Back in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #606, Spider-Man and the Black Cat ran into each other again. No longer together with Mary Jane, Spidey saw no barrier to picking up where he left off in the early 1980s. The pair are now a couple, of sorts. But the Black Cat isn't interested in Peter Parker, or even in knowing who Spider-Man is under the mask. Is this going to be a problem?
Spidey runs into the Black Cat while swinging across New York. They banter, but the Cat makes it clear that she is only interested in the moment. Only interested in the Spider and the Cat. Spidey reminisces over a meeting with Mary Jane earlier in the day. He was sorely tempted to try and patch things up with her. Compared to what he had with MJ, his relationship with the Cat is the definition of superficial. But perhaps that is the point.
During a random battle with a gang of club-wielding thugs, Spider-Man tries to make the Cat jealous. He tells her that he met his Ex earlier in the day. She says that she doesn't care; but is she protesting too much? Spidey's thoughts are cut off as the Cat discovers the victim that the gang were tormenting: a young woman. Spider-Man reflects that the Cat isn't superficial. She can feel, and feels deeply. And she will get this girl the help she needs.
Flashback to work earlier in the day and Peter is talking with Norah. She is flirting with him as usual. Norah seems to know how to push all of Peter's buttons to completely wrong-foot him. Like the Cat, Norah says that he can see whoever he wants, whenever he wants. He shouldn't feel guilty about it. But that's the point. His relationship with the Cat does make him feel guilty. Shouldn't he be aspiring to something more? Then a door opens and smacks him in the face.
Back with the Cat, in the aftermath of the fight, Spidey praises her actions. The Black Cat sees through him. He's rethinking their 'friends with benefits' arrangement. He's feeling guilty about it, and wonders if it's a mistake. The Cat says they can call quits if he wants. She won't be offended. "I gave up two things a long time ago: guilt and suffering. Being with you causes me neither of these feelings. Therefore, it's a good thing." Spidey can only agree.
The Black Cat is right that Spidey is feeling guilty, and she is right that it's about the ethics of their relationship. But doesn't know exactly why. That door that hit Parker in the face earlier in the day was opened by stunning brunette called Ashley Moon. She's on Jonah's staff just like Peter. She's in the "Department of Investigations". She's also the Black Cat in a wig. Peter recognised her, but she didn't recognise Peter.
In addition to making work a lot more interesting, Spidey realises that this gives him something of an unfair advantage over the Cat. Does it make him feel guilty? Yes, but perhaps he can live with it. Doesn't Spider-Man deserve a guilty pleasure, after all? And Ashley did seem to make Norah jealous which in itself is an interesting development.
The return of the Black Cat in Long-Term Arrangement was not a spectacular success. Kelly does more here in eight pages of story to sell me on the idea of a rekindled 'Cat and the Spider' romance that he did in both the earlier issues. This is a well constructed little story that properly underlines the motivation and the character of both Peter and Felicia. The ongoing plot is much stronger for this tale.
Of course, it also picks up on the throwaway line in #606 that the Black Cat was working for a mysterious employer with connections to City Hall. Now we see her working for the mayor. But is Jonah really the Black Cat's boss, or is there another figure that we're not seeing here? I wouldn't put it past Jonah to hire a cat burglar to get the dirt on Dexter Bennett, but I have a feeling the story is more complicated than that.
In this story Joe Kelly is reunited with artist Jim Ken Niimura. The two worked together on the award-winning I Kill Giants published by Image comics in 2009. I haven't read that comic, but based on the reviews I think I'll be moved to pick up the trade at some point.
Niimura's art is an acquired taste. The overt manga-overtones are not really what I'm looking for in a Spider-Man comic. It's a bit too cartoony for me. But it is possessed of great energy, and the panel-layouts are fairly inventive. This is not bad art by any standard. My main issue with it is that the art is so highly stylised that it's fairly tricky to identify who the characters are meant to be. Neither MJ or Norah look much like they've done in past issues; and it took me a couple of readings to work out that Ashley Moon is supposed to be the Black Cat. This wouldn't be an issue in an original work like I Kill Giants, but in a Spider-Man comic that demands a degree of visual continuity, it is more of a problem.
A surprisingly good little story, that improves on a second reading. It's slightly marred by inappropriate art, and a nagging feeling that this story wouldn't have been necessary if Kelly's original two-parter had been better. Three and a half webs.