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The Amazing Spider-Man – Grim Hunt (Review)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

Although not technically part of The Gauntlet, Grim Hunt serves as a climax to eight months of stories in The Amazing Spider-Man. It comes at the end of what has been a pretty tough slog for the wall-crawling web-slinging superhero, after a string of pyrrhic victories and out-and-out losses. In essence, Grim Hunt is the culmination of all the plot threads running through The Gauntlet, as the sinister plot against the iconic superhero enters its end game.

It also comes towards the end of the Brand New Day era of The Amazing Spider-Man, only two story arcs before regular writer Dan Slott would take over the series for the next stage of the character’s development. Brand New Day was a controversial era for Spider-Man fans, building off a clumsy continuity reset in One More Day and trying to balance the weight of the character’s history against bold new directions.

As such, Grim Hunt also serves as something of a meditation on the history of The Amazing Spider-Man, a reflection on editorial attitudes to continuity and character development – an astonishingly self-aware and reflexive story arc that feels like a commentary on the character and the way that comic book storytelling tends to work.

A shot in the arm...

A shot in the arm…

Kraven the Hunter is one of the great iconic Spider-Man villains. He dates back to the original Stan Lee and Steve Ditko run on The Amazing Spider-Man. He has a great character design, like so many of those classic villains. He has popped up in countless adaptations of the Spider-Man mythos – to the point where it seems almost inevitable that he will turn up on the big screen at one point or another.

Of course, the character of Kraven the Hunter was also killed off in the eighties. As part of the well-loved Kraven’s Last Hunt storyline, writer J.M. DeMatteis had the villain defeat Peter Parker and bury him alive, before killing himself with a shotgun blast to the head. It was an iconic storyline, and is generally regarded as one of the truly classic and enduring Spider-Man stories. It gave Kraven the Hunter an ending. It made his story finite. It gave his saga some measure of meaning.

The hunt is on...

The hunt is on…

So, this put the Spider-Man comics in a bit of a bind. After all, what use is an iconic character if you can’t use them? The irony of Kraven’s Last Hunt was that it really made the character more popular than he ever had been before, while also taking the character of the table for most future writers working on The Amazing Spider-Man. In the nineties and beyond, you could see the Spider-Man comics struggling with this.

In the nineties, no less than two knock-off versions of Kraven were introduced to fill the void left by the character. His son Vladimir first appeared in 1994, taking the very nineties sobriquet “Grim Hunter.” His half-brother Alyosha took up the mantle a couple of years later. Both of these characters couldn’t help but feel like inferior versions of the original – cheap imitations of an enduring and popular character who had been rendered inaccessible to modern Spider-Man writers.

Grave danger...

Grave danger…

It was only a matter of time before Kraven was resurrected. After all, comic book characters tend to treat death as something of a revolving door. Norman and Harry Osborn have both been dead and resurrected, so it wasn’t unreasonable that Marvel would eventually decide to revive Kraven the Hunter. The fact that the publisher waited so long is most likely a testament to the strength of Kraven’s Last Hunt as a story, allowing that tale to stand for as long as possible.

So, there’s a wonderful meta-fictional conflict at the heart of Grim Hunt, something that gives the story a great deal more weight than it might otherwise have. On the one hand, Kraven the Hunter will inevitably return. On the other hand, Kraven’s Last Hunt deserves to stand on its own merits and on its own strengths. The beauty of Grim Hunt is the way that plays up these tensions – turning these sorts of behind-the-scenes issues into heavy dramatic fodder.

Come-a, come-a, come-a Chameleon...

Come-a, come-a, come-a Chameleon…

This is, after all, the perfect expression of the conflict between respect for the past and more pragmatic concerns that have haunted The Amazing Spider-Man since One More Day. It makes sense that Grim Hunt comes right before Joe Quesada’s continued awkward attempts to justify the decision to wipe away decades of continuity in One Moment in Time, towards the end of the Brand New Day era. Like Spider-Man, Kraven is a character who is watching editorial demands override his continuity and character development.

Indeed, Kraven is less than pleased at being returned to life, recognising that this undermines the power of Kraven’s Last Hunt. When his wife wonders why Kraven is not happy, he explains, “It was perfect. It was a masterpiece. You took that masterpiece away from me.” The decision to bring Kraven back from the dead cuts away at what made Kraven’s Last Hunt such a great story, for the rather cynical goal of having Kraven fight Spider-Man yet again.

Back in black...

Back in black…

Of course, Grim Hunt feels rather playful on this front. As much as it plays off this sort of editorial tension, it is also careful to be inclusive and accessible. While Joe Kelly and artistic collaborators Michale Lark and Marco Checchetto conspire to undermine Kraven’s Last Hunt, they make a point to have J.M. DeMatteis himself contribute back-up stories to the issue – as if to reassure readers that DeMatteis himself is on-side with Grim Hunt in one form or another.

This isn’t something disrespectful or exploitative; it’s just an inevitability in comic book publishing, and Grim Hunt is cleverly exploring that. There are points where it almost seems like Grim Hunt is slyly critiquing Marvel’s editorial strategy. When the Kravinoff plan begins to fall apart, Madame Web mocks Sasha Kravinoff’s “pathetic attempt to ‘recapture’ a glory that never existed!” She could just as easily be talking about the editorial decision to “reset” Spider-Man back to bachelorhood to make him more relevant or engaging.

Bury bad news...

Bury bad news…

There’s a rather heavy amount of continuity to be found in Grim Hunt, although writer Joe Kelly does take care to keep the story accessible to casual fans. The story is packed with nods and acknowledgements towards all sorts of previous Spider-Man stories, and not just the ones that you might expect. Not only does Grim Hunt gesture towards the much-maligned “spider totem” introduced by J. Michael Straczynski during his run on The Amazing Spider-Man, but the recurring drum motif seems to hark back to Todd McFarlane’s Torment.

Neither of these stories are universally loved, even if they are fairly high-profile. However, one gets a sense that this is entirely the point. Reading Grim Hunt, there’s a sense that all continuity matters in one sense or another, that ever story forms a part of the metaphorical “web” that binds Spider-Man together. Damaging or undermining that is a potentially risky endeavour, one that could damage the character and his world.

Spider slayer...

Spider slayer…

Much of Grim Hunt is written with wry self-awareness, as if straddling the fictional world inhabited by Peter and the demands imposed by elements outside the narrative. Explaining how the Kravens pick their targets, Madame Web could easily be speaking directly for editorial. Of Julia Carpenter, she notes, “Though once an Avenger, she’s the least currently entangled with outsiders, hence a logical target. Correction… second least.” So, she’s not appearing in other books and is – thus – disposable.

Just before her death – the type of grim death of a secondary character used to give events like this size – Mattie Franklin rues her place in the grand scheme of things. She knows that she wasn’t the best (or most popular) Spider-Woman, but that doesn’t make any of this fair. Mattie is well aware that she is effectively being fridged, used as fodder in a story about another (more important) character. Reflecting on her career, she muses, “Some crazy witch has Spider-Man on the brain and… none of it mattered.”

Here come the drums...

Here come the drums…

Indeed, even the choice of artists on Grim Hunt seems quite careful and self-aware. Michael Lark provides the bulk of the art on the four-issue story arc, but Marco Checchetto also offers a fill-in on the third issue. Matt Hollinsgsworth provides the colouring on the story. That is a great selection of talent, but they are all notable for their association with Daredevil around the time that Grim Hunt was published. Michael Lark was Ed Brubaker’s chief collaborator on that fantastic run, while Marco Checchetto had worked with Andy Diggle on Daredevil shortly before Grim Hunt. Matt Hollingsworth had a rich history with the character.

The association does not appear to have been accidental. Grim Hunt appears to be consciously evoking the visual style that had come to define Daredevil. This is really as close as a Spider-Man comic could come to looking like Daredevil, which seems like a rather shrewd nod towards the tone and style of the story. Grim Hunt is a rather unrelenting comic book that is packed with darkness and cynicism. It’s about a hero who is very much pushed to the edge of sanity under unrelenting pressure from his opponents. As such, Daredevil was an effective comparison.

Swinging by...

Swinging by…

And yet, as much as Grim Hunt evokes Daredevil, it also emphasises the differences between Spider-Man and Daredevil – much as the similarities between The Gauntlet and Knightfall serve to distinguish Spider-Man from Batman. Here, Spider-Man is defined as “the moral fibre that runs through everything”, the one absolutely incorruptible and uncompromising figure, no matter the chaos and uncertainty that exists around him.

Everybody else can fail. Madame Web meditates on it in her opening monologue, observing that she is not ashamed at foreseeing her death. “My shame comes from other moments I see. Those times in my life when I will be tested… and fail… at a cost. A great cost.” Throughout Grim Hunt, Peter is contrasted with Kaine, his clone. In his internal monologue, Peter describes Kaine as “the stronger one.” During one battle, Kaine protests, “I’m stronger than you in every way and they still tore me a new one — without the freakin’ lion-thing…”

"Batman R.I.P. made this look a lot easier..."

“Batman R.I.P. made this look a lot easier…”

However, when things get bad, it’s Kaine who argues that they should flee, and Peter who refuses. In that moment, Peter clearly articulates the differences between the two of them. “We’ve all been hurt!” Peter yells. “We’ve all suffered! But the real difference between us is that I never used it as a crutch.” In essence, this is the heart of Spider-Man, as articulates by The Gauntlet and Grim Hunt. Spider-Man is a character who can face the worst in people and endure everything the world throws at him without losing his basic goodness. He is a hero.

And there’s an elegant simplicity to this idea. The Gauntlet and Grim Hunt are effective an eight-month-long thesis about how Spider-Man is a hero, no matter how dark things get. There’s no compromise, no shading, no ambiguity. That’s beautiful. It really is the perfect way to close out Brand New Day, an era devoted to finding a new approach to the web-slinger. It turns out that the old approach works just fine.

You might be interested in our other reviews of The Gauntlet and Grim Hunt:

15 Responses

  1. This was one of my favorite story arcs from the Brand New Day era. It had beautiful art and a great story. I did like how Joe Kelly included Ezekiel, I think his appearance stumped me as much as it did Peter.

    • It was a great little twist, even if it ultimately amounted to little explicitly. It’s a nice way of meta-textually connecting Kraven to the “totem” idea, without getting too heavily bogged down in magic and mysticism.

  2. Great job reviewing the Gauntlet era! It really gave me a new appreciation for the story.

    • Thanks Michael. I really enjoyed it. That said, I do worry that I devoted a bit too much time to it. It meant that I didn’t have enough space to do as much classic material as I might like. The fact my Roger Stern Omnibus only just arrived doesn’t help matters either!

  3. It would be great to see you review Kraven’s Last Hunt at some point.

    • I would love to. I read them years ago, and loved them. If Comixology puts them on sale or Marvel do a nice deluxe hardcover, I will (re)devour them in a heartbeat!

  4. To me it seemed like Mattie was killed so Anya could take the role of 616 Spider-Girl. They could have killed off that evil Spider-Women instead who was even more underutilized.They also canceled Mayday’s comic around that time.

    • That’s a very interesting point, actually. Ah, comic book universe logistics!

      • Grim Hunt was very obviously engineered to eliminate the “chaff” of the Spider-Characters, particularly those with a similar role to those currently or about to get a big editorial push(Anya). Hence Mattie and Madame Webb’s deaths, Julia being shoved into the Madame Webb role and giving her costume away to Anya before being put into a coma that lasted over a year.

        They didn’t put much thought into the story, as this person on Tumblr pointed out:

        I hope Mattie at least gets a mention by Jessica in the Spider-Women event. She deserves that much.

      • Very fair point. But I think that’s generally the logic driving major comic book events. The “push” coming out the other side is as important as the narrative demands of the event. (See also: Flashpoint.)

  5. Ever thought about reviewing Spider-Verse? Or Dan Slot’s run on Spider Man?

    • I’ve thought about reviewing lots of things! I’m reasonably fond of Slott’s run; particularly Superior Spider-Man.

      Sadly, I only have so much time!

      • Well considering Spidey will be appearing in Civil War, I thought it might be a good suggestion. When you have the time then!

      • Yeah, sorry if I sounded snarky. (I hope I didn’t, but if I did I apologise.)

        I don’t think I’ve got time to do comic reviews for Civil War, but we’ll wait and see. If there’s an audience for them, I might try to balance my other commitments so I do a bit of everything rather than a tightly-focused burst of individual things.

    • It’s fine! I understand, you’re a busy person with a ton of commitments. I just thought it might be a good suggestion. Either way, keep up the great work and thanks for responding!

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