Never Let The Black Cat Cross Your Path
There are villains that you love to hate, villains that are plot-device punching bags, and villains you truly sympathize with. Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat, is one of the latter. Classifying her as a villain is a bit of a misnomer though. While she’s broken the law as a cat burglar, Felicia is more of a self-absorbed rogue than your typical Spider-Man villain.
Throughout the Spider-Man titles of the 1980s, the Black Cat’s life became intertwined with Spider-Man’s. As with all good characters, she was defined by her weaknesses and flaws and how she dealt with them. Her all-too human side was no better portrayed through her efforts to cope with a variety of psychological issues. To properly understand who the Black Cat is, let’s start at the beginning and explore the forces that shaped her.
The Black Cat pounced on to the scene in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #194 (July 1979). Classic 1970s artist Dave Cockrum provided the initial design for the Black Cat bringing her to life in a voluptuous fur-lined, skin-tight costume and collar.
While Felicia Hardy’s costumed feline persona might remind you of DC’s notable cat burglar, Catwoman, Felicia is her own woman. While they share some obvious characteristics, such as being burglars and deriving pleasure from playing cat-and-mouse games with superheroes, the Catwoman actually wasn’t the inspiration behind the Black Cat.
“Oddly, I hadn't even thought of Catwoman,” creator Marv Wolfman admitted. “If I had, I wouldn't have done it. I was watching a Tex Avery cartoon called ‘Bad Luck Blackie’ that caused bad luck to a pursuing dog and thought that would make for a great villainess for Spider-Woman, which was where I was going to use her.”
“We did a cover [Spider-Woman #9 (Dec. 1978)] but before I wrote the story I decided to quit the book so I moved [Black Cat] over to Spider-Man. I made her more of an action character where the Spider-Woman character was designed to be a mystery villainess, very 1940s in design and very noir in approach. You can see the original Spider-Woman cover in the letter column of the first Black Cat story [Amazing Spider-Man #194].”
Amazing Spider-Man #195 (Aug. 1979) provides us with some insight into what molded Felicia’s Black Cat persona. Felicia grew up believing that her father, Walter Hardy, a world famous cat burglar, had died in a plane crash.
Parental loss can leave a child, such as Felicia, with lingering doubts about their own self worth. Children can cope with the loss of a parent by idealizing that person.
From Fathers and Adolescents: Developmental and Clinical Perspectives, “The centrality of the father figure and a continuous need for the idealized father is evident even in cases where the father is not necessarily positive (…) even in cases where the father was absent or abusive, children exerted enormous efforts to preserve the ideal image. The negative image of the father may even be reconstructed into a positive and idealized figure.”
In Felicia’s case, she over-identified with her absent father. She developed an idealized fantasy life and drove herself to emulate that fictional lifestyle. This coping mechanism allowed her to deal with this emotionally traumatic event.
She learned everything she could about her father and was particularly interested in his criminal exploits. She used these elements to build her idealized fantasy.
Later, Felicia learned that her mother had lied to her about her father’s death. Walter Hardy was in fact still alive, but in jail. She took a bold step, making her debut as the costumed Black Cat to break him out.
An important facet of her idealized view of her father was how it altered her morality. Despite his criminal tendencies, in her eyes, he could do no wrong and she applied that perspective to her own criminal actions.
She wasn’t afraid to cross the line into unlawful territory, and proved to be resourceful, recruiting a criminal crew to assist her in the jail break.
However, things aren’t always as they seem. Her father’s jailbreak wasn’t motivated by any criminal intent or desire, but rather by love. It was only when she heard Walter was dying that she selflessly decided to break him out. She’s emotionally deeper than her flashy exterior might convey and that’s what keeps the reader and Spider-Man so interested in her.
What Felicia didn’t know was that her father was the one who wanted her to believe he had died in a plane crash. Walter didn’t want Felicia tainted by his lifestyle. Unfortunately, his efforts resulted in the exact opposite. Still deluded, she told her father that “You would have been proud of the way I trained (...) I perfected your every move. Learned your every trick.”
Dr. Ayala M. Pines in her book Romantic Jealousy: Understanding and Conquering the Shadow of Love tells us an “internalized romantic image” is developed “very early in life, based on powerful experiences we had during childhood. Our parents and other adults involved in raising us influence the development of our romantic image in two ways: the way they express, or don't express, love toward us; and the way they express, or don't express, love toward each other.”
Felicia’s carefree and thrill-seeking rogue persona is an internalized romantic image of her father. Her attraction to a masked adventurer, like Spider-Man, follows that romantic image. Similarly, you don’t have to look far down her relationship list to see that pattern, The Foreigner, Thomas Fireheart (The Puma), and even the heroic jock, Flash Thompson.
(to be continued...)