Fearful Symmetry: Kraven’s Last Hunt (October-November 1987)

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I remember when Kraven’s Last Hunt came out. I was eight or nine. Marvel advertised it something fantastic. I was a regular Spider-Man reader, but mostly from collections and it wasn’t like there were a lot of collections in the late eighties. Almost thirty years later and I still can’t think of a better Spider-Man story, not an eighties or later one.

J.M. DeMatteis writes Hunt for new and regular readers, which is in itself a little strange. When I think about eighties comics, Marvel and DC alike, it was always very hard to jump on. But in Hunt, Spider-Man had just gone through a lot of unusual publicity–he’d gotten married–and the story immediately follows the wedding. It was also a cross-over between the three Spider-Man books, which might have been a new thing? I can’t remember.

So, in other words, DeMatteis is working a lot on character. He’s introducing not just the guest stars–Vermin and Kraven–he’s also introducing the regular cast, as he needs them for this story. Peter and Mary Jane are going to have a very rough six issues and DeMatteis forecasts it. When it seems like he’s hit the limit on foreshadowing, he pushes further because he’s trying to make sure the reader knows what’s coming.

And the relationship with the reader is important. DeMatteis wants a lot of trust–he wants to jump around in place, he wants to use a whole bunch of narration–Kraven, Spider-Man, Mary Jane, Vermin–Last Hunt is ambitious. For an eighties Marvel comic, it’s through the roof ambitious, but it’s ambitious in general because DeMatteis is treating Spider-Man as the icon.

Even in the black costume, he’s an icon. I think he was just still wearing the black costume (and might eighty-six it as a direct result of this storyline), but DeMatteis uses it to establish what makes the character. It’s not hard to do a good Spider-Man story and it’s sometimes not even hard to do a better than good one, but it is hard to do an ambitious one.

DeMatteis succeeds in no small part thanks to Mike Zeck’s art. Last Hunt isn’t fantastical, it’s realistic, it’s depressing, it’s scary. DeMatteis and Zeck have a story about four people who are afraid, all the time, all to varying degrees. They’re afraid of themselves, of each other, of the world. It’s awesome.

I haven’t read the comic in ages; it holds up really well.

CREDITS

Writer, J.M. DeMatteis; penciller, Mike Zeck; inker, Bob McLeod; colorist, Janet Jackson; letterer, Rick Palmer; editors, Jim Salicrup and Tom DeFalco; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Web of Spider-Man 6 (September 1985)

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No doubt about it, there’s some good stuff in this issue–it’s all about the government (Ronnie Raygun in bed with the Kingpin–how did that one fly in the eighties?) dealing with the Beyonder turning a building into pure gold–but can Fingeroth overwrite thought balloons or what? No one ever stops thinking about what they’re doing. It must take them forever to walk, thinking each step out.

But Fingeroth’s approach, the realism, it actually makes one think for a bit. Sure, his dialogue is overblown and so on (I mean, really, in the Marvel Universe, is a building of solid gold really going to change the world economy . . . one would think the Hulk would crash the stock market with a sneeze), but it’s definitely thoughtful.

It’s a tedious read in a lot of ways, but it’s definitely ambitious in quiet, good ways.

The art’s a complete mess, however.

CREDITS

Gold Rush!; writer, Danny Fingeroth; pencillers, Mike Harris, Mike Zeck, Bob Layton, Dave Simons and Jim Mooney; inkers, Zeck, Layton, Simons and Mooney; colorist, Bob Sharen; letterer, Phil Felix and Rick Parker; editors, Keith Williams and Christopher Priest; publisher, Marvel Comics.

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