.
Web of Continuity: Aside from the fact that Spidey’s gotten married since last issue, in-between issues #31 and #32, Kraven takes on Spider-Man’s identity and targets Vermin as an opponent.
Forever Young: Following the deaths of Ned Leeds and Joe Face, Peter is contemplating his own mortality.
Production Note: Yes, Marvel did have a colorist named Janet Jackson in the ‘80s.
Review: “Kraven’s Last Hunt” probably wasn’t the first crossover within a group of titles, but I believe it’s the first time a storyline intended for one book was broken up into every title in a line. In the original reprint collection of “Kraven’s Last Hunt,” editor Jim Salicrup explains that having Spidey buried alive in a six-month storyline while he was fighting the Lizard or Dr. Octopus in the spinoff titles would’ve killed the dramatic impact. Aside from preserving the integrity of DeMatteis and Zeck’s story, spreading the arc out over the entire line brought more cohesion to the titles, and reaffirmed Web as a book that actually mattered.
I first read this storyline in that reprint, which I believe was called a “graphic novel collection” because it was oversized, recolored by Mike Zeck, and printed on extremely nice paper. Reading “Kraven’s Last Hunt” now in its original format, with crappy flexographic printing and ads for Oxy zit cream and Johnson Smith Company novelty items, is a little disconcerting (that “Meatloaf and the Marvel Universe Aid the Special Olympics” ad is also on one of the back covers). The text pieces in the collection explain that the story was originally conceived as a response to DC’s continuity revamps in the 1980s. Marvel’s executive editor Mark Gruenwald coined the phrase, “We don’t have to revamp our characters, we got them right the first time,” an attitude that apparently inspired then-editor Jim Owsley and J. M. DeMatteis to conceive a story with existing characters and continuity that stood on its own merits. Karven, at the time, was widely viewed as a Silver Age relic; suited best as cannon fodder for someone like the Scourge. Using one of the goofiest Spider-Man villains in a consciously “serious” story was a batty idea, and I’m still amazed it worked so well.
The standard Marvel ethic of utility over art is abandoned, as thought balloons are replaced with narrative captions and editorial notes are banished. Instead, we have repeating images, “silent” sequences, literary references, heavy symbolism, and just a hint of decompression. It’s obvious the story is going out of its way for that ‘80s sophistication prize, but I don’t think it ever crosses over into true pretentiousness. Kraven burying Spider-Man alive and then conducting a brutal imitation of him is the grim hook of the story, but DeMatteis has more depth than that. The story examines life far more than it dwells on death. Peter has started a new life with Mary Jane, but he’s begun to question his own mortality and identity as Spider-Man. Kraven has cheated death with his jungle potions, but has nothing to live for, outside of his obsession with Spider-Man. In the end, Kraven’s destroyed by his own pettiness, while Spider-Man is inspired by his love for Mary Jane to overcome his fears and embrace life. This isn’t a story about their marriage per se, but it uses the marriage brilliantly. I can’t imagine a scene that has Spider-Man’s love for his elderly aunt inspiring him to dig himself out of his grave having the same impact. The art is also beautiful, but that’s to be expected when Mike Zeck is involved (why doesn’t he do interiors more often?). I doubt the original reprint version of “Kraven’s Last Hunt” is the one Marvel publishes now, but I hope the revised colors he did for the collection are still being used.
LINK: Dave Campbell looked into the future and knew I would be linking to his old blog twice in one post. His review of this storyline is worth reading.