Wednesday, April 4, 2012

GN Review -- Spider-Man and the Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do / Kevin Smith and Terry Dodson

I've never made any secret that I think Black Cat is one of my favorite characters among Spider-Man's supporting cast.  Not only is she beautiful and sexy and witty, but she can actually function and fight on Spider-Man's level.  She has the skill sets and, occasionally, the power sets to hang with him in the crime-fighting arena, which is one of the reasons I keep wanting to see them get together more permanently.  By this point, I've resigned myself to the fact that it'll likely never happen, but my admiration for the character remains high.

When I read The Evil That Men Do, I got knocked on my ass in a way that I simply hadn't been expecting.  Even better, every revelation made sense, given what I knew about Felicia's backstory.  She went from being a fantasy in black leather to... well, still a fantasy in black leather, but one whose occupation as a criminal-crimefighter now felt like it had very real roots and reasons, the most solid of which stemmed from a trauma she'd suffered long before she ever met Spider-Man.

Felicia is brought back to New York City to investigate a friend's mysterious disappearance and death.  It turns out she was one of a string of unexplained heroin overdoses where the victims had no visible signs of shooting up.  She runs into Spider-Man, who's also investigating the situation, and they decide to team up to track down the enigmatic Mr. Brownstone, who is apparently able to spontaneously drug his victims at a moment's notice.  Narrowing their leads down to a philanthropist named Garrison Klum, they argue over pursuing him until Felicia gets the drop on Peter, overpowers him, and goes to Klum's penthouse to question him herself.  Before she can get very far, he drugs her, explaining that he has the ability to teleport small amounts of liquid, an application he uses to get the rich and famous high with no tell-tale signs--and which he uses to incapacitate Felicia as he starts to rape her.

Thing fast-forward to Felicia being in jail, where she's being held for Klum's murder.  The story seems to be that, while under the influence, she murdered Klum in a rage.  In reality, his younger brother Francis, who also is a teleporter, teleported and reappeared in Garrison's body, exploding him from the inside.  It turns out Francis, a victim of sexual abuse from his brother for years, had tired of seeing Garrison victimize yet another person, and stopped him before he could rape Felicia.  He comes to Ryker's Island to break Felicia out, where he encounters Spider-Man and Daredevil, who are there to do the same thing.  He makes them fight each other, and teleports away with Felicia.

As Daredevil and Spider-Man consult with Nightcrawler to find out more about Francis's teleporting abilities, they learn that he's likely the descendant of a human-mutant hybrid created by Nazi scientists during World War II.  Felicia explains to Francis that she was also raped, in college, and that she trained herself to peak condition just so she could get revenge on her rapist.  When fate beat her to the punch, she put her training to use as the Black Cat.  She and Francis begin to bond over the fact that they are both rape survivors, when Spider-Man and Daredevil show up to rescue her.  In a pitched fight, Francis manages to minorly wound Spidey and teleport away.  Felicia is cleared of all the charges against her, and in the aftermath she tells Peter about the rape trauma she went through during college.

This is the first--and thus far, only--Kevin Smith story I've read, and I've gotta say, the man can write when he wants to.  I believe this story was delayed several times, which must have been frustrating for readers at the time, but given the end product, I've gotta say that it had to have been worth it.  Felicia is given a great deal of depth in this story, and Smith uses some pretty disconcerting scenes to build up Garrison Klum as an evil bastard.  He does this to some degree with Francis as well, but ultimately makes him sympathetic, and a little pitiable, with the story of how his brother used to both defend him and take sexual advantage of him during their youth.

There are also a lot of cameos, which are used to satisfying effect to enhance the story.  From Matt Murdock's involvement as Felicia's new lawyer to Nightcrawler's appearance to explain to them the history of mutants and mutant-human hybrids, we get appearances by cool characters who are also actively enhancing and engaging in the narrative.  The lesser cameos--Kingpin, Emma Frost, and so on--are basically for demonstrative purposes and then go away.  Smith knows when to use the right servings of guest star, and doesn't bog down the narrative unnecessarily.

Art-wise, this story gets a huge thumbs-up.  Terry Dodson excels at making illustrations engaging, lively, and fun to look at.  Several of his illustrations in this story are considered some of the classic or vintage Black Cat poses and depictions.  He does action, intrigue, and drama equally well, and he has a good eye for both perspective and location, making a lot of his establishing shots breathtaking in and of themselves.

Overall, I can't recommend this story enough.  Not only is it about one of my favorite supporting characters in the Spider-Man universe--as far as I'm concerned, this is THE Black Cat story to read--but it's a well-written story with lots of guest cameos and beautiful art by Terry Dodson.  It gives a compelling backstory to Felicia Hardy and gets really gritty in places.  Highly recommended.

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