Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Symmetry? (Kraven’s Last Hunt)

TW: Discussion of Suicide, Trauma, Rape, and Depictions of Sexual Assault
“Yu realized everything in that moment of unbelievable terror. It made perfect sense why Yu sensed a strange closeness to the tiger, for it was also the beast hiding deep within Yu’s own heart! It was Yu’s own superpower that had given Ozeki Miki’s Tiger so much power. Everyone keeps a tiger in their heart. It is human karma itself.”
-Kōsei Ono and Kazumasa Hirai
Spider-Man knows what it's like when your family cries.
He knows how it feels.
It’s October 10th, 1987. Whitesnake is at number one with “Here I Go Again.” The next week, Lisa Lisa And Cult Jam takes over with “Lost in Emotion” followed by Michael Jackson’s “Bad” for two weeks, and Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” closes out the book. Prince, Whitney Houston, and Billy Idol also chart. Pink Floyd’s “Learning to Fly” and Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” debuts on the charts to little fanfare (placing at 88 and 68 respectively).

 “Learning to Fly,” at its core, is about the terror and wonder at experiencing something new. Literally, this refers to the experience of flying a plane, but metaphorically it can be applied to any new experience be it a near death experience, a new occupation, or the death of someone close to you. Conversely, “Candle in the Wind” is a live performance of Elton John’s tribute to actress Marilyn Monroe from his 1973 album “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” It would be recontextualized 10 years later into a tribute to Princess Diane to more acclaim, such that it would be considered the biggest selling record of all time.

Star Trek: The Next Generation continues its first season to much acclaim by people who aren’t obsessed with Star Trek being “serious” science fiction and would much rather watch a good show (though sadly Code of Honor, the worst episode of TNG and arguably the worst episodes of Star Trek period [with the only sensible competition for that placement being Profit and Lace, Tattoo, or any of the Klingon stories from TOS], came out on October 12. The remaining episodes are much better, including a few season highlights). Doctor Who bounces back from the nadir of the mid Jonathan Nathan Turner era with Paradise Towers and Delta and the Bannermen, though much like with Star Trek, fans didn’t take kindly to the episodes. The Princess Bride, The Running Man, and Prince of Darkness all come out and would gain a cult following in the years to come.

The stock market crashed on October 19th, the largest one-day percentage decline in the history of the Dow Jones. It will be referred to as Black Monday, invoking the events that led to the Great Depression. The 1987 Broadway revival of Anything Goes with Patti LuPone and Anthony Heald opens at the Beaumont Theatre. Subway vigilante Bernhard Goetz, responsible for the 1984 New York City Subway shooting, which was responsible for the NRA being successful in their campaigns to loosen concealed firearm restrictions, is sentenced to six months in jail. After seven games, the Minnesota Twins win the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. And Joseph Campbell died on Mischief Night.

In comics, we have a big one. Considered by many to be one of the greatest Spider-Man stories ever written, Kraven’s Last Hunt is a work to behold. Kicking off the JM DeMatteis era of Spider-Man comics with a corker of an idea that, like many corkers, is at once obvious and surprising. It’s almost intimidating to actually approach the story head on as opposed to talking about it through the lens of other works, my own memories, and my attempts at creative writing.

Before we continue, I would just like to thank all my wonderful patrons who have stuck with me for as long as they have. You have all been wonderful, though I wish I got more comments. I like having conversations with some of you on twitter and all, but it would be nice to talk to people I don’t always interact with. But ah well, that’s life. Here’s to the end of Spider-Man, the return of Peter Parker, and the secret behind resurrection.

(Next Time: Dare Its Deadly Terrors Clasp!)

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[Photo: SEEMING: Stranger (feat. SAMMUS) Directed by Benjamin Torrey Lyrics by Alex Reed]

I Wanted To Taste The Flavor Of Death. (The Coffin)

XIII-The Spyder
The story opens with our hero, Kraven the Hunter, pondering his life up to that moment. Some might argue against this. Kraven is a super villain after all, and one would thus assume him to be the villain of this piece. Alas, he is indeed the hero of this tale. For it is Kraven’s actions that move the plot forward, Kraven whose worldview we come to understand, and Kraven who the drama climaxes around. (It should be noted that while Kraven may be the heroic figure of this tale, he is a tragic one. He tells us from the start that this story has but one ending for Kraven, though we might miss it on first glance.) Given this, one should not assume that Peter Parker is the villain based on this or even a heroic antagonist. Merely a deuteragonist to be contrasted with Kraven much in the same way Marion Crane is contrasted with Norman Bates. (Or, more accurately, Will Graham is to Hannibal Lecter.)

Indeed the Hannibal comparison is quite apt, as the opening chapter has Kraven and Peter contemplate mortality and empathy. I’ll start with Peter’s since his is… easier to deal with. The set up is quite simple: someone Peter knew died recently. The man’s name was Joe Face. He wasn’t someone close to Peter, purely a work relationship (specifically, a thug Peter’d sometimes get info from and sometimes send to jail. The circumstances of his death are left up to the reader [I’d go with the Punisher]), but there is still something about someone who’s part of your routine no longer being there, especially if it’s because they died, that gets you thinking about your lot in life. (The problem with the structure I’ve gone for with this essay is that since this is the first issue, I can only hint at the things I want to talk about.)

More notably, is that Peter doesn’t think that much about his own mortality in this moment. His immediate thoughts are towards the mortality of those around him. The Joe Faces, the Ned Leeds, the Gwen Stacys in his life. Many writers have elaborated this aspect of the character, this contemplation of the consequences of Peter’s decision to be Spider-Man, and made many a run out of it. But what many of them miss in having Peter wallow in his failures is that he wonders, if briefly, if he’s immune to the death.

He’s goes out to help people regardless of these thoughts. Not because of some guilt complex some writers wish to place onto him, to make him more akin to Batman. Rather he does in this instance because helping others is part of who he is. (More specifically he had a bad dream. What’s interesting is that structurally speaking, this is a vision of his foe Kraven the Hunter consuming various spiders as a means of consuming the totemic energy of Spider-Man. As if the Spider was more important than the man. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

As for empathy, Peter has some issues with it but is generally successful. (For the purposes of this article, we will say that empathy is the attempt to understand the experiences and motivations of other people. An action where compassion is an emotion.) The first instance of this comes at the funeral of Joe Face, where Peter wishes he could see himself the way the other people at the funeral do. It’s not so much a desire to understand the life decisions that led them to the life they’re living. Rather, given the context of his thought, it’s to understand what they see in Spider-Man that’s so frightening. The truth is, Peter’s not Spider-Man. He a human being underneath the black costume (side note, I love the way Mike Zeck draws Peter’s entrance into the comic. Not so much a person in a costume as a void of darkness blending into the background darkness such that Zeck doesn’t really draw Spidey as just his eyes and logo. It enhances the duality of Peter the man and Spider-Man the superhero as well as the uncanny nature of the character. Another detail I love is that the next scene with Kraven in it has him in a pitch white room, highlighting the contrast between the two in an idiosyncratic manner. But perhaps my favorite detail is the decision to remove the caption box around the name “Spider-Man,” adding to the uncanny nature of the idea.). Peter’s the kind of person who would go to Joe Face’s funeral while Spider-Man wouldn’t give a toss. He’d wish they could see him that way. Alas, the thought is squandered once one of the mourners draws a gun on Peter and he has to give him a look before giving some cash for the funeral fund.

The second instance comes from Peter’s encounter with Kraven the Hunter himself, though I should save that for later. But it does provide a nice segue into talking about the Hunter’s empathy. In some regards his empathy is a bit more dubious than Peter’s. Specifically in his decision to frame Spider-Man through the lens of William Blake’s The Tyger, quoting the first stanza whilst hunting Spider-Man but replacing “Tyger” with “Spyder.”

On the one hand, connecting Peter Parker with the Tyger is seemingly a bit dubious. (The poem itself isn’t so much about the Tyger being described as it is about the horror that he who made the lamb made such a creature and if we are to assume Spider-Man is the Tyger, one wonders who the lamb is [Squirrel Girl, definitely Squirrel Girl]). It would be difficult even within the context of this single issue to describe Peter as being of monstrous intent. Indeed many have read the text as contrasting Peter and Kraven as being the dual ends of the fearful symmetry.

However the truth, as with many things involving Blake, is far more complicated. The duality between beauty and horror can be found within Peter Parker, specifically in regards to his relationship with Spider-Man. As I’ve mentioned previously, there’s an uncannyness to Spider-Man that Peter lacks. The black suit makes Spider-Man look person shaped rather than a person. Whereas Zeck draws Peter more humanisticly despite spending most of his time in the comic being covered in shadows. And then there are Peter’s thoughts on his way to see Joe Face. He keeps telling himself that he shouldn’t care about this criminal who’s just died, let alone one he barely knows (I’ve talked about one of Peter’s many complicated relationships with his Rogues Gallery in the last entry). So there is some truth to connecting Spider-Man and the Tyger

But it’s only the first stanza of The Tyger that Kraven quotes. To get the whole effect of the poem, he would have to juxtapose the poem with The Lamb. Without doing so, the dualism of Spider-Man and Peter Parker is lost. This is where Kraven’s empathy fails him (though understandably so): Kraven only has experience with Spider-Man. He doesn’t know Peter at all. Kraven can thus understand Spider-Man, but not Peter Parker.

Of course, there’s no sense that Kraven actually cares about understanding Peter. He flat out states that “[Spider-Man] couldn’t possibly be a man. No man could do to Kraven what the Spider has. No man.” Whilst hunting, Kraven doesn’t even consider the possibility that Spider-Man might be anything more than a dark force that wishes to test and a thing that must be destroyed. It’s easier to destroy something utterly if one assumes they aren’t even human. Just another beast to hunt the jungle we call New York. Kraven has the capability of empathy, but the hunt demands him reject it.

I suppose I should start talking about Kraven’s views on mortality. Unlike Peter, Kraven is very much invested in his own mortality. Most superhero stories tend to view their villains as being afraid to die, but Kraven’s different. Even without knowing how this story ends, it’s abundantly clear what’s going on: Kraven wishes to kill himself. The reason for this appears to be due to the rise of the modern age. Certainly a person contemplated suicide during the long 80’s, most likely due to being a queer person in an era where Ronald Regan is actively working to kill you. However those are not Kraven’s motivations. Rather, he wishes to end it all because of a loss of power. The 20th century was not kind to those who knew wealth under the Czar.

Kraven even explicitly cites Lenin and Trotsky as the source of civilization’s downfall. To Kraven, the world appears to be following Russia’s example and collapsing into barbarism. The weight of history is tolling on Kraven’s heart. He can’t keep living the life knew, for something is coming to disrupt civilization. Something Kraven doesn’t wish to see. And so, he chooses death over having to change with the world around him… over the possibility that he might lose his status.

But the only way he will allow himself to do so is if he kills the Spider first. All things considered, it’s a quick murder: Kraven first drugs Peter before trapping him in a net that would’ve given him trouble even without the drugs and then shoots Peter’s face off. It’s a shock to the reader that Peter dies so early on. Much Peter, we assume that Kraven will monologue about how he’s better than Spider-Man and Peter’ll find a way to beat him. Because that’s how these sorts of confrontations go for Spider-Man: the Joe Faces tell him what’s going on, the Kravens gloat about how there’s nothing he can do to stop him, and the Spider-Men always find a way out. Instead, Kraven shoots Peter at point blank range with a rifle. Because Kraven understands Spider-Man’s expectations of him and that the only way to destroy him is to subvert those expectations. And because he succeeds, Peter Parker is dead and buried.

The final sequence of the comic is interesting. It depicts the burial of Spider-Man at the hands of Kraven. For all his talk of needing to destroy the Spider, there’s a sadness to Kraven as he buries his mortal enemy. Sure, he gets one brief terrifying moment of glee after putting in the last bit of dirt, but when that moment passes he returns to his glumness. If I may attempt to psychoanalyze a fictional character, could it be that Kraven’s not so much broken by the 20th century he finds himself trapped in, but is instead depressed.

Most who find the present to be too horrifying to contemplate, who see the world as changing too much, opt not to kill themselves, but rather force the world to stop changing (most notably the NRA, so chosen because the day before I started writing this part of the Kraven’s Last Hunt post, a school in Florida was shot up by a white nationalist and the survivors are adamant that congress stop dancing around the problem and actually enact gun regulations. Suffice it to say, the NRA would rather this didn’t happen). Kraven’s preference for suicide implies more than just the cruelty of 70 years without a Czar. After all Kraven is still within a position of power and privilege. He can afford a compound with its very own mansion and graveyard, among other things (side note: a thread I’m probably not going to go too deeply but is nonetheless one that someone ought to go into is that all of Kraven’s servants are African. Not African American, but African. The implications in regards to the book’s treatment of race [mainly these three servants and a few other minor characters] are the bulk of POC representation within the book. It wouldn’t be the first nor last comic to have this issue, but it’s still something that jumps out at me).

But there are things that money can’t buy. For material goods and even personal achievements can’t easily mend a broken heart. These things require a willingness to change yourself, to seek help from others, even if you never meet them in person. To find something that’ll keep you going, even if it’s just to see what happens next. To pin yourself to one thing to keep you going will always be fleeting solution. Because everything ends at some point or another.

(Next Time: Did He Smile His Work To See?)

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[Photo: Promethea #12 by Alan Moore and JH Williams III]

I Want To See You. (Crawling)
Still from the most Grant Morrison thing of 2017.
Since I brought it up last time, let’s talk about Hannibal. Based on characters from Thomas Harris’ influential Hannibal Lecter books, Hannibal was a police procedural much in the same was Bjork was a swan. In reality, the show was a fantasy series about a demon attempting to court a man sworn to destroy him (though what makes the show interesting is that it never comes out and says that this is what it is. Rather it leaves this to the realm of implication). It was able to get away with being this by couching the mysticism in dream logic and the general public’s assumption that a work based on Hannibal Lecter would be realistic as opposed to uncanny.

There are of course things the works don’t share. For example, Kraven’s Last Hunt doesn’t have an ambiguity of sympathy towards its titular character. For all that we emphasize with Kraven, the text never frames him as being someone we ought to emulate (unlike Hannibal where we are meant to read Hannibal as the idealized man and see the cannibalism as a virtue rather than a vice [Eat the Rude, as many a fan has concluded]). There is an aesthetic dissonance in the values as Kraven’s Last Hunt emphasizes the mystical experience of the characters whereas Hannibal emphasizes the artistic expression (though some magicians have stated that there’s little to no difference between the two).

But the two stories share many things that one wouldn’t necessarily expect. There’s a level of mysticism within Kraven’s Last Hunt unexpected within a Spider-Man story. One sequence early in the story depicts Kraven battling a giant Spider-Demon made out of smaller spiders, which represents the Spider he’s been fighting all his life. Several moments later on have a symbolic implication that gels well with Hannibal’s aesthetic (in particular the opening pages of issue four). Additionally, the stories share a common narrative logic wherein characters will learn things they shouldn’t know through editing, visions, and dreams.

One notable moment in the issue being discussed is when Vermin (the closest thing the book has to a traditional antagonist [and yet, we are meant to emphasize with him, a victim of the world of costume figures who spends the text traumatized by an unseen event involving Spider-Man and Captain America to the point where he can’t bring himself to leave the comfort of the sewers. Though he is depicted as monstrous {he is a cannibalistic serial killer}, we are meant to understand him as yet another person hurt by the world as all the characters are in this story]) is crawling down the sewer pipes of New York. In this scene, Vermin suddenly gets the urge to fight Spider-Man. It’s not from the image he sees of the superhero in a newspaper, as one would expect (he tries at first, but is immediately scared off by an actual spider). Rather he hears something calling him to fight Spider-Man. Juxtaposed with this scene is one of Kraven’s becoming. He is melding with the vision of the Spider and he will later use Vermin to complete the ritual. In Hannibal, Will Graham would get visions an elk that would point him in the right direction to be with Hannibal.

(Before I continue, I would like to note a flaw that Hannibal and Kraven’s Last Hunt share: the treatment of female characters. It isn’t to say that DeMatteis or the people behind Hannibal write the female characters poorly, but rather that they don’t get to do much within the narrative [though that’s more on Kraven’s Last Hunt than Hannibal] and are all brutalized to one degree or another. Though Hannibal is laudable for its decision to [mostly] remove the sexual assault within Harris’ source text, the female characters are still brutalized primarily for the sake of tormenting the male characters. Off the top of my head, there’s the two times Abigail Hobbes is murdered, both times to torment Will, the sexual violence done to Margot Verger is designed by Hannibal to push Will into killing Mason Verger, and the numerous instances of Alana Bloom being a peril monkey. Not to mention the decrease in femininity as the third season goes on, dropping two of them unceremoniously out of the narrative entirely before the final episode and leaving the rest with little to do plot wise than either be terrorized by the male characters or sneer at them.

Indeed Kraven’s Last Hunt suffers even more because of this as it only has one female character of note: Mary Jane Watson [the other two females that appear are both victims of Vermin and only one of them survives]. Her actions within the text consist of being worried about her husband’s survival, one attempt at collating information that goes nowhere, and spends the rest of the story as Peter’s reward for not dying from a gunshot wound to the face. As for the brutalization, Mary Jane is given the role of “woman who gets threatened by rape before the hero comes swinging in to save the day” within the text. Yuck.

And while this element of the text isn’t enough to make it a bad text, there is a redemptive reading to this aspect of Kraven’s Last Hunt [Hannibal has enough redemptive reads for me not to make one]. The claim that there is only one female character of note is a small lie. In truth, there is another female of note but she isn’t a character. Specifically, the implications of Kraven’s mother [left unnamed and seen only briefly in a photograph] haunt Kraven’s mental landscape. It was said that she lived with a mental illness [“They said my mother was insane” to use Kraven’s exact words] exacerbated by the life his family lived once they fled Russia to the point of suicide. Kraven fears that he too may have to live with neurodivergency, that his obsession with the Spider is a manifestation of said illness rather than an actual demon he must slay. So then the feminine is a haunting force within the text, of which Kraven rejects via his "masculine" persona of a hairy chested, muscle bounded hunter whereas Peter embraces femininity both through Mary Jane and by rejecting the toxic masculinity expected of him in favor of compassion, love, and other "feminine" attributes.

I should also note that the remainder of DeMatties’ run does do more interesting things with its female characters than this story does and the writers of Hannibal are generally good with the female characters they write and will probably do wonders with Clarice Starling.)

But the part of Hannibal that most connects to Kraven’s Last Hunt would be the back end of Season Three, which adapts the novel the series is supposedly based on: Red Dragon. Much like Kraven’s Last Hunt, the section tells of a killer obsessed with the work of Blake to such a degree as it inspires him to go out and kill in order to become more akin to it. Much like the Great Red Dragon of Hannibal, Kraven has a paradoxical relationship with his becoming. They both fear and desire the creature of their Blakeian nightmares. And most importantly both misinterpret Blake. The Great Red Dragon was inspired by Blake series of paintings of the same name. Specifically the Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun. It depicts the Dragon towering above the Woman Clothed in Sun. The picture is framed in such a way as to emphasize the Dragon’s masculine form, to the point where it block’s the feminine form. In particular his well cultivated ass. As the show notes, the Dragon has an anxiety of homosexuality, hence his apprehension of becoming the Dragon (as well as a redemptive read of Harris’ misnaming the painting as The Great Red Dragon And the Woman Clothed With The Sun, which emphasizes the subject of the Dragon’s gaze rather than the Dragon’s physicality. Note also the lack of mention towards The Great Red Dragon and the Beast from the Sea, which has the Dragon’s cock being covered up by the Beast’s head).

As I’ve mentioned previously, Kraven misreads The Tyger as being about the Tyger. Much like Frank Castle, he sees the Tyger as a beast untamed by society, a creature “That would not know mercy, nor remorse, nor even the concept of stopping: not having been constructed with those qualities in mind.” And while that may be what the Tyger is and the poem directly addressing the Tyger, the poem is more about the creation of such a creature. Not of the creator’s power, but of the horror that such a being could create both the Tyger and the Lamb. The aftermath of creating such a beast caused heaven itself to weep. Did such a creator (be it god or man [given the image I’m using for this entry, could the Tyger be juxtaposed with the creation of the nuclear bomb. Did we who made the Superman make thee?])… Did he smile at this response? Kraven missing this point in favor of valorizing the Tyger indicates a desire to be a force of chaotic horror as well as being defined by someone else’s order, someone else’s vision. (Kraven is notably not a creator.)

Given this juxtaposition and the earlier one of Vermin and Will Graham (which highlights how bad reading Kraven’s Last Hunt as a one to one comparison with Hannibal is), one would be correct to ask who in this text do we juxtapose with Hannibal? The implication would be that the answer is Peter Parker. There are obvious problems with this juxtaposition, most notably the fact that Peter isn’t a serial killer (we’ll talk about his status as a creative force in two posts time). He certainly isn’t upper class (given his apartment, Peter’s clearly working class) and Peter is clearly an American. If anything, Kraven is the more Hanibalistic figure of the two.

And yet, there’s an uncannyness to Spider-Man, a sense that he doesn’t quite belong in this world. Kraven takes the read of the Spider being a demonic entity (the chaotic force behind Lenin, Hitler, Regan, and all the other men who ruined the world) possessing the man behind the Spider-Man mask. It’s easier for him to believe that there is a Spider than the awful truth of existence: The world is rudderless.

And so Kraven opts to best the Spider by becoming it. Consuming it and being a better fit than Peter ever was. And in a way, he is. Consider Peter’s description of how Spider-Man ought to view his, for lack of a better term, prey in the first issue: “They’re not people. They’re obstacles in my way. Means to an end. And, if they die… Why should I care?” With Kraven playing the part of Spider-Man, we see this interpretation for all its horrifying glory. He dispatches the attempted rapists with a brutal efficiency (taking them out in four panels, each of which give a static quality to Kraven’s movements) that is so unlike how Peter would act that Mary Jane immediately notices that he isn’t (more on the implications of this next time). (Ok, one small note to sate the appetite: Fascism has been noted as being intrinsic to the superhero genre. And fascists have been noted as preferring an orderly world than one defined by the radiant chaos Blake dreamed of in the form of, among other things, a Spyder.)

What makes Peter juxtapozable to Hannibal is his need to shape the role. To cultivate his persona into the role he finds himself within. Where Hannibal cultivates the mask of civility to allow himself enough status to get a close proximity to his primary source of prey (there are an extraordinarily large amount of rich people who are extremely rude), Peter works against the mold of what Spider-Man ought to be in favor of a more empathetic being (whether he succeeds or not is on a case by case basis). Neither wishes to be defined by another’s system, despite working in a genre where it is expected of them to do so (superheroes of the 80’s were expected to behave like Frank Miller’s Batman rather than care about other’s feelings and serial killers are expected to be akin to Ed Gein, an unassuming man, rather than a sophisticated camp man with a need for friendship that’s as inexplicable to him as it is to us). In the end, the juxtaposition of the two works, while useful, is more of an intellectual exercise than an interpretation. Neither were an influence on the other, but they expose interesting things out of one another. This is my design.

(Next Time: And Water’d Heaven With Their Tears)

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[Photo: Gotta Light? Directed by David Lynch Script by Mark Frost and David Lynch]

I Rose Above My Pain! (Descent)

DESCENT: Descent is a term with a lot of implications. It refers both to someone physically moving downwards as well as the people who preceded you in the family tree. Both of these terms reflect Kraven’s actions within this issue as the former refers to the physical act of going into the sewer (which we never see within the comic, he just appears in there without notice) as well as his implicit desire to be better than those who previously held family name. This one is a bit more complicated than one would assume as it not only refers to Kraven’s dishonored parents, but also to Peter Parker, whom he views as a lesser being who is unworthy of being the mythical Spider. Slightly related is the phrase “descending into madness,” which highlights some of Kraven’s anxieties.

I used the Comixology scans version for this rather than the originals I use for the rest of this post to highlight the most interesting aspect of this page. Note that while Kraven is wearing the trappings of darkness, that which he craves so utterly, he is consistently framed as being outside it. Given the cover of the issue, one would think otherwise as it depicts the newest Spider-Man slinking out of the darkness whilst hunting his prey. But if you were to look closely, you’d notice that he’s not completely within the darkness. This is not out of morality, but rather due to the fact that Kraven is a known quantity. Note how Vermin also desires darkness, and is too framed as not being a part of it. At the same time though, there’s a sense that Vermin is more comfortable seen within the darkness, lacking the uncannyness of Spider-Man (note also the opening page of the next part).
KRAVEN: I see into things; beyond things. I see the strands of Fate that bind us: victims to victor. So I let them scream; let them shout my name. My ears hear nothing but the weaving of the web.
Much like Grand Admiral Mitth'raw'nuruodo would after him, Kraven’s move towards psychochronography is more out of a dull desire to best his opponents than to actually understand the implications of being able to see one's outside. But then, when hasn’t pointless violence and cruelty been chosen over the humanities?

In some regards, Kraven is a better "Spider-Man" (as defined in the first part of this story) than Peter ever was. Kraven’s Spider-Man is a brutal figure akin to Frank Miller’s Batman: one without remorse or pity towards those whom he attacks. All things considered, it’s a rather banal form of vigilantism. Kraven’s efficiency at dispatching his foes is machinelike in its approach, lacking any personality or room for growth. This vision of Spider-Man is that of a superhero who rejects the need to disassociate from the fascism that festers within the genre.
KRAVEN: They burst in, feigning shock, annoyance, fear. Magnificent actors in a play of my creation. They serve me; worship me. But the world must never know. So I skitter into the night while they “order” me to stop.
That the police would readily embrace the fascist superhero more easily than one who tries to combat the fascism within the genre is unsurprising. Indeed, Kraven’s sole failing in this regard is not realizing that part of the performativity of cops (especially those within the superhero genre [of which The Punisher is not]) is not allowing the vigilantes to murder the criminals, especially if they’re white.
KRAVEN: I have slain the Spider. Become him. I have hunted as the Spider hunts… consumed the Spider’s prey. I have proven myself his superior in every way.
As with the Great Red Dragon, one finds Kraven’s becoming to be slightly wanting. His solution the Spider, the beast that corrupts mankind from Hitler to Regan to Trump, that pushes humanity down towards the abyss of suffering and madness-- all Kraven can muster in response is “do all the worst instincts of Batman while wearing a black Spider-Man costume?” I mean to finalize his victory of the Spider, he finds a trauma survivor who is coping in an unhealthy manner and proceeds to beat and torture before letting him escape from his “care” to be hunted by another superhero. Extreme acts of cruelty require a high degree of empathy. And while this is an extremely cruel thing to do to Peter Parker, it’s a banal form of cruelty towards Vermin and a reiteration of the Spider’s cruelty (for more on the banality of “What if X were Batman,” see Dark Nights: Metal).

In the last part of this analysis, I was wrong. There is in fact another female character in this comic. She too gets eaten.
VERMIN: meninblue. copsss. fuzz. pigsss. big talk. used to hitmehurtme. …before…? …when? when i wasss… when i wasss…? WHAT WASSS I BEFORE?! blue sssuit. pale ssskin. big club. hithurthithurthithurthithurt. NOW I’M HITTING BACK!! beforebeforebefore: what wasss i before? i wasss small and dark. i wasss hitand hurt andhurt and hit. i wasss eaten alive.
DeMatteis would return to the character of Vermin throughout his run on Spectacular Spider-Man, most notably in the story arc The Child Within. There, it’s revealed that Vermin was raped and abused as a child by his father, a judge. When confronting him years later, Vermin finds himself incapable of dealing with the complex feelings he has towards his father. The arc also provides a through line between Kraven’s Last Hunt and DeMatteis’ work with Harry Osborn, paralleling the reactions and repressions of Harry and Peter with that of Vermin. Healing and coping with abuse (especially abuse experienced by children) seems to be a major theme of DeMatteis’ work, popping up in his Spider-Man run, Seekers into the Mystery, and Superman: Speeding Bullets (though that’s more out of genre needs, as it pertains to the question of “What if Kal-El of Krypton was Bruce Wayne?”), in particular how people try (and sometimes fail) at coping with it. Though the consequences of the trauma remain, we can find some level of healing from it. It doesn’t have to define our way of life. (See also: Tom King’s Mister Miracle.)

I’m pissed that I have to say this, but just because you survive a traumatic experience, doesn’t mean it justifies being a rapist or even sexual assault. “Being a Holocaust Survivor” isn’t a good defense of Roman Polanski. At best, it’s an explanation, though I’m pretty sure most Holocaust survivors didn’t try to rape anyone as a means of coping. Rape, and subsequently sexual assault, is about showing power and dominance over another person. They are yours to do with as you please. Perhaps out a feeling that your life lacks control and stability. Perhaps because you can and everyone will just say “boys will be boys” and you’ll see no consequences for your actions. Even people who stand for the rights of the abused and marginalized will stay quiet about this, less they be destroyed and humiliated by you. This project has been going on since October of 2017, a few days after the Weinstein affair came out. I’m angry, is what I’m saying.

In more analytical terms, note the usage of the phrase “I love you,” which Peter will use as he is climbing out of his grave. As I’ve written in PanelXPanel #8, love is a moral neutral concept that can be used to justify both cruel and kind actions. Vermin isn’t assaulting Officer Marsha Collins out of a love for her, but out of a love for who she reminds him of: his mother, who let him be raped by his father. Some have said that those who were victims of child abuse are doomed to be abusers themselves. But then, some people also claim vaccines give kids autism and those with autism ought to be euthanized for their own good. Just because people say a thing, doesn’t mean it’s true.
MARY JANE: Why did I come here? Because Joe Robertson is the editor of The Daily Bugle? Because he’s known Peter for years? Because he’s a man of intelligence and integrity? Or because--
“The issue was running two pages short and DeMatteis needed me to do something other than mope?”

There’s an ambiguity, one that Kraven’s Last Hunt (and indeed the rest of the DeMatties era, and most Spider-Man comics come to think of it) is only marginally interested in, as to whether or not Joe Robertson knows who Peter is. In many ways his sole appearance in the story seems to lean towards him being aware of this, but it’s an ambiguity remains unresolved, even when Peter outed himself to the public.
KRAVEN: The newspapers call him… it… the “Cannibal Killer.” But I know it by name. I am the HUNTER; I know all beasts intimately. I am inside you, Vermin; can you hear my call? Don’t resist: Let Destiny take our hands; draw us closer together.
How does Kraven know this? Did he see Vermin stalking in the background while he was saving Mary Jane from a pair of rapists? Or when he was brutalizing the drug dealers at the beginning of the issue? Or does his connectedness to the web of existence give him access to the script? Also “Cannibal Killer?” could the papers really be unable to come up with something more imaginative? Along with the “Subway Vigilante,” one wonders if newspapers just put the first couple of words they come up with together rather than try to create interesting names. No wonder most serial killers name themselves.

So does Kraven just walk around his house naked save for a bathrobe or does he just do that to mentally prepare himself for the hunt? The first part of the story leans very heavily towards the former being the case, but we never see Kraven resting from a hunt. His entire life is defined by the act of hunting. For all DeMatteis’ interest in the character, his initial analysis of Kraven is on the mark: he is a bit one-dimensional, less defined by hunting than by besting Spider-Man. Indeed the aspects of Kraven that interested DeMatteis seem to be things that he added from other sources (specifically the work of Fyodor Dostoyevsky) rather than things inherent to Kraven as created by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee. (Much the same could be said of “With Great Power, there must also come Great Responsibility,” as this is a morally neutral statement based on the views of the person hearing it. If one views homosexuality to be a great evil, would it then be their responsibility to use whatever power they had to wipe out this blight on humanity? Spider-Man stories, much like Doctor Who stories, tend to lean towards the left certainly, but there’s a reason why Spider-Man was listed amongst Ted Cruz’s favorite superheroes [though it was a bit jarring given Spidey doesn’t quite fit in that well with the aesthetic of Batman, Wolverine, Iron Man, and Rorschach].) A pity as I would have really liked Kraven to use his nipple lasers one last time.

As I’ve said before, Kraven isn’t a figure of darkness. In this moment however, he gets the closest to darkness with his entire upper body being pure darkness. (Well, second closest. The closest is on the next page, where all we see of Kraven is the whites of the eyes from his Spider-Man mask. This moment however is about Kraven’s approach towards Vermin rather than revealing himself to the cannibal) And yet, there’s a constant beam of light that forces his costume to be a shade of blue rather than pure blackness. Less a being of darkness than one consumed by it.
KRAVEN: Alone, he could never have defeated you. Never!!! But I can.
Spoiler alert: Peter Parker ends this story beating Vermin in such a way as to completely demolish Kraven’s entire worldview in favor of something far less banal and, in its own way, far more cruel.

Well I guess Paul Tobin was right: Peter can summon a horde of spiders at will. More seriously, in his analysis of the first issue of Kraven’s Last Hunt, Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou discusses how a series of panels slightly removed from the events of the issue builds a sense of dread by having said panels appear unexpectedly in the issue, cutting off the flow of the narrative. DeMatteis and Zeck would repeat throughout the series. (The only exception to this is the fourth part, which depicts a series of vertical panels of Kraven removing his mask rather than a series of horizontal panels that only impact the narrative symbolically.) In that issue, the panels depict a gravedigger digging Peter’s grave before the final set of pages closes with the grave being filled. With this one, a cluster of spiders is summoned in anticipation for Peter’s rise. We’ll get to the mechanics of how Peter returned from the dead next time, but the sense of dread in this case is of what it means that the “hero” has risen from the grave. The dead tend not to rise from the grave, and once they do, they become monstrous. So one wonders what the results are of Peter’s Becoming.

(Next Time: In What Furnace Was Thy Brain?)

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[Photo: Dirty Pair Flight 005 Conspiracy Directed by Toshifumi Takizawa Script by Fuyunori Gobu and Fuyushi Itsutake]

"Our works in stone, in paint, in print, are spared, some of them, for a few decades or a millennium or two, but everything must finally fall in war, or wear away into the ultimate and universal ash--the triumphs, the frauds, the measures and the fakes. A fact of life: we're going to die. "Be of good heart," cry the dead artists out of the living past. "Our songs will all be silenced, but what of it? Go on singing." Maybe a man's name doesn't matter all that much."
-Orson Welles
You Are Receiving This Broadcast As A Dream. (Resurrection)

Throughout this project, I have pondered the survival of Peter Parker of a bullet would to the face. I suppose now, since this is the part of the story where he crawls his way out of the six foot deep grave Kraven buried him in, I should try my best to answer this question. But to understand how Peter Parker survived a bullet to the head, one must first understand the nature of Peter Parker. In many ways, one of the core ideas of Kraven’s Last Hunt (along with coping with traumatic experiences and coming to terms with the cruelty of the then modern day of 1987 [though to be honest, the story’s more a thesis statement for DeMatteis run, which would explore these themes in more depth]) is what makes Peter Parker so special. Why is he the main character of this book as opposed to someone more befitting of the role of 80’s Superhero?

To understand the answer to this question, let’s take a slight detour and look at a fool by the name of Robert Armin. Armin was the lead comedic actor for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men after the departure of William Kempe. The reasoning for Kempe’s departure from the company is unclear, though some have speculated that Kempe’s improvisational style clashed too much with William Shakespeare’s Singular Vision (mostly due to a, for lack of a better term, subtweet in Hamelt Act 3 Scene two where the titular character warns of this kind of actor “for there be of them that will themselves laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh too; though, in the mean time, some necessary question of the play be then to be considered: that’s villainous, and shows a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it”).

Of Kempe’s fools, the most notable of which is Dogberry of Much Ado About Nothing. In the play, Dogberry is a thug of a watchman who believes himself to be of more importance and ability than he actually is. In truth, he bumbles through the plot with a bludgeon of a tongue and a posse of officers who make him look like Sherlock Holmes (though that’s by his design as Dogberry advocates sleeping on the job and avoiding even touching a thief, lest their evil infect them). They only succeed in preventing this play from being a tragedy due to sheer happenstance and the universe deciding to be a comedy for the day.

But perhaps his most famous fool would be that of Sir John Falstaff. Prince Hal’s mentor in the art of being a layabout and a knave, Falstaff was an old, corrupt, and charismatic con artist with a love and joy for life that would warm the heart of many a dreamer. He desires solely his own entertainment and enjoyment in life, and his story, though at times comedic, is ultimately a tragic one as Hal rejects him once he is declared King and, shortly afterwards, Falstaff dies. One interpretation of the story (specifically Orson Welles’ The Chimes at Midnight) gives it a more bittersweet turn, as the monologue wherein Hal plots his heel face turn against Falstaff is preformed not as a soliloquy, but rather as a monologue directly at Falstaff. The con artist realizes that he’s been paid the debt, the promise, of another con artist, and accepts his failure gracefully.

But we should return to the matter of Armin. Unlike Kempe, whose style was akin to a jackhammer being used on a nail, Armin had a more subtle approach. His fools were less bumblers whose failures were apparent to everyone watching and more those who were not foolish themselves, but rather playing the role of the fool. This is perhaps best showcased in King Lear, wherein the unnamed fool is both at the torment of those who hold power within the universe of the play (the titular Lear) as well as an ability to comment on his failings in witty retorts. Less Mr. Bean than Blackadder. (It should be noted that some scholars claim Armin was the original Iago.)

But for all the cleverness, wit, and humor, there’s a genuine sadness to the fools that Armin plays. A cynicism, or at the very least an affected cynicism, that permeates his performances. A cynicism born of witnessing the cruelty and sadness of the world and finding only the barest glimpses of hope on the other side. At times, he will fall into the pit of despair and pessimism, but ultimately far too wise to ever believe that the world can ever stop changing. It’s a foolishness that everyone falls into every now and then, and Armin’s fools were at their best when revealing such foolishness (though this aspect is less text than subtext, as many an Armin play that had him as the fool was a tragedy of which he never stops completely, but does make somewhat better. After all, the Fool does remain with Lear even after his fall from grace).

I suppose now is a good time to finally get into the subject of Spider-Man’s survival. It has to do with the underlining nature of Peter Parker. Consider for a moment the narration that accompanies Peter’s entrance into the narrative. Throughout the narration, Peter asks himself why he cares about the death of some no name punk. He’s sent people like Joe Face to jail more times than he can count, why should he care about this guy? But the way Peter talks about the bit of empathy within him has less to do with a fear of death, which provides motivation to notice such things as a funeral for a fiend, but rather something else. The telling line is as follows: “There is no Spider-Man. he’s a mask. A myth. A lie. Oh, sure, it’d be great if putting on a costume could miraculously change the man underneath. But it can’t. I’m not Spider-Man.” Peter’s worried that having empathy and compassion towards his enemies would count as breaking character breaking character. Peter Parker survived the attack on his life because he’s an actor.

A specific kind of actor: a performance artist, one that is both Kempian in his improvisation and agility and Arminian in his wit and ability to express melancholy through his humor. (Let’s expand on this a bit. In many regards, Dogberry is how most people view a character like Spider-Man, and would especially apply to when he was young. In the Ditko days, it was less that Peter told jokes at the expense of his enemies than he just said whatever came to mind first. Much like Dogberry’s inconceivable usage of malapropism, most of what Spidey said at such a young age was rather daft [most notably “Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man,” which is either a reference to a sodding Ed Wood movie where the joke there was the milkman was sleeping with all the women in the neighborhood or to a Methodist Church in Wisconsin]. Equally, there’s a thuggishness to Spider-Man that gels well with Dogberry. Many a Spider-Man story returning to those bygone days [in particular the most resent movie, Spider-Man Homecoming] has Spidey try desperately to gain the approval of his senior superheroes, of which he typically gains. Likewise Dogberry ends the play with the reward for capturing the villains being a thank you from the Prince, of which he treats with the upmost gratitude. [Ditko Spider-Man would rather be paid a lot of money than be thanked, but then again most writers tend to ignore that aspect of the character in favor of his noble suffering.]

As for Armin, that is the realm where DeMatteis’ Spider-Man lies. Like his fools, Spider-Man is very sly about his humor. Rather than say what comes to mind, Peter crafts his humor for his audience and even allows the mask of comedy to drop when the story requires it to do so. There’s a sense of unstoppable tragedy to the stories that DeMatteis tells that adds a touch of melancholy to even the happiest of them [the happiest of which depicts the death of Aunt May at the hands of old age]. Though he tries to turn things around for the better, Peter in the role of an Armin Fool is always doomed to failure. Always doomed to be too late. And yet, always able to remain only on the precipice of the pit of pessimism, even when the role of Spider-Man demands he fall into it [for more on this particular note, read David Brothers’ piece No Laughing Matters over on 4thletter].)

In some regards, Peter has been type cast as Spider-Man, specifically one who is influenced by the way Peter believed a hero ought to be back when he was in High School and read Ayn Rand and other nerdy books. And, like many a High School nerdy boy, there are toxic ideas within this conception. For example, there’s an oddness to the way Peter talks about the Joe Faces of the world, as if he doesn’t really believe that “They’re not people. They’re obstacles in my way. A means to an end.” Maybe he did believe they were these things when he read Rand, but now he knows different. He wants to have a mutual understanding between the two of them: the goodies and the baddies; them and us; Spider-Man and Joe Face.

And yet, the performativity of both sides refuses to allow such empathy to exist. Spider-Man can’t be seen fraternizing with the criminals, lest their crimes besmirch his identity. And the "common criminals" are reasonably afraid of Spider-Man, as there’s no sign of humanity from the look of him beyond the general outline. He could be anyone under that mask. The Man wants to understand those who he interacts with on a daily/weekly basis. The Spider just wants to defeat his enemies and get on with its life.

In many regards, the main action of the issue I’ve not talked about for 1665 words is about this disconnect between Spider and Man. Both identities are presented at their fail states, starting with the Man being presented as a blank slate in an equally blank void. When the personhood of Peter Parker is thrust upon Man through the vessel of Ned Leeds, Man is incapable of coping with the mortality implied by having Ned be this messenger (as well as the unspoken part where Peter is a murderer in the tale of The Death of Ned Leeds. As Rikdad notes in his retro review of Final Crisis, when Superman is presented with a story where he ends up killing someone, he will choose to die [symbolically or otherwise]. Spider-Man too opts for death… and then, he comes back, rejuvenated… or rather, regenerated [one of the best of the Armin Fools is the Seventh Doctor, who I’ve always thought as “what if Spider-Man was a manipulative chess master and was inexplicably good at it]. So how does he cope with this idea? Perhaps not, but he does come out of this story more confidant in himself than he was at the beginning of the story. Perhaps this brush with death gave Peter some perspective on what has happened around him and an acceptance of Death. Or perhaps DeMatteis was simply unaware of this aspect of Ned Leeds’ death. These things do happen).

To get out of having to deal with this, Man becomes an immortal idea: The Spider. In many ways, the Spider is of Kraven’s conception: an unstoppable force in the universe that is older than Peter Parker and will in turn outlive us all, pushing the world to the brink. And yet, when faced with the horrors of the world, the Spider is incapable of doing anything more than futile gestures towards them before being brutally slaughtered. Also of note is that contrary to how most people read the character, the Spider is the one with self-doubt about his capabilities, wondering if he really is The Spider or if he’s the one who dies.

And when the Spider does die, Peter comes out of the guts, like a butterfly comes out of the carcass of a caterpillar. The pattern continues with Peter boasting about his strength coming from his mundane nature as being a regular guy drawn into bigger things than he can fully comprehend. And then he too is shown to be insufficient to get out of the grave Kraven has trapped him in, and so forth.

In many ways, this is why Peter Parker is able to survive being shot in the face: at the end of the day, it’s a better story with Peter alive than dead. Not in the sense that Kraven’s Last Hunt is a better comic than What If Vol. 2 #17 (though I should stress that it absolutely is. That issue of What If is not that good, focusing on all the least interesting aspects of Kraven’s Last Hunt instead of the weirdness and empathy that DeMatteis was interested in. Still, it does give Mary Jane an active role and Aunt May an actual scene, if an extremely rote one). Rather the story possibilities presented by the dueling identities of Spider and Man, of the actor behind the mask and the role he plays, is far more interesting than another thug going around bopping people to show his dominance over the world.

Indeed, that’s the secret behind Spider-Man: it’s not that he’s been typecast to be Spider-Man. Rather, Peter, like any good actor, has been spending these years honing in the role of Spider-Man to be something more than its initial conception. Because at the end of the day, it’s true Spider-Man is a myth, a lie, a story. But what connects these things is that they’re all capable of making something out of nothing. To change the world as best as possible, and hope to heal it for the better. He may not always succeed, but what matters is that he tries. Without that, without caring about those who are hurt by the cruelties of the world and wanting to make things better... he'd just be Kraven's Spider-Man, but with cruel jokes added in. And frankly, Peter's far too interesting to be just that.

(Next Time: And What Art Could Twist The Sinews Of Thy Heart?)

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[Photo: The Inner Light Directed by Peter Luritson Written by Morgan Gendal and Peter Allan Fields]

Have Fun Stormin’ Da Castle. (Thunder)

David Bowie is The 12th Doctor.
The first page is a spread depicting a dark and stormy night in New York City. This is an establishing shot of where the comic’s action takes place. The top set of windows has a red light coming out of them, with emphasis the middle one. While the rest of the windows have a blue one. The windows of the emphasized building are placed into three rows. The top two rows have five windows, while the third row has only four. There is a gap of concrete where the middle window should be. Each window is structured in a grid of 5X2 with the exception of the middle windows, which have a 5X4 grid and a semicircle atop it, split into six even pieces. In the top right corner, lightning has struck the page, splintering into two beams of light. One of the beams splinters again, while the other does not. (Given the comic this page opens, the implication is that this represents the paths that Kraven and Peter take. One is shown to have a future with limitless possibilities. The other is not.) A sound effect of “KRA-KOOOM” accompanies the lightning. There is a Spider and a Rat in the foreground. There is no sense of animosity between the two; they are just watching the world go by them. What they see is a taxi zooming off to the right. (The same taxi has been seen previously in this comic, ignoring the pleads of the second of Vermin’s victims. What does that mean for the story? Does it represent some sort of innate human desire to ignore the plight of other in favor of living blissfully in the utopia of Omelas? That for our claims of empathy, we tend to miss major aspects of the lives of other people until it’s far too late, be it a murder that’s about to happen or a suicide? Or is it just to add some New York City flavor to the comic.) Both the Rat and the Spider are draped in shadows, though we can see the reds of the Rat’s eyes. There is one box of narration, which perfectly connects one building to another. The box is orange. The narrator talks of how other people viewed their mother’s sanity, which is to say, “lacking.”

The next page has seven panels, four on the top and three on the bottom.  The first three top panels are equal in size while the fourth one is significantly wider. The bottom three panels are equal in size. The panels depict a furred man initially snarling at the reader. His eyes are the same shade of red as the Rat from the previous page. Then the sound effect for the lightning appears over most of the first two panels and only partially in the third, indicating that this page takes place at the same time as the previous one. The sound frightens the man and he tries to escape. In the first three panels, we see the shadow of what appears to be a stylized window. It is in the fourth panel where we learn that the man is in a cage. The last three panels depict the man’s failed attempt at escaping the cage due to it being electrified. Initially, the electricity hurts the man, but his emotions turn to scorn as the sequence concludes. The sound effect for the electricity, “SSHAAAAAKKKK,” dominates the three panels. (Vermin has no speech bubbles on this page, so it could be read that the sound of electricity is also the sound of his screams.) The orange narration from the previous page continues on this page. On the upper panels, the narration is on the top, completely filling itself into the panel’s width, whereas the bottom panels have the narration on their bottom and thinner than the panels. The narration expands on the previous bit of narration, explaining the world she lived in, what happened to their father, and the fact that they could do nothing to stop these things from occurring as they were but a child. The narrator ultimately refutes the conclusion people made about their mother’s sanity, specifying their lies in regards to her committing suicide. (An interesting note about Kraven’s narration on this page is that it juxtaposes with the events depicted in the panels. Especially in regards to the fourth panel, wherein the line “Finally locked away, like an animal: trapped. Abused. Terrified” is paralleled with the reveal that Vermin is in a cage and his attempts at trying to escape from said cage. It is only from outside the events of the comic, from our nonfictional world, that we can see this parallel. If, as Kraven says later on, all men have Spiders, it is clear that Kraven is Vermin’s. A pity neither of them realize this.)

The following page has five panels, four on the top and one on the bottom. Once again, they split the page evenly, though this time the panels in the top row get slightly wider as the sequence goes on. The top row depicts a man in a black costume with sharply round pale white eyes, white squares on the back of his hand, and a white stylized spider on his chest. (Zeck decides not to continue his trend of drawing Spider-Man as being one with darkness in this sequence, indicating that their experience with dying has changed the very concept of what Spider-Man can be. Not a creature of darkness and cruelty or one of light and stability. But rather, something in between: someone who can change back and forth between these two ends of the spectrum of being. Not an idea representing one thing, but a person representing many.) As the man descends, the camera pans right to see another man. His black hair tries to be neat, but strands flop messily onto his forehead. He has a thick moustache and a small chin beard. His right eye is looking disdainfully in the direction of the descending man. The bottom panel reveals the two men are wearing the same clothes, with the only difference being one is wearing a mask while the other isn’t. They address each other as “KRAVEN!” and “Spider-Man.” respectively. The bottom panel takes place in a room with pink smoke, lit by torches. The narration box on the first panel fills the bottom completely, but then starts to ascend from the bottom until it reaches KRAVEN’s neck. The bottom panel returns the narration box to the edge of the panel. The narration claims that their mother’s life was stolen by the Spider and then proceeds to connect the Spider to Spider-Man, though notes that they are not one and the same. (It should be noted that the second and third panels contain only the words “Stolen” and “by” respectively for emphasis.)

The fourth page has six panels in four rows. The first three rows each have one long panel while the fourth row has three vertical panels. (Though not in the style of a nine panel grid, which in Spider-Man comics tends to represent a massive change that’s about to occur. Previously, the nine panel grid has appeared alongside The Death of Gwen Stacy as Mary Jane decides to grow as a person as opposed to her traditional method of dealing with a stressful experience [running away from her problems], If This Be My Destiny, where it dominates the middle chapter as Peter pushes himself past his breaking point and becomes a new story entirely, and My Dinner With Jonah, where it haunts the comic right until Peter decides to reveal his secret identity to Jonah. But this isn’t the moment of massive change for Peter. That happened in the previous issue where the nine-panel grid does make an appearance.) The first three panels have Spider-Man leap at KRAVEN, grabbing him by the lapels of his costume, before punching him in the mouth. Spider-Man rants about how KRAVEN robbed two weeks of his life. (Given the previous page talked about how the Spider stole the life of Kraven’s Mother, these synonymous terms indicate that Kraven killed Peter, but Peter was able to bring himself back from the dead.) In the panel before he gets punched, KRAVEN looks scornfully at Spider-Man. This scorn continues into the final row of panels where, after he spits out blood from being punched in the mouth, his scorn turns into a cruel smile. The narration is present in all but the fifth panel, wherein KRAVEN spits out blood. Consistently the narration box is in the top left corner of their respective panels, though only the first panel’s narration box isn’t at the edge of the panel. The narrator talks of the connection Spider-Man has to the Spider, of how the Spider has ruined both nations and lives, and how the narrator ultimately defeated it. (I’ll get into this more later, but no.)

The following page has four panels. The first two are horizontal rows and the last two are vertical. Interestingly, they are placed in the bottom right corner of the page and do not connect to the top set of panels. Rather a non-panel dominates the bottom portion of the page. (Which is to say there is no panel outline for that scene, save that which the characters make.) The first panel is another establishing shot of the exterior of the building where these events take place. The sound of lightning is now simply “KOOOM.” The next panel has Spider-Man about to hit KRAVEN again, talking about how he’s going to make it hurt. KRAVEN is siloetted in this panel, looking almost defeared. He retorts in the non-panel by raising his hands in surrender. (Note the similarities between Peter’s words while punching Kraven, Kraven’s attitude towards the criminals in part 3, the cops’ willingness to go with Kraven’s methodology, recent news stories about people being hurt by the police despite having their hands up, and what Peter does once Kraven raises his hands.) Seeing this, Spider-Man declenches his fist. The mask masks his reaction. Bloodied, KRAVEN declares victory in the final panel. The narration appears in three of the four panels and in the non-panel. For the first time in this comic, the first panel features two narration boxes. These are the sole boxes on the page that appear in the bottom portion of their panel. The narrator hears the lightning and its relationship to future events. (Note how “KOOOM” sounds like “BOOM.”) But they’re not ready for them yet. They want the Spider to understand.

After this page, a set of twelve panels broken into three rows of four panels. The first row has KRAVEN strip before Spider-Man, revealing hairy chest. The sequence is juxtaposed with a panel of the outside world being struck by lightening and of the furred man from page two reacting to the electricity of his cage. The next row continues with KRAVEN removing his pants before jumping to the furred man growling and another shot of the world being struck by lightning. (The way it’s framed, Vermin’s growl is the thunder that precedes the lightning. To emphasize this, this is the sole panel wherein the lightning is seen through a window, mirroring the bars on Vermin’s cage.) The final row focuses on the costume at KRAVEN’s feet and only has the furred man’s newest attempt at escape, which fails. The two men discuss the nature of those stolen weeks, of how KRAVEN proved himself superior to Spider-Man by donning his costume and replacing him. Spider-Man quibbles with the use of the term “killed,” as he believes he was merely put into a state simulating death. (In truth, neither men understand fully what has occurred, both believing that Peter’s death was merely symbolic. The truth is far more complicated than that. As we saw, Kraven did shoot Peter in the face with a gun. These events did occur. Peter was dead and buried for two weeks, and then brought back to life via magic. Magic is, after all, a process that combines artifice with symbolism to cause material social progress; in other words, the creation of a fiction impacting the real world. To quote Jen Blue, “All fictions are equally fictional.” It follows then that a symbolic death for a fictional character is the same thing as that character being dead. To escape a fictional death, a character must change themselves so utterly as to no longer be who they once were in a process typically called “regeneration.” Peter has done this multiple times previously and will do so again in the future.) There is no narration. (One of five pages that lacks this.)

Next comes a sequence of five panels in two rows of two and three respectively. The top row consists of KRAVEN putting on a new costume, one made out of what a white person assumes African tribal wear looks like, before beckoning Spider-Man to follow him to somewhere else. The next two panels have Spider-Man hesitate before doing so. (As many have noted Spider-Man looks wrong if he’s just standing around. He has to be a character in motion. When Kraven was Spider-Man, there was a static nature to even his most brutal of movements. With Peter, even when he’s frozen with shock, there’s a sense that he’s moving. Also of note, Peter doesn’t stand like a normal person, he sticks to walls or in this case crawls to where he has to go.) The final panel changes it focus back to the Rat and the Spider, now visibly moving towards one another. The narration returns to the page. (The majority of the narration describes what the panels show, but more interestingly is the first panel’s narration. Kraven claims that though Peter has no idea what happened to him, the Spider comprehends. And in this comprehension, he submits to Kraven. This is of course completely wrong, not just in terms of the level of comprehension Peter has, but also in the nature of the Spider. The Spider isn’t some arch super villain who can be beaten by merely symbolically killing its vessel and taking his place. The Spider, as Kraven defines it, is a being of vast power and terror. Something from beyond the pale that corrupts society at its core, destroys people on a whim, and can possess others like one would possess a costume. To apply that to Spider-Man is wrongheaded. Yes, he wears the Spider totem and has been a nuance in Kraven’s life and I can buy him being a vessel of great change, but to have such change be behind Regan, Hitler, Stalin, Trotsky, and Lenin is vastly exaggerating Peter’s abilities and symbolic implications. If anyone is Kraven’s Spider, it’s Kraven. “The one place Gods inarguably exist is in our minds where they are real beyond refute, in all their grandeur and monstrosity,” as one great magician put it.)

Page eight is a full-page spread, though it does contain two horizontal panels. In those panels, KRAVEN and Spider-Man descend the stairs to their destination. The destination is revealed in the full-page spread, where it’s revealed that the furred man is named “VERMIN,” still clutching at the cage but his body language sags with defeat. (The use of punctuation when Peter exclaims “Vermin?!” implies a sense of shock, and more importantly, horror at what he sees. For all his anger, Peter is an empathetic person at heart, which in the end separates him from Kraven. What also separates the two, but ties Peter in with Vermin, is Kraven’s claim that Vermin is the perfect fusion of man and animal. Kraven frames himself as a human, one who has embraced the jungle but human nonetheless. Conversely, Spider-Man is a fusion of man and insect. One who, like Vermin, Kraven describes a both beautiful and monstrous.) The narrator talks about a sense of relief that has come over them after defeating the Spider, one they haven’t felt since fleeing from Russia as a child. Perhaps they can keep this feeling going forever. But then, they note that what they’re feeling is a sense of finality, which refers to the stop gate of forever.

Another seven-panel page follows, this time with three rows, the first two having three panels and the last with just one. The sequence depicts KRAVEN lording his power over both Spider-Man and VERMIN, taunting the former and tormenting the latter with fire. His taunts are interrupted in the second page by a stroke of lightning, KRAVEN talks about how he could feel him out in the world, he knew that only VERMIN could be capable of being the proof that he is superior to Spider-Man. For Spider-Man was only barely able to defeat VERMIN with the help of Captain America. But now KRAVEN has him whimpering like a mouse. He then tosses a torch into VERMIN’s cell to further torment him. (Let’s take a look at panel six on this page. It’s a close up of Kraven that focuses on his sadistic glee over dominating Vermin. There is more glee here than at the realization that he defeated the Spider [where the glee is trepidated by the sadness of finality]. But more notably is the words that accompany his glee: “And I did it.” As I noted in the Best of Enemies entry, that phrase has implications within the history of Spider-Man, much in the same way the nine-panel grid does. However, in this instance of the utterance, the words “I,” “did,” and “it” are separated into their own panels. In the previous usages, the words appeared in the same panel, twisting the implications to suit Kraven’s world [indeed, the same can be said of the nine-panel grid in the previous issue, which depicted one of Vermin’s failed attempts at escaping from Kraven’s grasp. A lack of change representing a massive change].) There is no narration in this page.

The next page has six panels, two rows of three. However the sizes of each panel is different. While all six are the same length, the first and third panels are slightly wider than the second, which is as wide as the fourth and fifth. The sixth’s width makes it closer to the shape of a square rather than a rectangle. VERMIN (now named “Vermin” by the narration) reacts in horror to the fire, repeating the word over and over again with only line breaks spacing out the words. More terror comes onto Vermin once he sees Spider-Man, to the point where he would rather run towards the electrified gates, while pleading to not be hurt again. Instead, Spider-Man shoots a web into the cell (the same webbing he used to descend into Kraven’s lair) and removes the torch from the cell. Spider-Man flings the torch towards KRAVEN, who is just grinning with the delight of a childhood bully. The narration is, with the exception of the final panel, consistently on the top portion of the panel. The last panel has the first narration box on the top, but the second one at the bottom of the panel. The narrator describes the motivation for the characters: the man is filled with compassion for Vermin while the Spider is delighting in Vermin’s torment. (To say this is a case of someone reading too much of themselves into the actions of another would be an understatement.) The sight of Spider-Man, meanwhile, horrifies vermin, as KRAVEN wore a Spider-Man costume whilst capturing him. (That Kraven views Vermin’s horror being out of humiliation and defeat rather than being tortured for roughly two weeks is also telling.) The narrator claims to be completely blameless in all of this and finds Spider-Man blaming them to be laughable. (Wow Kraven, digging yourself even deeper.)

We continue with a set of five panels in two rows. The first row is three panels long, all of which are the same size while the second row starts with a wide panel before concluding with a slimmer one. The first panel returns us to the interaction with the Spider and the Rat, beginning their confrontation. (Given that the next panel is of Peter confronting Kraven, one would assume these detours represent the duel between Spider-Man and Kraven, with Peter being the Spider and Kraven being the Rat. However, as the comic continues, it’s revealed to be between Spider-Man and Vermin. This makes the juxtaposition here baffling. It would make more sense to have this panel appear two pages later, as that’s when Peter and Vermin confront one another before the fight. Here though, it muddies the metaphor. Then again, Blake wasn’t one for a one to one metaphor. “God us keep from Single Vision,” “This life’s a fiction made up o contradiction,” and all that.) The next two panels have Spider-Man leap at KRAVEN before grabbing him again, demanding him to stop being terrible. In response, KRAVEN leaps atop a stuffed elephant and roars. (The way Zeck draws the background of this panel gives a glow to Kraven, as if he’s burning brightly. His classic costume certainly fits well with this.) The narration notes that perhaps the man possessed by the Spider doesn’t realize the nature of the Spider. (As the previous issue highlights, the answer is probably closer to a maybe than to a no. Peter understands the symbolism of the Spider [even Kraven’s understanding of said symbolism] well enough to be able to use it to his advantage. It was, after all, neither Spider nor Man that dug themselves out of the grave, but a melding of the two. A Spider-Man.) The narrator notes that they too were once naïve in their understanding. At least, until they left the world the Spider corrupted and got a look at it from the outside. Now, years after this revelation, the narrator howls to the heavens and reveals themselves to in fact be KRAVEN (referred to from hereafter as “Kraven”) and that the world should understand the symbolism of his becoming: the moment of triumph.

Instead of doing that, the next page has Spider-Man react in anger towards Kraven, flipping him off of his elephant, and saying the only words of dialogue on the page: “SHUT UP!” Kraven obliges, noting the futility of Spider-Man’s actions. He notes (inaccurately) a sadness in Spider-Man. Sure, there’s a world for the Spider to torment, but he no longer has Kraven to torment. (As if to highlight how much he’s reading into this, Kraven notes he shares this sadness. And yet, it’s hard to read Kraven’s emotions in that moment, as while he doesn’t wear a mask, his bushy moustache makes his mouth hard to see. I believe he is sad, as Zeck masterfully draws his eyes with a hint of despair in them, as he has done throughout the comic.) In reaction, Kraven gets up from the ground and offers a touch of affection. It’s interrupted by the sole apperence of the issue’s namesake: Thunder. Instead of embracing the man who has tormented him for most of his adult life and just recently shot him, buried him, and ruined what little reputation he had, Spider-Man recoils at Kraven’s offer. (An interesting note about this page: aside from the spreads that open and close the issue, this is the only page in the comic that’s perfectly symmetrical. The page has seven panels divided into three rows. The first row is a single long panel, the second is a series of four equally sized vertical panels, and the third is two equally sized horizontal panels. The panels are structured in such a way as to perfectly line up with one another to create a line at the midpoint. Is this the Fearful Symmetry we were promised: the fear of human interactions between monsters?) Kraven is confused by this, and realizes that there is more to be done and flips a switch.

On the next page (six panels, three rows of two, four, and one non-panel respectively), the switch is revealed to have released Vermin from his cage. Kraven explains that the Truth must not only be told, but experienced as well. (Insert snark about Global Warming Truthers here.) Kraven declares this to be the finale. (He’s off by an issue.) Spider-Man realizes that Kraven wants them to fight for his amusement, but Kraven claims that he wants his emancipation. (Por que no los dos!) Spider-Man refuses to do so while Vermin is just begging not to be hurt. And then Kraven gives him a pep talk into fighting Spider-Man, which Vermin embraces. (Ok, this is an amazing sequence. The first panel depicts Vermin afraid, to the point where he looks almost cartoonish with his dopey, pupil-less eyes. The panel that follows is a close up of Kraven that depicts him at his most haggared. He looks older than even the last couple of pages depict him. This is where the mask of victory slips and we see Kraven for what he truly is: a broken, disheveled old man who sees the only solution to the world hurting him is to lash out at it. The following two panels have Vermin’s emotion turn to anger before the final panel his him leaping out at the reader. All of Kraven’s word balloons are pointed in the direction of his panel, which gives off the impression that the advise that Kraven offers is a backwards way of thinking, as the word balloons featuring his advise point to the left of the page, which in comics that aren’t manga is typically the opposite direction the reader should read in. Even the arrow on the panel featuring Kraven is more to the left of the panel, as opposed to being in the center of his panel. One could argue that the sequence would have worked better if Kraven was in the first panel, but I would argue that by having Vermin in the first panel, the comic acknowledges a level of truth in Kraven’s statements. As the right is the direction of the future, Spider-Man will hurt Vermin in a way he’s never been hurt before. Vermin has been punched, beaten, and tortured, but he has never had to deal with the pain of going out in the light of day and healing from what has happened to him. And that is a painful process that Spider-Man will start.)

Over the course of the next seven panels, the fight begins. For the most part Spider-Man tries to avoid Vermin’s attacks, leaping over him while pleading that Kraven beating up Verimn wearing a Spider-Man costume isn’t the same thing as Spider-Man beating up Vermin. (He’s wrong, as we’ve noted that all fictions are equally fictional thus for someone to be Spider-Man, one need only wear a Spider-Man costume and declare themselves to be Spider-Man [same thing goes for being a magician or a psychochronographer, as both a magician and a magician who practices psychochronography have noted]. That’s the logic that gets us Miles Morales and Mattie Franklin. I should however note that Peter is right that he specifically didn’t hurt Vermin.) Spider-Man’s attempts at diplomacy are met only with Vermin getting up on his feet and slashing Spider-Man’s arm, getting first blood. While this is happening, Kraven watches. He muses to himself about the relationship he’s had with Spider-Man, all the years of humiliation and shame will be erased once this fight is done. When he loses, Spider-Man’ll see that Kraven killed the Spider (debateable), replaced the Spider (plausible), and vanquished the one foe the Spider couldn’t. (And it is here where the nature of Kraven’s argument can be seen. Yes, Peter didn’t win his fight against Vermin and needed Captain America’s help. However to see Vermin as the foe Spider-Man couldn’t defeat is rubbish on its face. One would have to assume mere physicality is the methodology by which Spider-Man ought to be examined by. To view The Spider as being one that can be defeated by physicality, when Kraven himself defines the beast as an existential threat akin to Cthulhu is wrongheaded. If one were to define the faulty definition of Spider-Man Peter presented us in the beginning of the story as the terms by which we are meant to determine who is the “superior” Spider-Man, maybe he’d have a point. But Kraven keeps explicitly reminding us of the terms he set throughout the comic. For Kraven to defeat such a beast, he would have to disassemble the ideological beliefs of the Spider as opposed to merely trying to prove that he can punch harder than Spider-Man [and even there, the comic ends up siding with Spider-Man on those terms by the end]. But putting all that aside, if any one of his foes is the one Spider-Man couldn’t defeat, it’s clearly the Green Goblin.)

Over the next seven panels, Spider-Man decides to fight back. He starts out by grabbing Vermin’s hand and just wails on him, shouting angrily about how if this is what they (Vermin and Kraven) wanted, then he’ll give it to them. We briefly cut to the confrontation between the Spider and the Rat, and the rat is apprehensive about dealing with the Spider. Kraven doesn’t seem happy about this turn of events. But then again, his mind is on the relationship he’s had with Spider-Man. How he ultimately feels tired after years of fighting against Spider-Man and yearns for an ending. And then, Kraven’s thoughts turn to his mother. In this shot, we cut to lightning. (To quote a philosopher I haven’t read, “Siehe, ich lehre dich den Übermenschen: Er ist dieser Blitz, er ist dieser Wahnsinn!”) To end the page, Spider-Man shouts “DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT’S LIKE, YOU STUPID, DISGUSTING ANIMAL! DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT’S LIKE?!”

The next page, the Spider stops his movement before pouncing on the Rat. Likewise, Spider-Man stops before dealing the finishing blow onto Vermin. He says “No.” (In that moment, Peter realized what he was saying. For all his moments of anger, this incarnation of Spider-Man is someone who doesn’t want to see anyone else hurt. [What I didn’t mention in the previous paragraph is that when Spider-Man hits Vermin, he isn’t hitting him as hard as he did Kraven. There’s no blood coming out of Vermin. Peter’s holding back.] He’s not a pacifist, the genre wouldn’t allow for that. But he isn’t the narcissistic bully of his youth nor the dour man he who believes the world is out to get him, as some later takes see him as. In spite of everything, he believes that everyone can change for the better, can heal from their trauma in some capacity. Not because it’s the only hope he has, but because he’s experienced it. Note how little he’s talked about the death of Uncle Ben. If you were to judge his life from what we see in this story, you’d see him as an important death in Peter’s life, but not one that defines it. Peter has grown and changed and found some measure of healing. That DeMatteis’ later run would be about the act of Peter coping and trying to heal from his past makes it interesting how far he’s come from his early days.) Kraven doesn’t seem too happy about this development. (It should be noted that this is the third page without narration.) Lightning strikes, as does the Rat, as does Vermin.

It’s a brutal affair, with Vermin dominating the fight. Each punch is punctuated with a stroke of lightning and “KRAK-“ sound, indicating broken bones. Kraven remains unhappy. (His thoughts have returned to his mother’s sanity, and how “they” said she was insane. He never comes to grips with his own depression and would rather blame all his personal problems on The Spider than on a vastly complicated series of events that have little to nothing to do with one another and rarely care about who they impact. As an ageless warrior once noted, humans tend to do that a lot.) The final two panels of the page (seven in total, two rows of three and four respectively) depict the Rat consuming the Spider and terrified Spider-Man (we can tell by virtue of the lines surrounding Spider-Man, which were used in the first issue to represent his Spider-Sense) looking upward.

The next page has Vermin declare his intent to act as the Rat did with his Spider and eat Spider-Man. The difference is that the Rat killed his prey before eating him while Vermin plans on eating Spider-Man alive. But Kraven stops him, first with a whip (I should remind you that Vermin is a person of color while Kraven is a white guy from an aristocratic background who fetishizes the African aesthetic to the point where his servants are all African and he walks around in what a white guy assumes African tribal wear looks like), then he stabs Vermin for good measure. As Kraven claims, the point has been made. (Not Vermin’s point, which would be made had he eaten Peter. Nor is it Kraven’s, which was made when he showed Peter Vermin in his cage [note also the lack of narration on this page]. Rather, the point seems to belong to the Spider. Not Peter, but the actual Spider. The being who brings pain and misery to Peter. A being that isn’t in this comic, yet haunts it all the same.) Vermin decides to take this opportunity to run free, much to Spider-Man’s chagrin.

There’s not much he can do, save futilely plead that Vermin’s killed before. But it’s of no matter to Kraven. The next panel depicts Vermin escaping from the second floor window. (We can tell this from the shape of the window and from the fact that the third floor window can be seen peeking out atop it.) Kraven helps Spider-Man up, noting that while the Spider still dwells within Spider-Man, his Spider his gone. The next panel has Vermin fleeing the scene, as a Rat feasting upon a dead Spider watches. As they walk up the stairs, Kraven realizes Spider-Man’s a good man. It’s only now that he’s outside their conflict that Kraven realizes this, but he doesn’t seem to care why he never noticed this before. He gives Spider-Man his blessing, for whatever that’s worth. For all this, Spider-Man remains confused.

The next page occurs some time later, having given Spider-Man enough time to rest. Kraven lets Spider-Man go just like that, arguing that between Vermin and Kraven, Spider-Man would chase after Vermin. When Spider-Man argues that he won’t let Kraven keep doing what he’s doing, Kraven makes a vow that he will never hunt again. (Does Peter know what this vow means? He says dialogue later on that would imply that he doesn’t know what this means, but they way Zeck draws Kraven’s sad eyes when he makes this vow [one of the three saddest in the comic with the other two being page 13 panel 4 and page 21 panel 2] combined with the steely stare Spider-Man gives makes that seem dubious. One should never believe a first person narrator, they’re always an unreliable one.) Spider-Man swings away to find Vermin, vowing to return. (A vow he doesn’t fulfill.) In this moment, Kraven comes to the realization that everyone… every age has their own Spiders. And though Spider-Man was his Spider, perhaps he was Spider-Man’s. (No.) Regardless, it was an honor.

The next page has Kraven silently say goodbye to Spider-Man as he descends into the sewers to find Vermin. Initially, the shadows in his room make it difficult to see what emotion is on Kraven’s face; if he is truly honored to have fought such a foe, angry that the fight is over, remorseful over what he has done, or happy that he’s free. But when the camera moves up close to his face, the emotion on it is sadness. For all his talk of beating the Spider, in the end the 20th century beat him. In many ways his Spider was the events that shaped that century. The rise of fascism, the collapse of the aristocracy in favor of the dueling landscape between capitalism and communism. Ronald Regan, who claimed that through him, America will be made Great, and all the poor people, the queer people, and all the others who died because of that. Maybe these thoughts weren’t all occurring in Kraven’s mind in that moment, in this story. He probably doesn’t care much for the poor. But these are the events that shaped the century that killed him.

The next page has seven panels four on the top row and three on the bottom. The narration boxes on the top row connects two panels together. All the narration in this page is on the top of the page, at the edge. Only the last panel lacks narration. The first panel is of the compound Kraven lives in. It’s a different location from where we were at the start of the comic. (How Peter found out where that was beyond “the plot said so,” I’ll never know.) The second is of the grave that Spider-Man dug his way out of. It reads “Her lies SPIDER-MAN slain by THE HUNTER.” The hole looks more like a wound on the Earth than something dug out of, emphasized by the water seeping out of it. The next panel is a close up of a family consisting of a Father, a Mother, and a Child. The next is of Kraven holding that picture while smoking a cigar, dressed in a bathrobe. The panel after that is of Kraven putting the picture down by a casket. In the casket, a rifle is waiting for him. Throughout the page, Kraven has been thinking of his sense of calm. Of all his knots being undone and finds himself united. His years of suffering are coming to an end. He’s thought these thoughts before, but now he’s ready. Kraven grabs the rifle. In the final panel, lightning strikes.

The penultimate page has seven panels split across three rows. The first row is four vertical panels long, each the same length and width, with the exception of the third, which is wider. The second row is one horizontal panel long and about half the height of the first row. The third row is two panels long. The first panel is horizontal while the second is vertical. In the page’s first panel, Kraven turns the gun towards the right of the page. (This is his intent.) The second panel is of lightning, though the sound effect is just “KRA.” The third panel is a shadow of Kraven, illuminated by the lightning. The rifle is in Kraven’s mouth. His thoughts are of his mother. The fourth panel is a close up of the trigger. Kraven’s thumb is perched right on it. The fifth returns us to the outside world as the lightning finishes its sound effect. (KOOOM) Panel six is of Kraven’s body lying slump in the casket. Smoke is coming out of the rifle, there’s blood everywhere, and Kraven wears grey slippers. (Tastefully, we do not see Kraven’s head.) The final panel of the page is a close up of the picture, now doused in blood.

The final page of the comic is a full-page spread. It zooms in on the picture even further, focusing on the child. The blood has dripped further down the picture and now covers the child. The parents are not present in the picture, save the hands of the father. (There are some who have quite sensibly argued that this comic glorifies suicide. Were this the final issue, I’d agree with them. The following issue however rejects this logic that the only way to deal with the cruelty of the world is through suicide. Indeed, it is very much a rejoinder to many of the thoughts and ideas that Kraven expressed in this issue from the evidence that strength is superior to compassion to the rejection of human interaction in favor of closing oneself from others [be they monstrous or otherwise]. If this were the end of the story, the suicide would be read as a victory. Rather, the suicide is treated as a tragedy treated as inevitable. One that could have been avoided had things prior to this story not occurred. His life was a hard one, as many lives are. But the answer to the cruelty of life doesn’t have to be suicide. You are not alone. There are people out there who would be willing to hear your problems. The world is changing and, to quote yet another great magician, “It’s never as bad as it seems. You’re stronger than you think you are. Trust me.”) This is the fifth page without narration boxes.

(Next Time: What The Hand, Dare Seize The Fire?)

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[Photo: Blackstar Directed by Johan Renck Lyrics by David Bowie]

But If My Love Is Your Love, We're Certain To Succeed. (Ascending)

"Gamble a stamp.
I can show you how
to be a real man!"
There’s a sensible critique of Kraven’s Last Hunt to be made, one akin to that Alan Moore makes of The Killing Joke: “at the end of the day The Killing Joke is a story about Batman and the Joker; it isn’t about anything that you’re ever going to encounter in real life, because Batman and the Joker are not like any human beings that have ever lived… it was just about a couple of licensed DC characters that didn’t really relate to the real world in any way.” For all that Peter Parker is framed as being the everyman superhero, he’s really not. Most “everymen” don’t go wandering into the sewers of New York to find some broken person and they certainly haven’t lived the strange and wonderful life Peter has (there’s a reason Adams introduced Fenchurch in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish). And they certainly don’t come back from the dead as part of a long form scheme one of their enemies to prove their manhood and honor.

And yet, I find myself disagreeing with this read. Drop all the genre conventions. Ignore the fact that this is a Spider-Man story with characters we’ve known for years. Let’s even ignore the specifics of the plot itself and all its symbolism, and look at what happens in it. A man, who recently lost someone close to him, finds himself incapable with going through life. He feels dead inside, and so he isolates himself from the world and his wife (note that even though the two are married, neither one lives with the other. Indeed, Peter’s apartment is too small for him, and almost Spartan in its lack of decoration. Mary Jane meanwhile lives in an apartment for at least two, yet spends her time alone, and can’t bring herself to ask others for help. It’s a relationship that needs a lot of work that seems on the verge of falling apart. And yet, there’s a sense that Peter’s experiences have made him realize this [“I love you Mary Jane. More than I realized”] and their relationship will bloom and heal afterwards). For two weeks, he’s incapable of doing anything at all. That is, until something pushes him to confront his feelings of dread and despair, leading him to reunite with his wife.

A second man, older than the first and with a history of mental illness in his family, is pondering suicide. Instead of coping in a healthy manner, he lashes out on the world. He claims that he does these vile actions out of a need to reclaim a sense of honor in this fallen world. But in truth, his self-image is defined by a desire to dominate others, particularly those weaker, more vulnerable, and more easily missed than him. It pushes him towards self-destructive acts including physical and emotional abuse (yes, his treatment of Vermin counts as this as he locks the poor man in a cage and watches with glee as the electric volts shock him into submission. And then, Kraven manipulates Vermin into fighting Spider-Man to the death solely for his own amusement). In the end, his toxic masculine ideal makes him unable to deal with his anxieties in a healthy manner and, rather than live in a world he finds dishonorable, he opts to kill himself.

A third man also lashes out against the world. He too has experienced traumas in his life, though unlike the previous man he does not lash out due to a misguided belief that he is better than everyone else. Rather, he has an equally toxic belief that he doesn’t deserve to be saved. That he’s too far-gone to be a better person, so it would be better if he’d embraced his monstrous side. And so, he goes out into the world and abuses women. He does this out of a desire to be superior to women (putting aside that all of his chosen victims are women, note this bit of narration made as Vermin is about to kill his first victim: “she’sss jusst like all of them up there. underneath the sssweet sssmell isss a ssstink worssse than mine. but, oh, how they like to pretend they’re better than me. it’sss becausss of them that I have to hide down here. them. and their funny clothesss. and their sweet smellsss. yum. yum. yum.” Put aside the “monster in the sewer” stuff, and you pretty much have an average MRA.) But in turn, the third man is himself abused by a man of great stature and power who feeds into his toxic beliefs and push him into more self-defeating acts. It takes someone from outside the dynamic to push the third man towards getting the help he needs.

And it is here where the heart of the narrative reveals itself: strip away the superhero junk, and what we’re left with is a story about three people trying to cope with their trauma in ultimately harmful ways. Only Peter is able is able to truly pull himself towards a more healthy form of healing, but he didn’t do it on his own. Yes, he dug himself out of the pit (or, more accurately, out of the grave) of despair, but only through realizing the simple truth of existence: You are not alone. There are people out there who care about you, even if you don’t know them. And in turn, there are people he cares about, who he wants to be with.

But more than that, it’s a willingness to embrace empathy infused with compassion towards even those who are cruel and monstrous. Everyone has damage, and everyone hurts. “Try to be kinder,” as someone who isn’t a magician once said, “You have no idea what people are going through.” We can sometimes forget this, and decide to hurt those we deem are not “people;” that they’re just something to dominate and abuse for your own pleasure. That it’s ok to hurt, because their thoughts and feelings don’t matter. They’re just someone we see on the Internet, just a woman, just a queer person, someone with autism, depression, Muslim, black, young, different. They’re Carte Blanche. We need to acknowledge others as people; it would be cruel and rude to do otherwise. And yes, we can acknowledge people are monstrous without revoking their personhood.

The reason why both Kraven and Vermin are unwilling to acknowledge this (and, to a lesser extent, why Peter has difficulties with this) is that it’s an irrational idea. Or rather, empathy enriched with compassion is seen as a negative by those who view "rationality" as the be all/end all (look no further than noted professional asshole, gamergater, and writer for the Sun: Ian Miles Cheong, who was quoted as saying that intelligence and empathy are diametrically opposed [specifically “>Intellectual >Empathetic Pick one” on February 19, 2018 at 2:25 pm in a deleted tweet]. In the mind of a fascist, compassion and empathy are seen as irrational and thus ought to be rejected in favor of strength and “reason” [interestingly, "irrationality" is also typically seen by these types as a "feminine" trait {to quote Jack the Ripper “He built an obelisk: Another altar to the Sun, and Masculinity, and Reason, with its cold erection stabbing at the sky” and “‘Tis in the war of Sun and Moon that man steals woman’s power; that Left Brain conquers Right… that reason chains insanity”}]. Remember, DeMatteis was inspired by the trend comics were going down at the time, and explicitly connects Kraven’s characterization to Frank Miller’s take on Batman). But the thing about Peter is that he doesn’t see all these things like empathy and compassion that toxic masculinity rejects. If anything, he finds strength within them. It’s Mary Jane who he calls to in order to pull himself out of his grave despair. And it’s Mary Jane whom Peter goes to first, before even confronting Kraven. Not because he wants to sleep with her as if that's her sole role in his life, but because he needs to center himself after the terror he’s faced and she's the only person left who can truly empathize with what's happened to him. (Indeed, their relationship didn't truly blossom until Peter finally allowed himself to look past the party girl exterior Mary Jane exudes, albeit by listening to her life experiences and comprehending why emphasizing her more lighthearted aspects would benefit her.) This mutual empathy is what allows Peter to heal.

In the end, Kraven’s worldview of strength being what matters most is utterly dismantled. When Peter goes to confront Vermin in the sewers, he mostly acts in self defense. In the one moment where he doesn’t and threatens to kill Vermin (which, incidentally, is prefaced by the last instance where Zeck draws Spider-Man as being purely one with the darkness, mirroring the pose Spider-Man had in the first scene with him in it), Peter quickly realizes this and immediately changes his approach. Ours is a society that emphasizes a toxic form of masculinity, and it can be hard to recognize the monstrosities within us. But it can be done. We can remind ourselves that the other is just another person, lost and afraid in this world. The world we are born in, and all its culture and history and symbolism, may influence who we are, but it could never define us. It’s just another angle to look at it from.

(Since I don’t have anywhere else to put this, let’s talk narrative substitution. The term refers to a literary structure wherein a narrative is replaced midway through by a different [better] story that, in turn, critiques the previous narrative. In this case, the narrative starts out as one that collapsed [OH SHIT! PETER PARKER’S DEAD!], which was then resolved [Now Kraven the Hunter is Spider-Man.] before being substituted and critiqued [The masculinity that Kraven presents is toxic and brings nothing but pain and misery to the world around him and ultimately doesn’t really gel with the concept of Spider-Man in the same way “Grim and Gritty Soldier” doesn’t gel well with the concept of the Doctor. Thus, it must be replaced by the return of Peter Parker in the role, albeit one who has changed from the experience of dying]. In retrospect, I realize that I didn’t have much to say about the form beyond “this is a thing that the story does,” but I promised I’d get into it.)

In some ways, I’ve cooled on Kraven’s Last Hunt. Some of the flaws do jump out (particularly in regards to how it doesn't use its female characters and characters of color to their full potential [and, at times, gets into some rather uncomfortable tropes in regards to said characters with implications that don't fit with the themes, but nonetheless haunt the rest of the narrative. Someone who isn't white should probably go into more detail], a few bits that are clearly padding, some moments that should have had less dialogue, and one or two panels that don't really work). But I still find it to be a fantastic read. Mike Zeck’s art fits perfectly both within the realm of the superhero as well as the horror. (One particular thing I love is how Zeck draws Vermin’s eyes in this issue, especially how the consistent roundness highlights that his actions are more out of fear than out of hatred, even when confronted with things that enrage him.) The coloring, both in the original scans and in the updated trade works wonderfully, giving off an air of dread and despair even in the most optimistic of moment, right up until the end where the two week night finally ends. JM DeMatteis’ script is top notch, with transitions and scene descriptions that have implications (specifically, the story uses juxtaposition to highlight Peter’s anxieties after all that’s occurred, flashing back to having to dig himself out of the grave. For all his strength after confronting Kraven and his drive to save Vermin from himself, he still feels afraid and hurt by what has happened to him. It’s pushed Peter to a place where he wouldn’t normally go; veering back into that crueler persona he was anxious about). The character interactions are sublime, the story is structured expertly, and the ending feels earned. At its core, Kraven’s Last Hunt is about coming to terms with terrible things happening in your life and finding a healthy means of coping with them. It’s about the need for empathy and compassion over brute force and banal cruelty (in some ways, this is needed now more than it was back in 1987). In many ways, it’s a first draft for DeMatteis’ overall run, but it’s a damn good one (more a thesis statement than a draft, really). If I were to rate the story, I’d give it a B+/A-

One final note before closing out this entry: the final page of the story once again quotes the opening stanza of William Blake’s The Tyger. This isn’t Kraven getting the last word. The shade of orange is paler than before, washed out like a spider in a drainpipe on a rainy day. It’s a faint echo of what was said before. “What immortal hand or eye,” it asks, “could frame thy fearful symmetry?” In the context of the poem, it’s about the implications of constructing the Tyger, but here the meaning’s different. (It has to be: it doesn’t have the rest of the poem with it and they changed it to be a "Spyder.")

Framing is a form of contextualizing, a way in which someone can understand something else, empathize with it. After all, the act of interpretation is itself an act of creation. We create meaning in the ways in which we explore our world, our stories, and our peoples. Who could frame thy fearful symmetry? We can. We do it all the time, by talking to one another, writing, reading, loving, accepting, helping, and all the other activities that give life meaning. It can be hard to empathize with others, especially for those like me who have mental handicaps. But if you don’t even try to, well you’re just hurting yourself and those around you. In the end, to quote an actual magician, “it’s all just us, in here together. And we’re all we’ve got.”

But slowly, painfully, he learns his lesson, over and over and over again. He realizes what happens when he brushes aside his duties, he comes out of his shell and opens up to people, he goes from self-aggrandizing and self-pitying to self-effacing. In other words he stops being a shitty teenager and gets it beat into his head what it means to be a grownup, and no matter how much the world craps on his shoulders he takes it in his stride (give or take an understandable breakdown) and figures his way through it to the next crisis, because he remembers what happens when he shrugs his shoulders and lets the world just roll on past him as not his problem. That may be guilt talking more than principle or reason much of the time, but that’s what makes him vulnerable and scared and human; he fucks up hard and frequently, and keeps going because he can’t quit even when he wants to. He’s just some dude getting by in spite of himself; in other words, he’s the hero who could be you.
-David Mann
(Next Time: The End.)

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[Photo: Animal Man #26 by Grant Morrison and Chaz Truog]

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