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A review of the Marvel Comics trade paperback, which reprints material originally published in issues 564 through to 567 of The Amazing Spiderman.
Kraven the Hunter debuted in issue 15 of the Amazing Spiderman, way back in 1964. One of the super-hero's more popular nemeses, he returned time and time again to try and defeat Spiderman. Born Sergei Kravinoff, Kraven was a homicidal game hunter who took it upon himself to try and defeat Spiderman. Unwilling to use blades or bullets, Kraven was obsessed with beating Spiderman with his bare hands, but despite his artificially augmented strength, he was never able to do so. In 1993, in a land mark serial named Kraven's Last Hunt, Kravinoff believed that he had finally completed his life's mission and, believing Spiderman to be defeated, he committed suicide.
Kraven remains one of very few Spiderman villains that has died and remained dead. Even The Green Goblin, whose death marked one of the biggest comic book events of all time, subsequently returned to haunt Peter Parker. Since his death, various stories have introduced relatives, clones or supernatural incarnations of the original hunter, but Kravinoff himself remains dead. His most curious spin-off is almost certainly Xraven, who now possesses all the abilities of the original X Men, having obtained samples of their DNA and having been mutated by the team's arch-nemesis Mister Sinister. When Kraven's First Hunt was announced as a major storyline in 2008, there was a sense of trepidation and excitement amongst comic book fans. Would the original Kraven finally be making his return?
When Spiderman is alerted to a vehicle speeding through the centre of New York, it isn't long before he realises that the vehicle has been commandeered by his former foe, Overdrive. As the chase becomes more and more dramatic, Peter Parker's roommate Vin (a police man) becomes involved and before long another anti-Spiderman story is destined to hit the Daily Bugle headlines. But Vin's apparent role in Spiderman's life is attracting attention.
A slim hooded figure watches Spiderman from a distance, noting his every month. The watcher notes his every move, marvels at his agility, the way he defeats his enemies, constantly noting and learning for the future. The watcher observes where Spiderman lives, using central systems to identify the names of the inhabitants. When least they are expecting it, the watcher strikes and captures the man who she believes to be Spiderman. But a case of mistaken identity leaves the real Spiderman in a quandary. It's a race against time before the hunter kills its prey - but who or what is lurking in the darkness beneath the city's sewers?
This was always a curious story arc and contained here alongside a preceding, stand-alone chapter, its inherent weirdness seems to stand out even more. The introduction of a new villain is either ushered in rapidly and without much fuss, or is heralded as a big event - and any storyline that carries the name of Kraven is likely to the latter rather than the former. So it makes for slightly frustrating reading that to get there you have to wade through a chapter that seems to exist only to fill the pages. It's actually a shame because Threeway Collision (originally published in issue 564) is a good example of what a self-contained chapter can and should look like. It's brisk, filled with action and humour and lacks the kind of drama and continuity that sometimes bogs down the longer story arcs, which become embroiled in secrets and intrigue, focusing instead on telling the tales of a fairly typical day in Spiderman's life from multiple perspectives. The fact remains, however, that it has little to do with the main event and after those first twenty or so pages, the reader is itching to get on to the main act.
The main act is, indeed, a worthy storyline that sets out the stall for a character who seems destined to take a more fundamental role in the ongoing continuity. It's a classic Spiderman tale, balancing the needs of our hero to save one of his friends against the need to maintain his secret identity, with a little super-powered support along the way. Written by series regular March Guggenheim, it's a curiously affectionate tale that seeks to join both the Last Hunt and First Hunt stories in a number of ways, but notably (and most obviously) through the familial hatred shown towards our hero. Guggenheim's a shrewd writer, realising that with a title like Kraven's First Hunt, there can be little doubt as to the nature of the main villain, so we see the new villain on the second page of the first chapter. It's not exactly a spoiler; it's an introduction to what appears to be the defeat of our hero, followed by a step back in time two weeks to show the events leading up to his incarceration. As ever, of course, nothing is quite what it seems and the following three chapters explain to us exactly what has happened and when.
It's a tale littered with nostalgic surprises, continually revealing Guggenheim's affection for the series. In an attempt to draw a parallel between Last and First Hunt, the story sees the arrival of another of Spiderman's enemies, the mutated creature known as Vermin, who was originally set upon Spiderman by Kraven back in Last Hunt. To cope with a case of mistaken identity, Spiderman must enlist the help of his close friend Daredevil and it soon becomes a race against time to stop this new hunter. The breakneck pace is softened a little in chapter one by the use of flashbacks and summaries, helping explain to the reader what has gone before, but once it gets to chapter two, it's a pretty relentless exercise 'against the clock' tale.
This is classic Spiderman story telling, pitching our hero against an enemy whose only desire is to see him dead, whilst once again reiterating his responsibilities to those closest to him, none of whom know his biggest secret. These themes work very well (as they always do) and the inclusion of Venom certainly livens this up. Sadly, the Kraven content is rather diminished here compared to what the reader might be expecting and the new 'Kraven' is once again simply depicted as a slightly unhinged individual who simply wants Spiderman dead. No real attempt is made to give the character an interesting back-story, although by the final frames it becomes clear that this is obviously intentional, as Guggenheim saves the biggest revelation to the end. But it does mean that throughout the rest of the story line, the reader is rather left treading water, seemingly introduced to another 'hunter who intends to be the first to kill Spiderman'. There's a novelty!
That aside, it's a great little storyline, and surprisingly violent too. The writer makes full use of Vermin's bestiality and the presence of two villains certainly helps swell the excitement here.
There are two artists at work here, Paulo Siquiera for the stand alone Threeway Collision and Phil Jimenez for the three chapters of First Hunt.
Siquiera's work is explosive and dramatic and very much in keeping with the pace of the story. Every frame seems filled with shattered glass and hurtling traffic and it's a very contemporary style. Spiderman looks great - very sinewy and lithe, not unlike the Todd MacFarlane era and the look and feel here is very effective when things are kicking off. Siquiera's style is perhaps less likeable when it comes to the regular characters. He doesn't seem to even make a basic effort to make Peter Parker and best friend Vin look like they did in previous and later chapters and it's almost as though he is irritated by these details, seeing them as a hindrance to next big, ballsy frame that he has in mind.
Jimenez has a very different style and arguably a more engaging one. The lines are crisper and more exact here, but his work with facial expressions brings the story much more to life here. As you scan from one frame to the next, evidence of anger, fear, surprise, jealousy, disbelief and desperation spills from the various faces staring out at you as Jimenez demonstrates his mastery over the medium. There are some lovely touches. A shoot out in a comic book store sees various issues of Marvel favourites scattered throughout the air, every issue's cover art recreated in perfect mini-detail as Spiderman hurtles past. Likewise, Jimenez isn't afraid to amply demonstrate the results of the violence. This isn't a gory tale but when he always ensures that our heroes get the bloodied nose we were expecting, a detail often ignored by other artists.
The new Kraven takes some getting used to, visually at least. She's a striking enough figure, notably with her shocking blonde hair, but Jimenez seems intent on focusing on her psychotic eyes, such that they seem to dominate the proceedings. Her costume is very strange too, featuring a subtle tribute to the eyes that used to stare from her father's tunic, but with only very limited effect. The styling here is unconvincing for sure, particularly with the absence of any kind of genetic similarity. Vermin, however, has never looked better. A terrifying, human/rat hybrid, his bright red eyes accompany his claws and fangs and see him leap out of the pages to frightening effect.
This won't go down as a classic (certainly not when you consider it alongside the likes of Kraven's Last Hunt) but it's an exciting, vivid tale that certainly isn't dull. Threeway Collision is readable enough not to dilute things too much and the lead in to First Hunt is, at least, logical. First Hunt itself benefits enormously from the presence of Vermin. You can't help thinking if he wasn't there slobbering and snarling over the page that it wouldn't be quite as enjoyable, but it's a reasonable enough introduction to a villainess who is set to take a far larger role in future events.