Thursday, June 3, 2010

Cravin' some Kraven

I swear this post was not born out of any sort of Marvel shill motivation—though if you are a fan of Spider-Man and the villain I’m about to discuss, you should certainly check out the upcoming Grim Hunt storyline in Amazing Spider-Man by the talented creative team of Joe Kelly and Michael Lark kicking off later this month (you’re welcome, Steve Wacker).

No, tonight’s subject actually comes from my recent foray into the original Amazing Spider-Man comics of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, which I have been consuming over the past couple months via the new softcover Marvel Masterworks re-releases (I’ve got one more volume left to go before John Romita takes over on art).

As an aside, this will probably sound redundant to many, but these are really good comics. I have definitely had a stigma against “classic” Silver Age material for much of my post-college years after getting burned by the first couple volumes of Crisis On Multiple Earths (I can’t enjoy stories where Superman and Green Arrow not only have the same voice, but essentially the same powers) and old X-Men and Avengers stuff (both took awhile to find their voice, but this isn’t really news either). However, I put my bias aside to go for it on the Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four as well as this Spidey stuff and have been richly rewarded, so I have to really recommend anybody who had my hang-ups does the same. Next up for me is the Captain America stuff from Tales of Suspense and classic Legion of Super-Heroes.

Anyways, aside from the quirkily endearing early persona of Peter Parker and the absolutely dynamic art of Steve Ditko, the thing that really makes those first 30 and change issues of ASM stand out are the truly awesome villains Lee and Ditko cranked out. Their misses were rare (but The Cat was pretty lame) and hits plentiful, but atop the heap of baddies for me from those halcyon days isn’t Doc Ock or The Green Goblin, but instead Kraven the Hunter.

I already had an appreciation for The Hunter having read Kraven’s Last Hunt and recognizing its capacity for rocking like most, but the guy was really a gem from his very first appearance. Here are the things I think put Kraven ahead of the pack…

Too many villains come from the very basic “I want power and/or money and/or to rule the world/this country/my neighborhood” mold. A smaller but still substantial subset just wants revenge on a particular hero because they did them some grievous wrong (though they still also fight other heroes too for some reason). Some villains are just insane. None of these are necessarily bad motivations, indeed many of the very best bad guys in comics spring from these roots, but anytime you see something unique from them, it’s neat.

Kraven fights Spider-Man because he’s a big game hunter who has accomplished everything he has set out to do in his life, and the only challenge remaining for him is to capture/kill a super hero. He didn’t have this idea on his own—The Chameleon prodded him—but it ends up consuming his life. It’s the first thing he has ever failed at and it drives him nuts. If you offer Kraven millions of dollars or his own island, he’ll probably turn you down because neither of those things would allow him to say he beat Spider-Man. And at the end of the day he also doesn’t really truly hate Spider-Man, he actually respects him, he’s just pissed off at him because he prevents him from being able to say he has a perfect record.

There’s a sort of twisted honor to why Kraven does what he does, but it’s also completely nuts, so those two things converge deliciously.

From his very first appearance in 1964’s Amazing Spider-Man #15, Kraven boasted a skill-set that really separated him from not only Spidey’s other foes, but the majority of comic book bad guys. This was an era where you had the guys who punched real hard, the super geniuses, or the god-like energy wielders. Kraven was strong, he was smart and he had a bag of tricks, and while none of those things on their own really made him a great threat, the way he combined them did.

You check out that first Kraven story and he is so much more deliberate in his plans to immobilize Spider-Man than any other villain to that point. He doesn’t just jump in fists flailing, he scouts his opponent, sets elaborate traps, uses cool toys to gain the advantage (he’s seriously got like the jungle equivalent of Batman’s utility belt) and only then comes in with the physical prowess that allowed him to out-wrestled lions and elephants and shit.

A Spidey-Kraven fight is just fun to follow as there’s as you need to keep up cerebrally instead of just soaking in Ditko’s rad battle sequences.

Kraven’s appearance should be absolutely ridiculous—and I’m sure some people find it so—but I kinda love it. The guy’s wearing a vest with lion eyes that shows up his rippling chest, leopard print pants, and he’s got a truly epic moustache.

He looks like the lost member of the Village People.

But he also looks awesome! Ditko took all these wild, busy elements and pulled them together in just such a way that it looks more fearsome than freaky…but also still pretty freaky. It helps that he was written as enough of a bad ass that you couldn’t imagine anybody (even Spidey) calling him out on his look.

And though I’m no endorser of cruelty to animals, I think there’s a great untold story waiting to be told at where that lion vest came from.

Just about every one of Spider-Man’s early villains had some sort of animal theme, be it a vulture, a lizard, an octopus, a scorpion, a rhino, a, um, goblin. The guys like Sandman, Mysterio or Electro already had a leg up to stand out in that regard.

With Kraven, he both opposes and inverts the traditional Spider-Man villain.

On the one hand, he’s a hunter, so he’s the natural enemy of all those animals. On the other, so many of his weapons come from the prey he hunts, so he kinda combines all of them.

So yeah, Kraven just rules.

Amazing Spider-Man #634! June 16! Kraven’s kids are pissed! Buy buy BUY!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ditko sorta recycled Kraven's costume for The Creeper.