You can't have a feature on Spidey's female opponents without spotlighting the Black Cat. But which issues to present? I wanted to highlight a story that takes place before Felicia Hardy becomes Spider-Man's ally/girl-friend, back when she still is the wall-crawler's nemesis. I also wanted to pick a story that may not be as familiar as the Cat's first appearance in ASM #194 (July 1979) or Roger Stern's first use of her in ASM #226 (March 1982). Factor in that the Al Milgrom-drawn cover of ASM #205 (June 1980) is one of my favorites (not to mention that I love looking back at some of these stories-turned-shipwrecks) and the choice is simple. Here's the Black Cat's second showdown with Spidey from Amazing Spider-Man #204-205.
Who knows what Marv Wolfman had in mind for the Black Cat? There was a rumor at the time that he planned to have her gunned down by a deranged J. Jonah Jameson. Instead, Marv left his two-year Amazing Spider-Man stint in mid-story and David Michelinie came in to pick up the pieces. David (and Roger Stern in ASM #206, July 1980) quickly wraps up all plots and sub-plots to clear the way for new Spidey scripter Denny O'Neill. Not the best recipe for good super-hero storytelling. But worth a Lookback anyway.
|Cover Art:||John Romita, Jr.|
Spider-Man can't believe it. A brown van races through the New York streets. There are five men inside, masked with blue hoods. Three of them shoot guns at the police car right behind them (One shoots from the passenger side window. The other two poke their heads up through a sunroof.) The police car shoots back. It is a "shoot-out right in the middle of Times Square" and the web-slinger wonders if it's time to move out of the Big Apple. "I wonder if Arizona would be a quieter place to web-sling?" he asks himself. (Just so you know, the illustrations don't look anything at all like Times Square. It doesn't even look like Midtown Manhattan. There is no other traffic besides the cops and crooks, though there are a few parked cars. And there are hardly any pedestrians. The splash page shows us a blonde-haired woman and a gray-haired man carrying a briefcase. As the chase continues over the next two pages, only four other bystanders appear.)
The web-slinger goes into immediate action. He shoots two strands of webbing that snag the pistol and rifle being used by the two crooks from the sunroof. (God knows where he puts these weapons after he snags them. Let's hope he doesn't just drop them on the ground... except there aren't any pedestrians around to grab them anyway.) The sunroof goons are stunned by the loss of their weapons. One of them orders Charlie, the driver, to "get us outta here on the double". But then, in the very next panel, the crooks are shooting guns at the cops again as if nothing ever happened. It could be, as Spidey says, that "they must have an arsenal in that wagon" or it could just be bad storytelling. You make the call. Since stripping the weapons away didn't work, Spidey decides to try a different approach. He attaches some webbing to the van's rear axle, then he backflips up to the wall of a building where he anchors himself and pulls on the web-line "with all [his] spider-strength". On one level, this works great. The back wheels get torn right off the speeding vehicle. On another level, it doesn't work so great. The van careens out of control and totals a couple of nearby parked cars. Spidey doesn't seem to care one bit about the property he has just trashed. Instead he makes little jokes ("Not bad, boys... when you get outta prison, you might try out for the demolition derby!") and web-swings away with a final taunt. ("Take care, kiddos. Seeya in twenty-to-thirty.") One of the crooks, now handcuffed and led to the police car, says he never wants to see Spidey again. A cop tells him "where you're goin' you won't have to". Nobody seems to care about the destroyed cars.
Even the Black Cat ignores the property damage. She's too busy taking a photograph of the departing webhead with her little Instamatic. She smiles at the thought that she has taken "another Spidey photo for my collection" which she plans to add "to all the others I've taken". She stands on a flagpole hanging off the side of a building before leaping up to the roof. "Can't get too many pics of my favorite super-hero", she says.
And off she goes, leaping to a ledge and up to an adjacent rooftop. She runs across a wire, tightrope fashion, jumps onto the top of the Guggenheim Museum, goes to a trapdoor in the roof and lowers herself down on a rope. (Don't ask me why there's a trapdoor in the Guggenheim roof. And don't ask me to what her rope is attached, either!) She has been casing the museum for days and knows all the schedules for the guards. Therefore, she knows she can safely slide down right next to a small statue that she calls "the Golden Lovers". (And isn't it nice that the trapdoor is right above the statue she wishes to steal?) The statue depicts a naked couple in each other's arms and it is sculpted in gold. The Cat can't wait to add it to her collection but before she can grab it she hears someone coming her way. The guard shouldn't be arriving for another eight minutes but, wouldn't you know it?, "it's a different guard!" The Cat surmises that the guard she has been tracking is out sick and she curses her "rotten luck". (And we all know that substitute guards follow completely different schedules so that they show up at a spot eight minutes early, right?) The guard shines his flashlight at her as he holds her at gunpoint. He orders her not to move but the Cat responds by blowing the guard "a kiss" which turns out to be some sort of pink cloud of gas with little red hearts in it... unless the hearts are just Keith Pollard's artistic license. Suddenly the guard backs away, as a huge shadow of a black cat seems to loom up in front of him. Then the door suddenly opens, smacking the guard in the back of the head and knocking him out. He has just encountered the bad luck of the Black Cat, though how this all works with the gas and the hearts and the shadow are more than I care to figure out.
Elsewhere in the city, Spidey is webslinging along when he overhears a report coming from an NYPD squad car, which mentions the Black Cat. Spidey can't believe the report since he saw the Black Cat "plunge into the sea" and die back in ASM #195 (August 1979). "She was too high to survive," he says... and I'm not entirely sure which way we should take that. Anyway, he wends his way to the Guggenheim just in time to see the Cat escaping through that convenient trapdoor in the roof. She has the Golden Lovers in her hands but that doesn't stop the web slinger from leaping down and landing right on her back which sends the statue tumbling. (Well, I guess if Spidey isn't going to worry about a bunch of parked cars, he's sure not going to worry about some silly golden statue.) He stands over the fallen Cat and asks her how she survived her aforementioned fall. The Cat replies that she "can't give away professional secrets" except to say that "we Black Cats always land on our feet" which is the kind of not-explained explanation that is sure to discombobulate Spidey (and the reader) sufficiently to throw him off-balance which gives the Cat the chance to kick out her legs and send him sprawling, thereby throwing him off-balance once again. Having given herself some breathing room, the Cat gets up and grabs the statue. Spidey is soon on his feet as well but the huge shadow of a black cat looms up behind him... the sure sign that bad luck is about to strike. All of a sudden, the Guggenheim roof caves in beneath him and he starts to fall in. But, resourceful as ever, the wall-crawler shoots out some webbing, snags the Golden Lovers, and yanks them out of the Cat's hands. She looks down to the street where "the police are cordoning off the entire area" and decides, "it's not exactly prudent to waste another life" so she leaps up to a telephone wire across the street (which actually shouldn't be there since Central Park is across from the Guggenheim... but I nitpick) and makes her escape. (And I neglected to mention that, as soon as Spider-Man showed up, the Black Cat started referring to him as "Love", as in "How are you, Love?" which is really extremely annoying.)
Back in the museum, the police rush in and meet up with Spider-Man. They have no interest in arresting the web-slinger for a change and he has saved the loot (which he appears to casually and recklessly toss to one of the cops except that whatever he tosses doesn't even look like the statue so who knows what is really going on?) so the whole matter gets dropped. Spidey gets back out into the city just as the sun is coming up. He clings to the side of a building, removes his mask and yawns, wondering all the while how the Black Cat pulls off her bad luck stunts. (And he's still wondering, I assume, since I don't think any of these tricks were ever really explained.) Then he heads home for a full night's sleep only to show up the next morning at the Daily Bugle which either means that he sleeps for a full 24 hours and shows up at work the following day or that that's not the sun rising over Manhattan in the panel in which he is yawning and talking about getting a full night's sleep. You choose.
Anyway, Peter Parker, in a blue suit and tie, has a chat with Glory Grant at the Bugle. She is telling Peter that Joe Robertson has changed. "Ever since he accepted the job as publisher of the Bugle to replace Jonah" she begins, (Jonah has a "nervous breakdown" in ASM #198, November 1979. Robbie is asked by the board of directors to replace him in ASM #202, March 1980) well, he has become as impossible as old JJJ himself. Peter looks into the office and finds Robbie shaking his fist and screaming at some poor copyboy. Peter decides to beard the lion in his den so he goes in and asks Robbie if he's all right. Robbie pounds his fist on his desk and bellows, "What blasted difference does it make to you, Parker?" Then he reminds Peter that he quit (though, actually, he was fired by JJJ in ASM #193, June 1979 and had his first Daily Globe photo published in ASM #194, July 1979.) and orders him to "get your butt out of here". Peter complies and runs into Robbie's son Randy in the hallway. Randy tells Pete that he's worried about his dad. "Something's happened to him" he says, "something real bad". In the office, Robbie screams at someone over the phone until his hapless victim tells him they wish Jonah were back. This shocks Robbie into realizing that he does sound like Jonah. In a panic, he hangs up and puts a shaking hand to his head. "It's happening again" he says, "Everything I've feared, it's starting all over!" (All of which sounds like an interesting subplot but it never gets a chance to go anywhere since Marv leaves the book and it all gets lumped in with the Jonah-Jonas Harrow conclusion cobbled together in ASM #206, July 1980.)
Across town, in her rooftop apartment, the Black Cat chats with a full-size framed poster of Spider-Man that she has hung up on her wall. (It is surrounded by several smaller framed shots of Spider-Man.) She tells the poster that he wouldn't interfere if he "knew the reason I steal" and that she doesn't want to hurt him. Just to emphasize that last point, she slashes the face of the poster with her claws.
Over at the Daily Globe, editor Barney Bushkin takes Peter Parker out on his balcony for a little chat. He is happy that Peter has brought his considerable talents over to his newspaper but "you've got a hostile streak" he tells Pete and that streak is preventing him from working harmoniously with reporter April Maye. (Pete and April have not seen eye to eye since being put on the same assignment in ASM #201, February 1980.) Barney asks Peter to go easy on April. Pete promises to try but tells Barney, "I think you're going to have to speak to April as well".
So, Peter hits the streets of New York lost in thought. He wonders why he always seems to have problems. He "didn't mean to begin a negative relationship with April, but that just seemed to happen." In the midst of this, his spider-sense tingles "like crazy". He looks around, sees nothing unusual and decides to ignore it, thinking that, "for once, Peter Parker is going to come before Spider-Man". (What is this all about? You'll never know.)
Over at the Guggenheim, Felicia Hardy is amongst the crowd of people viewing the Golden Lovers. The statue is back on its pedestal but there are more guards around it than ever. Felicia waits until no one is looking and then hides a "little surprise for later". Once that is done, she heads home to "take a little catnap til it's time". (Suddenly, I feel like I'm in the midst of an old Julie Newmar "Batman" episode. Puurrr-fect!)
Peter, now at home, gets a call from Flash offering him a blind date. Pete is anxious to go out. He hasn't dated since he and Mary Jane split up back in ASM #183 (August 1978) unless you count "those meetings with Cissy Ironwood" (in MTU Annual #2, 1979, MTU #80, April 1979, and MTU #90, February 1980) which Pete clearly does not since he describes them as "about as boring as three-week-old bagels". (Pete also chooses to ignore his fling with the married Betty Brant Leeds which goes from ASM #184, September 1978 to ASM #195, August 1979.) So, Peter meets up with Flash and Sha Shan in Central Park where Flash introduces him to a beautiful young woman with short blonde hair and blue eyes named Dawn Starr. Dawn steps right up to Pete, introduces herself and adds, "And I think I'm in love!" (You can tell Flash is eating this up. He's grinning like a madman in the background.) Dawn takes Pete by the arm, informs him that she already told Flash and Sha Shan they weren't joining them, and leads him away. As they walk through the park (and, hmmm, is that snow on the ground? This is the first sense I've gotten that this story takes place in the wintertime.) Dawn tells Pete about herself. She explains that she's "a science major, just like you, Pete. Chem and Physics with some Bio thrown in". Then she hits him with the kicker. She is going to be a student in the class he is teaching "as of next Monday". Pete grabs her by the shoulders and looks into her eyes. Once he confirms that Dawn is, indeed, one of his students, he tells her that he can't go out on a date with her. "It wouldn't be ethical," he explains. "So who gives a hoot about ethics?" Dawn asks. "At least one of us does, Dawn" says Pete, as he walks away.
A little later, Peter kicks a tin can as he walks along a garbage-strewn street. He can't believe that he has met "a knockout, someone interested in science, someone I could probably actually talk to" only to have her turn out to be one of his students. He passes by the Guggenheim museum and his spider-senses starts blaring again. This time, he decides he is "not going to ignore them". He leaps over a fence into an alleyway, changes into his Spidey duds, and takes to the webs. Now that he is in costume, he realizes that his senses are leading him to the roof of the Guggenheim. He deduces that the Black Cat must be making a second play for the statue. Spidey vows, "She's not gonna be any more successful now than she was before!"
Inside the museum, the Black Cat stands next to an unconscious guard as she lifts the Golden Lovers off the pedestal. It turns out that her hidden "surprise" was a bunch of gas pellets that must have been set to a timer since they didn't knock the guard out until well after the museum had closed. The Cat thinks she has finally pulled the caper off with no "unexpected surprises". Then she gets one. Spidey lowers himself down from the trapdoor on his web and grabs her by her left wrist. But Felicia recovers quickly from her shock. She uses judo to toss Spidey down to the ground.
And so the battle begins. Spidey lands on his feet and shoots some webbing at the Cat. She leaps aside so that the webbing ends up striking and breaking a nearby bench. Then the two of them bounce around, over, and on various exhibits until the Cat rolls into a ball and flings herself at the web-spinner. She hits him full in the solar plexus, which knocks them both to the ground. Felicia gets up first and starts to run for it but Spidey reaches up, grabs her left wrist again, and yanks her backwards so that she lands hard on her right shoulder. The Cat gets to her feet right next to a very large ninth century vase sitting on a pedestal. She tips it over and jumps aside, knowing that Spidey will grab the vase since he doesn't dare let anything get smashed. (Not that he cared about the parked cars or the Golden Lovers or that smashed bench at any earlier time in this story.) While Spidey is occupied with replacing the vase on the pedestal, the Cat does a handstand and kicks him right in the back of the head, adding, "By the way, handsome, you've got the cutest little derriere." With the web-slinger dazed, on one knee and holding the back of his head, the Cat runs off down the hallway and up some steps. (And is it too snotty of me to point out that the inside of the Guggenheim doesn't look anything like this at all?) The wall-crawler recovers and follows her into the next room. But once he gets there, he finds that big cat shadow falling over him again and he can sense that "something's about to go crazy!" And sure enough, every ninth-century vase in this room comes crashing to the ground, engulfing the web-slinger. No time to rescue all of these works of art. No time to even get out of the way. Only time to lay unconscious underneath all the broken artifacts.
The Cat apologizes to "Spidey Love" but adds that she did warn him to stay out of her way. Then she climbs a rope up to the trapdoor (which was in the other room, but never mind), towing the Golden Lovers with her, as she makes her escape. Spidey extricates himself from the pottery soon after. He doesn't intend to stop fighting the Cat but he doesn't know what to do with her once he stops her. "Why couldn't she be short, fat and ugly?" asks our equality-minded hero, "That way, the only super hero who'd be pining after her would be the Thing!"
The scene shifts to a back alley where J. Jonah Jameson collapsed into unconsciousness in the previous issue. Now he comes to and slowly gets to his feet. He is cold and his head hurts so he decides to go home. Except... he can't remember where his home is. He can't even remember his name. Shaking with the cold, Jonah walks out of the alley. A man approaches him and tells him that they are friends. Jonah doesn't remember the man but the man promises, "soon you will definitely remember the name of Jonas Harrow!"
At the same time, at a swank establishment at Park Avenue and 63rd Street, an auction is going on. A man walks through the crowd carrying a pillow on which sits a very large red gem. He tells the crowd that the "Rajah Ruby is valued at four point one million dollars", then asks for an opening bid. A voice from the balcony offers two cents. It is the Black Cat and she tells the crowd they are free to bid higher "if you don't mind dying, that is". Then, as the crowd stands paralyzed, she leaps down, pays her two cents, grabs the ruby from off the pillow and escapes by crashing through a plate glass window. But she gets little satisfaction from the theft. "That was absolutely disgusting!" she declares, "They were all sheep! Not one of them had the guts to raise even a hand to stop me." She reveals that she spent "all that time and energy preparing my back-up weapons". Now she is disappointed that she didn't need any back-up at all.
And so, not long after, the Cat reclines on her bed in her apartment looking at her two new prizes. The Golden Lovers are placed on a table. The Rajah Ruby is sitting on a pillow. "The first two prizes are now mine" declares the Cat, "Only two more remain to be taken. And then I'll have achieved my goal... my final goal!"
The next issue blurb promises, "A whole new meaning to the words Surprise Ending! Be here to enjoy!" The only question is... did we get the surprise ending we were originally going to get? It's hard to believe that the upcoming ending was considered enough of a surprise to be touted as such in the next-issue blurb, because, to be blunt, looked at in that way, it's one big fat disappointment. And when you look at how the story is so clearly patched-over, redone, and hastily wrapped up, it starts to smack of desperation. But let's keep going anyway, okay?
This is standard Spidey fare, or close to. Two and a half webs.