Today we will be taking a look at Nothing Can Stop The Rhino in SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN vol. 2 #34 by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Sean Chen from 2007.
Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s entire run on SENSATIONAL is a bit of an overlooked gem unto itself. While not a classic, Sacasa turned in some pretty solid material during his tenure on the title; giving us very strong character work with Peter Parker, Eddie Brock, Mary Jane Watson-Parker, Aunt May and especially Felicia Hardy–which brings us to today’s tale. But before I can properly begin discussing what makes this particular issue so strong, let’s talk about Felicia/Black Cat as a character first.
She was created by Marv Wolfman and Keith Poland in 1979, first appearing in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN vol. 1 #194.
The concept behind her character was a rather simple yet interesting one: a skilled jewel thief following in her father’s footsteps who possesses a strong romantic attraction to the mysterious hero Spider-Man.
Said romantic attraction eventually blossoms into legitimate love.
While initially cautious and pessimistic of her, Spidey ends up finding it rather difficult to suppress his own budding feelings and attraction towards her and eventually gives into them.
Their relationship proves to be complicated though due to Felicia’s initial unwillingness to leave her criminal activities behind.
However, a near-death experience at the hands (or rather mechanical tentacles) of Doctor Octopus and his gun-toting minions causes Spidey to realize just how much he truly cares for The Cat.
Thankfully, Felicia survives the operation and recovers; bringing her and Spidey closer than ever before.
While arguably derivative of the famous Batman/Catwoman romance, The Black Cat proved to be an immensely popular character and love interest with fans, even rivaling Mary Jane Watson for many at one point in time.
So what happened? Why did Mary Jane end up winning over not only Peter’s heart, but most of the fandom as well?
For me, I can point to everything that started to go wrong with Felicia’s character at this comic here:
As the cover so blatantly indicates, Spider-Man unmasks to The Black Cat in order to take their relationship to the next level. But The Cat’s reaction ends up being…well, this:
From this point onward, Felicia became a childish twit who couldn’t bear the mere mention of Peter Parker’s name, let alone his face, due to being so “ordinary” and “boring”.
Now in fairness, Felicia only loving Spider-Man and not Peter Parker could have been interesting, but it was handled in such an overblown manner with her being horrified at the sight of his face that it just made her character insufferable. Combine that with moronic decisions like accepting super powers from an anonymous source (which turned out to be The Kingpin) and deciding not to tell Spidey about it and it isn’t exactly a surprise that fans rejoiced when the two finally broke up.
But the character assassination didn’t end there. No, the writers then had Felicia team up with The Foreigner in an effort to ruin her ex-boyfriend’s life.
Granted, she does come to her senses at the end and double crosses The Foreigner, but the fact that she even considered his offer in the first place is absurd.
It gets even worse though. After learning of Peter’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson, Felicia begins dating Flash Thompson out of spite.
If that isn’t enough, Felicia then proceeds to threaten Mary Jane both physically and verbally for “stealing her Spider”.
By this point, the character was ruined. Bill Mantlo, Al Milgrom, Peter David and David Michelinie (all of whom are very good writers with the exception of Milgrom) had slowly degraded a wily yet conflicted woman into a psychotic ex-girlfriend.
Thankfully, later writers (including Michelinie) did start to fix her bit; having her enter into a serious relationship with Flash as opposed to merely using him and bury the hatchet with Peter and Mary Jane, eventually befriending them. Mary Jane even ends up coming to her at one point when she was concerned for the health of her unborn child and Peter was nowhere to be found.
Despite these improvements, Felicia still wasn’t quite the compelling character that she once was.
And that finally brings us to the Overlooked Gem at hand. While writers like Mark Millar (MARVEL KNIGHTS) and Kevin Smith (yes, I actually liked his The Evil that Men Do mini-series) delivered some pretty solid portrayals of Felicia beforehand, Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa came the closest to restoring her to her former glory.
Nothing Can Stop The Rhino begins with our favorite feline attempting to check in on Peter who has received a brutal beating at The Rhino’s hands after his unmasking during the events of Civil War.
Once The Black Cat arrives…
Aunt May makes it pretty clear that she isn’t welcome there.
Not phased by May’s blatant disapproval, The Cat tells them she is going after The Rhino to avenge Spidey, much to Mary Jane’s and May’s disbelief.
The Cat then proceeds to call Thomas Fireheart a.k.a. The Puma (her current squeeze) for information on her target.
Puma delivers the exact info she was hoping for: The Rhino’s whereabouts.
On her way to confront the hammered horn-head, Black Cat begins to reminisce about her past with the wall-crawler–more specifically when she first realized she had truly fallen in love with him.
Unfortunately for her, she also remembers their breakup.
We are then treated to a completely original flashback showcasing the aftermath of the breakup and the emotionally devastating impact it left on Felicia.
This is a very well-written sequence that serves to greatly humanize Felicia. Due to her own selfish and shallow actions, she has lost the only man she has ever loved and has ever really felt a connection with. The very thought of it makes her feel dirty and disgusted with herself.
Back in the present, Black Cat begins closing in on The Rhino’s location.
Before Rhino has the chance to turn those idiots into sailor sushi, our heroine arrives on the scene.
How on Earth is The Black Cat going to bring down a bombastic bruiser like The Rhino? What hope does she have against a guy who just demolished Spider-Man? Let’s just say that it doesn’t go down the way you might be expecting…
After so many years of lousy stories and characterization, Nothing Can Stop The Rhino finally reminds readers of why Felicia Hardy is such a popular character in the first place. She is smart, resourceful, tough and above all, caring. The Black Cat knows she messed up her chances with Spider-Man and knows that they’ll never be together again, but she can never shake her feelings for him. This story is a fantastic showcase for her relationship with the wall-crawler and really gets to the bottom of why she will always love him in spite of forever losing him to Mary Jane Watson (until Mephisto steps in anyway).
What also makes this story so special is that it’s probably the last great story to feature The Cat. The Brand New Day era turned her into a shallow bimbo who was only interested in casual sex with Spider-Man.
Even worse, Dan Slott would later contort her into a sinister fiend who is hell-bent on killing Spidey and amassing a criminal empire.
Nothing Can Stop The Rhino marks the last time Felicia Hardy has actually been portrayed well and accurately in the comics. Apparently this is a character that Marvel can’t help but continuously bungle.
You can track down the individual issue or look for the Peter Parker, Spider-Man: Civil War TPB.
If you’ve been as irritated as me about the current portrayal of the character, this gem will be right up your alley.