Stew’s Reviews: Black Cat
Haha, I am way too proud of myself for this one, and I have been waiting to pull it off for a while now. Though, to be fair, I’m probably assuming more people pay attention to this article than actually do.
But if you do, you may look at the title and think “What devilry is this? He just reviewed Black Cat last week! Did he get lazy and just forget to write a new article? Are we getting reruns now? Is this article in syndication?”
But nope! Not a rerun. Just another book, entirely unrelated, also called “Black Cat”. That’s… that’s it. This is what I waited several months to pull off.
TITLE: Spider-Man: Black Cat
Writer and Artist: Jen Van Meter and Javier Pulido
Protagonists: Black Cat
Antagonists: Kraven’s family
Allow me this interlude:
Those of you have ever listened to certain episodes of my podcast may know that we have had historically unkind words to say about Dan Slott, who wrote Amazing Spider-Man for what felt like fifty ages. We all have our own beefs with his work on Peter Parker, but my biggest issue with him stems from his handling of Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat.
By the time Slott got his hands on Cat, she had existed for somewhere between thirty and forty years. And in those decades of characterization, many things were made abundantly consistent: she was somewhat naive and selfish, and she could be prone to bitterness. She was a thief who had few qualms about flying in the face of the law if it got her what she needed. But deep down, she was a proud young woman who had integrity, a moral code, decency, and a troubled past she was striving to overcome. When the chips were down, she would unquestionably do the right thing and despite her character flaws, she was never… ever… outright evil.
And then Dan Scott came along and said “LOL no. She’s going to go mega crime lord heel because Doc Ock punches her in the face one time”. Thirty years of characterization ignored, set on fire, and then chucked out the window because Dan Scott just felt like it. One Doctor Octopus punch, BOOM, moral compass dissipated. Time to be super evil!
LUCKILY, this all got equally ignored and thrown in the bin in subsequent years, and Cat went back to the side of angels. I like to imagine because other writers saw what Slott did and thought, “Well that’s dumb and totally out of character. I should probably fix it”.
Seriously, it’s like if Clayface shapehifted to look like Batman and punched Wonder Woman, and then Diana became a super villain over it.
I’m spending my entire article complaining about this.
This mini-series is part of the establishment of Felicia Hardy as a relatively decent and noble character. There are many moments over its course where Spider-Man spurns her, ignores her, and accuses her of working with his enemies, but she still does her best to save him from the machinations of the Kravinoffs. Because that’s who she has always been. Pay attention, Slott.
This story coincides with the “Grim Hunt” storyline that ran through ASM at the same time and showcases the Kravinoffs setting up their war with the Spider. Cat is blackmailed by, like, their butler or something? To steal some lost family artifacts so he can curry favor? His name is Vasili Sidorov, and he is obsessed with Kraven’s daughter, Anastasia. So Cat’s actually going against him, not them, but eh… it’s all connected.
The story is fine enough. It’s not a BAM-POW action comic because that’s not Felicia Hardy’s style; there is a lot of planning and counter-planning and breaking into places to steal things. It’s all very “who is one step ahead of whom here?” like an Ocean’s Eleven movie. As with those flicks, Cat even forms a team here with a tech guy named Poet and two associates, Kyoto and Tami, who help her get where she needs to go and work around Vasili’s schemes.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the art here; Javier Pulido is a fine artist. It’s just a shame that it’s one of those books where the cover art (by Amanda Conner and Christina Strain) overshadows the interiors. I feel like that’s the story of Pulido’s life in books I have read—he would be solid on his own, but he’s either shown up by the covers on his books or by the artist for whom he occasionally takes over (David Aja, on Hawkeye). Pulido cuts a very stealthy, thief-like Cat, but I’m not enamored of his faces a lot of the time. He also is cut out for a more humorous book than this one.
There are two backup stories packaged with the trade of this series. The first is a comical side story of Spidey and Black Cat fighting an entry-level mage who accidentally casts a spell that attracts a bank vault’s worth of cash everywhere Spider-Man goes. It’s a quick nothing tale, good for the laughs it provides (the huge sack of money materializing and taking out Lightmaster when he arrives to threaten Spider-Man; Peter throwing the sack of cash out his window when he panics, causing him to think, “Panicking. Can’t think. Work on Instinct” *throws the money* “Instinct bad”)
The second added bonus is an eight-page feature showing Spidey and Cat working together. After having run into Mary Jane earlier in the day, Spider-Man mentions it to Cat to see if it makes her jealous; Felicia, however, is laser-focused on saving an abuse victim and getting her the therapy and assistance she needs. Because she is a good person who would do that. Not a crime lord.
Yep, it was definitely coming back to that at some point.
Talking Point: It’s tough for quality female antagonists to stay villainous. Once they get popular, they almost always get at least a turn as a proper (if conflicted) hero because the publishers know it will move units. Black Cat, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Rogue, Mystique, Emma Frost. So who is your favorite comic book villainous who has actually stayed on the dark side of the fence?
This is just “okay”. The art isn’t something I necessarily love, and while I dig the character work on Hardy, the story of her overcoming Kraven’s valet just feels a bit… beneath her. I know at the time the Kravinoffs were set for a huge Spidey arc, but still… this feels like Black Cat being challenged by one Koopa Trooper for four issues. But at least it got her characterization right!
NOW FOR TRANSPARENCY’S SAKE:
So after having posted this initially at 411Mania.Com, I was responded to by none other than Dan Slott himself! In the interest of fairness in the face of my rambling, here was his cordial, explanatory reply:
Hi, Rob. The start of Felicia’s turn wasn’t because she got punched in the face one time. It was because Spider-Man (Ock) took her out, webbed her up, with evidence, and left her for the cops. Something Spidey (the real Spidey) had never done before. It’s because Felicia was caught, captured, incarcerated and (this is the important part) had everything she’d ever stolen, everything she’d ever accumulated from a life of crime, TAKEN from her. Even after she got out of prison, her status, lifestyle, and all her possessions were gone. In essence, for TRUSTING Spider-Man and letting her guard down around him, she lost EVERYTHING. C’mon, Rob, that’s a LOT more motivation than a “punch in the face.” And the way she broke out of prison taught her a new wrinkle about her bad luck powers– that the more she gave into her darker side, the more luck turned in her favor. That was the start of the Black Cat’s fall. The frustrating thing for me was that I had a long form redemption story planned for Felicia– but I WASN’T allowed to do it, because the Marvel Universe is a shared universe and the writers on MULTIPLE BOOKS liked Black Cat’s new set up as the female Kingpin of Crime in NYC. This was a key set-up over in THE DEFENDERS, MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN, and SILK, and it was a status quo that other books wanted to play with as well. If that had NOT been the case, there would have been an ongoing subplot, and eventual big story arc, of Felicia returning to the side of the angels. Honest. 🙂
So there you go! I’m not going to lie… it all still feels wildly out of character for her to go AS bad AS quickly as she did when Slott got his hands on her, but I appreciate there was allegedly an endgame to it all.