At this point is Spider-chronology, the web-slinger is fresh off of his battle with Thanos, whom he had fought alongside Ben Grimm and the Avengers in the Marvel Two in One Annual #2. Spider-Man had made the heroic move to free Adam Warlock, who ultimately took down the Mad Titan. Spider-Man then returned to New York City soon after that battle...
Sergei Kravinoff, aka Kraven the Hunter, had last confronted Spider-Man in Spectacular Spider-Man #2 in which Spider-Man had defeated him and sent him off to jail. In the intervening time, Kraven escaped prison and returned to what he does best...hunting down Spider-Man.
The story opens with Spider-Man web-swinging through the night sky as he takes extreme relief in finally donning his costume and getting some much needed fresh air. He has a vague sense of "wrongness" that had been dogging him all day and he laments his current poor standing with his schoolwork. Nevertheless he hopes the web-swing will clear his head so he can return to his studies with renewed focus.
Suddenly, Spider-Man's Spider-sense is triggered and he spots a shadowy figure skulking around on the rooftops. He tries to trick the hidden figure by continuing on his way and then doubling-back to surprise him. Unfortunately for Spidey this tactic did not work, as the hidden figure is revealed to be Kraven the Hunter! Catching the web-slinger off-guard, Kravinoff quickly smashes him with an upper cut to the chin. Kraven then continues to pummel Spider-Man, although Spidey does manage to get a few blows in on his adversary as well. However, Spider-Man's counters are eventually thwarted when Kraven doses him (via darts from his gauntlet) with a neural poison that induces hallucinations in the web-slinger. Before he knows what hit him, Spider-Man thinks he's confronted by Death incarnate!
Soon after, Spider-Man finds himself in a mysterious room, chained to the floor and face to face with a lounging Kraven the Hunter. Surprisingly, Kraven is flanked by Tigra (aka Greer Grant)! Spider-Man is confused by her association with Kraven, because from what he had read she was supposedly a hero (after working with the Fantastic Four). After Spider-Man exchanges veiled threats with Kraven, the hunter tells Spidey that he could have slain him on the spot. However, he chose not to because he has honor and thinks that Spider-Man is a foe worthy of respect.
Kraven then unveils his plan to Spider-Man. He tells Spidey that if Tigra kills him, then his vengeance is complete. However, if Spider-Man kills Tigra, then the web-slinger will have earned the sparing of his life. Kraven then unleashes Tigra on the chained-up Spider-Man!
Spidey does his best to fend off Tigra's ferocious attack without harming her, he even manages to break one of the chains that was fixed to his wrist. The web-slinger uses the broken chain as a whip to knock Tigra unconscious, but to no avail. Kraven, meanwhile, continues to taunt Spider-Man stating there is no way to stop her attack without killing her. The web-slinger begins to be convinced he's correct as Tigra shows no signs of stopping, even as both she and Spider-Man tumble into Kraven's fire pit!
Eventually Spider-Man manages to free his other wrist from Kraven's chains and in the process of rolling around on the floor fending off Tigra's attack the web-slinger notices a collar around Tigra's neck. Spider-Man immediately hypothesizes that the collar could explain how she appears to be under the control of Kraven. Spidey rips the collar off of her neck and immediately she turns her attention toward Kraven, the web-slinger's plan worked!
Kraven tosses some poisonous gas their way and then tries to escape. Spider-Man pulls Tigra from the gas and she proceeds to explain how she ended up in the mess in the first place. Tigra had been tracking Kraven after he had escaped from jail following a murder/kidnap bust she help put him away for. After Spider-Man put him away in Spectacular Spider-Man #2 and she began working with the Fantastic Four, she lost his trail. Once Kraven escaped again (sometime after Spectacular Spider-Man #2), she once again sought to bring him to justice. She succeeded in tracking him to his New Jersey waterfront hideout, but it turned out it was a trap. That is when Kraven placed the "mnemonic scrambler" collar on her neck, and thus placed her under his control.
As the two heroes get their collective bearings and prepare to go after Kraven, they soon find themselves in the path of a stampede, unleashed by none other than Kraven himself! Apparently Kraven's lair used to be a safari park which, I think we can all agree, makes total sense in hindsight. Tigra and Spider-Man use their speed and agility to avoid the stampede and Tigra and even manages to attack Kraven. But the hunter is prepared for her and quickly thwarts her offensive. Kraven unleashes an ultra-sonic blaster (which he had used on her previously) in order to incapacitate her. Spider-Man steps up to save his pal though, using some of his webbing and converting into an dense ball (ie, like a baseball). He then tosses it straight for Kraven's head, nailing the shot on his first throw. The toss leaves Spidey off-balance though, as he then falls into the path of the stampeding animals!
With Kraven subdued from the web-ball blow to the head, Tigra is able to escape from his clutch, and she goes back to help her fallen comrade. When Kraven returns to his feet and tries to make a second attack on Spider-Man and Tigra, the web-slinger turns around and knocks him out cold with a single punch. The unconscious hunter is then left for the authorities by Tigra and Spidey.
I have to admit, I'm a sucker for any Kraven-related stories. And with the recent news of Kraven the Hunter being cast in an upcoming Sony-produced movie, I went looking for some Sergei Kravinoff review!!
Full transparency, I have Kraven at the number 4 spot on my all-time Spider-Man Villain list. And I always laugh when people say, Norman Osborn is crazy, he's the craziest villain in the rogues gallery by far...because my response is always the same. Have you read any Kraven stories?! That guy is a madman, for sure! His obsession with Spider-Man is up there with the best of them, and his tactics for going after Spidey are as crazy as any villain out there!
So suffice to say, Kraven did not disappoint here either. If there was one nit to pick though it would be that Kraven (usually) likes to get his own hands dirty and to be the one doing the "hunting." In this case, he delegated that out to the mind-controlled Tigra. Nevertheless, he was the one who initially captured Spider-Man at the beginning of the story. Perhaps he wanted to try something new, or his unbridled arrogance suggested that using Tigra to kill Spider-Man would somehow bolster his prowess as a hunter. Who knows?
Regardless, the notion of pitting Spider-Man against a fellow hero and having him fight to the death is totally in-line with Kraven's bizarre sense of universal balance. He was not even dead-set on the fact that Spider-Man should die, rather he wanted to Spidey placed in a moral quandary...his life or hers. Of course Spider-Man finds a way around that but Kraven's plan is certainly worth thinking about.
Moreover, I love the part of the story where Spidey tells Kraven, "You figure this is only a fair fight if I'm all chained up? I like your sense of 'honor' pal." This, after Kraven had just given Spider-Man his spiel on honor and respect. It was great to see the irony pointed out by the web-slinger himself (because the reader certainly noticed it!). That's the beauty of Kraven, he's convinced he's the most honorable man out there, but at the end of the day, he's pretty much a ruthless killer.
I know some folks don't like it when you don't get any Peter Parker in a story, but personally I'm fine with it from time to time. And it really works here because there's no obvious story device used or unnecessary filler to somehow work Peter into the story directly.
Last but not least, Chris Claremont's script is perfectly paced and John Byrne's art pops off the page. This really was nice bit of work by the whole creative team!
A little corny in some parts, but overall a fun ride. 3 webs!