Black Cat: An Analysis of Leather and Lipstick


“When you boil the character down, she’s sex. Sex and Flirtation.”-Our esteemed webmaster

Is she? Let’s see if we can find out.

The return of Felicia Hardy in the books of Amazing Spider-Man has been met with mixed opinions throughout the Spider-Fandom. On the one hand, fans of the character are happy to see her return, and now that the character of Spider-Man is no longer married the chances for him and Felicia to further their relationship from the 70s and 80s are increased significantly. On the other hand, fans of the character criticize that her portrayal in ASM has been nothing but oversexualization and oversimplification. The latter is particularly interesting considering that the Black Cat has traditionally always been very confident, sexually assertive, and full-on physical. Going back to her origins, it was their physical attraction to each other that led to her and Spider-Man having a physical relationship in the first place.

So which is it? Has the Black Cat been downgraded in characterization, or has she just been updated for the times? After all, sexuality and adult situations, like other aspects in fictional history, have always been done to match the times. Like violence and psychology, this just seems to follow modern-day society. If this were the Black Cat written in 2010, this is how she would come off as.

Right?

 

Indeed

Going back to Felicia’s portrayal since the Brand New Day reboot, the main bit of contention that fans have aside from her characterization is the fact that Felicia has regained her bad luck powers, which as of this writing has yet to be explained. This specifies a certain aspect of the character that truly has not been seen in decades. The Black Cat initially got her powers in Spectacular Spider-Man #89, written in April 1984 by Bill Mantlo. Her reasoning for acquiring her abilities was a fear of becoming a liability to Spider-Man after her near-death experience with Doctor Octopus in Spec.#76. It was by this time in the duo’s relationship that both had fallen in love with each other, although a popular factoid of Felicia was that she was more attracted to the Spider-Man identity and not the Peter Parker side. This, coupled with the origins of her powers (That being courtesy of the Kingpin) and the fact that her jinx abilities affected him in battle lead to Spider-Man breaking up with Felicia. She then loses her powers thanks to Doctor Strange, due to machinations by Spider-Man. This sours Felicia and after some back and forth she eventually settles with the Foreigner, and then plays the two against each other all the while fleeing the country after discovering that she had fallen back in love with Peter.

Still with me?

This all indeed has a point, which is that Felicia’s characterization is typically consistent with a stubborn love for Spider-Man, knowledge of his identity or otherwise. The act of seeking out super powers for Spider-Man’s benefit speaks for itself, while it should be noted that she gained some enhanced strength and agility as a result of Strange taking away her powers. But the fact remains that since her introduction Felicia has always had Spider-Man on the brain. This begs the question then as to why the Felicia in ASM #606 once again took umbrage with the idea of Spider-Man having a civilian identity. Why? One could argue that with the knowledge of who he is now gone, all the moments where she learned to love Peter Parker, from the time she lived with him in his apartment to the time she took on the Rhino while Peter was recuperating from a savage beating he received from said Rhino has gone to the wayside. And that could make some sense. It would also explain why she went from crusading Private Eye to the act-burglar shtick we were introduced to back in the 70s. All the moments of altruism she gained while being with the man behind the mask have now vanished with the knowledge of who he really is. So for all intents and purposes, this really is the Felicia Hardy from ASM #194.

Wouldn’t Peter then turn her in? Or tell her he’s Spider-Man?

Briefly on that point, Peter’s been shown to be extremely reluctant to let anybody know of his true identity. He had his arm twisted by the Fantastic Four and was threatened expulsion from the New Avengers if he didn’t tell them. Plus, with the Black Cat repulsed with the idea that Spider-Man wears a mask and that the red web-pattern isn’t his actual face, Peter’s getting treated to some free sex. Who wouldn’t want that, right? Of course, back when they first met Peter was determined to have her locked up in an insane asylum, as he saw her behavior as quite psychotic, but why quibble. For all intents and purposes, there’s no textual down-side to her not knowing who he is.

But back to Felicia. With the knowledge of who Spider-Man is now gone from her silver-colored head, it needs to be known exactly what the character wants. Is it just money? To hang out with Spider-Man? This is another thing about her not knowing that clouds perceptions on what kind of person she is. Back in Civil War, there was an issue of Sensational Spider-Man that took the time to showcase Felicia’s thoughts on not just her relationship with Peter at the time (since then he was married to MJ) but who she was as a person as well. There was a specific scene where after being dumped by Spider-Man, she goes home and sees herself in the mirror and asks “Who am I?”, then proceeds to rip off every shred of her Black Cat costume. This shows how Felicia’s life as the Black Cat has become a typical “mask as the reality” sort of existence. It was Spider-Man’s vocalization for his need to take the mask off at the end of the day that forced Felicia to look at herself in a different light and question the choices she’s made, especially at that time when she did anything for the guy she loved. Looking back at her past, conisder her dating Flash Thompson in order to get Peter jealous. In reality, that was an incredibly childish thing for a grown woman to do, especially to try and lure someone who was married. The fact that she fell in love with Flash by the time he found out her original intentions and dumped her makes her come off as even more pathetic. What does this say of Ms. Hardy. Is she someone who simply needs to be in a relationship? Not long after she found herself in the arms of someone she used to battle in-costume, in the form of the Puma. Of course, we get an after-the-fact explanation that she has since dumped him, but with Felicia’s luck that may have been the other way around in actuality. If nothing else, I’ll reiterate what her going to Spider-Man says of her character immediately after the loss of the knowledge of his identity occurs.

At the end of the aforementioned issue where she confronts the Rhino, she reminds herself that she did it for Peter’s sake, and confronts herself with the fact that she’ll do anything for him while he won’t reciprocate the same gestures for her necessarily. Her realization that she has to live with that knowledge is one that she firmly accepts. Compare this to the current portrayal where Felicia comes off as rather dismissive towards Spider-Man, in an off-handed way. #621 and #622 are the strongest examples, with Felicia either flirting or endangering him at inconvenient times. This is the most puzzling, considering all we know about the character whether she knows who Spider-Man is or not. If she does indeed not know and has reverted to the characterization of ASM #174, wouldn’t she be seeking his acceptance like she did in the issues following that inaugural one? In ASM #621 she’s quoted to say the following:

Notice the way she looks off to the side, as if the idea of steadily dating Spider-Man is beneath her. Why? Sure Spider-Man’s portrayal in BND has certainly been less than flattering, but that doesn’t stop her from repeatedly jumping into bed with him.

That leads into the most notorious aspect of the character, her sexualization. Again in fairness to Brad, Felicia has always been depicted as someone who knows what she wants (even if she doesn’t) and is not afraid to go after it, or let whoever it is know she’s gunning for him. That alone and in of itself, I find, is quite appealing. As it’s true with women, men also are attracted to women with confidence and a go-gettery attitude. That can be defined as sexy, hence Black Cat’s most common description.

But this all goes along with the character’s physical design, and with each new artist and each new decade comes a multitude of interpretations. All of them however, happen to be exactly the same.

Can you guess?

Hmmm…

Buhhh…

Well…

Oh jeez… 

I hope I’ve made my point.

So what does one take from Felicia Hardy after all this? One can only judge best by past actions, not random thought captions. Of course, actions are all indoctrinated by the writers, for it is the writers who decide what a character is. So is she just sex and flirtation? Can a character be just sex and flirtation, down to the core? In my personal opinion, I find that to be a rather shallow way to view someone, fictional or not. For if someone is nothing but sex, how can they carry on a normal conversation? How can they sleep? How can they pass people day by day? To embody sex is a rather drastic change from someone who was just assertive and overtly physical.

This is also indicative to the depiction of female characters in comic books as a whole, which is always a difficult thing to digest. Women are almost universally mis-represented as are many other facts of life that the comic book medium tries to mimic. Politics, race relations, global problems, none of these topics are ever really given their fair due in the superhero world whereas books under the companies of Vertigo, Top Cow, Boom and other lesser known names are free to tackle those situations without much fear for backlash. And rightly so. I doubt seriously the average comic book reader, which would read the average superhero book, would want to see Hawkeye try to solve the genocide in Darfur, or Red Tornado dealing with the real-life troubles of keeping custody of his brilliant daughter Traya. Nevertheless, Spider-Man was always about taking fantastic elements of fiction and putting a more believable spin on them. Peter Parker gets powers, tries to be a hero, but there’s always a persistent downside to it. At best he misses a date, at worst someone close to him dies while he tries to save his or her life. These are natural extremes that fans of the character have come to love and expect out of his various titles. So the idea of a character in Spider-Man being boiled down to nothing but sex and flirtation is not only jarring, but more than a little disconcerting. For then, what does that say of that specific character’s fans?

I’ll tell you what.

THEN AGAIN, the fact of the matter is that Felicia is by her own admission someone who needs Peter Parker. As, well, needy as that sounds it’s not at all unrealistic or unbelievable. It’s not as though Peter isn’t a great guy, and it is not as though people don’t desire other people (married or not) in reality as well. Back before Brand New Day, the complications that came with Felicia’s realization that she still felt feelings for Peter despite his marriage to Mary Jane created a distinct love triangle that was never fully fleshed out but always palpable and filled with tension. After all, MJ and Felicia did become friends at some point. Never close friends, but not strictly antagonists. This is another thing I find in the Spider-Fandom that in my opinion is also disconcerting. The idea of women fighting over an “everyman”, a nerd is the majority of mankind’s typical adolescent fantasy. It’s something which is on one hand entirely understandable, and on another hand something which needs to be outgrown after a certain point. What I liked about the triangle pre-BND was the fact that it was complicated, that it was messy. Life’s complicated and messy. It made sense for Felicia to continue to love Spider-Man after he changed her life, especially even after he married MJ because she never met MJ before. (To the best of my knowledge, if I’m wrong on that Bertone’ll get me) It was a case of Peter ensnaring someone into his web for a change, whether he meant to or not. Taking personal opinion out of the factor, what is currently happening in the books of ASM is Felicia being extremely relaxed with her relationship with Spider-Man, which is interesting since she is a character who definitely craves for more of everything. But what does her characteristics say about her? As a woman?

-She’s very hot.

-She’s very sure of herself.

-She comes off as though she doesn’t need men, including Spider-Man.

-She’ll deal with criminals to meet her own ends.

Those are typical characteristics of a femme fatale, fictional women who at the end of the day are meant to be avoided. Compare and contrast with the other female characters in Peter’s life right now. What do these women want? What are they about? What do they seek out in life? Is it just Peter, or something deeper?

And that is the main aspect to characters that leaves readers with a sense of appreciation and affinity towards them. Characters, male or female, have to have their own ambitions, their own goals, their own attitudes towards life that they aspire to meet out. Their relationships with other characters must start off as secondary, and further development of those relationships must coincide with their aspirations in order for them to happily connect with these other characters. By osmosis, readers will flock to those characters that have that type of universal quality to their personalities. That’s realistic. That’s adding human identity to fictional people. That’s Spider-Man.

So where does this leave Felicia? At the moment her motives are completely unknown, and time will tell as to when the readers will find out exactly what her true motives are. Does she still love Spider-Man? Can she? And if she doesn’t, why stick around with him?

Guess we’ll all have to wait and see.

THE END

 
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