You’ve seen her, you’ve read about her for years but in the last few months it seems that long time Spider-Man and Marvel Comics character, Felicia Hardy has crossed her own path as the Black Cat and be put in what writers and fans have referred to as “character assassination.” What is character assassination you say? Its a deliberate and sustained process that aims to destroy the credibility and reputation of a person, institution, social group, or nation. Agents of character assassinations employ a mix of open and covert methods to achieve their goals, such as raising false accusations, planting and fostering rumors, and manipulating information to. Character assassination is an attempt to tarnish a person’s reputation. It may involve exaggeration, misleading half-truths, or manipulation of facts to present an untrue picture of the targeted person. Of course you are probably saying “hold on a second, Ryan. Isn’t that just called bad writing?” Well yes but there is a difference between writing a bad story and ruining a character to make it fit your story because that’s how you want it be and forget if it tramples on over 20 years of established history.
What history is this to a character who for the last 20 years has wore leather outfits and accented her bust line? Well, back in 1979 when I was a wee lad of one year old, writer Marv Wolfman who was writing Spider-Woman at the time wanted to make a great foil to Spider-Woman and created the Black Cat and based the character off of one of Tex Avery’s classic cartoons, “Bad Luck Blackie”. However, when he switched writing assignments to Spider-Man he took the character with him. Wolfman made considerable changes to the character and her appearance over this time; the Black Cat intended to debut in Spider-Woman had only her name and powers in common with the one who finally appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man. While for years her black leather costume was always compared to DC Comic’s Catwoman. Felicia’s outfit actually predates Catwoman’s sexy costumes by almost a decade due to writer Frank Miller redesigning the character during his Batman: Year One. Artist, Keith Pollard originally design the costume to be the reflection of a real black cat with white outlined fur on the gloves and boots. The over abundance of Felicia’s cleavage didn’t start showing up until the 80s when the “lusty and busty” emphasis started becoming more profound. Of course this sexy look started being a staple of the character until Superior Spider-Man #20 when after being capture she went with her current costume look but more on that later.
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Now, you are probably thinking, “well great little history lesson but why is Felicia a victim of character assassination?” Well, let’s start with Black Cat’s first story, when Felicia Hardy first showed up in costume she did it to break her father out of prison. On the same night, she met Spider-Man. Unfortunately for Felicia, her father died, and she then faked her own death. Despite her antipathy towards men, Felicia felt a kinship with this lone hero; Spider-Man was the first man she felt she could trust and she grew to believe herself in love with him. Felicia looked for a way to earn his trust and continued with the Black Cat persona as a misguided attempt to attract his affection. Seeing the good in Felicia, Spider-Man made every attempt to have her criminal record expunged.
Felicia had been placed in a mental institution, but escaped. She joined forces with Spider-Man against the Maggia. She was granted conditional amnesty, and again convinced Spider-Man that she had died. So, to recap Felicia really started out as a criminal to free her father from prison and ran into conflict with Spider-Man but Spidey saw that while misguided she wasn’t really a criminal but of course when Felicia tried to push Spider-Man into fighting the Maggia that was more for personal reasons to get back at them and steal their “dirty money” and use it for good. This was more of Felicia’s first true motives for becoming a thief. She was trying to go more of a Robin Hood but use money that was obtain through illegal means and used for better reasons. Of course she felt that Spider-Man would see her as a manipulative person (which she kind of was back then) and sent her off to prison like her father. So, when she popped up next trying to take down the Kingpin and the Owl who planned on using a powerful device that could destroy the city and show that she was on the side of angels that lead to Roger Stern’s take on the character that really established her as a misguided heroin than criminal.
The Owl planned to use the weapon to hold New York City hostage. Meanwhile, Doctor Octopus planned to use the weapon to destroy the city altogether. However, the Black Cat was able to use her abilities to steal the item first and protect it from all parties. She gave the detonator to Spider-Man and became the target of Doctor Octopus’ revenge. Although Spider-Man was able to tear off his mechanical appendages, Octopus was still able to mentally control them and hold the Black Cat still while his men opened fire. Spider-Man barely got her to the hospital in time and as they operated on the dozens of bullet and knife wounds, Peter realized just how much he cared for Felicia. After she recovered, they began a relationship and soon Peter revealed his identity to her. Felicia had great difficulty accepting the fact that Peter was just a man beneath the mask and could not understand his need for a civilian life. Peter was hurt, but continued the relationship since it was the first time he did not need to hide his life as Spider-Man from someone.
This was really the first time she ran into conflict with who Spider-Man was but more over who he really was. Not the web slinging superhero that she came to love but as time went on she started accepting who Peter was but her own self esteem started to fall as not only did her near death experience during her battle with Dr. Octopus almost killed her but she started having more and more close calls with various other villains she sought to get her own powers and received them from the Kingpin as his act of revenge on her for ruining his plans during the battle with the Owl and Dr. Octopus. Her “bad luck powers” caused her to lose her fear of death but as Spider-Man discovered Felicia’s powers and had Dr. Strange try and remove her powers only for it to backfire and give her super powers such as heighten senses and her own retractable claws and put her in a more darker persona because in the late 80s and early 90s all characters had to go dark you know. This was really the first time Felicia started showing any hints of her current persona in Spider-Man.
Felicia was more hard core willing to maim her attackers or villains she encountered and leaving little care for them. However, after Black Cat was almost killed by the X-Men villain, Sabretooth, Spider-Man once again saved her life and Felicia realized she wasn’t as “bad” as she thought she was. The Black Cat updated her look and her attitude and rekindled her relationship with Spider-Man. She made peace with his need for a normal life as Peter Parker and stood by him while he was being accused of murder as Spider-Man. Together, they tracked down the source of the elaborate scheme to frame him and fought the Foreigner. Eventually, just as his life seemed to be coming together, Spider-Man came home to discover Black Cat discussing her plans to ruin his life. He followed her to find she had never forgiven him for breaking up with her and in revenge became the Foreigner’s lover.
Which made little sense back then too but it was eventually tracked to Felicia wanting revenge on Sabretooth. During her ruse against Peter and despite her anger, Felicia began to fall back onto her desire to love him. She soon dawned another new costume. Spider-Man then discovered her association with the Foreigner. She cleared Spider-Man of a murder charge. In the end, the Black Cat double-crossed the Foreigner and left for Paris to find a new life, which unexpectedly pushed Peter to find support and a new relationship with Mary Jane Watson. Leading Felicia to open up her own detective agency and deciding it was time she moved away from the dark partner of Spider-Man and decided to be her own person again having her occasional team ups with Spider-Man or paying a visit to Peter and Mary Jane in her civilian identity.
Looking over all of this shows that every time Felicia went “bad” she was doing it for her own reasons. So, why can’t we think the Black Cat has another plan going on currently in Amazing Spider-Man? Well, because the road to Felicia being character assassinated goes back to not just One More Day but all the way back to Civil War. After Spider-Man unmasked himself, the Black Cat was enraged, because she had felt that they shared a bond over knowing his identity, which she described as “sexy”. After the events of One More Day and Spider-Man’s identity mind wiped from the world and history changed so Peter and Mary Jane never married. Apparently, Felicia’s identity was never public either which makes no sense. If you look at the events of One Moment in Time it takes place after Felicia pushed Peter towards Mary Jane and them eventually marrying. Which means her identity remained public since then. Even worse, it was then established that during a job to steal from Mr. Negative as he was rising to power in China Town during the events of One More Day. Felicia just happen to run into Dr. Tramma and went: “Hey, Doc, I know you are doing evil and dark things for money and for the sake of science but you know what?” “I’m tired of almost getting killed and I like to sleep with Spider-Man but he won’t take off his mask for me.” “Can you give me my bad luck powers again?” Yeah, because we know Felicia would be so petty and do that?
If anything she would have scared Dr. Tramma, dropped her off at the Raft and then went back and took the rest of Mr. Negative’s loot. Of course as the story went on, Felicia said she decided to steal the Dragon’s Death from Mr. Negative and sell it off for money. You know because Felicia back in the 1980s was trying to keep a device that could destroy the city from being used by the Kingpin and the Owl. So, of course she would sell off something that could potentially kill people to someone. Then goes: “But don’t worry, I switched it out with a fake, so I got paid instead.” Still doesn’t sound like the Black Cat people were reading about for the last 10 years or the last 5 years in fact. Even after Civil War, Felicia decided to be part of the Heroes for Hire back then and while working for money, the government knew who she was because she registered. So, of course when the Superior Spider-Man (Doctor Octopus’ mind in Peter Parker’s body) swings in his patrol heading for another date with his girlfriend Anna Maria Marconi only to bump into the Black Cat, who was committing a robbery. Felicia attempts to flirt, but suddenly Superior Spider-Man attacks her punching her straight into her face taking out a tooth in the process. Superior Spider-Man continues the assault reminiscing about how he once tried to kill her, but now he was just apprehending her as a criminal. This leaves Felicia totally shocked and angry while swearing revenge after Superior Spider-Man wraps her in webbing. She later escapes at the beginning of the new Amazing Spider-Man series when Electro stages a breakout at the prison where she was being held. Which of course she admits to a prisoner who was harassing her she could direct her luck powers and of course had a bolt of lightning kill the woman. Who is this person that was the person who started as someone who wanted to break her father out of prison and wanted real criminals to pay. Kevin Smith during his mini series, “The Evil that Men Do” established that the real reason Felicia first became the Black Cat was because as a freshman at Empire State University, Felicia was raped by her boyfriend Ryan. Hating the idea of being a victim, she trained herself in various fighting styles and acrobatics, intent on killing her rapist. Finally, after months of preparing, she set out for revenge, but before she could find him, Ryan was killed in a drunk driving accident. Furious that she was denied the chance for revenge, Hardy decided to utilize her new skills to follow in her father’s footsteps. After amassing a fortune in stolen items, Felicia adopted her costumed identity.
As much as that rewrote history, it showed that Felicia wasn’t a monster even though she had a very legitimate reason to kill the man who raped her. Yet it seems that aspect of how much she hate being denied her revenge. Felicia decided to become determined to regain her standing by defeating Spider-Man, she attacks him while he is trying to evacuate a burning building, forcing Peter to pretend to still be Doctor Octopus to drive her away as he cannot afford to lose time rescuing civilians. He tells her that it was Doc Ock and that people are trapped and can die and her words are: “I don’t care!” “You ruined me rep!” Felicia then makes contact with Electro, suggesting that they collaborate in seeking revenge on Spider-Man. Really? Really? Who is this character with over 30 years of history has all of a sudden decided she wants her rep back at Otto Octavious put her in prison. She wants revenge because she wants revenge. Recently it was stated in an interview with editor Nick Lowe stated that: “Well, it was all story-based. She went through a big change, getting her secret identity outed and her life torn apart. We wanted something to reflect that, of course — but nothing’s sacred. I was on the X-Men books for a long time, and within that time we had three or four major whole group costume change. But for me, that’s half the fun of comics. It’s something Steve Wacker did great with Dan Slott before my time on the Spidey books. The amount of costumes they’ve had in the past couple years I’ve found astonishing, cool and just fun — especially for a character like Spidey. I love it in comics when someone’s costume changes, even if it’s just for a little while — trying something out and seeing how it goes. Plus, you get to see the rage and fire-up, then people missing it after it’s gone. It cracks me up.”
So, you are trying to tell us that the real reason why Felicia has been thrown under the bus to ignore everything about the character because there is a story the writer wants to tell and they find it “fun” in the long run? Please! When you change a character to fit your story you can’t just do it in one issue and then give a hamfisted excuse on one panel. Look at villains like Sinestro, Morgan Le Fey on the show Merlin. They were just evil but the writers moved them to a more gray area slowly and naturally where you could identify with them and why they were doing things. It was slow and natural with Black Cat it’s: ‘Otto knocks Black Cat’s tooth out, she goes to prison and its all: “Die Spider-Man, Die!” Not: “Who are you?” “You aren’t the Spider-Man I know and at one time loved.” Ok, I am a writer, I have written two books and I have one of them being published later this year. When I was coming up with the books story I was writing a story that was true to life and I didn’t want to fit characters in the story to fit the situation and make them act out of character because I can. That is not only insulting to the characters but insulting to the readers. You can always do something different with the characters but don’t make them act so out of character it makes you want to throw down the book and never read about it again. Just because you are getting a kick out of making long time readers upset is not how you run a business. You are biting the hand that feeds you. When you have this with Felicia wanting to kill Spider-Man even though its been show it wasn’t really him and is willing to have innocent people die in a fire because she wants her “rep” back. That isn’t a good story that is just doing what you can to make a story work because you want the character to be a villain again when they really were never truly to begin with. That is bad story telling. It isn’t new, we have Mary Jane being a dolt, the Avengers being idiots during Superior Spider-Man and Jameson once again using Spider Slayers and blaming Spider-Man that everything is his fault. Its sad that writing like this is more to fit with how Spider-Man started and not moving him to good storytelling but to bad stories because its what the writer wants to tell and even realizes they are bad stories but hey, he’s getting paid to write, right?
Some day Felicia maybe you and the members of the Spider-Man cast will be shown love again and not just trying to be different because the creative staff wants to just do things their own way and forget ever seeing who the characters really are and what has already been done to them. Some day.