A Retrospective on Kraven's Last Hunt (1986)
Updated: Nov 27, 2019
In 1986, writer J.M. DeMatteis and artist Mike Zeck collaborated on a work that would go on to be considered one of the greatest Spider-Man arcs of the character's history. Entitled Kraven's Last Hunt, the story details Kraven the Hunter's unexpected success in defeating his long-time opponent, our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
Of course, the character of Kraven the Hunter has been a notable face in Spider-Man comics since his debut in 1964. As a Soviet immigrant who enjoys hunting big game, albeit with minimal weapons, Kraven made it his life's mission to prove himself to be the world's greatest hunter.
As a result, hunting down and killing Spider-Man became his endgame.
Ironically, despite being noted as one of the greatest Spider-Man stories of all time, the majority of Kraven's Last Hunt is depicted through the lens of Kraven himself rather than Spider-Man.
Interestingly though, this aspect proves to be one of the tale's best attributes.
Being the primary narrator of this story, Kraven provides a mode of narration that parallels his villainous nature.
His methods are always pragmatic. His goals are always straightforward.
As a result, Kraven characterizes himself in a similar fashion.
Firstly, Kraven does not necessarily perceive himself as a human being. He views himself in a lofty manner as he believes himself to be the world's greatest hunter.
With this, Kraven refers to himself as being continuously filled with "rage, glory, fire, and pride", as though these are the four, distinct pillars by which he operates and exists. Kraven also states that he finds morality and meaning solely in "the hunt".
Thus, Kraven the Hunter's objectives are simple: kill the Spider-Man as to fulfill the hunt. Nothing more, and nothing less.
In regard to Spider-Man's objectives, one can argue that he maintains a more consistent tether to his humanity than Kraven does. He maintains relationships with loved ones and mourns the deaths of those around him. He spends his days and nights protecting the citizens of New York because of his compassion.
As a result, Spider-Man's life is much more multi-dimensional than that of Kraven's. Therefore, one can argue that Kraven has a more elevated sense of clarity when it comes to defining his life's purpose. His mission is to become the world's greatest hunter while Spider-Man's comprises being a guardian of the city in order to protect his loved ones despite the fact that this guardianship can very well endanger his loved ones.
Also, Spider-Man surprisingly struggles with his own perception of mortality. It is safe to say that power can bestow not only greatness upon a person, but, also, a sense of entitlement.
Despite his heroism and self-sacrificial tendencies, Spider-Man grapples with the idea that he may actually be able to conquer death. Though, he counters that idea as quickly as he conceives it, telling himself that he will die someday, even if it is not today.
So, as Kraven sets out to kill Spider-Man once and for all and therefore fulfill his life's mission, he comes face-to-face with his archenemy. Though, as Kraven prepares to go in for the kill, he brings out a rifle, to Spider-Man's shock.
Kraven could have defeated Spider-Man with his bare hands, but he elected not to. Perhaps the act of defeating Spider-Man with a rifle provided Kraven with a greater sense of finality.
Despite Spider-Man's strength, agility, and overarching superhuman nature, one was able to take him down with one shot.
Through this act, Kraven disparages Spider-Man as a man who perceives himself to be more than human. Kraven could have challenged Spider-Man to hand-to-hand combat and tested Spider-Man's abilities to their fullest. Instead though, Kraven decided to eliminate Spider-Man in an almost anticlimactic manner.
This ultimately minimizes Spider-Man as a symbol and as a human being, and, thus, Kraven buries his longtime foe with glee, knowing he fulfilled his own personal sense of purpose with great ease.
Now, there is an ever-evolving concept related to the dynamic between heroes and villains. That concept implies that one cannot exist without the other. Kraven's Last Hunt challenges that concept as Kraven's desire to defeat Spider-Man goes far beyond just killing him. Additionally, Kraven's identity as a villain is not eradicated with the elimination of Spider-Man.
As aforementioned, Kraven wishes to defeat the symbol of Spider-Man in addition to the person. Thus, after he kills Spider-Man, he embarks on an effort to become a better Spider-Man.
Well, when he dons the Spider-Man suit and takes on criminals, he does not hold back. Rather, he goes in for the kill, doing the deeds that Peter Parker was never capable of.
Kraven has defaced the symbol Peter Parker built with his own methods as a predator. With this, Kraven believes he has fulfilled the role of Spider-Man to its fullest potential.
Thus, this tainted act of succession is destiny fulfilled for our titular villain.
Now, the conclusion of this tale is arguably one of the most complex I have read in a comic book story.
We come to discover that Kraven actually shot Spider-Man with a tranquilizer that simulated a state of death for two weeks. As a result, Spider-Man eventually wakes up and returns home, confronting the greatest hunter in the world once more.
However, when Spider-Man confronts Kraven, Kraven does not fight him.
Rather, he revels in the peace his self-proclaimed victory bestows upon him. Additionally, Kraven goes on to detail his master plan.
Kraven wanted Spider-Man to survive his defeat, which is why the hunter shot him with a tranquilizer instead of a bullet. Ultimately, Kraven wanted Spider-Man to know who beat him. He wanted Spider-Man to know that he was a better Spider-Man than Peter Parker could ever be, at least in Kraven's own point of view.
Thus, feeling as though his master plan has been completed, Kraven surrenders his role as Spider-Man. He informs authorities of his attack on Spider-Man in addition to the brutal acts he made during his time donning the hero's mask.
Some time after this surrender, Kraven finds himself pondering his life up until this moment. He narrates how he has never felt a sense of peace or happiness until he completed his mission against Spider-Man.
Thus, feeling fulfilled, Kraven takes a rifle and shoots himself in the head, ending the hunt for good.
This act is undoubtedly surprising, though it is not an unexpected one.
Kraven has continuously operated in a linear fashion, creating an objective and acting on it until that objective is fulfilled.
Upon the beginning of Kraven's Last Hunt, Kraven acknowledges the fact that death is upon him, and he expresses peace with that as long as he were to fulfill his duty first.
Therefore, one can infer that Kraven lives by his own definitions. He refuses to allow anyone else to prescribe death to him. Only he has control over his destiny, a concept Kraven takes into his own hands with his fulfillment of the last hunt.
So, with the completion of this final hunt, Kraven accepts death, finding peace in the completion of his life's overarching purpose. With this, despite Spider-Man surviving the events of this tale, one cannot help but consider the fact that Kraven the Hunter won this war in more ways than one. Kraven appears to have truly proven himself to be the world's greatest hunter while establishing an unforgettable legacy as one of Spider-Man's most formidable foes.
The hunt may be over for Kraven, but his legacy as the beast who defeated Spider-Man is far from dead.