Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Felicia Hardy: The Black Cat (Ltd. 1994) [COMICS]

Felicia Hardy: The Black Cat (Marvel) (Ltd. 1994)

I've never really had strong feelings about Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat.  I liked her well enough as an occasional adversary or supporting character to Spider-Man, and I'd say sometimes she was a good cure for Peter Parker's descents into angst and melodrama.  While writing this,  it just dawned on me (because I'm slow), that the idea of a jewel thief with a cat moniker who operates on both sides of the law and serves as an occasional love interest for a rooftop swinging hero may not be the most original idea in the world.  But I digress.  In 1994, The Black Cat was given her first shot at a four-issue limited series, just like pretty much every other character in the Spider-Man books during that time period.  (Hey, Spidey was really popular!).

In Issue # 1, Black Cat finds Spidey on a rooftop fighting Cardiac, the anti-pharmaceutical company vigilante (a stretch for a character concept, but all the good ideas were taken thirty years ago . . .).  Cardiac escapes by setting an "air conditioning control box" to explode, and thus Spidey and Black Cat have to stay behind to disarm it.  After the two save the day, they bicker, as apparently Felicia broke up with Flash recently.  Anyway, Paul Proust, a representative from the pharmaceutical company that Cardiac was trying to sabotage, the Morelle Corporation, offers the Black Cat a commission: retrieve a mysterious asset called "Chimera" which has been stolen by a rival pharmaceutical outfit, Cobalt Chemical.  La Chat Noir infiltrates a Cobalt Co. yacht looking for Chimera, but is instead cliffhangered (new word; like it?) by "Faze and his Mechabytes."  As superhero stories from this time period go, it's not bad.  A notch above average?  Maybe.

Let's talk Issue # 2, which proclaims we've come to "The Limited Series with Unlimited Action!"  Now according to the Marvel Chronology Project, Faze (and his Mechabytes) never, ever, appear again, so we should be courteous.  Faze has the ability to turn himself intangible and dresses in a head to toe leotard that isn't far off from the Black Cat herself (except no white gloves or spiked collar).  His Mechabytes are little mouse-sized robots that do . . . mecha-sorta things.  I'm not sure how the two concepts work together, but that's okay.  Black Cat and Faze fight, but she tricks him into fleeing by pretending a self-destruct system is about to blow up the yacht.  She cracks into the ship's computer system, downloads a bunch of info, and then takes it to an incarcerated fellow named Loop for analysis.  Later, Cat sneaks into the HQ of the company that hired her (Morelle) and discovers a secret cybernetic-enhancement program to create super-soldiers: "Project: First Strike."  And Cardiac appears again on the last page for the least memorable cliffhanger ever.

In Issue # 3, you won't be surprised to hear that Black Cat and Cardiac team up against Project: First Strike.  Although the cybernetic assassins have self-repairing systems, Cat realizes that they don't heal damage they've inflicted on each other and manipulates them accordingly.  Meanwhile, a comatose dude named Brian Lash has awakened in a secure hospital.  He escapes and visits a secret weapons (and costume!) lab because he has to hurry to arrive at the house of Morelle Corporation executive Paul Proust just in time to cliffhanger (see, verbs are useful!) our heroine.  Lash has assumed the identity of "Scar the Stalker."  I'm not trying to be extra snarky, because I love comics and have fun reading these, but Scar has about the worst costume I've ever seen.  Coincidentally, he also never appears after this series.

In the "Fury-Filled Finale!" (Issue # 4), we learn that Scar has captured Cat and left her unconscious and hanging from a high spire.  Through helpful flashbacks, we learn that Scar and B.C. used to be criminal partners, but during a heist of an armoured car, Cat objected when Scar went to kill a guard; to try to stop him, Cat scratched his face with her claws, just leaving Scar  . . . scarred.  Motivation!  In the present, Cat escapes and realizes that Scar has left her with clues to his present location where he's holding the kidnapped Paul Proust.  Cat arrives and dodges remote control armoured cars (Scar is like "See what I did there?").  Cat beats Scar and goes in for the kill, but Spider-Man poops all over the party and won't let her.  In the end, it turns out that Paul Proust is Chimera and hired Black Cat to figure it out and stop Morelle Pharmaceuticals.  Not 100% certain of the thought process there, but some questions are not worth further review.  In the epilogue, we see that Cat has started a new private security firm with Paul and Scar's dad called "Cat's Eye Investigations."

Overall, the limited series did succeed on what I think is an important thing for a limited series to do: change a character's status quo and position him or her for a brighter future (potentially, an ongoing series).  For villains, however, the creative team went 0 for 4, as Cardiac, Faze, Project: First Strike, and (worst of all) Scar the Stalker are all completely forgettable foes.  If a heroine is only as good as her villains, we have an explanation as to why it took several years for Black Cat to get another shot at a solo book.

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