This week, "The Amazing Spider-Man" brought us the start of the long-awaited "Grim Hunt" storyline. Having ostensibly masterminded Spidey's months-long "Gauntlet," the Kravinoffs are apparently ready to enact their final master plan -- the resurrection of papa Sergei, the villain we all know as Kraven.
Essentially, this is pay-off time for the current Spider-Man meta-arc, which has dominated the books in recent months. The thinking was that the Kravinoffs would wear Spider-Man down to make him easier to defeat, but it's debatable whether this has happened. The Kravinoffs frequently turned up at the end of a story having had no effect on its proceedings, and aside from a teary breakdown at the end of last issue, there hasn't been any obvious sign of physical or emotional fatigue from Spidey. In that sense, the Grim Hunt shouldn't have much trouble living up to expectations, but only because it has failed to build any in the intervening time. There's nothing like the expectation there was when the mayoral elections finally rolled around, for instance.
The issue sees the Kravinoffs finally get on with their plan, sacrificing one of the already-captured spider-characters to test out their ritual of resurrection. The decision to kill off Mattie "Spider-Woman" Franklin was probably a wise choice, given that the only half-decent use of the character since her creation was in Brian Bendis' series "Alias," where the whole point of her appearance was that she was a washed up superhero. Her death convincingly illustrates what's at stake for the Spider-family should they fail, while still being sympathetic enough to make it meaningful in its own right.
The story positively revels in Spider-Man continuity, bringing back numerous Spider-themed characters from every era -- Julia "Arachne" Carpenter, Mattie "Spider-Woman" Franklin, Ezekiel (from JMS' run on the title), and even Kaine. The Kravinoff's plan involves a test resurrection of one of Kraven's other children (who once went by the name "Grim Hunter"). Although collecting together Spider-themed characters could feel like little more than fan-service, the presence of Ezekiel (as well as a Lion motif for the Kravinoffs) suggests that we'll get more than a little nod towards the direction of the totemic mysticism established by JMS.
Personally, I'm unsure whether it works. The build up doesn't seem to have hit the right notes, the characters involved are mostly uninteresting c-listers (appearing in future installments: Arana!) and after months and months of promotion, it seems worryingly likely that Kraven -- a character doubtlessly more important dead than alive -- will actually return.
On the plus side, Michael Lark's artwork for the issue is fantastic. Atmospheric and gritty, perfectly in sync with the tone of Kelly's writing. The spider-books are undeniably some of the highest-quality books Marvel is releasing, technically speaking. The only gripe is that so far, this particular story isn't managing to be quite as interesting as it thinks it is.