Sergei Kravinoff, aka Kraven The Hunter, spent years of his life convincing himself that he was the world’s greatest hunter. And in his quest to do so, he set his sights on defeating Spider-Man. Indeed he was nearly able to accomplish this life-long quest when he buried Spider-Man alive and took on the mantle of the web-slinger. Feeling a sense of finality, the great hunter then took his own life, thus ending the saga of the infamous Kraven The Hunter…or so we thought…
The one-shot Soul of the Hunter functions as the sequel to the acclaimed Kraven’s Last Hunt and focuses on Kraven’s lingering, tortured soul anguishing in eternal torment.
On a snowy winter day, Peter and MJ attend a funeral for the mother of their friend Roger Hochberg. Peter immediately becomes uneasy at the site of Mrs. Hochberg in her open casket as he experiences brief flashbacks of himself buried inside a casket. The anxiety overwhelms Peter and he abruptly explains to MJ that he needs some fresh air, giving him an excuse to don his costume and websling out of the funeral.
Whilst swinging through the city Spidey comes across a group of kids playing at a vacant construction site. One of the kids had fallen into a hole at the site, and Spider-Man quickly helps the group by jumping in to bring the boy to safety. However, things don’t go smoothly for webhead as he struggles to climb of the hole, he once again flashes back to the time when he was clawing out of the grave Kraven had placed him in. Eventually Spidey and the boy make it to safety, as the webslinger leaves the group behind and returns to the funeral. But Peter is certain of one thing, he has not fully recovered from the trauma that Kraven the Hunter had subjected him to back during Kraven’s Last Hunt.
After the funeral ceremony, Peter and MJ share an intimate conversation about death and the after-life. MJ shares a story about the passing of the father of one of her childhood friends, which she had witnessed. She claims to have seen his soul leaving his body and it had convinced her that our bodies are just the vessel that houses our true self, which is our soul. Peter is reluctant to believe her, but really wants to take her experience literally.
Peter then falls asleep but is suddenly awakened by a nightmare in which he is trying to confront Kraven at his tombstone. Peter then makes his way to his living room where he is confronted by a bizarre specter…the ghost of Kraven The Hunter! Convinced he’s still dreaming, Peter is in complete disbelief as the hunter struggles to utter a message to his former foe. The two are seemingly transported to a cemetery, the snow and cold seem very real to Peter. Kraven eventually utters the words, “my life was lies!” He then asks for Peter’s help. As if the situation could not get any more strange, another shadowy specter emerges from…well, the shadows! His ability to communicate is much more effective than Kraven’s and he advises Peter that Kraven needs him in order to free his soul from purgatory.
The shadowy figure then shows Peter the countless souls that have perished because of suicides and that these souls remain in a state of eternal torment, and Kraven’s soul is among them. The shadow tells Peter that because his bond was so strong with Kraven while they were alive and that because the Spider sat at the center of the hunter’s universe that they are inextricably intertwined. The ominous figure then requests Peter to face a trial for the redemption of Kraven’s soul. Peter’s initial response…a resounding ‘NO!’
Peter then wakes up to the sound of MJ’s voice, as it appears Peter never left his own home. He then confides in MJ regarding seeing Kraven’s ghost and his wife wastes no time to force Peter to sit down and talk about his repressed emotions regarding Kraven’s suicide. Peter claims to have no guilt about Kraven’s death, but MJ disagrees, saying that Peter was born guilty. Peter then quickly resolves to return the Kravinoff mansion in order to confront the ghosts of his past…literally.
Once at the Kravinoff mansion, the shadowy figure and the ghost of Kraven welcome Spider-Man, much to the webslinger’s surprise. The shadowy figure then proclaims, “now it can begin” and a hand reaches through the ground adjacent to Kraven’s tombstone as a zombified version of Kraven emerges! It is at this moment that Spider-Man has a change of heart and decides to fight on Kraven’s behalf (to be clear, that means fight on behalf of Kraven’s soul not Kraven’s corpse!). So Spidey and zombie-Kraven clash, and the undead gets the immediate upper hand. He drags Spider-Man to a giant hole near the tombstone and attempts to toss the webslinger down the hole.
But Peter draws strength from all the people he has lost over the years and he eventually turns the tables on the zombie, clawing himself out of the hole. Peter then begins to drop some serious haymakers on zombie-Kraven as he exclaims “I choose life, I choose life!!” Just then, the corpse disappears leaving Spidey punching the ground, as the shadowy figure and the soul of Kraven look upon him. Kraven’s soul walks up to Spider-Man and says “I am free”, the two exchange a hug and then Kraven’s soul vanishes. Spider-Man then returns Kraven’s tombstone to its rightful place and wishes his old foe to rest in peace.
The story then shifts to Peter and MJ walking together as she shares her thoughts on the whole experience. She thinks Peter’s subconscious created the whole thing as a way for Peter to cope with the trauma and loss associated with the events surrounding Kraven’s suicide. Peter doesn’t necessarily agree and at a family event with the Hochberg’s Peter seems willing to buy into the notion of spirits being among us. The story ends with a new line on Kraven’s tombstone… “Free at Last”.
A few things I’ve learned over the years as a comic book reader…first, villains never stay dead. Second, reboots of any series are inevitable. Third, you can’t have an iconic/classic story that doesn’t have at least one ‘sequel’ to it. You can probably tell which lesson is most relevant for this story (although, admittedly lesson 1 became applicable in recent years). Kraven’s Last Hunt has cemented itself as one of the all-time great Spider-stories, so it was only a matter of time before the follow up story was written…and that’s exactly what we have here. But this might be one of those rare cases where the sequel is not a completely derivative and crappy story. Instead, this story has heart and really probes an interesting question regarding super heroes and the arch villains.
To be more specific, it’s always been pretty clear how Spider-Man feels about killing even his greatest foes…bottom line, he’s never going to do it. But what is his stance when a foe takes their own life? That’s the question the creative team looks to address in this one shot, and its certainly an interesting and complex question. On one hand, one could make the argument that Spider-Man is not responsible for every action that his villains choose to take. But on the other hand we know how much guilt Peter is constantly riddled with, all of which he uses as motivation to continue his crusade as a hero. And considering just how intertwined Spider-Man and Kraven are, its easy to imagine that Peter may feel guilt for not being able to prevent Kraven from taking his own life. As this story plays out its clear that Spidey had buried emotions regarding this traumatic event and his decision to “choose life” at the story’s conclusion suggests that he would not want even his most persistent foes to commit suicide. Which is probably what we should expect from a super hero with a solid moral compass.
Of course, in recent years Kraven has been resurrected, which certainly pours a little cold water on both this story and its original…but, hey, let’s not forget lesson #1 that I listed above…
I would be remiss if I left out a comment about the Peter/MJ marriage. I know we currently occupy a world where the Spider-marriage is no more, but when you go back and read some of the stories from the time that they were married you’re reminded that there was so many great things about their relationship. In this story, MJ is far from simply a damsel in distress but rather an important sounding board for Peter, who clearly can see right through any façade he puts up to diagnose exactly how he’s feeling (and why!). Its her insight at the story’s conclusion that connects Peter’s suppressed emotional trauma to the visions he’d been experiencing. Her depiction as a caring, empathetic and strong female presence adds a nuance to this story that a single Peter Parker would not be able to create. The creative team was spot-on with their characterization of MJ in this one-shot.
Taking on a relatively ambitious question (the effect of a villain’s suicide on a super hero) is pretty rare for sequels to classic tales, but this one handles that question fairly well and thus is worth the read!
As far as follow-up stories to classic Spider-Man tales go, this one holds up over the years...which is rare for sequels. I'm giving this a 4 webs for the heart-felt plot and the fact that its from the 90s when, well, let's face it, there was a lot of crappy stories written.