Feb 11, 2013

Back Issue Ben: Black Cat, Part 2

Back Issue Ben is a column written by Ben Smith for the Comics Cube! See his archives here.

Part Two: Forbidden Love

For a change of pace for Valentine's Week, I'll continue my look at the history of the Black Cat!

Last time, we met the crazy and beautiful Felicia Hardy, better known to most as the Black Cat. Believing her to have died, Spider-Man was surprised to find her alive and well. Initially still unable to reconcile his feelings with her life as a cat burglar, Spider-Man finally succumbs to his desires. What follows is one of my all-time favorite Spider-Man runs, as he and the Black Cat embark on a partnership that would have a lasting effect on the characters, the books, and this reader right here.

Enough small talk, let’s boil this egg already.

Spectacular Spider-Man #75: Scripter: Bill Mantlo; Breakdowns: Al Milgrom; Inker: Jim Mooney; Editor: Tom DeFalco

The Black Cat has mysteriously reappeared. Spider-Man celebrates this surprising revelation with a hug and a kiss.

But he pulls away, still confused about his feelings, and he begins to question how she survived and where she’s been all this time.

She flashes back to the events of her previous appearance, and how after she was underwater, she was able to wiggle out of her costume to escape Spider-Man’s webbing. Unfortunately, she was instantly captured and taken to the undersea base of Doctor Octopus.

Held as his captive, Black Cat discovered that Doctor Octopus plans to destroy the city. To do so, he needs a small metal cylinder, a device that she was able to steal from the Kingpin. (Ock is currently in the middle of a gang war with the villainous Owl.) Having escaped from Ock, and stolen from the Kingpin, she decided to finally return to the man she loves for his help.

Spider-Man takes a moment to ponder if he should finally give in to the Black Cat’s advances. After determining that since he doesn’t currently have a girlfriend, and he might flunk out of grad school tomorrow, he decides to go for it. 

I love these panels. It basically amounts to him thinking
“I’m bored, she’s hot, might as well…”

Spider-Man swings her back to her hotel room, where once inside, Black Cat tries to convince Spidey to take a break from crimefighting for a few hours, to do some lovin’ instead. (They have the device, Otto can wait, man!)

She slips into the bathroom to change, while Spider-Man continues to question striking up a romance with a criminal. (Grow a pair, Spidey.) After she is gone for a little too long, Spider-Man gets up to investigate, and is met by the tentacled arms of Doc Ock.

Ock offers Spider-Man the life of the Black Cat for the activator device he holds. Spider-Man and Black Cat take turns walloping Ock, but he eventually escapes with both the activator, and a captive Black Cat.

After recovering, Spider-Man makes a visit to the Kingpin, to get the scoop on the device. The Kingpin is happy to tell him everything he knows. The Owl stole a neutron bomb he plans to use to blackmail the city. The device is the trigger, and unlike the Owl, Doc Ock plans to actually use the bomb to destroy the city.

Not wanting this to happen, the Kingpin sends Spider-Man after both of them. He tells him that the Owl is at his Aerie (base), and Ock is sure to come after him.

As Spider-Man swings to save his lady love, Doctor Octopus and his men do indeed attack The Owl’s stronghold. Spider-Man comes crashing in, but gets occupied by an army of minions, while Ock chases after the Owl, the Black Cat still captive in his tentacles. Ock and the Owl battle, with Ock defeating the Owl fairly easily. With Ock now in possession of the trigger, Spider-Man battles furiously through the crowd.

Spider-Man finally arrives to see the Black Cat having escaped from Ock’s arms, and having retaken the trigger from him. They once again double-team the villain, but Ock is able to eventually get the upper hand, and Spider-Man struggles to crawl through Ock’s tentacles while he bashes the Black Cat back and forth against the walls.

Spider-Man is able to fight his way past the arms, and then violently rip them off of Ock’s body.

A battered Cat calls to her love, as Ock writhes in agony on the floor.

My brain thoughts: Milgrom has been much maligned for his art on other books from time to time, but here, the combination of him and Mooney works for me. Together they give the book a weird, creepy kind of Ditko vibe to the visuals. It may be a little too simple-looking for other readers, but I think it works well on this book. I really like the way they draw the Black Cat.

#76. Scripter: Bill Mantlo; Penciller: Al Milgrom; Inker: Jim Mooney; Editor: Tom DeFalco

Spider-Man cradles the injured Black Cat in his arms, as they are besieged by the minions of Doctor Octopus.

Spider-Man takes care of the crowd, while Black Cat notices Doctor Octopus’ mangled tentacles making their way toward the trigger.

She kicks them away and smashes the trigger (why didn’t they just do that from the beginning?). Now tangled in the tentacles, Ock’s men open fire on the Black Cat.

Now in a fighting fury, Spider-Man takes down the remaining soldiers, webs up Ock’s tentacles, and throws them into the ocean. He picks up the gravely wounded Black Cat and swings off at high speed.

Spider-Man gets her to a hospital, where the staff immediately goes to work on her. (Fun fact while re-reading this: I wondered how they were going to know what blood type to give the costumed woman, and then Mantlo actually explains what type they used a few panels after I had that thought. Okay, maybe it wasn’t fun, but it was a funny little coincidence that I had that thought and immediately had in answered.)

Spider-Man spends the agonizing night in the waiting room, until a nurse comes out to tell him that the Cat is critical but stabilized. She advises him to rest, which for some reason reminds Spidey that he is supposed to take his finals today.

Peter arrives at the last moment to take his final. Afterwards, he rushes back to the hospital to check on the Cat. On the way through the halls, he runs into Captain DeWolff, who was updated on last night’s activities after capturing one of Ock’s henchmen. DeWolff came with a new set of amnesty papers for Felicia, prompting Spider-Man to think that Felicia is going to pull through after all.

He goes to her room to see her. Once inside, he is despondent over the sight of her in the hospital bed, until she wakes up and says hi.

Elsewhere, Doctor Octopus undergoes a painful procedure to reattach his tentacle limbs to him. In his increasing pain and rage, he swears revenge upon Spider-Man and the Black Cat.

My brain thoughts: A gruesome scene as Black Cat gets shot (and harpooned!) several times. What, did Mantlo think this was a ROM comic or something? (Speaking of Mantlo, he joins the ever growing list of multiple Back Issue Ben retrospectives; joining Claremont and Byrne, Mike Zeck, and Abnett and Lanning.)

#77. Scripter: Bill Mantlo; Pencils: Al Milgrom; Inks: Jim Mooney; Editor: Tom DeFalco

Some criminals on the run break into the costume shop of Melvin Potter, formerly known as the Gladiator. They intend to implicate them as part of their crime to force him to help them against the police.

While Spider-Man sleeps beside the recovering Black Cat, Doctor Octopus makes his way through the city, toward the hospital. (Again, depicted with maximum creepiness by Milgrom and Mooney.)

He arrives, and tangles with Spider-Man. Ock warns Spider-Man that he will be back to kill him in 24 hours, because he wants him to live in fear for a full day before he meets his end.

Spider-Man seems to think Ock has gotten stronger since getting his arms reattached. Ock uses one of those arms to sever the life-support devices from Felicia.

Ock leaves, and the medical team rushes in to save the Cat. While they work, Spider-Man swings out into the city. He comes upon the scene with the Gladiator and the cops. After fights all around, they are able to exonerate Melvin from any wrongdoing, and the criminals are taken off to jail.

My brain thoughts: A short little distraction with the Gladiator, to set up the next couple of issues.

#78. Script: Bill Mantlo; Layouts: Al Milgrom; Finished Art: Jim Mooney; Editor: Tom DeFalco

Spider-Man sneaks past the cops guarding the Black Cat at the hospital for another visit.

Captain DeWolff berates her security detail for not catching him, and demands they do better.

Felicia tells Spider-Man of the dream she just had, which was obviously a near death experience in which she sees her father.

But, outside of her body, she saw Spider-Man frantically fighting Ock to save her, and she came back for him. Because of his devotion to her, she has decided to finally give up her life of crime for good.

Spider-Man heads out to make some final arrangements before his fateful final battle with Doctor Octopus. He stops at the Bugle to sell some photos from several recent adventures, except this time he demands and gets top dollar from J. Jonah Jameson. After that, he stops by Empire State to see if they posted the grades yet, and ends up telling off his professor instead, prompting him to consider leaving school.

Down in the sewers, Ock is on a rampage, waiting for the time for battle. In prison, a newly arrived Boomerang (laughably still in costume) meets up with the mysterious Punisher.

Peter Parker runs into old buddies Flash Thompson, Sha Shan, Liz Allen, and Harry Osborn. He agrees to go to lunch with them, where he has fun catching up with old friends, possibly for the last time.

A “The Last Supper” reference?

Peter heads out to Forest Hills to give Aunt May some money, and to say goodbye.

He returns to the hospital as Spider-Man, where the cops are on guard and ready for action. Inside, Spider-Man and Black Cat profess their love and devotion for each other.

Peter prepares to unmask and reveal his identity to Felicia, but she stops him. 

This will come up again in the future.

Right then, Doctor Octopus arrives for the final battle!

My brain thoughts: This is a pretty famous issue as it depicts Peter Parker spending his “last day” saying goodbye to old friends and family before his (latest) final battle with Doctor Octopus. Again, I love the way Milgrom and Mooney draw Felicia. Somehow they’re able to draw her as sweet and sexy all at the same time, with a little bit of vulnerability thrown in there too. (Or maybe I’m just projecting too much into the books. I don’t care, I like them. Leave me alone! Sob.)

That last page splash is excellent. You know that feeling when riding a roller coaster, when you first get on and slowly rise to the top of that first hill? You’re looking down for a moment, and then that feeling that washes over you as you roll down and the ride begins. I get that feeling from seeing this artwork, as Spider-Man jump out the window to see Doctor Octopus down below. (Maybe I’m looking a little too deep again, but I already told you, I love these comics.)

#79. Script: Bill Mantlo; Breakdowns: Al Milgrom; Finished Art: Jim Mooney; Editor: Tom DeFalco

Spider-Man fights Doctor Octopus on the side of the hospital building, while inside Captain DeWolff and the police rush to move the Black Cat from harm’s way. (Why didn’t they just move her a few hours ago?) The fight spills inside, where Ock discovers he is too late to make good on his promise to harm the Black Cat. He promises to find her, and crush her.

Spider-Man leads Octopus through the hospital, trying to give the police enough time to get Felicia safely away.

“Let’s see what you’re made of,” hee hee, get it? Huh, do ya?

The battle makes it all the way downstairs and outside, where the ambulance is just pulling off with the police right behind. Ock heads off in hot pursuit, with Spider-Man behind him, and catches up to the ambulance, but Captain DeWolff uses her car to ram him and send him flying over the bridge into a train yard.

Spider-Man saves DeWolff, sets her down, and jumps off after Ock.

Spidey lures Octopus into the path of an oncoming train, where Ock displays the full strength of his new arms by smashing the train, stopping it in its tracks. Spider-Man keeps moving, pausing to rest in the high framework of a nearby building under construction.Doctor Octopus reaches up with his tentacles to get him, but ends up pulling the whole structure down on top of himself.

Spider-Man swoops in to save him, webs him up, and the battle is ended. Before leaving him for the police, this time Spider-Man warns Doctor Octopus to give it up, that he’ll always find a way to beat him, and that he’ll never win.

“Don’t dare challenge me anymore! I won’t warn you again!”

Back at the prison, Boomerang and the Punisher conspire to escape.

My brain thoughts: Considering what we later learn about Jean DeWolff, that makes her commitment to saving the life of Spider-Man’s lady love in these issues all the more heroic, and honorable, and a little bit sad. (There sure are a lot of women named “Jean” in comics. Okay, I guess there are two that I know of, but I don’t think I’ve ever met a Jean in real life, so that’s two more than I’ve ever known.) I believe this latest defeat at the hands of Spider-Man leaves Doctor Octopus absolutely frightened of Spidey, practically paralyzed by his fear of him.

My final brain thoughts: Octopi, Owls, henchmen in wetsuits, underwater undressing, and biblical lunches.

These issues further the burgeoning romance between Spider-Man and Black Cat, but it will be a little while longer before they do any swinging around the city together. Milgrom may not have been the most dynamic penciler in terms of his figure work, but he sure did know how to lay out an issue, and with the finishing touches from Mooney, I really like the results. Spectacular always seemed like the darker book compared to Amazing at the time, for some reason. You had characters like Cloak and Dagger, and much more of a focus on the gangs that Spider-Man was known to fight in his early days. All that, plus some upcoming appearances by the Punisher and the Hobgoblin, made this book something to look forward to month after month. (I’m guessing, I read them all as back issues. Just like you should, right now!)

Next time, Back Issue Ben is going to start covering the Marvel Cosmic Line of the last decade, but when he resumes with the Black Cat: The Punisher, Cloak and Dagger, Hobgoblin, and the beginning of that crime-fighting duo, Spider-Man and the Black Cat.

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