Comics : Spider-Man: The Secret Life of Black Cat

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Book of the Month Club

This review was first published on: May 2010.

Background...

HarperFestival published eight kids storybooks in late 2008/early 2009. The books were grouped in three different format. The most verbose of the stories were three mini-novels, each with 64 cheap newsprint pages of text, roughly 200 words per page. Each of the nine or ten chapters featured a full page black and white line drawing illustration.

The three mini-novels are this one, along with Spider-Man: Evil Comes in Pairs and Spider-Man: The Lizard's Legacy.

In Detail...

Spider-Man: The Secret Life of Black Cat
Dec 2008 : SM Title
Find ISBN 0061626260
Publisher:  HarperFestival
Writer:  Michael Teitelbaum
Illustrator:  John Sazaklis
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Review

We were given a bit of a heads up to the Black Cat's future starring role in Spider-Man: Evil Comes in Pairs, the first of the three mini-novels in this series, and we're not left waiting long. Felicia storms into the story having discovered that her father wasn't a businessman after all, but was secretly one of the greatest cat burglars in the world. At least, until he got caught. And on that day, a young girl named Felicia made a vow to rescue her beloved Dad from prison.

Flash-forward to a black and white line-drawing of Felicia in costume. She has studied gymnastics, lock-picking, and needlework, and now she's ready! Oh yeah, she's also practiced setting up pre-arranged "accidents" that look like bad luck but are in fact carefully planned. Of course, that particular gimmick was a lot more entertaining in the original stories when it wasn't telegraphed pages in advance.

Cut sideways to Spider-Man, fresh from his little contretemps with Venom and Carnage (courtesy of the preceding novelette) and heading to take the photos to Jameson at the Bugle. Spider-Sense tingles, and he spots the Black Cat climbing walls. Sneakily he follows her across town to the prison. So why doesn't she just take a cab? Climbing buildings is damn hard work without super-powers! Anyhow, at the prison, an explosion lays our hero out flat. Round one to Felicia.

Peter recovers and takes his photos to the Bugle, where he hears about a robbery at the museum. He heads over there and discovers the Black Cat stealing a statue, "The Golden Couple". Spidey attempts to foil the heist, but is once more foiled by some "bad luck" at the hands of the Cat, despite her expressing her affection for him.

Repeat that scenario once more with "The Love Ruby" and a few minor variations in the fight scene and the tricks by which the Black Cat distracts Spider-Man in order to make her escape. But before we get to "third time's a charm", there's a brief interlude to deal with. Peter heads to Empire State University to finish his homework for his professor, Dr. Curt Connors. There's our lead-in to book three, folks!

Then we're back to Black Cat, and Spider-Man sets his trap at the art gallery where a famous painting "Love in the Springtime" is to be shown the next day. He gets there to discover... that it has already been stolen. But not by Black Cat. She turns up shortly after and is equally disappointed to see her target gone. Yet again some "bad luck" leaves Spidey mopping up while Felicia escapes. But this time Spidey tags her with a Spider-Tracer.

The Tracer leads him back to Felicia's apartment. She's there with the statue and the gem, and a wall covered in newspaper clippings about Spider-Man. Remember newspapers? Me neither. Anyhow, it takes only thirty seconds for Spidey to persuade Felicia to join the good guys, promise to return the loot she stole, and help him recover the painting from the mob boss believe to have swiped it.

Time for the grand finale. The mob boss is holding a costume party to show his new painting to all his fellow mobsters. Spidey and Black Cat infiltrate, grab the painting, and leave the mobsters webbed up for the cops. Heh, like they'll get a prosecution out of that... citizens assaulted, evidence removed. Yeah, good luck making that one stick.

But Peter's happy. Black Cat gives her one of her high-tech comm links "just in case". Spidey grabs a photo of Felicia for the front page of the Bugle, and heads off to... well, to battle the Lizard, I think it's pretty safe to say.

In General...

There's nothing really wrong with how these stories are re-told. They're plain and simple, clearly telegraphed for the, well, probably your average ten-year old, plus or minus a year or two. All the key elements of the original Black Cat story are there, in one form or another. It's a decent plot to borrow, and it fits well enough in the pages available... not too short, not too long.

Overall Rating...

I'm struggling here to overcome my natural resentment. The original Black Cat story was among the very first Spidey comic tales I ever read as a twelve-year old kid. It holds a very, very dear place in my heart. Seeing it usurped, chewed-up and dumbed-down like this just feels... awkward perhaps. Verging on disrespectful even?

Still, Michael Teitelbaum means no harm. I've seen his name on enough Spidey stories to know that he's as fond of the classics as I am. I'm going to try and be objective here and give this story the three solid, average webs that it probably deserves.