It seems last week’s Civil War entry added a few embers to the flame.

Yesterday, I found myself doing something I haven’t done in some time: I read a new Spider-Man comic. And one heralded as a classic, at that – Kraven’s Last Hunt. Written by J. M. DeMatteis and pencilled by Mike Zeck, the story features Spider-Man dealing with the prospect of death when he is confronted by his normally goofy nemesis, Kraven the Hunter, and what begins as a standard Spidey adventure gets turned on its head when Kraven shoots Spider-Man, “kills him”, buries him, and then takes up his nemesis’ mantle.

It’s pretty bananas reading this story, which was originally published in 1987, and seeing how its influence can be felt in more recent stories, such as The Other or Superior Spider-Man. Hell, every Kraven story since Last Hunt has had its shadow looming overhead. But beyond specific stories, I felt like this book is a definitive part of what makes Spider-Man so great. And it’s not because it culminates with a big, bombastic action fest.

It’s a shame we’ll never get a Spider-Man movie like this, but this isn’t really a movie plot. Beyond the fact that it ignores conventional super hero movie tropes, this story feels more like a television two-parter, more of a character study about death and the acceptance of self in the grand scheme of life (hey, I know another comic story like that). It does what I love most in Spider-Man comics, giving the wall-crawler a vague emotional arc to deal with and pairing it with a goofy villain so his issues have a face (to punch). But this story isn’t about Peter Parker stopping a villain’s devious plan. Instead, Kraven has the character arc, with Spider-Man along for the ride. It isn’t until the end where where his choice of empathy over force, allows him to be the hero Kraven was unable to see. No battle for the fate of New York, instead the finale about giving someone irredeemable another chance at life.

One last thing I want to bring up is the setting. To me, this is just as much a character as the lead in a good story. The world you choose to place your characters in can speak volumes. Is your lead trying to fight against the way of the world or is the world a reflection of what they see and want? And though New York is almost always its own character in Spider-Man books, the setting in this tale has deeper character beyond the typical “You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!” New York. The city, the sewers, even Kraven’s home are extensions of the themes he’s facing. When Spider-Man overcomes his environment, he overcomes his problems, both internal and external.

I can’t recommend this book enough for Spider-Man fans, but more than that, I can’t recommend it enough to people who read Unlife. James has often tried to find his answers through work, relationships, friends, family, the light and the dark. And if that appeals to you – and I’m guessing it does, because you’re reading this – Last Hunt is great. It’s another slightly out-of-his-depth hero who keeps up the good fight when things look their darkest and comes out the other side okay. It’s just taking James just a little bit longer.

Then again, Spider-Man, as a character, is over 50 years old. So maybe James isn’t taking THAT long…