Today I’m finally here with a guide for all Patrons of CK that I’ve been preparing for by adding guides to Heroes For Hire and Spider-Man, Peter Parker (2018-Present)! I needed both guides in place because both of those titles housed this character while she was a stray with no title of her own, but that all changed started in 2019. I’m happy to share the August 2022 Patron’s Choice: Guide to Black Cat, Felicia Hardy!
Felicia Hardy is not who you think she is.
Or, at least, she’s not who I thought she was.
That’s true whether you know her from her origins or from her most-recent appearances, because Black Cat has been at least three distinctly different characters in her comic career – so much so that her current incarnation feels completely disconnected from her debut, even if her arc from start to finish makes sense.
(I know this because I’ve now read every panel she has ever appeared in to put together this Guide to Black Cat!)
I think many folks assume that Felicia Hardy is Marvel’s Catwoman – a cat burglar villain turned vigilante through the power of her attraction to the flagship hero.
That’s not entirely wrong, but Felicia Hardy was only ever a cat burglar for her first four appearances in Amazing Spider-Man (1963) in 1979 and she was never a villain until 2015! We barely even see here do any burgling on-panel between 1980 and the mid-00s unless it’s for her job as a security consultant. Instead, she quickly gave up her life of crime due to an obsession with Spider-Man. As she was originally written, all Felicia wanted to was to be Spider-Man’s partner in adventure and in romance.
Curiously, she has no interest at all in who Spider-Man was under the mask. In fact, when Peter first reveals his apartment and identity in Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man (1976) #74, Felicia reacts with a combination of distaste and horror. To her, the fantastical life of a hero or vigilante is a necessary escape from the dull routine of civilian existence. To think about the regular person beneath the spider-webbed mask ruined her fantasy.
In retrospect, Black Cat’s obsessive devotion to Spider-Man reads in a creepier way than it was intended at the time. Today, her earliest appearances can come off as pure adolescent male wish fulfillment – a walking sex doll who was would forgive Spider-Man of any sin other than removing his mask.
While that was certainly a component of how she was written, in the context of the the time she was a character who pushed boundaries. Felicia was one of the only costumed women in Peter’s cast, she was bold in both battle and relationships, she seemed immune to the typical romantic soap opera plots foisted on a character like Mary Jane, and she was always willing to come to Peter’s rescue even if she was hopelessly outmatched.
That initial 1983-87 run of Black Cat as a supporting character in Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man (1976) are all great comics. I was repeatedly surprised by how engaging they were – I would crack them just to summarize Felicia’s panels, and wound up reading entire issues! It helps that her time as his supporting character intersects with his return from Secret Wars and the classic “Alien Suit Saga.”
Given Black Cat’s role in Spider-Man’s life, it’s no surprise that she had to be hastily written out when Peter decided to go steady with and ultimately propose to Mary Jane. At the time it was seen as a desirable goal to move Peter through the stages of life, from high school to college to post-grade job-seeker to married man, and Black Cat didn’t fit well into that progression.
This yielded a few years of Black Cat being a jealous, jilted ex-lover in the early 90s during the height of Todd McFarlane and the introduction of Venom. However, what emerged from that period was far more interesting. Felicia Hardy became one of Spider-Man’s precious few super-powered buddies outside of Human Torch. She was a character who knew everything about him but had no connection to his personal life aside from having met Mary Jane. In fact, her once-adversarial relationship with MJ blossomed into a begrudging respect as the two of them often teamed up to ensure Peter’s safety.
That status quo lasted for over a decade – through a solo mini-series that went nowhere, Maximum Carnage, The Clone Saga, and Felicia establishing her own security agency seen only in Annual back-up stories. By the early 00s, her guest appearances had developed to be consistently solid, if predictable.
That all changed in the wake of Civil War and “One More Day,” which first revealed Peter Parker’s identity to the world and then made everyone forget it. Both developments fundamentally changed Felicia Hardy’s place in the world of Spider-Man.
First, the Civil War development opened her up to appearing away from Spider-Man for the first time ever. She co-started with Wolverine in Claws (2006), joined Misty Knight’s Heroes For Hire, and was in Marvel Divas with gal-pals Monica Rambeau, Patsy Walker, and Firestar.
Just as “One More Day” reset Peter’s marriage to MJ, when Black Cat returned in Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #606 it also meant Felicia couldn’t recall the fullness of her role as Peter Parker’s defender. That brought back their sexual tension with a much more prurient, mature-readers vibe, but it also shifted the power dynamics in their relationship. Now, Spider-Man was the one who felt flustered by Black Cat! Felicia Hardy was no longer a naive young girl in hot pursuit of Spider-Man. Finally, she was the masterful former thief with full agency she had always been implied to be.
As Dan Slott’s eight-year epic of writing Peter Parker pressed on (and rolled through Superior Spider-Man), it became clear that Felicia Hardy’s role as an occasional love interest was no longer all that useful. Instead, the Marvel Now period from 2013-2015 recast her as a criminal mastermind who was slowly-but-surely increasing her hold on New York City right under Kingpin’s nose. That made Black Cat the featured villain for both runs of Robbie Thompson’s Silk in 2015 and 2016, follow by her going full-evil across many guest-starring spots in All-New All-Different Marvel in 2016-2017.
It was Dan Slott who put an end to that status quo in his 2018 “Venom, Inc.” crossover mini-event, ending Felicia’s criminal empire and resetting her back to being a physically and morally flexible thief. While Nick Spencer featured her in that capacity early in his run on Amazing Spider-Man (2018), it was Jed MacKay who took that status quo and ran with it in Felicia’s first ongoing title – Black Cat (2019) and its relaunch into Black Cat (2021) and Iron Cat (2022).
Across 30 issues, MacKay gave Felicia the most on-panel exposure she has had in her over 40 years in comic. He developed her backstory, her supporting cast, and her ambitions. His depiction of her plots-on-plots-on-plots coming to fruition made her feel like a combination of both Catwoman and Batman. Marvel doesn’t have another specific heist-pulling hero other than Gambit, and MacKay’s run scratched that itch perfectly while exponentially expanding Felicia Hardy’s canon of memorable stories.
CK Patrons can read all of that and more in my definitive Guide to Black Cat, which contains every Felicia Hardy appearance from her debut to present day in reading order, including her greatest hits and suggestions on where to start. Patron’s Choice guides remain exclusive to CK’s Patreon community for an extra-long time, since they’re guides that were not already on my map – you can gain access for as little as $1/month.
Patrons of Crushing Krisis currently have access to…
Exclusives for Crushing Cadets ($1/month): 28 Guides!
Marvel Guides (22): Alpha Flight, Angela, Beta Ray Bill, Black Cat, Blade, Captain Britain, Dazzler, Domino, Dracula, Elsa Bloodstone, Heroes For Hire, Legion, Marvel Era: Marvel Legacy, Mister Sinister, Sabretooth, Spider-Ham, Spider-Man – Peter Parker (2018 – present), Thunderstrike, Valkyrie, Vision, Weapon X, X-Man – Nate Grey
Exclusives For Pledgeonauts ($1.99+/month): 55 Guides!
All of the 28 guides above, plus 27 more…
DC Guides (14): Animal Man, Aquaman, Books of Magic, Catwoman, Flash, Harley Quinn, Houses & Horrors, Legion of Super-Heroes, Justice League, Mister Miracle, Nightwing, Outsiders, Suicide Squad, Swamp Thing
Indie & Licensed Comics: None right now