One of the great things about "Amazing Spider-Man" over the past nine months has been the variety and quality of the artists. It's been an artistic showcase, and though "The Gauntlet" super-arc was building toward some inevitable Kraven family showdown, the plots were never quite as attractive as the art. But the art was more than good enough to make the series worth reading, and some of the writers brought enough charm to make us care about what happened next, even if "Amazing Spider-Man" wasn't doing anything, well, amazing with the narrative.
Well, with this "Grim Hunt" arc, the art is spectacular and the story is just as powerful. This is what the series has been building towards, and it's vicious and epic and chilling. Spider-Man has been beaten down and torn apart, metaphorically, by each stage of the "Gauntlet" -- as he faced powered-up rogues like Electro and Rhino and Mysterio -- but no matter how dark things became, the series seemed to have a sense of optimism. There was a lightness, a sense of joy, and even as bits of Peter Parker's life, and psychic health, became stripped away, it still seemed like bumps in the road of being Spider-Man.
After this issue, the future looks bleak. And yet it's an earned bleakness, something that feels tragic in all the right ways. Joe Kelly has crafted a tale that's gut-wrenching, but not cheap.
It helps that the artistic trio of Lark, Gaudiano, and Southworth add a gritty realism that grounds the issue and makes the pain tactile. This is a series that is often at its best when Spider-Man is cracking wise and someone like Javier Pulido is drawing the title character bounding around the New York skyline. But this "Grim Hunt" arc is nothing like that. Instead it's a tribute and bookend to the DeMatteis/Zeck "Kraven's Last Hunt" arc that is so fondly remembered for bringing a darkness to Spider-Man's world. But this is no pastiche of that story. It's something more.
The basic core of the story is about the Kraven family attempting to resurrect their long-dead paterfamilias. And this issue gives us twists and turns and reversals, as Spider-Man is lured into the Kraven family web. The final few pages of the main story are sure to be remembered for years.
This is also an issue that features a DeMatteis and Fiumara back-up story about Kaine, the Spider-Clone. Kaine's a pivotal character in the main story, but the back-up doesn't add much to the issue as a whole. And we also get a Stan Lee/Marcos Martin two-pager that's fun to look at, but it doesn't have much substance.
It doesn't matter. That's all extra fluff. What matters is the "Grim Hunt" story that makes up the bulk of this issue. And that one's a definite winner from start to finish.