This week we are tackling the origin of Ashley’s favorite character – the Black Cat. No, I’m not talking about Felicia following her dad’s criminal footsteps or accessing her latent mutant powers. This is Cobwebs – we’re talking about the inspiration for the character herself! Think you know the Black Cat? Let’s see if we can surprise you when we let this cat out of the bag.*
Everyone knows that the Black Cat is just a rip off of Catwoman, right? I mean, just Google it and you see all sorts of web sites and blogs (such as Funk’s House of Geekery, Looper, and Comic Island, to name a few) that compares the two villainesses. At first glance, this seems a pretty open and shut case. They are both female cat-themed cat burglars who are love interests for their prospective hero. Obviously, as Looper so eloquently put it, Marv Wolfman flat out “ripped off the whole ‘literal cat burglar’ Catwoman thing.”
Of course, if it were an open and shut case, there wouldn’t be a Cobwebs article about it. Right? So where did all of the other web sites go wrong? First off, they didn’t attend Crawlspace University. You see, BD makes all of us contributing writers go through a grueling four-year certification course (Zach’s clone course is a bear – I made a C in it and feel darn proud of that) before we are ever allowed a chance to write one word using the Crawlspace name. In fact, even then, we still have to prove ourselves to be fully acknowledge as a Crawlspace staffer. I’ve been here a year and a half and won the alternate universe Crawlspace Jeopardy podcast** and I still haven’t earned the coveted privilege of being added to the staff page.
So, what did I learn at CU? Well Dr. Fettinger and Professor Berryman (we are required to call them that in our contract) always pushed us to do our research. And that, my friends is what the other web site authors did NOT do. The true story is out there in many places for people to see, but people would rather just dump on Wolfman. As Peter David laments, fans often are quick to point fingers at people who copied from other writers when the reality is that similarity, while a symptom, is not proof of copying. “Be aware that sooner or later … people will accuse you of achieving that success by standing upon the shoulders of others and swiping their ideas.” Marv Wolfman has been interviewed several times on the subject and has never wavered in his answer.
So what amazing muse inspired Wolfman’s creation if it wasn’t Catwoman? A woman he was forced to love from afar? A series of bad runs at poker? Nah. He says he was inspired while watching cartoons. A Tex Avery cartoon called “Bad Luck Blackie”, to be exact.
He said that the idea of a burglar that could create “bad luck” by setting up the escape route ahead of time was the motivation for the character and that if he had even thought about Catwoman at the time, he wouldn’t have created her. As far as the female villain companion to the hero idea, he certainly wasn’t in that frame of mind as at the time, he was creating her to be a Spider-Woman villain, not a love interest for Spider-Man.
The above shows the cover of Spider-Woman #9, which was supposed to be the first appearance of the feisty feline, but as fate would have it, Wolfman was moved to Amazing and the next guy wanted to use his own ideas for the next issue. The above image also shows the original cover idea for ASM #194. It was rejected for the one we are more familiar with (the one at the top of this post).
Originally the look for the Black Cat was supposed to be “a mysterious noir female”. That was before Dave Cockrum designed the now iconic look for the character.
Hungry for more original Black Cat? Go back and read her first appearance on Marvel Unlimited. WARNING – it may make you a bit melancholy when you start thinking about the gangster version we have now. So to remind you that the good old days were not always good, here is an image of a rather unfortunate fashion choice the Black Cat made in the late ‘80s.
And, just because I found it and thought it looked good, here is a mock cover by a guy named Josh who envisioned the Black Cat continuing on as a Spider-Woman villain.
It seems to be sold out, though, so since you can’t be just like Ashley, at least you can be sort of like Ashley and get this shirt instead:
And now you know.
*O.K., that was a bad pun.
**Shameless self-plugging acknowledged
As a nod to the new gangster image of the Black Cat, we’re foregoing the usual MLA style and instead doing sources in Chicago Manual of Style format this post. The excitement never stops here at the Crawlspace!
“Characters Marvel Stole from DC and Gave a New Name.” Looper. n.d. http://www.looper.com/6969/characters-marvel-stole-dc-gave-new-name/
David, Peter. Writing for Comics with Peter David. Cincinnati: Impact Books, 2006.
DeFalco, Tom. Comics Creators on Spider-Man. London: Titan Books, 2004.