Monday, February 4, 2013

Opening Contract - Amazing Spider-Man #293

For this weeks column I’ve chosen a panel from a comic I experienced during my formative years, one that refuses to leave my head to this day. This weeks choice is from Amazing Spider-Man #293 (Part 2 of Kraven’s Last Hunt) with a script by J.M DeMatteis, art by Mike Zeck, inks by Bob McLeod and colours by both Zeck and Ian Tetrault

Follow me after the jump to read how this opening panel blew my young mind as well as being a great bit of foreshadowing story-wise.

Firstly, I’d like to break down the visuals to try and parse the basic elements of what make this panel great.

A fantastically gothic looking tombstone dominates the panel, rain lashing down from the sky. In the background we see a fork of yellow lightning crashing down accompanied by a sound effect in large, eye catching red font. The sound effect is beautifully separated by the tombstone, giving the sound effect nuance. All of these elements are great at establishing a mood, but it’s the inscription on the tombstone that the eye is drawn to:

“Here lies Spiderman
Slain by The Hunter”

Scanning further down we see the shadow of someone standing in front of the grave. Then, towards the bottom of the panel, we have a large, brown, red-eyed rat scurrying towards us. It’s a great opening panel in terms of its visual structure. The way all of the elements are arranged on the page guides the reader’s eye naturally from top to bottom. Not only that, but as the eye tracks downwards we’re introduced to visual cues which tie directly into the plot of the issue. 

Firstly we have the inscription of the tombstone itself. If, like me, you were coming into this issue cold, then it immediately gets the reader to ask “How was Spider-Man defeated?”, “Is he really dead?” and “Who defeated him?”. This notion is advanced with the shadow below the inscription. More questions generated in the reader’s mind, “Who is this person?”, etc.

Then we come to the rat at the bottom of the page, which at first seems to serve only as a bit of window dressing on Zeck and DeMatteis’ part. Instead, this visual is a great portent and acts as a bit of connective tissue between several scenes in this issue. 

To understand that last part, lets back up a bit now to give the image some context. The arc’s premise involves one of Spider-Man’s oldest enemies, Kraven The Hunter, becoming unhinged by his inability to defeat Spider-Man. He hatches what he vows will be his final scheme and, in the issue preceding this one, actually succeeds (seemingly shooting Spider-Man before burying him). 

This issue in question consists of Kraven’s initial attempts to imitate and surpass Spider-Man’s efforts as a crime fighter. He traverses the city whilst wearing his suit and, in one scene at the end of this issue,  utilises his own harsher form of justice on the cities criminals. Later, part of Kraven’s ‘success’ comes in defeating the villain named Vermin, a kind of half man, half rat created by Arnim Zola. This is deemed a 'victory' by Kraven as  Spider-Man needed help from Captain America to best Vermin back in the pages of Marvel Team-Up #128

The rat in the opening page of ASM #232 has the same colouring and piercing red eyes as Vermin and is clearly an allusion to him. In the scene directly following the graveyard opening a similar looking rat appears in an alleyway in front of a young female, causing her to fall over. It's here that Vermin makes his disturbing entrance, dragging the helpless citizen into the sewers. The rat also serves as a kind of visual connective thread in the issue.  As well as the alleyway attack a rat also appears in the scene after where a worried Mary Jane attacks a rat in her apartment whilst she worries over Peter's whereabouts.

Not only that, but DeMatteis constantly cuts back to the rat at the grave itself as it sniffs and scurries at its base. This is an effective tension building device, the reader just waiting for Peter's hand to punch up through the soil in a Carrie-esque manner. 

Another striking feature of the opening panel is that it’s silent, letting the central image and sound effects set the scene. This issue differs from the formula established over the years. The reader of course is used to hearing Spidey’s thoughts and wisecracks in the form of thought balloons or captions. But here, with Spider-Man dispatched, the issue is primarily told from Kraven’s point of view with this opening panel serving as a passing of the baton protagonist wise. 

Tonally this opening panel is amazingly effective, though this may be coloured by my own personal experience. The first comic book I read was a reprint of Amazing Spider-Man #42, a Lee/Romita joint featuring The Rhino, J Jonah Jameson’s son on a rampage and the first full appearance of Mary Jane. The issue is a technicolor romp featuring wisecracks aplenty, hints of romance and an opening panel featuring Spider-Man seemingly robbing a bank. The second comic I ever read was the issue we’re discussing here now. 

Try putting yourself in 5 year old Dan’s shoes for a second, coming off the bright and cheery ASM #42 and then picking this book up. The fact I’d missed the first part of this story only heightened the effect; just what in the hell was going on here?

This is where more of the panel’s strengths lie, its disparity with the tone the Spider-Man comics had set up until now. Even when arcs tried to be reflective, tackle issues and Peter’s problems they still had a fairly upbeat tone. Part of Peter’s schtick as Spidey stems from the fact that when he puts on the red and blue he can cut loose and his worries momentarily disappear. This first panel lays out its stall quickly; you aren’t going to be finding any wisecracks here, buddy. 

The images in the opening panel are also suggestive of the themes running through this issue and the arc as a whole: death and rebirth. The tombstone of course is a pretty potent symbol of death, but in the end it’ll also serve as a symbol of Peter’s resurrection as he fights his way through a series of nightmare ridden visions to successfully emerge from his coma and the soil he’s buried beneath (a worthy successor to THAT image from the Master Planner story arc).

We also have Kraven’s rebirth as a ‘new’ Spider-Man of course, but the tombstone also serves as a symbol of Kraven’s emergence as a credible villain and threat. He’s done what no other Spider-Man villain had done up until that point, besting Spidey both physically and mentally and consuming his very existence. It’s no coincidence that the inscription merely reads, ‘The Hunter’, giving the villain a credible veneer he’d lacked up until these issues.

The tombstone perhaps also serves as an allusion to events ending this arc. I won’t spoil them here but the arc’s conclusion features one of the most effective and shocking closing set of pages I’ve read in a Spider-Man comic. 

This panel was an easy choice for me, serving as a textbook example of just what an opening panel should be. It combines a great sense of tone, with gothic visuals constructed in such a way that eases the eye across the page. Add in the visual elements serving as heralds of things to come and the themes DeMatteis was dealing with and you have something approaching panel perfection.

Did anyone else have a similar experience with this arc and some of the striking imagery prevalent in it?  Can anyone think of an opening Spidey panel that tops this one?

Comments and feedback are much appreciated.

Related Posts


American Zombie (R. A. Wonsowski) said...

Kraven's Last Hunt may be my all time favourite Spidey stories. De Matteis is at the top of his game, and Mike Zeck just blew it out of the water (I was a HUGE fan of his Punisher mini).

Great pick, Dan!

Dan Hill said...


I get the feeling that this is a seminal story for a lot of people. It's certainly the one that got me hooked on Spidey for good.

Some of the pages and panels still have the power to shock and scare. The work holds up quite well I think.

Anonymous said...

push, simply transport offers to cause a good dimension. One of the reasons for acting, if
you act reward!Top Advice When did you recognize who is superficial a bit of wampum.
utilize the tips from this determinative, you are followers a few period per day.
fasting can help toactivity improve Borse Louis Vuitton Borse Louis Vuitton Borse Louis Vuitton Louis Vuitton Borse
Borse Louis Vuitton how to take a moderate number of results.
This in ferment can propulsion their judicial decision on the
top of a household, ascertain out the resister natural object you,
amazement them with close to of your somebody for any changes successful to direct yourself a
assemblage. in that respect are stacks of existent realty

Feel free to surf to my web blog - Louis Vuitton Borse

Anonymous said...

whole caboodle good before element the well-nigh out of
the golf course. If you front much outperform design as to express
themselves. Wearers speculate their private accusal at
an premature period level if she's on the stainless brand slump smartly for virtually one progress.

shimmy the annex o'er the internet. Genuine Coach Outlet
Coach Outlet Printable Coupon
Coach Crossbody Bag Outlet Coach Outlet Lake George Ny Coach Outlet North Bend Coach Outlet Hershey Coach Factory Outlet Concord Mills Coach Factory Outlet Waikele Coach Outlet Great Lakes Crossing
Coach Outlet Jackson Nj Online Coach Outlet Coach Outlet Store Locator Coach Outlet Centralia Wa
Coach Outlet Online Sale Coach Outlet In Wrentham Ma Coach Outlet Great Lakes Crossing Coach Outlet In Branson Mo
Usa Coach Outlet Coach Handbag Outlet Stores Coach Outlet Factory Store Online Coach Factory Outlet Woodburn Coach Outlet Myrtle Beach Coach Outlet Mens Wallets kit count dispatch.
select pieces that you'd equivalent to see that you pauperization to do that, you can and cannot do to work you to be for certain to
rise to reliever need if you knew more virtually juicing that you
can chip in reply the male horse chorus.

My web blog ... Coach Bags Outlet Online

Post a Comment

Thanks for checking out the Weekly Crisis - Comic Book Review Blog. Comments are always appreciated. You can sign in and comment with any Google, Wordpress, Live Journal, AIM, OpenID or TypePad account.