Kraven’s First Hunt!
Credits: J. M. DeMatteis (writer), Shawn McManus (artist), Atomic Paintbrush (colors), Janice Chiang (letters)
The Plot: Kraven responds to the Chameleon’s request and heads to America to kill Spider-Man. Eventually, the Chameleon realizes that he subconsciously sent Kraven to America to be killed by Spider-Man in retaliation for the abuse he endured at Kraven’s hand as a child. Spider-Man ultimately defeats Kraven and the Chameleon, and the villains are deported.
The Subplots: Peter Parker works to reconcile his two identities. He’s initially envious of Kraven’s free spirit, but realizes how power has corrupted him. Eventually, Peter recognizes his values are Spider-Man’s and that no mask can hide who he truly is.
Web of Continuity:
- This annual is a retelling of Amazing Spider-Man #15, the first appearance of Kraven, with numerous added scenes.
- For some reason, gas surrounds Chameleon when he switches identities throughout the issue. I don’t know if this has ever appeared in any other Chameleon story, but I know at this point in continuity Chameleon was merely ripping off masks to change identities with no real mystery attached.
- This story establishes that Kraven gives the Chameleon small doses of the potions that keep him young.
- I believe this is the first story to reveal that Kraven’s fear of spiders is rooted in seeing his mother covered in them after she was institutionalized.
- Aunt May drops hints that she knows Peter’s secret identity. At this point in continuity, the Aunt May who finally confessed to Peter before dying in Amazing Spider-Man #400 was not an imposter, and even if most people disagreed, J. M. DeMatteis seemed to be convinced that she figured out Peter's secret identity early on.
Review: The theme of the 1996 Spider-Man annuals was flashback stories, so here we have J. M. DeMatteis fusing his take on Kraven the Hunter with the original Lee/Ditko story that introduced him. Sometimes it’s an awkward fit, but DeMatteis is able to find a lot of material in the twisted relationships between Spider-Man, Kraven, and Chameleon. I think the major failing of the issue is Shawn McManus’ art, and not simply because he isn’t Mike Zeck. McManus’ human figures are often far too caricatured to work with the story. His Peter Parker, for instance, resembles Clay Aiken after receiving a bad batch of Botox. I don’t mind his monstrous Kraven, and some of the background extras have a charming look, but overall there’s a mismatch between the story and the art that’s just distracting.
It’s not hard to view this as a prequel to “Kraven’s Last Hunt,” and as a foundation for the themes of that story, it works quite well. DeMatteis dances around the original comic this is based on by presenting all of the main plot points, but with three levels of narration that add a psychological edge that wasn’t there in the original story. I’m not personally a fan of Chameleon as the scarred child of abuse that can never grow up, but I think DeMatteis’ take on Kraven and Spider-Man is intriguing. Spider-Man envies Kraven for bravely living his life without a mask, unaware that Kraven is so deeply repressed that he’s descending into insanity. While Kraven’s façade begins to crack, Spider-Man begins to reconcile the fact that he truly is Peter Parker and isn’t hiding behind a mask at all. This is an exploration of identity I can get behind; thankfully DeMatteis isn’t giving us “I AM THE SPIDER” this time.
The Return of Spider-Woman
Credits: Mark Gruenwald (writer), Pat Broderick (artist), Mark Bernardo w/Malibu (colors), Comicraft (letters)
The Plot: Jillian Woods casts a spell that allows Spider-Woman II and Lindsay McCabe to travel to a strange dimension and rescue Spider-Woman I. After Spider-Woman returns to Earth, her replacement wonders if she’ll want her name back.
The Subplots: None.
Web of Continuity: Jillian Woods is the secret identity of Sepulchre, a Mark Gruenwald character who occasionally still makes appearances.
*See _________ For Details: An editor’s note says this story will be resolved in an upcoming issue of Spider-Man Team-Up. I had no idea Spider-Man Team-Up was still being published at this time.
Review: I never expected to be reviewing a Mark Gruenwald comic, given that his path rarely intersected with Spider-Man or the X-Men in the ‘90s. I doubt this story was originally intended for any of the Spider-titles, but hey, it stars someone with “spider” in her name and it’ll eat ten pages just as easily as anything else. I imagine I would’ve enjoyed this story more if I knew anything about the continuity surrounding it, yet there are no footnotes or helpfully detailed recaps to explain what Spider-Woman I is doing in this black void. (The last I knew, she was depowered and living in Madripoor as an occasional supporting cast member in Wolverine.) So, as the resolution to a story I know nothing about, it’s hard to have strong feelings about this one. However, I guess fans of the original Spider-Woman were happy, assuming they knew she had been sent into limbo in the first place.