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The Untold Truth Of Kraven The Hunter

Ask any Spider-Man fan to name the webslinger's greatest foe, and there's a good chance you'll hear them mention either the Green Goblin, Doc Ock, or Venom. In fact, ask them to name their top five — they'd probably include those three, plus maybe Carnage, the Sandman, Mysterio, the Lizard, or any of the other Spider-foes who've popped up in live-action movies over the past couple decades. In other words, the chances of them naming Sergei Kravinoff — a guy whose idea of an intimidating costume is an oversized lion-themed vest and leopard-print pants — are quite slim. Which is unfortunate, as this tremendously undersells Kraven the Hunter's significance in Spider-Man's rogues gallery.

For many years since his debut in 1964's "Amazing Spider-Man" #15, Kraven languished in his status as a mid-tier Spider-Man foe, at best. This isn't surprising, given how Spider-Man has to fight New York City mobsters and living electricity on a regular basis. Naturally, a potion-chugging bootleg Tarzan with net traps would be low on his list of everyday concerns. This all changed, however, when Kraven did the one thing every other Spider-villain failed to do: He put the wall-crawler six feet under the ground, literally. And while this victory was short-lived, it profoundly — and perhaps, permanently — elevated Kraven's place in the Spider-Man comic book mythos.

Here are some of the most noteworthy things about Kraven the Hunter, a villain who became more prominent when he was dead than when he was alive.

An honorable Hunter after the greatest prey

Sergei Kravinoff, the man who would eventually make it his mission to hunt Spider-Man, was the child of Russian aristocrats. According to 2007's "Spider-Man: Back in Black Handbook," Kraven's family lost everything following the Bolshevik revolution in the early 20th century. They were forced to escape from Russia, making their way to the United Kingdom before flying to the United States. After the Kravinoff patriarch perished, Kraven's mother was sent to a mental asylum that was infested with arachnids, where she tragically took her own life. This death would haunt Kraven for the rest of his adult life, even as he built a reputation for himself as a world-class hunter who has defeated and captured every known animal on the planet single-handedly.

In his debut comic book appearance in 1964's "Amazing Spider-Man" Vol. 1 #15, it is revealed that Kraven derives his incredible strength, speed, and agility from an herbal potion that he pilfered from "the witch-doctor of a hidden African tribe." His very first confrontation with Spider-Man was brought about by the face-changing supervillain called the Chameleon, who sought to use Kraven as a means to get rid of the webslinger for constantly foiling his plans. At first, the young superhero gets drugged by Kraven and nearly suffers defeat at the hunter's hands. However, when he realizes Kraven's modus operandi, Spider-Man easily defeats both him and the Chameleon, which results in their immediate deportation.

A member of Nick Fury's 1959 "Avengers"

Interestingly, Kraven's initial encounter with Spider-Man wasn't the first time he tangled with super-types. Even more surprising, perhaps, is the fact that Kraven could technically call himself an "Avenger" — and that it was none other than Nick Fury, Sr. who recruited him.

Some time after escaping Russia and establishing himself as a big game hunter, Kraven developed a romantic relationship with the Atlantean Namora. In 1959, the couple were approached by Fury and invited to join his Avengers Initiative, a covert government operation to stop a Red Skull impersonator from reorganizing the Nazis and enacting a plan for world domination. This secret Avengers roster also included the Blonde Phantom, Ulysses Bloodstone, Dum-Dum Dugan, Dominic Fortune, the first Silver Sable, and the mutant villain Sabretooth, with whom Kraven has a not-so-friendly history (as seen in "New Avengers" Vol. 2 #10). Despite their differences, this ragtag team of loose cannons managed to complete their mission in Sweden, successfully stopping the new Skull from creating a Nazi version of Captain America.

Months later, the team reformed and went on another mission, quickly finding themselves embroiled in a conspiracy involving the U.S. government. These Avengers would end up face to face with Nazi operatives once more. Kraven plays an important part in this mission, neutralizing the vampiric Baron Blood with a silver-bladed spear through the chest. That said, knowing his heroic role post-World War II makes his descent into Spider-villainy all the more tragic.

A founding member of the Sinister Six

It seems likely that Kraven learned something about the value of teamwork from his brief Avengers membership, because when Doc Ock began recruiting Spider-Man-hating criminals to join his Sinister Six in 1964's "Amazing Spider-Man Annual" #1, he was one of those who responded (despite his insistence on only being satisfied with obtaining revenge against Spider-Man through a solo victory).

Kraven and Doc Ock joined forces with the Vulture, Electro, Sandman, and Mysterio in a meticulous (albeit convoluted) plan to finish off Spider-Man. Each of them were assigned a specific location across the city where they could fight the webslinger alone, wearing him down until Doc Ock could kill him at the very end of the gauntlet. Kraven's job in this plan was to ambush Spider-Man at Flushing Meadows Park with a pair of leopards (per the "Spider-Man: Back in Black Handbook") and tire him out to make him easy pickings for Mysterio. Predictably, the Six failed in their mission, and they all ended up behind bars. That said, it's worth noting that they probably would have reached their desired outcome if they had simply attacked Spider-Man together.

Curiously, in another attempt to defeat Spider-Man, Kraven employed a similar strategy, albeit from the shadows. As revealed in the limited series "Spider-Man: Blue," Kraven watches Spider-Man's consecutive fights with the Rhino, the Lizard, and the Vulture to "learn from their mistakes." Given how he ultimately failed here, it's safe to say he didn't.

A supervillainous half-brother

Had the Chameleon (aka Dmitri Smerdyakov) not manipulated Kraven into doing his dirty work for him in "Amazing Spider-Man" Vol. 1 #15, the famed hunter may not have developed the Spider-Man obsession that led to his own demise. Then again, considering the deeply personal relationship between the two half-brothers, it's perhaps inevitable that their villainous paths would intertwine — and ultimately meet Spider-Man's as well.

"Amazing Spider-Man" Vol. 1 #389" sheds light on the connection between Kraven the Hunter and his super-spy kin. At this point in his career, Chameleon is suffering from delusions, adopting the deceased Kraven's identity and becoming a pawn in Harry Osborn's plan to ruin Peter Parker's life. While on the run from a thoroughly enraged Spider-Man, Chameleon begins to snap out of it, recalling how much he loves and loathes his half-sibling. When they were both young boys, Smerdyakov was Kraven's personal servant, experiencing both generosity and cruelty at the hands of his master. Despite the abuse he received from Kraven, Smerdyakov developed an unwavering loyalty to Kraven and his family, even following them to the United States when they had to flee for their lives. Thus, when Kraven died by his own hand after his Last Hunt, the Chameleon took it upon himself to take revenge upon Spider-Man (albeit without the knowledge of his secret identity).

Savage times in the Savage Land

Given Kraven's skill and thirst for hunting, it makes sense that he would feel at home in a place as primitive and hostile to humans as the Savage Land. A hidden prehistoric paradise at the heart of Antarctica, it has remained largely unchanged over millions of years, and has served as a secret haven for dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and other types of organisms that have gone extinct everywhere else on Earth. It is here where Kraven has both sought refuge and had memorable, albeit bizarre, encounters with his hated foes.

In 1972's "Amazing Spider-Man" Vol. 1 #104, for instance, Kraven is revealed to have adopted a monstrous alien creature named Gog. Kraven stumbles upon the ruins of Gog's spaceship in the Savage Land, and takes pity on the creature. He raises Gog to be his minion, and uses the monster to kidnap Gwen Stacy, whom he has chosen to be his mate. Spider-Man and Ka-Zar team up to thwart Kraven's (admittedly cringe-inducing) plan, but Gog survives to become a sporadic character in the Spider-books.

Meanwhile, in 2010's "Amazing Spider-Man" Vol. 1 #637, Kraven takes the surviving members of his family to the Savage Land to toughen them up, immediately after they brought him back to life via occult means. During this timeframe, Kraven also crosses paths with Agent Venom (aka Flash Thompson). He is seen attacking the symbiotic soldier in "Venom" Vol. 2 #2, mistakenly believing him to be Spider-Man's demonic form.

Kraven versus Kaine

As a hunter, Kraven wasn't above taking paid assignments from powerful folks with money to assassinate targets of their choosing. That said, he sometimes refused to complete jobs that he felt were beneath him and his skills, as his pride and nobility prevented him from stooping to such perceived lows. This mix of honor and hubris sent the hunter on a collision course against a deadly opponent — one created from the genetic material of his most hated foe.

In the Grim Hunt story arc's backup tale "Hunting the Hunter," a previously-unrevealed showdown between Kraven and Spider-Man's unhinged clone Kaine was given the spotlight. Kaine was hired to track down and slay Kraven after the latter deliberately failed an assassination job for which he had been already paid. Kaine had a twofold reason for accepting this assignment: He not only needed some serious dough, but also wanted to take Kraven off the board before his vision of the hunter killing him would come to fruition.

It was not an easy fight for either combatant, but in the end, the Spider-clone prevailed. Instead of ending Kraven's life, Kaine buried the hunter alive, trapping him underground for three days. This did not help Kraven's already-deteriorating grip on reality, and may have even helped him come up with the plan he enacted in his infamous Last Hunt of the wallcrawler.

Kraven the Hunter's Last Hunt

Without a doubt, the 1987 six-parter "Kraven's Last Hunt" is the most well-known story featuring the ill-fated Spider-villain. Initially written for a different superhero character (as confirmed by writer J.M. DeMatteis himself), the original premise — villain "kills" hero and buries him, villain loses sanity, hero digs himself out of grave and triumphantly returns — was tweaked to fit Spider-Man.

Suffering from increasingly maddening visions of spiders and the memory of his dead mother, Kraven takes a rifle and, in a move that doesn't fit his usual M.O., shoots Spider-Man in the dead of night. He buries the hero (who, as far as the reader is concerned, appears about as dead as dead can be — take note that this story was published before the time of the internet and same-day spoilers) and dons a copy of his black costume, dealing with criminals in a far more brutal manner and even single-handedly defeating Vermin, a villain that the webslinger couldn't beat alone. Midway through the story, it is revealed that Spider-Man didn't die; Kraven only tranquilized him. He claws his way out of his grave and confronts Kraven, who sends him out to capture Vermin. As Spider-Man eventually beats Vermin, Kraven prepares a written confession of his crimes and takes his own life — a tragic end (or so it seemed) for a tormented villain.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

The legacy of the Hunter

After Kraven's death, his biological children started slowly crawling out of the woodwork, becoming woven into the web of Spider-Man's story. The first to make his presence known was Vladimir, the legitimate son of Kraven and his wife Sasha. Vladimir benefited from his father's material wealth growing up, and was even trained by Kraven himself in the ways of hunting (as revealed in the "Spider-Man: Back in Black Handbook"). Shortly after his father's death, Vladimir emerged as the Grim Hunter, and for a time, he seemed like he would take Kraven's place in Spider-Man's rogues gallery. Unfortunately, despite being stronger than his predecessor, his career came to a quick end after a confrontation with the Spider-clone Kaine led to his death.

Vladimir had a half-brother raised in Africa named Alyosha. For a time, "Al" seemed determined to get away from his father's shadow, embracing the life of a suave businessman and even (temporarily) becoming an ally of Spider-Man. Little is known about Kraven's third son Nedrocci Tannengarden, aside from the fact that he tried to kill Al (and was subsequently slain by the Chameleon). The fourth of Kraven's offspring — and arguably the most dangerous — is Anastasia. Trained to become an efficient hunter, Anastasia assisted her mother in bringing her father back to life.

Kraven also had the High Evolutionary clone him 87 times, creating the so-called "Sons of Kraven." One of them, the Last Son of Kraven, proved himself worthy to be Kraven's true successor.

The Grim Hunt and the Hunter's cursed return

In her desire to bring the head of the Kraven family back to life, the late hunter's wife Sasha enlists the aid of Kraven's children (Anastasia, Al, and a resurrected Vladimir) to organize the Grim Hunt. Behind the scenes, the Kraven family manipulate Spider-Man into one confrontation after another, intending to tire him out and make him easier to kill. Their plan was to use Spider-Man's corpse to raise Sergei from the dead — but while they did succeed in using a Spider-person's dead body to bring back Sergei, a critical mistake turned his second shot at life into a cursed existence.

In an uncharacteristic display of last-minute heroism, Spider-Man's clone Kaine pretends to be the webslinger, sacrificing himself to get the Kravens off Peter's back. They make short work of Kaine, and use his body in their resurrection ritual for Sergei. As a result, when Sergei returns to life, he also receives the curse of "Unlife," meaning he could only die once more by Spider-Man's hand. Meanwhile, the real Spider-Man realizes what happened, and angrily heads to the Kravinoff estate to settle the score with the family. He quickly and brutally defeats the Kravens, and comes close to killing Sergei (effectively giving him what he wants). However, a vision of the dark future that would follow this murderous decision snaps Spider-Man out of his rage, and he spares Kraven's life.

Kraven versus Kaine, round 2

When Kraven took his own life, he had already obtained some measure of peace. However, an unexpected resurrection turned his world upside-down, and so he sought to break his curse by turning to the one man who unwittingly caused it: Kaine, who had turned over a new leaf in Houston and assumed the identity of the Scarlet Spider. There's just one problem: Part of Kaine's desire to make up for his past transgressions meant that he really, really didn't want to be responsible for yet another death.

In "Scarlet Spider" Vol. 2 #21, Kraven attacks Kaine while dressed in the costume of the original Scarlet Spider, Ben Reilly. Quickly incapacitating the Spider-clone, Kraven ups the ante by capturing Kaine's dearest allies and forcing him to fight in a duel to the death. The hunter and the Spider come to blows once again in "Scarlet Spider" Vol. 2 #23, with the latter combatant emerging as the victor. However, Kaine revives Kraven a minute later, theorizing that his brief death was enough to beat the curse.

Befriending Squirrel Girl and becoming a superhero

Some time after his confrontation with Kaine, Kraven seemingly resumes his never-ending hunt for Spider-Man. A chance encounter with a whimsical Marvel character, however, prompts the beginning of Kraven's course correction — and even persuades him to briefly become a crime-fighter.

In 2015's "Unbeatable Squirrel Girl" Vol. 1 #1, Squirrel Girl saves her squirrel companion Tippy-Toe from Kraven's clutches in a rather unconventional way: She talks him out of supervillainy by convincing him that there are far more dangerous prey worthy of his attention than Spider-Man. Squirrel Girl and Kraven cross paths once more in "Unbeatable Squirrel Girl"  Vol. 2 #6, as they find themselves in the crosshairs of a woman obsessed with hunting. After surviving this ordeal, Kraven develops a deeper friendship with Squirrel Girl, and begins to rethink his actions.

Kraven's friendship with Squirrel Girl ultimately saves him from being captured by Spider-Man in "Unbeatable Squirrel Girl" Vol. 2 #35, as the furry superheroine and her friends talk the webslinger out of arresting Kraven for his crimes. As Spider-Man swings away, Kraven promises Squirrel Girl that he will become a better person. Fast forward to two weeks later, and New York meets its newest hero in the form of the "Unhuntable Sergei."

Kraven's final rest?

In a surprising development, the 2019 storyline "Hunted" strongly hinted that none of the various (and seemingly contradictory) versions of Kraven that appeared in different Marvel titles after the conclusion of "Grim Hunt" were the original. "Amazing Spider-Man" Vol. 5 #16 retroactively establishes that since reaching the Savage Land, Kraven has been working with the High Evolutionary to develop 87 clones of himself. Growing them at an accelerated rate, he sent them out into the world as part of their rite of passage. Only one of them came back: The Last Son of Kraven killed all of his "brothers" to be the last one standing. 

Beaming with pride, the original Kraven reveals his master plan: A technologically-advanced hunting area in Central Park, where rich hunters and poachers could hunt down animal-themed supervillains using "hunterbots" linked to their brains. However, when the hunterbots are destroyed, the patrons die with them, which was Kraven's ultimate objective. Trapped in the hunting grounds as well, Spider-Man faces off against Kraven in "Amazing Spider-Man" Vol. 5 #22. Their fight makes Kraven realize that he's a bigger monster than the ones he sought to exterminate. He also figures out how to truly break the curse of Unlife: He lets the Spider "kill" him by pretending to be the Spider and tricking his "Last Son" into dealing him a fatal blow.

Following his father's last will and testament, the "Last Son" took up Kraven's mantle. Only time will tell if Sergei Kravinoff has truly found peace at last.