Thursday, September 06, 2012


Almost from the beginning of The Amazing Spider-Man, Steve Ditko had a talent and the intuition for creating unique villains for his hero to battle. And his villains were almost all far more human than most of the bad guys who faced off against the other superheroes who marched and flew through the pages of various comic books.

Ditko villains were, in many ways, pedestrian folk. That is, they had very few in the way of super powers or mutant abilities. Most of them were people who had acquired their so-called superiority through special potions, or exceptional training, or technological gimmicks. In a few cases, these folk got to where they were on the crime scene by pure force of will.

Thus, we were introduced to common burglars, masked secret agents, renegade scientists, and the like. You met very few traditional super-folk in the array of Spider-Man's Ditko-created antagonists. One early and exceptional such bad guy was Kraven, the Hunter. Kraven is loosely based on Count Zaroff from the Richard Connell story "The Most Dangerous Game". Like Zaroff, Kraven (Sergei Kravinoff) is former Russian aristocracy adrift in the world since the Russian Revolution. He spends his days hunting the most dangerous animals he can find, all with his bare hands. For Kraven has increased his physical strength to superhuman levels by way of secret potions he has found in his travels. In addition, he has equipped his attire with a few hidden weapons, such as a gas spray that can incapacitate his prey.

Of course Kraven arrives in New York and soon decides to hunt Spider-Man, since no animal on Earth has prove the equal of Kravinoff's skill as a huntsman. Here we have a classic Ditko situation: the man of pure self, Parker/Spider-Man, against a villain of wrong-headed ego. In Kraven, we see one of the few moments wherein Ditko gives us an antagonist who has taken the wrong path but who might just as easily have walked a road of honor. In the case of Kraven, his sense of honor is still present, but warped by madness.

In the few years that Steve Ditko produced The Amazing Spider-Man comic, he used Kraven in three stories: issue #15 (the origin issue), Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 (the Sinister Six storyline), and issue #34 of Spider-Man. With the departure of Ditko from the title, Kraven was left pretty much to the dust-bin of comics history, being brought back from time to time by other writers years later. I recall that J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck used the character in a well-received story arc in the 1990s. But he was a Ditko villain: classic in most ways unique to the man who created him, but just different enough morally to make him appear to be cast from a slightly different mold.

My copy of Amazing Spider-Man #15.
This is the last time Ditko used Kraven. I've always thought that there must be a reason that Ditko featured Kraven as the first villain for Spider-Man to face after finishing up the Master Planner story arc. I'll have to read the book again to look for details and deeper meaning. (Yes, Ditko almost always had a philosophical message to impart to his readers.) This is one of the most Kirby-like of Ditko's Spider-Man covers. I reckon he was in a good mood and just wanted to make his whining gnat of an editor happy.


Lawrence Roy Aiken said...

What I don't get is Ditko's use of a fringe around a character's shoulders. The Creeper,another Ditko character, had a similar fashion statement. I'm not hatin', it's just something that's weirded me out since I was a kid reading comics. It didn't even make "because it looks COOL!" sense to me, as the insanely impractical capes on all the other heroes did.

dogboy443 said...

We've seen the Lizard in the re-boot, what about bringing in Kraven and Mysterio???

HemlockMan said...

The fringe on Kraven's shoulders was a lion's mane. Literally. His vest was made from the coat of a lion he'd killt with his bare hands--like Hercules did.

With The Creeper...I've always wondered about that character's costumer. If you've read the origin story, he cobbled it together while he was hiding basically in a big walk-in closet in a costume shop. He was trying to hide his identity from the bad guys and at the same time try to scare them enough to fight his way out. Silly, yes, but, well, comics were for kids in the 1960s even if Ditko was trying to mail us all his right wing philosophy lathered on for good measure.

I also think he was trying to make The Creeper a bit more chaotic looking than Spider-Man who was very geometric in design. But The Creeper was Ditko's plan to take the popularity of Spider-Man with him to DC and rub it in Lee's and Goodman's faces. Alas, it didn't work out.

The Creeper's duds definitely were not the icon that Spider-Man's costume is. Kraven's costume, has stood the test of time.

HemlockMan said...

Mark: Not sure what they'd do. I swore off Marvel movies (and new Marvel-anything) until they do right by the Kirby family. Ditko really doesn't matter in that scheme because he'd turn down whatever they offered him.

Kirk G said...

Hate to burst your bubble, but Kraven is dead. Not, kind of dead, or missing in action dead, but on-camera self-inflicted suicide gun-shot to the head, dead. That was the payoff of the Miek Zack six part storyline that crossed through all 3 spidey books.

HemlockMan said...

Nobody in comics is ever dead! If they want to make money from Ditko's creation, they'll bring his dead Russian ass back to life!

Kirk G said...

Perhaps you mis-understood the comment. Kraven took his own life in the six part story that was so widely hailed as a masterpeice.

Since then, Marvel has recently re-introduced a female Kraven, a daughter or part of the extended family, to capitalize on the Kraven name.

But Kraven himself, is dead.

HemlockMan said...

Oh, I understood your post. All I was pointing out is that comic book characters are never dead. If the editors want someone back, they'll resurrect them any way they want. Clones, zombies, magic wish, it-was-all-a-dream, etc.