Aug 2, 2021
3 horrifying Spider-Man stories they'll never turn into cartoons
With Spider-Man: Homecoming officially in the books as both a critical and financial hit (over $700 million globally), we all know what that means! Okay, yes, a sequel that’s going to suck and make another reboot necessary, but that’s not what I meant. No, it’s time for another Spider-Man animated series!
Spider-Man has a long history with animation, from the 1967 Ralph Bakshi cartoon that was mostly just recycled animation from old episodes of Rocket Robin Hood, to the ’90s one that took place in a universe where police were issued laser weapons (thank you, censorship!), all the way to today, when Ultimate Spider-Man has shown us that anime has destroyed western animation.
The latest Spider-Man cartoon premiered last Saturday on Disney XD, and there’s no shortage of material to adapt to the small screen (or more realistically, to the Latvian torrent site most viewers will be downloading it from). However, despite Spider-Man’s status as a kid favorite, it’s not all Spider-Mobiles and forced one-liners that sounded hip in 1965. Quite a few Spider-Man stories are actually disturbingly dark, and today I’ll be looking at a selection of Spidey stories that you probably won’t be seeing on basic cable family programming anytime soon.
1. Kraven’s Last Hunt
Kraven the Hunter is one of Spider-Man’s most persistent foes, mostly because he’s one of those weirdos who thinks hunting regular animals is boring and man is the most dangerous game (that’s not true by the way; people are way less dangerous to hunt than lions or sharks). Debuting in 1964 when contacted by his half-brother the Chameleon to help him kill Spider-Man, Kraven would become an iconic part of Spidey’s rogues gallery, as well as co-founder of the Sinister Six, a group of villains that hated Spider-Man enough to answer a newspaper ad about killing him.
However, hunting Spider-Man turned out to be a lot harder than Kraven had anticipated, and the following decades were met with nothing but failure. Rather than turning his attention to hunting something without superpowers, Kraven slowly became obsessed with the idea of proving himself superior to his enemy, eventually culminating in “Kraven’s Last Hunt”, a storyline that was originally repurposed from a rejected Wonder Man script, because it’s always a good sign when you can just cut and paste different characters into a story without it making any real difference. At any rate, Kraven wants to prove himself better than Spider-Man, so obviously the most rational way to go about that is to trank him up and bury him alive like in one of those Edgar Allen Poe stories towards the end when he was getting syphilis-brain.
However, that wasn’t enough. Kraven wanted to be Spider-Man, to prove that he could be better at it. Which he prepares for by chowing down on a bunch of spiders.
So, having carb-loaded on spiders (the hottest new fad diet of 1987!), Kraven dresses up in a Spider-Man suit and goes after the one villain Spider-Man has never defeated on his own: Vermin.
If the name doesn’t ring a bell, you’ll know way more about him than you ever wanted to know later in this article. As for Spider-Man, he spends most of the story undergoing a traumatic coma dream while locked in a coffin. And when he finally manages to claw his way out of his grave after two goddamn weeks (and you thought he needed therapy before), Kraven simply explains his actions and releases Vermin for Spidey to deal with. Oh, and then Kraven promptly blows his own brains out. Man, to get a first prize this shitty, you usually have to eat poached dolphin urethras on Fear Factor or something.
Hey, remember Vermin, the character we were talking about like… a paragraph ago? Well, he’s the subject of our next entry! Yeah, this wasn’t a pleasant time to be a Spidey fan; it’s like that period when Stephen King was having cocaine psychosis and crammed out Cujo and Pet Sematary in a drive-by of nihilism and existential horror. Unlike his other books, which are usually about alcoholic writers, baseball, and an off-putting focus on characters crapping their pants. Wait, what was I talking about? Oh right, this freakshow:
Vermin began as a relatively standard supervillain: he was a geneticist working for obligatory Nazi villain Baron Zemo until one of their experiments backfired (supervillains aren’t much for adhering to safety standards) and turned him into a man-rat, and not the kind that teaches martial arts either, but a hideous, cannibalistic mutant. After spending his first few appearances fighting Captain America, Vermin turned up in New York City, and this is when the character reached What The Actual Fuck levels of insanity. Sometime after the events of “Kraven’s Last Hunt”, Vermin is locked up in the Ravencroft Asylum, where we find out that being turned into Splinter’s creepy distant cousin wasn’t what messed him up; he was actually molested by his father. So naturally, Vermin flips his shit and breaks out of the asylum, returning to his father’s home for a family reunion only slightly more tense than your average Thanksgiving.
“Vermin” is actually a physical representation of a split personality caused by the sexual assault; the whole “genetic abomination” backstory was basically just a convenient reason for it to come to the surface (no word on where the “eating people” part came from, though). Meanwhile, Spider-Man is having his own little Trainspotting freakout, still suffering from the effects of being stuck in a goddamn coffin for two weeks. The entire story arc is basically just a montage of the two having their own separate nervous breakdowns caused by unimaginable mental trauma, interrupted by occasionally punching each other, much like how I imagine most of Donald Trump’s cabinet meetings go.
3. The Thousand
Our final entry is the inevitable result of letting an avowed hater of superheroes write a superhero comic. Garth Ennis, a writer who built a career on seeing how much gore and rape he can cram into his stories before people stop answering his emails, decided to bring his particular brand of misanthropy, body dysmorphia, and gross-out terror to Spider-Man’s backyard. Seeing as how Ennis has gone on record about how ridiculous he thinks the whole cape-and-spandex concept is, his new villain didn’t wear a traditional costume. Understandable, since he was actually a bunch of giant spiders wearing someone’s skin.
Remember how back in high school, people used to bully the shit out of Peter Parker because he dressed like he stole his clothes from the set of Revenge of the Nerds? Well, the worst asshole in the entire school was Carl King, a bullying psychopath who made Flash Thompson look like an unusually wimpy Boy Scout. Don’t remember him? Well, that’s because Garth Ennis just made him up and retroactively inserted him into Parker’s past, because Parker’s life needs more misery. By random chance, Carl observed the accident that gave Parker his powers and got jealous because if anyone should have superpowers, it’s a sociopath who already looks like a shaved gorilla. Rather than sitting around waiting to get hit with a barrel of nuclear waste or trip over a magic artifact like everyone else in Marveldom was wont to do, Carl set out to get his own powers. However, since he had no idea how to irradiate another spider (it’s not the 1960s anymore; plutonium isn’t available at every corner drugstore), he did the next best thing: he ate the original spider.
Rather than gaining Spider-Man’s combo platter of awesome powers, Carl at first showed no signs of powers… that is, until one morning when he woke up and discovered his entire body was now composed of spiders.
Luckily, he also discovered that he had the ability to devour people’s innards and wear their hollow skins like ghastly Halloween costumes, which he proceeded to do to his parents, his girlfriend, and assorted homeless people, because if you’re going to be a horror movie cliché, you might as well go all the way with it. Back in present day, Carl manages to capture Spider-Man with the intent of devouring him too, in the hopes of getting his powers, which just kinda seems greedy to me. At any rate, Spider-Man tricks Carl into electrocuting himself, killing most of the spiders, and the last surviving one swears revenge… right up until he gets stepped on by a passerby. So yeah, not only is this story terrifying, it also rips off The Nightmare Before Christmas.