There are two things I believe about Jed Mackay’s Black Cat run, and if you’ve read the book, you’ll agree. If not, I’m confident that you will once you read it:
- It’s arguably the most bisexual book Marvel has ever put out.
- It’s easily one of the best books to come out of the current Spider-Office, if not the best.
It’s a book that everyone who’s a fan of comics should read. Black Cat is fun, heartfelt, and emotional when it needs to be. It takes the character to new heights, expands her out of the Spider-Man circle, and has such an honest depiction of her queerness, where the scenes that affirm Felicia Hardy’s bisexuality hit me like a bullet train every time I read them again.
Mackay is the only writer in this book, with a huge assortment of artists, colour artists, letterers and cover artists joining him throughout the story. Here’s a list of credits:
- Art by Travel Foreman, Michael Dowling, Dike Ruan, Annie Wu, Kris Anka, C.F. Villa, Joey Vasquez, Natacha Bustos, Juan Geddon, Patrick Gleason, Nina Vakueva, and Pere Pérez
- Colours by Brian Reber, David Curiel, and Frank D’Armata
- Letters by Ferran Delgado, Clayton Cowles, and Ariana Maher
- Cover Art by J. Scott Campbell with Peter Steigerwald & Sabine Rich & Edgar Delgado, Pepe Larraz & Marte Gracia & Alejandro Sanchez, C.F. Villa & Brian Reber and Pere Pérez & Frank D’Armata.
Most of the run is coloured by Brian Reber and lettered by Ferran Delgado, with David Curiel colouring the FCBD 2020 issue and Clayton Cowles lettering it (which has Gleason on art) and Frank D’Armata colouring the Iron Cat issues with Ariana Maher on letters. J. Scott Campbell does the covers for the first Black Cat run, most of it coloured by Sabine Rich, while Larraz takes up cover duty on the second Black Cat run, with Gracia colouring most of it. Villa and Reber do the cover for the second annual while Pere Pérez and Frank D’Armata do the covers for Iron Cat. There’s also a cute short story that’s fully done by Nao Fuji.
This run opens with a bold mission statement that really sets out what this book is going to be about. It’s going to be a lot of fun with cool heists, it’s going to look into Felicia’s history and flesh it out, and it’s going to leave her in a place in the Marvel Universe with her own supporting cast independent from Peter Parker.
“We keep what we stole! We carve ‘em up! And we don’t take orders from anyone!”
Within the first issue alone, aside from the mission statement, we’re introduced to Felicia, her crew, as well as her mentor and her “antagonist” for the run. All of this is treated like you’re a new reader who knows almost next to nothing about these characters. However, if you’ve been reading her comics, you’ll recognize her crew, the same one from her first appearance that has never appeared since. It’s through this that MacKay gives another message to the reader: he’s read Felicia’s history, and he will build on it.
And he builds on it well. Using her existing history, as well as history he adds on to the character, he takes her to new heights, where she can be her own character in the Marvel Universe, explore her queerness, build her own brand, and set her mark on the world.
Volume 1 [Black Cat (2019) #1-12 & Annual] is essentially “Black Cat robs the popular heroes”. With the premise being she and her crew need to steal a lot of items for the biggest heist of their lives, the trio set on stealing from Doctor Strange, the Fantastic Four, Iron Fist, Wolverine, Tony Stark, and Hydra. Of course, that’s not all, there’s also a sweet date between Felicia and Batroc the Leaper, as well as a confrontation between her and Odessa Drake – the primary antagonist of the first half of the book.
If Volume 1 was the set up for the heist itself, Volume 2 [Black Cat (2020) #1-10, Giant-Sized Infinity Score, & Annual] is the heist itself happening, and the ramifications of said heist along with a personal look into Felicia’s personal life and what drives her.
Iron Cat serves as an epilogue, a fun story set after the ending that delves into some unresolved plot threads from the first two volumes: How Tony Stark feels about Felicia stealing from him, and what her relationship with Tamara Blake was all about.
There’s a lot of moving parts throughout these issues. Every arc is a heist from beginning to end, sometimes for personal gain, sometimes for the greater good, and it’s always focused on the character action. Even when there’s world ending stakes in the horizon, the story never shifts from that grounded perspective, and it does so to its benefit. It’s not that the plot is nonsensical or bad; it’s all interesting and it always makes sense. But the character work is the strongest part of Black Cat – the hook that digs itself into the reader – and MacKay makes sure that hook never goes loose.
The character work here is phenomenal on so many fronts. I’ve always felt that Felicia Hardy is a character that could and should exist on her own, not just as a supporting Spider-Man cast member, and it’s great that this book does that – to the point where Peter is only mentioned, and never shows up for the first 12 issues of the run. MacKay takes not only her crew members Bruno and Boris, but also Tamara Blake – a character who only showed up once in an old issue and was referred to as her closest friend, and fleshes them out both in terms of their personal motivations and what they mean to Felicia. He takes the time to flesh out Odessa Drake too, taking her from just a morally-grey character in Amazing Spider-Man and fleshing out her motivations and backstory too.
There’s also the romance aspect of it. At the beginning of this review, I said this comic was the most bisexual comic Marvel has ever published, and for good reason. There was an offhand mention of her having a girlfriend in the past in Kevin Smith and the Dodson’s The Evil That Men Do miniseries, but nothing more was confirmed outside of that. Meanwhile, in the MC2 universe (where Mayday Parker, Spider-Girl, originated from), Felicia was in a relationship with a woman.
It wasn’t until this book that her queerness was brought to light and explored, letting her have romantic relationships with both men and women. I appreciate it a lot because it wasn’t done in ways a lot of Big 2 queer relationships are done where it’s always played straight and perfect, Felicia was allowed situationships, one-night stands, complicated and messy relationships. The reveal is done in a way where her being bisexual is just a part of who she is, it’s intrinsic to her character and if you ignore it you might as well say she’s a different character.
“The thing with magic, see… you show them one hand, the one you want them to watch. You make it so they can’t take their eyes off it, that hand. You take possession of their attention. You steal it. Because while they’re watching that hand… they’re not watching the other hand.”
It’s a beautiful moment, a follow up to a flashback revolving around Felicia’s mentor, the Fox, teaching her and Tamara a magic trick through which they confirm this. Yet, it’s not the only confirmation of a character’s queerness in this book.
In issue 6, Felicia goes on a date with Georges Batroc, the Captain America villain. It’s a sweet date where they talk about life in the morally grey, that ends in them stealing and going for a one-night stand. I love that Felicia is allowed this, to have fun with no strings or bigger consequences. It’s something that we’re missing from superhero comics generally, and it’s a shame. But back to the date – there’s a point in the conversation where they talk about their attraction to heroes, their allure, which is when Batroc says this.
“Ha! I was referring to a more… amorous entanglement.” – Felicia Hardy
“Mais non! For outside of lovers, who are closer than those locked in passionate combat? It is all there. The heart pounding. The breath, sharply drawn in. A dance as intimate as the act of love. As honest. If not more so.” – Georges Batroc
Of course, it’s not an explicit confirmation, but honestly, just through words, through conversation, this is as real and honest of a confirmation of Batroc being attracted to men as it gets. One could make the argument of him not showing up in the Pride specials, but it doesn’t make it any less real. If this was said about a hero of the “opposite” sex, it would be taken as romantic attraction, so this counts too.
And then there’s Odessa Drake.
The progression of Felicia and Odessa’s relationship is so special to me, it goes from pure antagonism, to them being unlikely allies, to figuring out who they really are. But even more than that, it is so clear that they had history previously. In a scene from the third issue of volume 2, where Felicia has to confront her desires, one of them shows off her romantic history… and lo and behold:
But it’s not until a few issues later where they truly admit how they feel, where even if they can’t commit, what’s stopping them from hooking-up and enjoying it? It doesn’t end there either. There’s still drama in spite of that, there’s still mess, and that’s what’s so good. Felicia Hardy’s romantic history can be summed up as mess, so why stop that and not keep it going? It’s fun!
The personal stakes are just as important, on that end. The Fox wasn’t just her and Odessa’s father’s mentor, he was also her and Tamara’s mentor. He was the father figure she had while her actual father was in jail, who taught her how to excel in the life of crime. There’s a focus on Felicia’s mother, who is a big part of why she does what she does. The progression of Felicia and Tamara’s relationship in Iron Cat also hinges on their history, and it’s always personal, even in the face of greater danger.
Felicia’s entire motivation for the life of crime is because of her love for the game, for the art, more than it is for the material goods, and the book’s plot reflects that throughout. It’s almost always fun, but when it needs to get serious it does so, and always with sincerity. That’s a lot of why this book works, it’s an honest tale, not restrained by corporate shenanigans. When the stakes are raised, the emotions are heightened too, and they’re all in sync with one another so no part of the story ever feels disconnected.
The pacing of every arc is also fantastic. They’re always tight, squeezing out every fun character moment, every cool action shot, every emotional beat from a moment and milking it dry while making sure it’s not repetitive, ever. There’s a clear progression here from beginning to end, with both the stakes of the heists and the stakes of the personal beats, and it never goes over the line there. Even at the end, where the stakes are at their biggest, it’s because of personal reasons at its heart, and that’s why this book functions as well as it does.
This book is gorgeous. There isn’t a single issue where I went “this art is bad”. There are some artists I prefer over others, obviously, but having one colour artist and one letterer for the most part creates this sense of uniformity throughout the book that just shines. Dowling, Anka, and C.F. Villa are the standouts of the run though, personally.
C.F. Villa especially, having done so much of the book, leaves such a lasting impression on you with his high-energy action that it left me in awe the entire time. This book was the one that introduced me to his work, and also the one that made him one of my favourite artists working in the business today.
Ferran Delgado being the letterer throughout most of the run is also great, it maintains that consistency the entire time, and in moments I’m at awe in how well the lettering blends in with the art.
To say that I love this book is an understatement. It’s amazing, it’s special – it’s perfect! It’s quite easily one of those books I’d hand to anyone looking to get into comics with my eyes closed, both considering how new-reader friendly and accessible it is, and how good it is, being one of the best Marvel runs of the past decade. It did Black Cat justice, and I really hope MacKay keeps getting chances to write the character, or at least takes the foundation he and this creative team set and lets her be more than just a Spider-Man character.
Please, pick the omnibus up now that it’s out, or read the series on Marvel Unlimited. You’re doing yourself a disservice by sleeping on this, frankly, masterpiece.