Insomniac Games took advantage of the PlayStation Showcase in May to confirm that Kraven will be among the protagonists of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. The mad Hunter is preparing to unleash chaos in the New York of Earth-1048, to seize not only Peter Parker and Miles Morales , but also Lizard, Black Cat and many other icons of the Ragnoverse. Leading a handful of avid followers, Kraven will make his debut in the exclusive PlayStation 5 as a villain in a completely original story, unrelated to the vicissitudes of his paper counterpart. Despite this, recovering one of the comic narrative arcs dedicated to the character could be just one of the best ways to while away the wait in view of the launch of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 (for further details on the game, we refer you to our preview of Marvel’s Spider-Man Man 2).
From the pages of Everyeye, we particularly suggest you (re)discover Spider-Man: Kraven’s last hunt, a mini-series signed in 1987 by JM DeMatteis (screenplay), Mike Zeck (pencils and colours) and Bob McLeod (ink ). Decades after its first publication, this dark narrative parable still represents one of the best versions of the comic world of Spider-Man, a distressing and multifaceted story destined to continue to shine in the Marvel universe. And it is no coincidence that the authors of Insomniac, during the process of creating their Kraven, have re-read The Last Hunt, as revealed to us in our exclusive interview on Marvel’s Spider-Man 2.
At the end of the eighties, the world of American comics became the protagonist of a revolution. Tired of moving the threads of superhero puppets without thickness, a talented generation of screenwriters decided to change the balance of Marvel and DC. In the two historic US publishing houses, more mature stories began to take shape, populated by multifaceted characters and reinterpreted icons. It is in these years that the market welcomed masterpieces of the caliber of Watchmen or Batman: The Dark Knight. A new approach to comic storytelling, which also broke into the Spider-Verse, taking shape – among others – in Spider-Man: Kraven’s last hunt.
In 1987, Spider-Man temporarily ceased to be the sunny and light-hearted hero loved by fans of all ages, to turn into a tragic and tormented protagonist. An unforgettable metamorphosis, which required a very long gestation. As repeatedly told by DeMatteis, the idea behind the narrative arc took a long time to take shape. Initially, the writer had modeled the essential elements on the character of Wonder Man, and then moved on to propose it for a new run of Batman. In both cases, DeMatteis’ idea was rejected – for various reasons, including the imminent launch of The Killing Joke, which he risked overlapping in terms of themes and approach – by the editors of the time.
After several years, the author finally managed to have carte blanche for the realization of
a story destined to land simultaneously on all three great Spider-Man series of the time: Amazing Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man and Web of Spider-Man. DeMatteis finally had the opportunity to give life to that dark story that had been harboring in his mind for some time and which aspired to tell the rebirth of a hero defeated and traumatized by his opponents and inner demons. Initially, the story starring Peter Parker should have been able to count on an unpublished villain, specially packaged for the occasion. However, this approach was suddenly changed by DeMatteis, who after meeting Kraven – a character little used at the time in the Marvel house – understood that he already had everything he needed to write the story.
Kraven’s Last Hunt
Recently married to his childhood friend Mary Jane, Peter Parker finds himself catapulted into a nightmare hatched by Sergei Kravinoff, better known in the Spiderverse as Kraven the Hunter. Originally from Russia, the man had left the country behind in his early childhood. His family, of aristocratic extraction, had in fact had to leave the motherland due to the revolutionary uprisings. Thus began for young Sergei a complex youth, lived in an America that the child felt alien, while the family balance was shattered by the suicide of his mother, who had been tormented by mental health problems for years.
Growing up, the boy sees in the civilization that surrounds him the constant shadow of corruption and dishonor: unable to adapt to modernity, Sergei – now an adult – seeks refuge on the African continent. It is here that he develops a disturbed personality, which he feeds with potions and herbs capable of giving him superhuman agility and strength. In a rapid and violent degeneration, Sergei becomes Kraven, an individual who sees in the hunt for increasingly ambitious prey the only way to regain an unspecified lost honor. Returning to New York, however, the villain is hindered in his mission by Spider-Man, a formidable adversary capable of getting the better of the Russian hunter several times.
Gradually, Kraven’s frustration turns into obsession, which in turn turns into madness. Blinded by hatred, Sergei hatches a sick plan: to take Spider-Man’s place and prove to himself that he can be a better version of the Spider.
It is on a rainy night that Peter Parker – who at this stage sports a black and white costume inspired by the Symbiote and woven by the Black Cat – is taken by surprise by Kraven’s assault. Wounded and drugged, Spider-Man is locked in a coffin and buried alive. An agonizing captivity, destined to leave deep marks on the psyche and soul of the Arrampicamuri.
On the surface, meanwhile, Sergei wears the clothes of Spider-Man, to impersonate a
violent and ruthless superhero. Peter Parker’s costume is stained with blood, while an even more tragic villain is raging in the city: Vermin. Between episodes of cannibalism and sequences with dreamlike traits, Kraven’s Last Hunt stages a magnetic narrative with syncopated rhythms. Streams of consciousness, inner dialogues and ethical dilemmas outline a blurred line between morality and madness, in a vortex that sees both the villains and Peter Parker himself get lost. In a continuous graphic and narrative game of mirrors, DeMatteis overwhelms the reader, in a narrative arc in which the literary ghost of Dostoevsky hovers and which does not hesitate to call into question the British poet William Blake, whose verses are reinterpreted here by Kraven: “Spider! Spider! Burning with light. In the forest of night. What immortal hand or eye could have composed your awful symmetry?”
The Seventh Fragment: The Soul of the Hunter
Between the 1980s and 1990s, Kraven’s last hunt was among the first contemporary story arcs to be collected by Marvel in a single paperback volume. An extremely widespread practice today, but which at the time was in its infancy and mainly involved the great classics of comics published between the 1950s and 1960s. It is in this format that the mini-series is still distributed today by the Casa delle Idee, which over time has however added a seventh fragment to it.
Shortly after the completion of Kraven’s Last Hunt, DeMatteis returned to explore its imagination, crafting another chapter: The Soul of the Hunter. The reasons that led to this choice, the author says, were many.
On the one hand, the screenwriter was struck by the reaction of a US association engaged in suicide prevention, which accused the series of glorifying the choice to take one’s own life. This interpretation was very far from the artistic intentions of DeMatteis, who therefore decided to take the opportunity to return to investigate the tormented souls of Kraven and Spider-Man.
The result of this reflection was precisely L’anima del Cacciatore, an intense appendix to the epilogue of Kraven’s The Last Hunt, in which reflections on the sense of guilt, the elaboration of mourning and the effects produced on the psyche by deeply traumatic events.