I’ve never really made time for Kraven. I always thought he was silly, one-dimensional, nothing compared to the best of what the Spider-Man rogue’s gallery has to offer. It wasn’t until this story entered my world that Kraven became something more. As J. M. DeMatteis chronicles the twilight of one of Spidey’s oldest foes, he pulls off something rare: a villain-based story that presents both a powerful emotional core and a compelling conflict between hero and villain. Kraven’s Last Hunt is, quite simply, one of the best Spider-Man stories ever told.
Kraven is a hunter, and he’s run out of things to hunt. He’s bested every beast that’s ever walked the Earth, except one. All that’s left is to bring down Spider-Man, but killing the web-slinging vigilante just isn’t enough. Kraven has to prove, as he prepares to face the darkness at the end of his journey, that he’s not just capable of killing Spider-Man. He has to prove he’s superior, not just as Kraven, but as Spider-Man himself. He has to be the better web-slinger. He has to become the Spider.
What follows is the chronicle of a deep psychological divide between how Kraven sees Spider-Man and how Peter Parker sees himself. To Kraven, Spider-Man is like a bear, or a boar, or a lion, a beast full of primal energy and power with a life essence he must consume. To Spider-Man, he’s just a guy who caught a lucky break and now has to use his power for good. Here, for the first time, DeMatteis successfully conveys a central conflict between these two characters that goes far beyond “Hunter/Prey.” Here, Kraven is an obsessive force of nature bent on absorbing one last bit of energy from the fierce natural world he’s worked his whole life to tame, and Spider-Man is just the unwitting participant. It’s a potent face-off.
But this is more than just a hero vs. villain story. It’s something that’s even rarer in comics: the story of a villain fighting himself. Just as Lex Luthor has to forever fight to convince himself that he’s smarter than everyone else on the planet, so too does Kraven have to convince himself that there’s nothing he can’t defeat. He’s the ultimate hunter, but the great tragedy of Kraven’s Last Hunt, the center of the story that brings it all into shattering perspective, is that the one thing he can never catch is himself. That’s the true genius of the tale DeMatteis told here, and that’s why it’s better than basically any other Spider-Man story you’ll ever read. Rarely are villains ever so finely sculpted, and rarely is a villain I used to care so little about brought to the forefront of my mind so powerfully.
All this is solidified and amplified by the powerful, mesmerizing art of Mike Zeck. His Kraven is forever hiding a layer of introspective angst behind that superior sneer. He pairs the emotions of his drawings perfectly with the emotions of DeMatteis’ writing. It’s a rare dose of perfect synergy in comics, and it makes the story all the more brilliant.
If you read no other Spider-Man story your entire life, go for this one. It’s got so much heart, so much power and so much taut storytelling that you can’t afford to miss it.