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My favourite book as a kid: Spider-Man – Kraven's Last Hunt | Books

I nearly wasn’t a huge Spider-Man fan, mostly because the first few comics I ever read were from the Kraven’s Last Hunt arc, where Spider-Man is … dead. This storyline, published in 1987, sees the villainous Kraven, the son of a Russian aristocrat, donning Spider-Man’s suit to rescue victims of crimes while off his face on spider-venom. In order to truly defeat his greatest enemy, Kraven can’t just be content with having killed Spider-Man – he must become him, and be better than him. So off he goes, after the foes Spider-Man was never able to take down – specifically Vermin, a rat-like mutant who is kidnapping people and holding them in the sewers.

As a 10-year-old, reading the six-issue run (originally published as Fearful Symmetry, a sly reference to William Blake), my first question was: “Where the hell is Spider-Man? My second was: “And why is this so terrifying?”

Written by JM DeMatteis and drawn by Mike Zeck, this arc is considered one of the greatest Spider-Man stories of all time. But when I found them in Calamity Comics in Harrow, having just been to see Back to the Future Part III in the cinema a few doors down, I wanted to read about Spidey destroying the Green Goblin. Reading these comics that night, I had to put them down. Kraven seemed crazy, Spider-Man was dead (it is later revealed he is only tranquillised, and eventually digs himself out of his grave), and Vermin was something from the recesses of my nightmares.

Reading them again as an adult, it seems an incredibly dark story. It deals with themes of mental health and depression, impostor syndrome and self-delusion. When I read it as a 10-year-old, I just wanted to see a teenage outsider duffing up powerful monsters. I didn’t want big questions about life and death. It is also about self-worth – how we define ourselves through our successes, our weaknesses, our innate sense of the person we would like to be. Kraven, humiliated by his defeats at the hands of Spider-Man, feels he can only be defined by overcoming his greatest foe. Having bested Spider-Man (and let him go once he emerges from the grave), Kraven looks back on his life and considers his achievements. He still doesn’t quite understand the man under the mask, having seen nothing of Peter Parker’s personal life. But he’s done what he set out to do. And, spoiler alert, he kills himself.

This was pretty dark when I was 10 and still is now. In Kraven’s eyes, this is an honourable death, at the hands of the only person who could defeat him … himself. The last hunt of the title.

I didn’t appreciate the arc at the time, and it’s been years since I read it. Today, in times of pandemic as we all consider our mortality, it fills me with hope. Ultimately, it’s a story about taking responsibility for that which you can control and allowing the universe to balance that which you cannot.

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