Kraven’s Last Hunt redefined multiple characters and pushed the boundaries concerning what types of stories a Spider-Man comic was capable of telling. Depicting Spider-Man and Kraven the Hunter at the top of their game, Kraven’s Last Hunt threw both characters into a grim and epic duel only one of them would survive. Forgoing the usual Spider-Man tropes in favor of crafting a dark, tense, and horror-esque atmosphere, Kraven’s Last Hunt quickly earned a reputation as the greatest Spider-Man comic of all times to th.

Following Insomniac’s much-anticipated Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, fans are eager to see the roster of new villains that this game promises to deliver. Much excitement exists around the inclusion of Kraven the Hunter, depicted in-game as the leader of a faction of mercenaries called the “Hunters.” While Kraven is now regarded as a fan-favorite, it hasn’t always been this way. First appearing in Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s The Amazing Spider-Man #15 in 1964, the antagonist was less menacing than something of a joke. A Tarzan-esque big game hunter pursuing the biggest game of all (in his eyes, Spider-Man), Kraven’s power set was underwhelming, his costume ludicrous, and his motives flimsy at best. Even after appearing as a member of Doctor Octopus’s original iteration of the Sinister Six in Lee and Ditko’s The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, the villain failed to present himself as a substantial threat.

All this was turned on its head following the 1987 release of J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck’s Kraven’s Last Hunt. Spanning The Amazing Spider-Man and its sister titles, the arc seemingly came out of nowhere. Gone was the quip-a-minute Spider-Man, as was the ridicule prone Kraven the Hunter of tales past. DeMatteis provided a Gothic, cerebral, and deeply atmospheric story that portrayed Spider-Man at his most vulnerable and painted Kraven in a sinister light that many fans thought impossible before. The great irony is that editors would never have allowed DeMatteis to utilize a more established, popular villain in such a way, given Kraven’s fate come the arc’s dramatic conclusion. Free of editorial restraint, however, DeMatteis provided the villain’s defining arc and constructed the greatest Spider-Man story ever told. Surprisingly, Kraven’s Last Hunt boasts a limited legacy, but this is part of the story’s unique strength.

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“Kraven’s Last Hunt” Reading Order

Creative Teams

Web of Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #31

J.M. DeMatteis, Mike Zeck, Bob McLeod, Janet Jackson, Bob Sharen, and Rick Parker

Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #293

J.M. DeMatteis, Mike Zeck, Bob McLeod, Janet Jackson, and Rick Parker

Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #131

DeMatteis, Zeck, McLeod, Jackson, and Parker

Web of Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #32

DeMatteis, Zeck, McLeod, Jackson, and Parker

Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #294

DeMatteis, Zeck, McLeod, Jackson, and Parker

Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #132

DeMatteis, Zeck, McLeod, Jackson, and Parker

Kraven’s Last Huntis the Greatest Spider-Man Story Ever Told

Upon release, Kraven’s Last Hunt was unique within the Spider-Man canon. The story was unabashedly intellectual, liberally quoting visionary Romantic poet William Blake throughout, to menacing effect. The usual glossy sheen of New York was abandoned for a Gothic city of lashing rain, thunderclaps, and sheets of lightning. Ghosts, imposing mansions, and cemeteries all took prominence, and there was a cannibalistic monster on the loose in the sewers, courtesy of Vermin. Interestingly, Kraven’s Last Hunt was initially intended as a Batman story, but DC’s editorial team passed it up for fear of similarities with Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke, which was in development at the time. However, rather than a coup de sort, this rejection ultimately leant DeMatteis’ tale much of its power. What would have been another routine foray into the Gothic within the pages of Batman proved a unique and unexpected thriller in The Amazing Spider-Man.

Kraven the Hunter is very much the main character of Kraven’s Last Hunt, and it was DeMatteis’ treatment of the villain that turned Sergei Kravinoff into an A-list threat. Without altering his power set or costume, DeMatteis proved simply offering a glimpse into Kraven’s mind was enough to reinvent the character. Through inner monologue, Kraven is granted a previously unseen complexity that elevated the Web-Slinger’s foe to new heights. Kraven muses on his mother’s tragic death and on the moral descent of the West, longing for a world of aristocracy and order that no longer exists. Priding himself on physical perfection, Kraven laments the inevitability of mortal decline in passages that lean heavily into the works of Japanese author Yukio Mishima. Just like Mishima, the villain perceives death as the logical culmination of his lifelong dream, and this finality drives the plot unwaveringly toward its ineluctable and dramatic conclusion.

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Kraven’s Last Hunt is Unique in the Spider-Man Canon

Besides its previously unseen Gothic atmosphere, Kraven’s Last Hunt redefined what a Spider-Man story could look and feel like. The Peter Parker of DeMatteis’ tale is far removed from the quippy, flippant hero readers are accustomed to. Rather, Spider-Man is at his most panicked and paranoid. DeMatteis and Zeck’s Web of Spider-Man #31, the issue that kicks off the arc, sees an ominous atmosphere swell into a crescendo, the tale culminating in Spider-Man being shot and buried alive by Kraven. Their rooftop confrontation in which the Web-Slinger gradually realizes this is not the Kraven that he is accustomed to is a delectable slice of horror, resulting in one of the most memorable, impactful scenes in comics. The issue’s cliffhanger of Spider-Man being buried alive was the first time readers witnessed the hero thoroughly defeated, setting the tone for a high-stakes tale in which audience expectations were routinely shattered.

Now utterly immobilized, Spider-Man’s burial allowed DeMatteis to focus exclusively on the hero’s previously maligned foe. Before, Kraven’s motives were ill-defined and insubstantial, but DeMatteis offers a window into the villain’s soul that imbued both the antagonist and Spider-Man titles with a depth unthinkable prior to this monumental arc. Instead of the bargain-basement Tarzan of decades gone by, Kraven stands as a symbol of a world since passed. Much like the Flyte family’s lamentations in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, Kraven embodies a yearning for the old order, a society of clearly defined roles underpinned by antiquated notions of chivalry, decency, and honor. In Kraven’s eyes, Spider-Man personifies chaos and the spiritual descent of the western world. This resulted in a philosophical urgency to the villain’s actions, exploring themes that had never been broached and would never be seen again within the pages of Spider-Man.

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Kraven’s Last Hunt’s Strength Surprisingly Lies in its Lack of Legacy

In many ways, Kraven’s Last Hunt is to Spider-Man what Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Year One and Miller and Klaus Janson’s The Dark Knight Returns were to Batman. Miller’s work brought a paradigm shift in the portrayal of the DC hero, abandoning the camp undertones of years gone by in favor of the dark grittiness that fans of Batman have come to expect. Indeed, such was the success of Year One and The Dark Knight Returns, Batman was never the same again and Miller’s undeniable influence extended into the present day. However, despite its similarities, Kraven’s Last Hunt didn’t result in a comparable legacy in regard to Spider-Man. DeMatteis redefined Kraven the Hunter during that arc, and many readers declared Kraven’s Last Hunt the greatest Spider-Man story of all time. However, there have been very few attempts to recapture this magic.

Despite Dan Slott masterminding a direct sequel in the form of The Gauntlet and Grim Hunt and Nick Spencer following this up with Hunted, Spider-Man writers of recent years have not tapped into Kraven’s Last Hunt. The stories of The Amazing Spider-Man and its sister titles have remained breezy, humorous, and light, in line with the tales that readers expected before Kraven’s Last Hunt changed everything. However, much of Kraven’s Last Hunt’s power lies in its lack of enduring legacy. As an atypical curio, DeMatteis’ work has not been cheapened through repeat emulations to diminishing returns. Furthermore, the arc’s abandonment of much of what makes Spider-Man “Spider-Man” would no doubt have led to fan backlash if every subsequent writer aimed to imitate DeMatteis’ dark tale. As it stands, Kraven’s Last Hunt abandonment of the Spider-Man mythos works due to its one-shot nature.

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Kraven’s Last Hunt’s significance lies in a host of factors. The arc not only redefined Kraven but introduced lofty and engaging philosophical themes previously unseen in the pages of Spider-Man. Presenting a New York draped in Gothic atmospherics was a novelty in Spider-Man’s world, resulting in a story with a unique tone that set it apart from the hero’s pre-existing canon. DeMatteis’ fresh spin on Peter Parker’s characterization depicted the hero at his most exposed, the Web-Slinger’s anxiety-laden inner monologue cementing the arc’s horror credentials.

While Kraven’s Last Hunt doesn’t boast the enduring legacy of similar works such as Year One and The Dark Knight Returns, this actually grants DeMatteis’ story greater power. It stands unique within the Spider-Man mythos and is beloved by fans as a result, rather than being condemned for forever altering the characterization and tone of the series. Given the release of Insomiac’s Spider-Man 2, now is a great time to explore Kraven’s Last Hunt to see the villain and Spider-Man at their best. Atmospheric, engrossing, and poetic, Kraven’s Last Hunt remainsthe greatest Spider-Man story of all time.

 Taking Spider-Man comics into a bold and dark direction, Kraven’s Last Hunt is a masterclass example of how to turn campy crooks into a list villains.  Read More