The Black Cat returned almost a year later, in Amazing Spider-Man #204 (May 1980), when her criminal exploits once again caught Spider-Man’s attention. Her interest in Spider-Man escalated and bordered on obsessive compulsive as she stole a variety of love-inspired object d’art to add to her Spider-Man collection.
In the following issue, when cornered by Spider-Man in her hideout, Felicia proudly displayed a shrine devoted to him. Spider-Man was caught off guard by her obsession.
Looking at this development, it isn’t hard to conceive that her emotional balance was shattered by the death of her father. Her mother didn’t approve of her following in her father’s footsteps, so there was no doubt Felicia was carrying around a lot of emotional baggage. A reasonable way to deal with such stressors was to turn towards the only other person she looked up to.
“I like the men in my life to be a little mysterious!” Felicia remarked about Spider-Man in Amazing Spider-Man #194. How can you get more mysterious than a masked superhero? With her father dead, Spider-Man became a substitute father figure and new role model in the fictitious world she chose to wrap around herself.
However, on another level, you can put together a theory that she was merely feigning her emotional issues to try and get out of having been caught.
Former Spider-Man writer, Roger Stern fills us in: “the Black Cat had already been shown to be clever and conniving, right up until the end of Amazing Spider-Man #205. That's the issue where Spider-Man cornered Felicia in her lair, and discovered that she had a whole wall of photos devoted to him. He jumped to the conclusion that she had a psychotic obsession with him.
“As I later revealed in Amazing Spider-Man #226, the Black Cat had realized that Spider-Man was about to capture her, so she let him think that the pictures she had used to study his moves was a "shrine" to him. Spelling out how Felicia had faked her illness -- in order to plan her next moves and her eventual escape -- was my way of showing just how clever she really was.”
Roger Stern definitely cast the Black Cat in another light. In her next appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #226 (Mar. 1982), he added more depth to her character, making her more intelligent and devious. Her ruse to feign mental illness was motivated by the fact that it was easier to escape from a mental ward than a highly-guarded prison.
As for Roger Stern’s take on the Black Cat, he had this to say: “I'd been reading a lot of old Milton Caniff and Will Eisner stories at the time, and I thought it would be fun to establish some crafty, challenging female adversaries for Spider-Man. I'd already introduced Belladonna in Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man, and I thought that the Black Cat was too good to waste away in an asylum somewhere. Spider-Man had more than enough enemies who were crazy.”
The Black Cat got embroiled in the Owl-Octopus war that ran through the pages of Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man in early 1983. Black Cat exploited Spider-Man’s feelings for her and used him to protect her from the Kingpin who she had recently robbed.
Both readers and Spider-Man were kept guessing as to whether or not Felicia’s feelings were genuine.
“Oh, for crying out loud! You’re brave, Cat, and beautiful, but you’re also as nutty as a fruitcake!” announced Spider-Man in Peter Parker the Spider-Man #75 (Feb. 1983). “She may be more crooked than curvaceous, but she’s my lady!”
During the climax of this storyline, Doctor Octopus and his goons savagely beat the Black Cat. Fortunately, Spider-Man got her to the needed medical attention to save her life. Over the weeks she spent in the hospital, her feelings for the web-head solidified. She looked forward to his visits and the neutral setting of the hospital forced her to think about her role and how she wanted to be a part of Spider-Man’s life.
“I’m going to go straight! No more cat burglaries – no more crime! I’m going to start living solely for the man I love!” She told Spider-Man in Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #78 (May 1983). A few issues later, she drove their relationship in a new direction, hoping “when I was well again that we could continue as a team!” (Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #78, May 1983).
This new direction not only had her playing on the right side of the law, it had her enforcing it as a superhero. Interestingly, their relationship continued without Felicia knowing Spider-Man’s true identity; a fact that didn’t seem to bother her.
From Comic Scene #8 (Mar. 1983), Bill Mantlo highlighted the appeal of Spider-Man: “… being Spider-Man is a lot of fun – wisecracking, joking, feeling the exuberance of swinging through the air on a slender webline. That experience, being something we mere mortals can never hope to do, has got to bring out a certain excitement in the reader.”
Obviously, not only in the readers, but in Felicia as well, as that level of excitement was infectious and drove her attraction to him. Felicia is human, no different in feeling vulnerable and insecure, but, when she met and fell in love with Spider-Man, those feelings magically disappeared.
Interestingly, when you compare and contrast Felicia Hardy/Black Cat and Peter Parker/Spider-Man, they’re dual opposites. And, of course, opposites attract.
Felicia Hardy is terribly self-absorbed whereas Peter Parker is giving to a fault. She’s reckless, while his responsible nature is his character’s cornerstone.
Felicia loves the thrill she gets from her unlawfulness antics whereas Spider-Man respects the darker side of his vigilantism.
She has no secret identity; the Black Cat is simply Felicia with a mask. Whereas Spider-Man is Peter Parker's alter-ego. Peter becomes a different person when he puts on Spider-Man’s mask. Felicia has nothing to hide while Peter’s secret identity protects everyone he loves.
Bill Mantlo elaborates this point later on in his interview in Comic Scene #8: [Spider-Man]’s joking to cover up his own fear, his own hesitancy, his own awareness of his limitations against maniacs who will stop at nothing.”
The Black Cat provides us with a mirror image of how Spider-Man might have turned out had he not had the steadying influence of Uncle Ben.