Marvel Comics' Spider-Man is no stranger to physical and emotional punishment. Over the years, he's endured countless physical beatings and numerous tragedies. The latest test of Spidey's mettle is "The Gauntlet," a series of interconnected stories currently running in "Amazing Spider-Man." Each installment of the overarching storyline finds a different one of Spider-Man's classic villains coming back with a vengeance, many of them armed with new powers and new senses of purpose. This summer, Spidey's running of "The Gauntlet" comes to an end, but his troubles certainly don't. Waiting for him at the end of his numerous challenges is a family of villains who have been stalking and toying with the Web-Slinger for months, waiting for just the right time to strike.
This June, the Kravinoffs finally make their move in "Grim Hunt," a four part story arc by writer Joe Kelly and artist Michael Lark that runs through "Amazing Spider-Man" #634-637. CBR News spoke with Kelly about the arc, which finds the deranged family of Kraven the Hunter ready to wipe out Spider-Man once and for all.
The seeds for both "The Gauntlet" and "Grim Hunt" were planted in 2007 in "Amazing Spider-Man" #565-567, a storyline which introduced Ana Kravinoff, the daughter of the deceased villain Kraven the Hunter, and her mother Sasha. The two came to America with the simple goal of destroying Spider-Man, who they blamed for Kraven's death. Before "The Gauntlet" began, they abducted Spider-Man's psychic ally, Madame Web, and since then, they have been using her both to keep tabs on Spidey and to subtly influence his encounters for the worse.
For Kelly, one of the most enjoyable aspects of penning "Grim Hunt" is the chance to write Sasha and Ana. "Sasha is this sophisticated maniac, so she's really fun to write," Kelly told CBR News. "She's so obsessed and hyper-focused. She's like the scariest mom you'd ever meet. It might be sort of simplistic, but with the Kravens, I'm really taken by the lion imagery. Sasha is the head of that pride. The female lion is the one who really runs the pride. So Sasha is fierce. She is fiercely protective and fiercely respectful of her dead husband. She wants to bring her family back to her perception of greatness. I love a character who is that strongly motivated. She's so haughty and feels like she's so above everyone else.
"Ana is super precocious, but she also failed to take out Spidey in her first appearance, and there are consequences for that. Most of them self imposed. As a result of their own obsessions and pushing themselves harder, the Kravinoffs are all mixed up with odd medicines and other strange things that they use to enhance their abilities. So Ana has sort of cracked a little bit," Kelly continued. "She's sort of like the child prodigy who blew it at the Olympics. She stood on the threshold where she could have been the new Kraven the Hunter and blew it. That has fractured her a little bit, so she's a creepy wild child. Plus, I wanted to make sure she wasn't exactly like her mom. So if Sasha is this sort of fierce but elegant lioness, Ana is this really messed up wild animal that takes delight in some cruel things. You know how cats like to play with their food before they eat it? That's kind of where Ana is at. So they're both great characters to write. That whole family is really cool."
Getting revenge on Spider-Man isn't the Kraven family's sole motivation in "Grim Hunt" - they're also out to restore their family by attempting to resurrect one of their fallen family members. "There are a number of dead Kravens," Kelly said. "There's Sergei Kravinoff [The original Kraven] and his sons Vladimir Kravinoff and Ned Tannengarden. So which Kraven they're out to bring back is a legitimate question."
The reason for both the Kraven family's vendetta against Spider-Man and their attempt to resurrect their fallen family member stretch back to the classic Spider-Man storyline "Kraven's Last Hunt," a tale which saw Sergei Kravinoff abduct Spider-Man and then steal his identity. In the climax of the story, Kravinoff, feeling that he achieved ultimate victory over his hated foe, decides he has nothing else to live for and kills himself.
"The Kravinoff family were displaced by high society in Russia, and they recovered from that and found their footing. They're survivors. So I think Sasha is motivated by the death of her husband, but I also think it goes a lot deeper than that. It's not just she wants to restore the clan, it's that she's kind of constitutionally incapable of understanding what her husband did and why he did it," Kelly explained. "When you look back at 'Kraven's Last Hunt,' everybody loves that story and for good reason. It's a really layered, complex and interesting character study that's done of Kraven, and she didn't have access to those thoughts that we as readers did. So in a lot of ways, this is not just an attempt to restore her family's greatness, but to close a chapter on something that she can't tolerate, and that's the possibility that Kraven took his own life. That's inconceivable to her, because they're the great Kravinoffs.
"She's in a lot of denial," Kelly continued. "If she believed what happened to her husband, I think she would want to try and understand it, but she's someone who, all the facts would be staring her right in the face and she'd be like, 'There's no way that he put a gun in his mouth and blew his own head off! That's impossible! Spider-Man did this!' I think her motivations really come more from that. She sees an opportunity to rebuild and get things back to the way they 'should be.'"
"Grim Hunt" isn't just the story of the Kraven family; it's also a story about a unique family that Spider-Man happens to belong to. "In 'Kraven's Last Hunt,' writer J.M. DeMatteis made a really strong point that Kraven's enemy is the 'Spider.' He was obsessed with the Spider; he couldn't have cared less about who was under Spider-Man's mask. He was more concerned about the sort of spirit of the whole thing. That's why it's the Kraven Family versus the Spider Family. That's who they need. So the Spider Family are people who are sort of close or tangential to Spidey's life. They're of the 'Spider Clan,' for lack of a better term, and they become players in this story," Kelly remarked. "For me, personally, that was part of this story too. We can take a character like Madame Web and mess around with her, or some of these side characters like the other Spider-Women who we maybe don't really think about, and give them more of a spotlight; see what's cool about them and mess around with them a little bit more. So there are a few not so obvious characters that show up, and then there a couple of key players who you would expect in a big 'Spider' story."
During the course of "Grim Hunt," the Spider Family will be pursued by several members of the Kravens and their allies. "The primary villains in the story are the Kraven family, which is more than just the two ladies and Sergei Kravinoff's half-brother, The Chameleon. Aloysha Kraven will definitely be a key player, and as I said, there is more than one dead Kraven," Kelly stated. "Plus, at certain points in 'The Gauntlet,' Sasha would and will pop up, sometimes it's at the beginning of a storyline, and she'd nudge somebody in a certain direction. Other times she shows up afterwords to pick up the pieces and cut somebody a deal. So some of the guys who have shown up in 'The Gauntlet' play into 'Grim Hunt.'"
With an army of enemies out to destroy them in "Grim Hunt," Peter Parker and his fellow Spiders will have to work together if they want to stay alive. "Pete goes it alone so much in 'Amazing Spider-Man.' He does have a lot of interaction with the rest of the Marvel Universe, but in his own series, Spidey is often an isolated character, and has to be so for a number of reasons. A lot of time it's because he doesn't want to take responsibility for other people, because he's afraid of what might happen if he does, and now that worst nightmare of his is coming true. Because, now, if someone straps on a Spider costume, they'll find themselves under attack," Kelly stated. "So anybody he's ever inspired or has a direct link to via powers or, for lack of a better term, the animus that drives some of these characters, is now a target. Anybody who is in that world is at risk because of him. So it's a nightmare. Some of them are people he barely even knows, but they're part of that family and therefore they're potential allies and potential victims."
Spidey will need all the help he can get, because when the story begins, the Wall-Crawler is in no shape to fend off the Kravens and their allies. "He's not in a good place. He's got the swine flu. He's just been beaten. You'll see in the stories that lead up to 'Grim Hunt,'" Kelly said. "Spidey really gets thrown through the wringer. Some stuff that's happening in the comics right now pays off eight weeks later. Zeb Wells's story with the Lizard that runs towards the end of 'The Gauntlet' is a brutal story. Spider-Man is just being undermined. A lot of his belief systems and his hope are just being gutted, and this where the Kravens playing behind these scenes is paying off."
The Kravens aren't operating behind the scenes of "The Gauntlet" in the sense that all the villains involved are attacking Spider-Man specifically for them. Rather, it's a more of a case of Sasha and Ana taking advantage of the chaos caused by the villains' various attacks on Spidey and New York City.
"Sasha just needs to nudge and shape things a little bit. It's not like all these guys are working for her. That's something that was very important from the beginning. Because in bringing back the Rhino and Electro or any of these big gun characters that show up during 'The Gauntlet,' we didn't want to be saying that they were back because of Mrs. Kraven [Laughs]," Kelly explained. "We didn't want to play any of them that way. They're way too big. So Sasha has been behaving like a proper hunter. She's studying her game and trying to weaken his defenses on all these different levels. And Pete is not in a good place at the beginning of 'Grim Hunt.' He's lying in bed, sick as a dog and kind of hating life."
The stakes in "Grim Hunt" will be fiercely personal for all the characters involved. "It really is like the Kravens have declared war. The effects and results of that, especially their master plan of bringing Kraven back, remain to be seen. Because who knows what a Kraven who's been to the other side may be like? So in the beginning Sasha's actions are this brutal road map to get her where she needs to be," Kelly explained. "Then we have Spidey dealing with the effects of that, if he even survives the effects of it, because you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. And blood demands blood. So to bring somebody back from the dead, somebody has got to go. So, there are a lot of people dying in this story."
"Grim Hunt" promises to be a fast-paced action-packed story that unfolds over the course of a couple of days. Because of the Kraven family's master plan and the brutality of their actions, the story will also involved elements of psychological and supernatural horror. "Michael [Lark] certainly embraced that stuff. There's a real noir-horror quality to the whole story that comes through," Kelly revealed. "We're talking about very dark motivations for some business that is definitely nasty. So yeah this story goes into the horror zone pretty rapidly."
Kelly is really enjoying his chance to collaborate with Lark on "Grim Hunt," telling CBR News that he is consistently wowed by every page that his artist turns in. "He's been great. The way he conveys the emotion that is necessary in this story and the panic and sense of encroaching fear is really great. And there are some characters that you would not expect to carry some real life emotion that Lark really pulled off. I think there are some people in the story, at least I hope, that maybe prior to this people looked at as sort of goofy or a joke, and by the end of the story, you'll have a really different feeling about them, because you see them as people. Whether they live or not is another bigger question. And that's something that Michael totally brings to this story. He really humanizes a lot of these characters, especially in that kind of noir world."
Humanizing and highlighting the many different facets of their cast of characters is another one of Kelly and Lark's goals for "Grim Hunt," especially the Kraven family. Their hope is that after "Grim Hunt," Spider-Man fans will realize just how dangerous, fearsome, and unsettling the clan of hunters really is. "We talked in the room a bunch of times about how the Kraven family portrait should be one of the scariest things you've ever seen. They are really a disturbing family. They would be like the Manson family, yet they carry themselves with a certain sense of entitlement and this kind of regalness. They were once this great Russian family. I think it's really cool to play with dichotomy of that. They are creepy. There's nothing jokey about the Kravens, and I think by the end of this storyline, you're going to see some nasty stuff. I'm actually very excited."
As if Kelly's epic story wasn't enough, readers of the "Grim Hunt" arc will also be treated to two bonus features. The first is the start of a new regular feature by Spider-Man creator, the legendary Stan Lee, who will be joined by artist Marcos Martin. The second feature will span the entirety of the "Grim Hunt arc and is by "Kraven's Last Hunt" writer J.M DeMatteis and artist Max Fiumara. The latter back-up will detail a previously unrevealed encounter between Peter Parker and his violent clone Kaine; an encounter that will come back to haunt Spider-Man during the present day action of "Grim Hunt".
Kelly already has his next "Amazing Spider-Man" assignment lined up, but at this point in time, the writer is engrossed in making the final act of the Kraven family's vendetta against Spider-Man a memorable and epic tale. "Right now, for me personally, it's all about finishing 'Grim Hunt.' I do know what's coming down the pipe, but right now I'm focused on 'Grim Hunt,' because even though it's a ways off, we have to stay on the ball to keep everything running smoothly. So I'm very focused on this story and I'm very excited about what's coming after it, but it's all about 'Grim Hunt' right now," the writer explained. "It's sort of delicious, luxurious evil. I like stories this relentless, and hopefully it won't terrify too many people [Laughs]. I'm excited. It's the culmination of a lot of conversations and a lot of work. So hopefully will people really dig it."