Original Art Stories: Kraven's Last Hunt Part IV
Kraven's Last Hunt – The Concept
The seed of the idea, believe it or not, began with a Wonder Man mini-series that I pitched to Tom DeFalco, three or four years before KLH, in which Wonder Man was apparently murdered, and buried, by his brother, the Grim Reaper. Tom turned the story down. I took the seeds of that and developed it into a Batman graphic novel in which the Joker kills Batman in the same way Kraven would eventually kill Spider-Man. As a result, the Joker's mind snaps and he goes sane. Len Wein, who was the Batman editor at the time, turned it down because he had Alan Moore's THE KILLING JOKE in development and thought they were too similar. (A few years later, I took the Joker aspect of the story and turned it into an arc for LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT—called "Going Sane"—that I'm incredibly proud of.) So off I went, retooling the story, taking the Joker out and replacing him with Hugo Strange. I pitched that to Denny O'Neil—who'd replaced Len as Batman editor—and he turned it down, too.
Some time later, DeFalco and then-Spidey editor Jim Owlsey took me out to lunch and asked me to take over the writing on SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN...with my former CAPTAIN AMERICA partner Mike Zeck on the art. I said yes...and then started thinking about that "back from the grave" story. The truth is, it was perfect for the just-married Peter Parker. I pitched the idea to Owlsey, he loved it...and we were (finally) off and running.
Proving, as I always say, that stories have minds of their own and they won't emerge till they're good and ready and in the right form.
I actually pitched it to Owsley with a new villain—call him Marvel's answer to Hugo Strange—at the center of the piece; but one day, killing time in my office, I randomly opened a MARVEL UNIVERSE HANDBOOK and started reading about Kraven. Something clicked—being a Dostoyevsky fanatic, I was especially intrigued by Kravinov's Russian background—and I knew that Kraven was the villain I had to use.
Looking back, it's quite amazing: I was given complete freedom by both Jim O and Jim Salicrup, who succeeded him as the Spider-Man editor. (Salicrup was the guy who decided to run the story through all three Spider-titles...something no one had ever done before.) There were no changes made to my plots and not a single word changed in any of my scripts. I wrote KLH exactly the way I wanted to and that's what was published.
I have a vague memory of editor-in-chief Jim Shooter asking for one art correction that related to the human bones in Vermin's lair...and that, I think, is the only change that was made to the story.
Mike and I had a wonderful working relationship on CAPTAIN AMERICA. We were just really hitting our stride when he left to illustrate SECRET WARS. When we started working on KRAVEN we picked up exactly where we left off, only the chemistry was better than ever. Mike is a consummate story teller and he draws beautifully, powerfully: the character's actions are crystal clear and drenched with emotion and mood. Which makes scripting them an absolute dream. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: if someone else had illustrated KLH...even if every beat, every word, of my script had been the same...it wouldn't have had the same impact. The story needed Mike to complete itself.
As noted above, I was delighted. I couldn't have asked for anything more and, aside from that one correction that Shooter requested, I don't think anyone had Mike change so much as a pencil stroke.
Because that story was written at a particularly painful point in my life, it's hard for me to view it objectively. Honestly, there are a few other Spider-Man stories of mine that I prefer...perhaps because they're not tied to such a traumatic point in my life. That said, I think the pain of that period is what made the writing so urgent and honest. And that, combined with the brilliant work Mike did, really struck a chord with readers...and apparently still does. So when I look at the story I see a mirror of the man I was when I wrote it; but I also see an amazing collaboration with an amazing artist that resulted in a piece of work people are still talking about more than twenty years later. I 'm very grateful for that.
I think coming on the heels of both MOONSHADOW and BLOOD: A TALE, KLH helped define my writing voice, and my writing identity, in the minds of a lot of people.
NEXT: The Spectacular Spider-Man #132 and Comments!