Who is the Black Cat and What Does She Mean to Spider-Man?
If you’ve been on Twitter lately you’ve no doubt seen stills from Insomniac’s Spider-Man game depicting a woman in an all-black armored body suit with grey hair and clear goggles. If you’re unfamiliar with the woman and want to know who she is and how she’s connected to Spider-Man, you’ve come to the right place: She’s Felicia Hardy, aka the Black Cat, a Marvel Comics character created by writer Marv Wolfman and artist Dave Cockrum who first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #194.
Felicia Hardy has seen many incarnations over the years, but today we’ll be covering her most notable versions, including the standard Marvel comic book universe (Earth 616), Marvel’s Ultimate universe (Earth 1610), and her character in the recently released Spider-Man video game. All three versions of the character I’m covering today have their origins tied to their universe’s version of Spider-Man, and each version of the Black Cat proves to always be a step ahead of the already-unlucky hero.
Originally intended as a Spider-Woman villain, Marv Wolfman brought the idea for the Black Cat over to The Amazing Spider-Man when he shifted positions to lead writer on the title. Wolfman’s idea for the character came from a 1949 animated cartoon titled Bad Luck Blackie, which starred a black cat who had the uncanny ability to give bad luck to whoever’s path it crossed. Dave Cockrum provided the costume and design, and the character was off and running, prepared to cause Spider-Man torment for decades to come.
Original Version (Earth 616)
The Black Cat first saw action in The Amazing Spider-Man #194 where she met Spider-Man while attempting to break her father out of jail. Originally something of a villain, the Black Cat relied who on her skills as a master thief, utilizing a bullwhip and retractable claws to commit robberies all over New York City. Eventually, after amassing a fortune, she would have her first run in with Spider-Man while attempting to break her father out of prison. Her father dies, but she feels herself falling for Spider-Man, and begins to perform heroic acts around the city to gain his attention. Spider-Man realizes that the Black Cat is more misguided rather than truly villainous, and takes her under his wing. They begin working as partners, and he gently begins nudging her towards a more heroic path. The two of them develop an affection for each other, dating on again and off again until Peter reveals his identity to her. When Felicia realizes that he’s not just Spider-Man, she loses affection for him, not understanding that he’s really a person (with really bad luck) underneath the mask.
Felicia loves Spider-Man because, over time, she feels like she can trust him, and this trust is something she hasn’t felt before with another man. But the introduction of Peter Parker underneath the mask complicates these feelings. Felicia views Spider-Man solely as Spider-Man, a singular entity rather than a dual one. To her, the introduction of Peter Parker must almost feel like adding a third person to the relationship. Felicia is unable to reconcile this fact, and decideas that she wasn’t ever truly in love with Spider-Man after all. This leads to a breakup for the pair, and they go their separate ways. Despite their uncoupling, Felicia knows that Peter could never truly stop caring about her, and she uses this to her advantage, manipulating his sense of responsibility into something she can use for herself.
A lot of Black Cat stories tend to go this way, and are centered Felicia stealing from the rich and giving to…well, herself, mostly. That usually puts her at odds with the Kingpin of crime, the biggest mob boss in New York City, who also made his debut in The Amazing Spider-Man (in issue #50), and would go on to frequently become a thorn in both Spider-Man and Daredevil’s side. Oftentimes, Felicia would get herself into trouble and use Spider-Man’s help to get away with stealing from criminals such as the Kingpin.
The Kingpin, who learned about Spider-Man and Felicia’s relationship, gave the Black Cat her bad luck powers with the hopes of using her out of control powers to kill Spider-Man. Felicia, who hated the fact that she accepted help from the Kingpin, hid her powers from Spider-Man, who was experiencing near deadly bouts of bad luck. It nearly worked, but Spider-Man went to Doctor Strange for help, and found out that the Black Cat was hiding her powers from him, causing them to separate. They would rekindle their relationship, only for Spider-Man to eventually realize that the Black Cat was just manipulating him once more, forcing them to break up for good, leaving Spider-Man to get back together with Mary Jane Watson. The Black cat would continue to pop in and out of his life, at one time dating his friend Flash Thompson, oscillating from a life of crime to a life of heroism and back again, depending on the writer and situation.
The Superior Spider-Man storyline would change things forever, and not just for Spider-Man. In the story, Doctor Octopus has taken over Peter’s body, and Felicia, in the process of committing a robbery, expected the same banter her and Spider-Man always had. Instead, he brutally broke her nose and hauled her to jail. When she escaped, she swore revenge on Spider-Man, and has been a full-blown villain ever since, becoming a mob boss of her own.
Ultimate Felicia Hardy
In Marvel’s Ultimate line of comics, a rebrand that acted as a jumping on point for new readers, Felicia Hard makes her debut in Ultimate Spider-Man #50, written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Mark Bagley. Established in early 2000 with the intent of rebooting its continuity heavy characters, Felicia Hardy was given a clean slate which Bendis and Bagley would build on.
Like most characters in the Ultimate universe, the Black Cat would share her essence with her original universe counterpart, but there would also be a few differences. For one, unlike the original Marvel universe version of the Black Cat, this version possessed bad-luck abilities, retractable claws, and superhuman cat-like agility right from the start. Instead of a bullwhip, the character used a harpoon gun with a grappling hook for moving through the city, and carried other heist equipment such as black spray paint.
Her debut also changed her origin. Instead of trying to break her father out of jail, her father died in prison years prior, something Felicia blames the Kingpin for. Felicia worked for the Kingpin as an accountant, learning the ins and outs of his business, and then began her costumed career, stealing a great many things from him, including a tablet that the Kingpin wanted to use to heal his wife, Vanessa. The Ultimate version of Spider-Man, a teenager who was new to his powers, caught her, and they fought until she escaped.
Just like in the main Marvel universe, Spider-Man would risk his life to save Felicia, who had gotten in over her head with the Kingpin. Spider-Man helped her fight off both the Kingpin and his assassin, Elektra, causing the Black Cat to again fall in love with Spider-Man. This time, the Black Cat unmasked and then threw up on the young Spider-Man when she realized he was a teenager. This was basically the last time we’d see her in the Ultimate Universe until after the events of Ultimatum, a critically panned event that acted as the death knell for the imprint.
This takes us all the way up to September’s release of Insomniac’s Spider-Man game released on the Playstation 4. In the base game, the Black Cat’s voice can be heard providing a side mission where you scour the city for cats she left at specific locations. This eventually leads you to her base of operations, where more cats are found and placed into evidence lockup.
But, there’s a twist: it turns out the real reason Felicia wanted you to find the cats was so the police would gather the cats and lock them in the evidence room. Then, the fake cats, on Felicia’s command, disable the security in the room, allowing Felicia to sneak in and steal her previously confiscated gear. This gear includes an armored black body suit, goggles, a grappling hook to move around the city, and hosts of gadgets such as Taser blasts and retractable claws, both of which she uses offensively. The Black Cat doesn’t appear to have any powers in the game, and seems to follow the same tech-based approach given to other villains such as the Vulture and Electro.
Felicia begins stealing USB drives from the villainous gangster Hammerhead, using Spider-Man’s innate (bordering on irresponsible) sense of responsibility to her advantage, having him take out Hammerhead’s thugs for her while she steals the drives. Even though she’s already using him, she takes it a step further as the story drops a bomb: Felicia says that she’s concerned for her son’s safety, and that her son could be Spider-Man’s. She refuses to provide more information, but Spider-Man is understandably distressed, and agrees to help her. Not only is this a bombshell for the story, it’s also a shock to the player. It lets the player know that the Black Cat and Spider-Man had a decently long romantic relationship at some point in the last 8 years. The main game builds up the relationship between Peter and Mary Jane, and this introduction of a prior romantic relationship between the Black Cat and Spider-Man that could have ended in a child threatens to destroy everything that the game had built.
Much like in the main Marvel universe, the Black Cat continues to string Spider-Man along, and eventually turns on him, revealing that was only using Spider-Man to break into Hammerhead’s main vault, and that she lied about their “son”. This version of the Black Cat now looks to be a full on villain, but there’s still plenty of story left in the downloadable content to come, so I’m holding out hope she’s something of a hero.
There’s been many incarnations of the Black Cat, but her characterization has remained consistent. Felicia Hardy is an ethically ambiguous cat burglar whose desire to do right is often overridden by her desire for personal gain, and this desire gets her into trouble. Spider-Man, who cares for Felicia, and whose sense of responsibility truly knows no bounds, is often roped into her schemes unwittingly, forcing him to aide Felicia in her crimes or, as in the game, let her and her “son” be harmed by whomever she’s stealing from. When it comes to Spider-Man, the Black Cat has her claws dug in deep, and Felicia doesn’t need bad luck powers to make Spider-Man’s life difficult. Due to Spider-Man’s slavish devotion to responsibility, he makes his bad luck all by himself.