Friday, December 16, 2016

In The Hands of the Hunter!

Even though Amazing Spider-Man was known for its use of unusual and at times bizarre villains, it would take some time for Kraven the Hunter to grow on me following his introduction in 1964--a man who operated by the law of the jungle to bring his prey to ground, whether those he hunted were animal or human. Kraven, with his potion-enhanced speed and strength and his guile at stalking and trapping his prey, was a credible enough threat for Spider-Man, though he relies on hand-to-hand combat and his single-minded desire for "the hunt" to make inroads with the reader. Kraven's main draw was his jungle fierceness as well as his deadly instincts; but what else would he bring to the table? His debut had him teamed up with a partner already, which perhaps tells you something about how little confidence his creative team might have had in his ability to catch on with readers.

Yet in his third story in 1967, Kraven is unleashed by both his writer, Stan Lee, and his new artist, John Romita, as he comes after Spider-Man and our 12¢ with a vengeance. Correction: he comes after Norman Osborn with a vengeance, and as luck would have it he gets to tangle with Spider-Man while he's at it. Kraven, for all intents and purposes, has been reset, with his prior two appearances having been revised to all but dismiss the inclusion of the Chameleon and instead substitute the involvement of another partner--the Green Goblin--in his dealings with Spidey.  A partner that would not only eventually motivate him to chart his own course, but also to challenge the web-spinner on his own terms in a battle that would bring him to near-victory.

This time at bat, it's pure Kraven the Hunter, hunting solo and depending on his own gifts and charisma to bring readers into his corner and consider him as one of Spider-Man's deadliest foes. I'm still on the fence in going that far; still, Kraven gets a considerable upgrade here in both story and art, with nothing to rely on but his own drive and ruthlessness and making excellent use of both.

But what's the story with the Goblin? Either we're not meant to remember how Kraven was instead conscripted by his old friend, the Chameleon--or we now have to assume that Kraven had made a deal with the Goblin on the side, to receive a cool $20K for a job he'd already agreed to handle for the Chameleon. The sly fox. It even now looks like the Goblin was on the scene during Kraven's first clash with Spider-Man.

So in the original story we now have a new player in Norman Osborn, with Kraven having put two and two together and coming up with 5: not realizing that Osborn is the Goblin, but instead concluding that Osborn is the one who met him and refused to deliver payment for a job not yet completed according to the Goblin's terms. We could further assume that it was this "messenger" who made initial negotiations for the deal with Kraven on the Goblin's behalf, since Kraven's senses have given him no vibe that this man and the Goblin are one and the same. It's an elaborate way of staging the events of the new story's denouement, as we'll see.

At the end of that first encounter with Spider-Man, Kraven and the Chameleon are deported--but Kraven wants Spider-Man's head (or at least his mask on a display trophy), so he finds a way to slip back into the States and renew his hunt. But in that story's planning stages, we still don't get a sense that he had a "silent partner" in the Green Goblin, or that he's grumbling about being stiffed twenty grand.

For the new story, it seems that in order to avoid playing the broken record of Kraven seeking revenge for revenge's sake, Lee has added a twist to this latest appearance by making Kraven's reasons for returning a matter of priorities, set in motion by the contrived revisionist alterations to Kraven's prior stories. Spider-Man remains on Kraven's list of unfinished business--but first comes settling his account with the Goblin, which has apparently now gnawed at him from day one. Only there's a slight complication that Kraven hadn't expected, one which serves to transfer his animus to Osborn while blaming Spider-Man for the inconvenience.

Kraven, of course, is unknowingly hunting the Goblin, ignorant of the fact that Osborn and the Goblin are the same man; yet Osborn, by this time, has suffered memory loss of his criminal past and identity as the Goblin, and thus won't remember his bargain with Kraven. Whether that detail will factor into Kraven's demand that Osborn honor the Goblin's deal with him remains to be seen.

For now, Kraven proceeds to close in on Osborn, only to discover that the man is out of town on business. But in light of Osborn's association with the Goblin (in Kraven's mind, that is), Kraven isn't buying it and continues following his leads; and as he leaves no stone unturned, he has his hatred of Spider-Man to sustain him.

We might balk at Kraven, a man who prides himself on his skill and fighting prowess, preparing custom-built technology to surprise Spider-Man with instead of meeting him bare-handed; but weapons and traps are also this hunter's forte, and they do add something to the character. Nor would Kraven be the first villain to prepare a special weapon to use against his foe. Regardless, it appears that Osborn will become aware of Kraven's intent to locate him, a development which will figure into the story at a later point. Didn't Osborn's secretary also pick up the phone? Or is she still in that back room? No Christmas bonus for you, miss!

As for this book's title character, Lee hasn't been deficient in his duties of featuring Peter and his wealth of supporting characters in various scenes while Kraven is rampaging around looking for Osborn. Everyone gets equal time as Lee continues with the development of their characters, with the central theme appearing to be Flash Thompson's going away party as he prepares to begin his tour in the army. There's also the curious "what might have been" feelings that Peter is now having for Gwen Stacy, even while he's dating Mary Jane Watson; and with Flash soon to be out of the picture, Osborn's son, Harry, isn't even waiting for the dust to settle before making it known that he considers himself next in line for Gwen.

There's also a little friendly rivalry (if at times curt) between Gwen and Mary Jane while the party is in full swing. The life of Peter Parker, so unlike that of Johnny Storm, Bobby Drake, et al., brings as much life to Amazing Spider-Man as its title character, and has proven to be one of the reasons why the book has by this time presumably become one of Marvel's best-selling titles. There's such an interesting array of people to be found in its pages, all relating to Peter in different ways and all having some stake in his life (or vice versa). It's one of this book's major strengths, and Lee is never remiss in giving the characters he's cultivated their due.

But every party needs a party crasher--and with the whereabouts of Norman Osborn still unknown, Kraven decides to expedite matters, with his own unforgettable way of making an entrance.

A minor "oops" with the misspelling of "prey" here--but kudos to Romita for having Harry trying to punch his way free of Kraven, making use of a character who doesn't often emerge from amongst Peter's circle of friends in any noticeable way. As we've seen in the past, Lee frequently makes a fight's witnesses and bystanders virtual participants in a battle shaping up to take place on New York streets--and the brawl scene here involving the party guests is a taste of things to come.

Thanks to the arrival of Spider-Man, Kraven reacts as Spidey had hoped--forgetting his preoccupation with Harry and turning instead to the wall-crawler in his rage. And so Kraven's rematch with his foe begins, with a vengeance long in coming.

With the fight starting to heat up, the wheels begin to spin in another area in Peter's life--his association with the Daily Bugle and its irascible publisher, J. Jonah Jameson. As the story is called in, we see Jameson in his element--barking out orders and making sure his people are geared up and on the scene, ready to tackle their assignments. Jameson is an old-school newspaper man through and through, and the Bugle's operation is as essential to this comic as it arguably is to New York itself.

As a long-standing character in this book, Frederick Foswell has his own story yet to play out. At this point in time he's still Jameson's star reporter, and the obvious choice to accompany Jameson to the scene--and with his other reporter, Ned Leeds, already in place, Jameson realizes this story has "scoop" written all over it.

There's also one other man racing to the scene--Osborn, who's returned to confront the mysterious threat of Kraven, but may find himself closer to the action sooner than he'd intended.

Back at the scene of battle, Spider-Man's wall-crawling ability gives him the edge at a building site where only girders as yet exist for support. On the other hand, a foe like Kraven would naturally be capable of adapting to whatever setting in which he finds himself having to face a foe--and Spider-Man would do well not to underestimate his prowess, or his resourcefulness.

It's the climax to the battle, to be sure--except for one element which will add even more tension to the struggle. With Osborn's arrival, Kraven's plans for Spider-Man come to a screeching halt, his fixation on the Goblin's reneged promise to him taking precedence over his desire to prove his fighting superiority--and Lee's efforts to manufacture this confrontation finally pay off.

Kraven attributes Osborn's genuine unfamiliarity with the circumstances to a last-ditch trick of the Goblin--but even though Osborn is off the hook as far as Kraven is concerned, his ignorance may yet cost him his life, as Kraven raves about the one victory he feels he did gain on this day.

The crisis over, Lee circles back to the other characters of the story, to good effect, as they help wind things down and give a sense to the scene of various authorities, reporters, and bystanders pulling together the facts of what's taken place here. (Of course, Jameson has his own version of the facts when it comes to the involvement of Spider-Man.) The closing scenes also offer one unexpected (and welcome) surprise: Peter taking steps to mend fences with Flash, long a thorn in his side but now someone who departs for an uncertain future and now a person whom Peter feels genuine esteem for.

That "spider's web" motif, so often used in the mag's Ditko days, is always used to such good effect--it's nice to see Romita pick up the baton on it.

It certainly appears that Lee has turned things around for Kraven the Hunter, whose novelty had already begun to fade by the time of his appearance as part of the Sinister Six (which probably didn't help matters) but who now projects a dynamic vigor and is far more aggressive in achieving his goals. Despite his victory lap here, however, he may have been premature as far as believing that his dealings with Spider-Man were finished--quite the contrary, as we'll see in many subsequent appearances.

Kraven on the loose! And stealing his thunder is--the new Vulture!?

Amazing Spider-Man #47

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils and Inks: John Romita
Letterer: Sam Rosen


The Artistic Actuary said...

Glad you mentioned the sinister six at the end because this is Spider-Man's fourth encounter with Kraven, not his third. Do I get a no prize?

And on a separate subject, this issue, for me, is the one where Romita's artwork really starts to take off. There's no turning back now!

Comicsfan said...

You're quite correct, dangermash--I mostly glossed over the SS appearance since it's basically part of a marquee issue that features Kraven only in a brief segment and not a story of his own. Ock just grabs the other five from whatever they were doing at the time, promising them another crack at Spider-Man; in fact, since it's published just after Kraven's first story, Ock must have met the poor guy at the boat ramp just as he'd arrived back in South America!

Anonymous said...

That's sure is some far-out groovy dialogue Stan wrote for those youngsters! I mean, it's like outta sight! Coolsville!

B Smith said...

I do recall a lettercol correspondent singling out the scene of Kraven at the "bustling port of Nairobi" - and gently pointing out that being some 200 miles inland, Nairobi was hardly likely to have any port, let alone a bustling one.

I think Stan admitted defeat and gave them a no-prize for that one.

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