Characters Appearing: Black Cat, Cardiac, Loop, Mary Jane Watson, Paul Proust, Spider-Man, Vandal
Black Cat #1-4
Issue(s): Black Cat #1, Black Cat #2, Black Cat #3, Black Cat #4
Marvel was pretty clearly trying to build a mini-universe around Spider-Man in an attempt to replicate what they had with the X-books. You'd think that having four+ actual Spider-Man books would be enough, but i guess Marvel wanted more characters to work with. It's for this reason that characters like Nightwatch and Annex were getting books, and it's presumably why Shroud got a lot of help from Spidey - first appearing in a Spider-man book and then having Spidey guest-star in his miniseries. Of all the attempts that were made, the Black Cat (and, to a much lesser extent, the Prowler) makes sense, because she's been a longstanding supporting super-character in Spider-Man's book and could reasonably have had her own fanbase. There's also the parallel with Catwoman, whose ongoing had been running steady for about a year now. It's surprising that Black Cat got only a miniseries instead of an ongoing like Nightwatch. Speaking of whom, this book uses characters - Paul Proust and Vandal - who were first introduced in Nightwatch's series. So already we see the kind of cross-continuity that is an important part of universe building. Relatedly, both books were plotted by Terry Kavanagh. This book also has a villain called Scar the Stalker, so you know it's either going to be awesome or terrible, but with Kavanagh involved in the plotting you have to bet on the latter.
The story opens with the Black Cat having tracked down Spider-Man, who is in the middle of a dispute with Cardiac. It's the usual case of Spider-Man protecting an unethical pharmaceutical company from the property damage that Cardiac wants to inflict. Black Cat takes Spidey's side.
The pharmaceutical company is Morelle Pharmaceuticals, which ties things in with Nightwatch (who learned in Nightwatch #1 that a Dr. Morelle from AIM was involved in cybernetic enhancements to Hydra soldiers and Nightwatch's old girlfriend also worked at Morelle Pharmaceuticals).
Cardiac's attempt fails, but he escapes, and in a moment of frustration ("for the inside scoop on Spidey's hardships check out all his monthly titles") Spider-Man blames the Black Cat. So while she had originally gone to him for a sympathetic ear, she's no longer in a mood to talk to him. When Spider-Man leaves, she's approached by Paul Proust, who is a Morelle representative. Proust offers Black Cat a job, recovering an asset called the Chimera from a rival corporation, Cobalt Chemicals. Black Cat asks if he can trust Proust, and Proust shows her a Spider-Tracer that Spidey planted on her.
The next day, the Black Cat (in her civilian garb as Felicia Hardy) is having a friendly conversation with Mary Jane. Spider-Man comes in and say that he only planted the tracer so that he could track the Cat down and apologize for being rude, but the tracer was deactivated and he's apparently on the verge of collapsing from exhaustion based on all the (unspecified) things going on in his own books.
Weirdly, the whole experience has Black Cat feeling shunned because she's no longer in a relationship with Flash Thompson. "Couples. They think their problems are the only ones that matter. When you're single, they don't want to know you." This causes her to accept the job from Proust. She investigates a yacht that Cobalt keeps beyond the three mile limit (i.e. out of US jurisdiction). Her "investigation" involves beating up all of Cobalt's security.
She's then confronted by, er, Faze and his Mechabytes (which isn't even a good name for a band, let alone a super-villain).
Despite Faze's obvious and repeatedly stated powers...
...the Black Cat is surprised when she leaps to attack him but phases through him instead.
I'd love to read a story about a lead character as dumb as, say, Groo, but it's not a good look for the Black Cat.
She subsequently does much better. She tricks Faze by telling him that she's introduced a virus into the yacht's computer system which will cause the yacht to self-destruct (it's true, but she has a disc that deactivates the virus). When Faze flees, he runs to a helicopter, but the Black Cat has replaced his pilot.
I kind of love Faze's obsessive need to talk about his Microbytes.
Black Cat tosses the Microbytes out of the helicopter, and Faze jumps out after them. The Cat tosses him a life preserver and radios the Coast Guard.
The Cat's investigation on the yacht has given her incomplete information on something called "First Strike" but nothing on the Chimera, and she learned from Faze that he'd been hired by Cobalt to steal Chimera from Morelle. So clearly something is up.
The Black Cat needs help with the data she got from the yacht, so she gives it to a friend of her cat burglar father, named Loop (who is in prison). While Loop is decoding the data, the Cat confronts Proust, who agrees to show her his data on Chimera. But the Cat doesn't trust Proust and she assumes his files are fake, so she knocks him out and uses his laptop to try to access the real Chimera data. But it's password protected. So she breaks into Morelle Pharmaceuticals, using some real cat burglary, which is nice.
Inside, she finds a lab similar to what she found on the yacht, and security guards wearing the same color scheme.
After dispatching the guards, she finds some cybernetically-enhanced individuals in cryo, the First Strikers. A security device wakes them up.
The First Strikers have a self-repair mechanism that makes a fight against them difficult, even beyond the fact that the Black Cat is outnumbered. But in a temporary bout of luck, Cardiac arrives to back her up.
The self-narration in this book would make Roy Thomas proud.
The Black Cat discovers that the First Striker's self-repair program is designed to not work if one First Striker damages another (apparently so that if one of them goes out of control, the others can stop them). So the Black Cat and Cardiac defeat First Strike by having them bump into each other. Andrew Wildman, the artist, is not exactly accommodating when it comes to depicting this.
Cardiac destroys the data on First Strike. A self-destruct mechanism threatens to destroy the entire building. Cardiac is ready to just leave, but the Cat doesn't want the security guards and First Strike to die, so she stays, trying to dismantle the destruct mechanism. Instead, Cardiac rescues everyone (the Cat and Cardiac have a brief argument while the Cat is under the impression that he only rescued her, but it turns out he used his "hoverhawk" to drag her out while he manually pulled out everyone else). Cardiac reveals that "Chimera" is actually a person, and then they part ways for now.
Now i know i promised some Scar the Stalker and so far the main plot has had nothing to do with him. The story of Scar the Stalker, whose real name is Brian Lash, is that he was an ex-lover and partner of the Black Cat's. He's also Loop's son. One day he tried to kill a security guard while they were on a job together, and the Cat tried to stop him. She failed and the guard died, but Lash was scarred during the fight. He subsequently went to prison. In this story, he breaks out of prison and buys weapons from Vandal, a second-rate Tinkerer with his own Toy.
Lash also burgles the Black Cat's apartment while she's out with Cardiac.
Black Cat decides to finish her original mission. She returns to Proust, revealing to him that she knows that he is Chimera. Turns out Proust just hired her to test his security. That's one hell of an anticlimax, but it leaves room for the fight with Scar.
Black Cat is hit with a crossbow bolt from Scar and passes out. She wakes up hung on a building spire.
It's not exactly a death trap, but she finds that Scar has left Proust's wallet for the Black Cat to find. The Cat realizes she's being baited, but goes along with it. She fights her way through a series of death traps and then Scar himself.
The Black Cat has come a long way since her pre-Spidey cat burglar days, so i would have liked to see "Scar" treated like a joke, someone well below her current abilities and experience. But Scar is treated like a standard level villain.
The Black Cat still wins fairly easily. And Spider-Man shows up out of nowhere to convince her not to kill Scar.
This series took several opportunities to show us that that Black Cat does not believe in killing (e.g. rescuing the Morelle employees), so convincing her not to kill Scar isn't too hard. Especially since Spidey has rescued Proust, who the Cat thought was killed by Scar.
Proust confirms that he is Chimera, but he says that his reasons weren't just to test his security. He wants to hire the Black Cat as his unofficial bodyguard. He also wanted the Cat to stop the First Strike program, which he knew about and didn't approve of.
As a kind of epilogue, Loop decodes the info on the disc that the Black Cat gave her, allowing her to stop some terrorists from blowing up the New York Stock Exchange's central computer. That all seems a little out of nowhere, unrelated to the rest of the plot, although i have to admit that i haven't been reading any of this too carefully. The scene seems to be demonstrating how a new status quo could work for the Cat, with Proust as a kind of job generator and Loop as her (still in prison) tech guy. We get the usual "want to see the Black Cat in another limited series or an ongoing series? Write us and let us know!". As always, the overall state of the market at this time makes it impossible to judge the interest in individual books, but the 2002 Kevin Smith/Dodsons series is the next time she'll be even co-headlining (with Spider-Man).
Andrew Wildman's art is generally pretty nice, and if you just want a mindless story with the Black Cat kicking ass, this more or less delivers. The scripting is pretty poor, though, and the villains are either bland (First Strike) or worse. Character names like "Faze and his Mechabytes" and "Scar the Stalker" seem better suited for a parody/comedy comic, but we're apparently meant to take them seriously.
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: I'm not worried about trying to line up the stressed-out Spider-Man with anything specific in his own books. With 4+ regular books, Spidey is understandably always exhausted.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
"Character names like "Faze and his Mechabytes" and "Scar the Stalker" seem better suited for a parody/comedy comic"
Posted by: Michael | December 11, 2017 9:12 PM
I've always thought Andrew Wildman was a good artist. At least he resisted the urge to draw the Black Cat's costume with a plunging neckline, unlike most other pencilers from the 1990s onward.
Posted by: Ben Herman | December 11, 2017 9:34 PM
Yeah, but he still fell into that trap of drawing unrealistic boob socks like other pencilers of the era.
Posted by: Darren Hood | January 5, 2018 8:25 PM
Super-hero costumes have looked painted on for a long, long time. I don't think contouring to breasts is any more unrealistic than showing the definition of every muscle and tendon in the body. (Though if you're talking armor, like Sif, then it's a little harder to defend.)
Posted by: Andrew | January 6, 2018 7:53 AM
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