Roundtable Review: ‘Amazing Spider-Man Presents: Black Cat’ #1
ComicsAlliance writers Laura Hudson, Chris Sims, David Brothers, and David Uzumeri sit down for a roundtable discussion about the newly released "Amazing Spider-Man: Black Cat" #1. WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW.
David B: Recap time! "Amazing Spider-Man Presents: Black Cat" #1 (of 4) is writer Jen Van Meter, artist Javier Pulido, and colorist Matt Hollingsworth's stab at telling a Black Cat story that not only ties in with 'Grim Hunt,' the current big storyline in "Amazing Spider-Man," but stands on its own. Prior to this issue, Felicia Hardy and Peter Parker struck up a masks-only super-friends with benefits relationship. Peter, being his typical guilt-ridden neurotic self, loves to overthink their relationship. Felicia, though, likes to take it easy. Easy come, easy go. Our story in progress picks up with her mid-heist, thinking about her gentleman caller. So, what do we think, first impressions. Did we like this one?
Chris S: It's a pretty great issue from an artistic standpoint. Javier Pulido (and Marcos Martin, who isn't on this book) are two of my favorites in the new crop of Spider-Man artists, and Amanda Conner's Penguin Books-style cover is just jaw-dropping. Beautiful stuff.David U: I think Pulido's art looks a bit grittier here, largely due to Hollingsworth's coloring, which is a bit grimier than the really clean stuff his usual colorist Javier Rodriguez tends to do. So yeah, this LOOKED great, although there were a few moments where the storytelling seemed to creep away from me -- for instance, the switch of what was in the bag at the museum, I had to read that sequence a time or two to realize what Felicia was doing.
David B: That took me a moment, too, but then there are pages like where she backflips into the one guy's apartment that made me grin. One touch I enjoyed were the after images he used in his art. They're kind of a Spider-Man staple, but it's very nice to see someone like Black Cat get the same treatment. I thought the art was extremely well done and fit the story like a glove.
David U: Oh, no -- I don't mean to sound like a negative nellie, it's a gorgeous comic with really fluid storytelling and action sequences.
Chris S: This is going to make me sound like a total rube, but: Do apartments actually work like that in New York? Where it's just a door that opens on an elevator?
David B: My apartment here in SF faces the elevator, yeah.
Chris S: Y'all gotta understand, we ain't got that kinda highfalutin' arch-ee-tecture here in South Carolina.
David U: How's the wind hitting you through the antebellum pillars?
Chris S: Jus' Ah say jus' fine.
Laura H: Spidey in his boxers after sexytime was an interesting moment: top half Spider-Man, bottom half boxers. There's a weird line of intimacy and distance that ends up bisecting him right at the waist.
Chris S: Yeah, it's a good visual representation of how weird the Spider-Man/Black Cat relationship is right now.
David B: One aspect of Felicia and Spidey's relationship that's kinda weird/cute is that he doesn't take his mask off. If he took his mask off, she'd remember who he was, but she honestly doesn't care. She likes Spider-Man, not Peter Parker, professional layabout.
David U: It honestly works best for both of them. (Except Peter, who's all torn up with guilt about it.)
Chris S: Really? I find it genuinely creepy.
David B: It leads to great stuff like what Laura's saying, where you see the Spider-suit and the birthday suit at the same time.
Laura H: Top half clothed and bottom half naked is the most hilarious of all possible states. Porky Piggin' it. Donald Duckin' it.
David B: Howard the Duckin' it, even.
David U: Honestly, I find it more funny than creepy. I mean, there's a BIT of creepiness, but that's what makes it funny. Peter and Felicia are both pretty responsible adults.
David B: It's the sort of thing that'd be creepy in real life, but in comics, I'm cool with it.
Chris S: I just have this mental image of Spider-Man being all "DON'T YOU LOOK AT ME!" and it just weirds me right out. I've mentioned it before, but there's this weird thing where it's the same sort of relationship they had back in the '70s, but now, because it's 2010, they're clearly having sex. While he wears a full face mask.
Laura H: Does that mean no makeouts?
David B: Nah, the mask flips up.
David U: He pulls it up to make out like he does to eat.
David B: Wow, David. Went there.
David U: I -- I honestly did NOT mean it that way!
David B: Moving right along! We've talked about the art, what about the story?
David U: Anyway, the story was fine -- fun dialogue, it fit the comic's general aim, which is to be a fun Black Cat story tying into the current Spidey stuff.
Chris S: I really like the idea of it, that it's this hybrid of a heist story and a super-hero revenge battle that under normal circumstances, the Black Cat would have absolutely no part in.
David B: I've been a Black Cat fan since I was a kid, and I think Van Meter's version of her is pretty cool. Consummate professional, wry sense of humor, but not exactly Lady Jokes-a-lot of Funnytowne.
Chris S: A lot of times the way coincidences are set up in comics just feels so labored, but Van Meter really does a good job of making it all blend together with Kraven the Hunter and the Russian Revolution and leading it to Black Cat INSTEAD of Spider-Man. He takes the role she usually does as the supporting character / f--k buddy.
David B: Oh yeah, Spidey's on... four pages this time around. That's pretty cool. Oh no, five. He's in shadows late in the book.
Chris S: She totally pulls one over on him, too. She's all "Well gosh, I guess you HAVE to take those rings back!" And the way that Spider-Man seems like a bumbling foil, but in a way that doesn't just throw his character under the bus to get Black Cat over with the readers. It feels really natural that he's kind of awkward around girls, even when he's super-heroing.
Laura H: Also, it's nice to see a sexy lady who likes sex but does not come off as a complete soft-core nympho-whore.
David B: I think that seeing Felicia enjoy sex was a great part of this book. Comic book sex is so childish sometimes, and while that has its place... this feels a little more grown-up.
Laura H: It's easy for writers to go wrong with characters like this, e.g. She-Hulk, but it's nice to see it done in a way that isn't totally demeaning or fetishized.
Chris S: I do wonder why she's got a Blackest Night tramp stamp, though.
David U: I think the term is "whale tail."
Laura H: Comic book sex is usually like a PG-13 version of porn sex, which is usually not very much like sex at all.
David B: Yeah, that's a good way to put it. This was more like... they're adults, they did it, big deal.
David U: It's certainly an attitude you'd never find in, like, a Superman book. What's really more impressive about the Black Cat's portrayal is that it's not just Van Meter that does the relationship like this, everyone's onboard with managing to make this fun rather than creepy.
David B: Oh, one thing I thought was interesting was how rarely Black Cat's powers showed up in the book. They make Spider-Man flub a heroic intro early, and they get mentioned later, but that's it. This book is all her doing her business off her own skill, rather than super powers.
David U: Well, I think the thing about her powers is that when they're working right, it all seems like skill.
David B: Nah David, when her powers are working right, everyone else goes to pieces in hilarious ways. That's half the fun of her character.
Laura H: A line I really liked when she talks about leaving the loot alone: "Don't worry, I know when it's time to ignore the prize and eat the stupid cereal."
Chris S: My favorite panel in the book is the one where the other burglar is caught up in the line and is floundering around and it's all done as afterimages.
David B: I like the bit where he's tentatively frisking her. The art and dialogue work perfectly there. He's so "Geez, look, I didn't... man, I suck, listen, just..."
Chris S: It's just really well-done visual comedy, especially when it's right next to the scene of Black Cat swinging around on the rope with this air of it being effortless.
Laura H: I love the indignation she pulls off over his accusation of stealing even though stealing is absolutely in character for her and probably her defining characteristic.
David U: You know what else is nice? I didn't have to sit there reading three pages about how Spider-Man couldn't get it up.
Chris S: Exactly! But on the flipside, you didn't get to see Spider-Man beat up people over a dead cat.
David B: Another great part about that scene, Chris -- her motion in the panel to the right leads right into her landing in the spinning panel. That's great design.
Chris S: It's really, really easy to overdo Black Cat's character and make her seem INCREDIBLY antagonistic, but Van Meter does a good job tempering that. Like, Spider-Man has every reason in the world to believe she's the thief and she's being a total jerk about it, but it comes off really clearly that -- for her at least -- this is all part of the fun. It's the way she flirts with Spider-Man, getting him all flustered and then dragging him back to an abandoned hotel for things that apparently need three floors of space.
David B: Black Cat is Catwoman with a better sense of humor.
Laura H: And I mean -- maybe she does feel a little bit on indignation in that moment, because she's trying to catch the bad guy and still gets the slap on the wrist. Even though, realistically, she deserves it, she wants to tell him off a little bit.
David B: Yeah. There's a bit of "You know me better than that" in there.
Chris S: But she's clearly still flirting with him. And it's not like he would actually need to frisk her. Where do you hide a Faberge egg when you're wearing a skintight vinyl catsuit?
Laura H: Uhh--
David U: Do I really have to answer that question?
Chris S: What I'm getting at is, all she'd really need to do is say "the crook's getting away!" and, Spider-Man being Spider-Man, he's not going to let a robber get away through his inaction. Instead, there's a very sexually charged exchange where she sort of reaffirms herself as having the power in the relationship. But it's done in a very mature way, rather than vulgarity masquerading as mature.
Laura H: Well, she does actually say, "Lemme go, he's getting away"
David B: Yeah, Spidey definitely tries to stop her and say that "Hey, what's up with all the stealin'?" But you know, I've gotta say, Black Cat kinda needed a solo win like this. Last time we saw her, it was in that Kevin Smith series. You know, the one that started off kinda funny and then gave us back-to-back-to-back rape scenes.
Laura H: Do you see any response or push back again the horrible Kevin Smith story in this?
Chris S: Definitely.
David U: I dunno, I do. I don't think it's a direct response to the Smith story. I mean -- I think Van Meter just wrote Black Cat like she wanted to, and in keeping with her portrayal in the main book. As a result of that, it ended up becoming so diametrically opposed to the victimfest that was the Kevin Smith joint. I don't think it was conscious, though, I think it was just an organic aftereffect of the fact that this is a book created by adults.
David B: It's also less... overly Kevin Smith-y. There weren't even any dick jokes in this.
David U: It wasn't "hahaha, now we will get our revenge on Kevin Smith for his rape!", it was "Let's tell a good story." The stuff about Spidey being the side character is more a response to Standard Supporting Cast Member Miniseries #23, not SM/BC specifically.
Chris S: Yeah, as I said before that the relationship as it's appeared in other comics has creeped me out, but it seems a lot more natural here. For one, she's not being used as a prop to tell someone else's story here. If anything, there's a direct inversion to that; Spider-Man's the prop, the bumbling, ditzy love interest that gets in the way. He is Lucy to her Ricky.
David B: Spidey makes for a good side character all the time, near as I can tell. Something about his personality.
David U: He's a catchall reader representative, too, for all the "wait, what the hell is going on here?" moments you need.
David B: Another thing I like, and this is a really dumb fanboy thing but whatever I'm going for it, is that Spider-Man is her height. He's not a very tall dude, kind of shortish, but I think it makes their interactions way more interesting.
Laura H: Same thing for me with dude chillin' post-coital in his boxers. It made it feel... comfortable? And not like some creepy ASBAR "we kept our masks on" thing.
Chris S: I think the fact that they're both half-dressed has a lot to do with it too. The other times I've seen it, he'll be in, like, JUST the mask, and she'll either be naked or in her mask, which is a tiny little domino mask that's barely there anyway. Putting them in some clothes actually contextualizes their relationship in a way that doesn't immediately put "BANGIN' IN MASKS!" in the forefront of my mind.
David U: Chris, maybe you should call Axel Braun with these ideas?
Chris S: I am totally creeping you guys out with how vivid my imagination is about Spider-Man getting it on, aren't I?
David B: Just a little.
Caleb G. They should really just head to the docks. And beat some people. In the rain.
Chris S: He should call her "love chunks," Caleb. Because that is a thing people say. I mean, I could talk about her awesome spider-webbed pantyhose if we want...
Chris S: Those are definitely stockings.
David B: Same difference!
Laura H: They're Spider-fishnets. I bet I could find them for sale online in ten seconds.
Chris S: Did anyone else think she totally looked like John Romita's Gwen Stacy in those scenes?
David B: I dunno, but she's got MJ's chipmunk cheeks.
Chris S: Peter has a type.
Laura H: Boom:
David B: Ha, even the shoes match Felicia's.
David B: And the Grim Hunt preview at the end of this thing was great.
Chris S: I haven't read the Grim Hunt stuff yet so I don't know how much it ties in, but I liked that it's a good heist story that dovetails in with Spider-Man villain stuff. It's really well constructed.
David U: It's a fairly distant tie-in. This clearly happens before Grim Hunt itself, since Grim Hunt is some fairly crazy shit-gets-real comics.
David B: And yeah, the tie-in works because it uses the status quo, but doesn't dig deep into it. All you need to know is that Russian Hell is coming soon. Also, this is a dumb english major thing, but i love that they're reinterpreting The Tyger by calling Spider-Man "the Spyder." It'd be a dumb name change thing anywhere else, but with the history of Kraven and Spidey, it's pretty cool. And hints that we're gonna get some real deal Spidey goes nuts stuff down the line.
Laura H: We all really wanted a good comic this week, and Black Cat certainly needed one after Kevin Smith, and I'm glad we all got what we needed.
David B: Sounds like a win all around.