In the ever-evolving landscape of fandom, there are simply some things that should not have happened. In Retcon This!, we examine some of the more questionable aspects of our beloved geek properties.
It’s no secret that I’m a Kevin Smith fan. I’ll defend the man against even friends and colleagues who may not share my opinions. I think he’s a good writer, decent director and I think he’s funny as hell. I totally buy into the everyman thing he has going on. Even so, NO ONE is above reproach, so I present to you today easily the worst (and one of the most notorious) contribution Kevin Smith has ever made to the realm of geekdom. Also, let me say right up front, that the book is gorgeous. This is some fine work from the Dodsons. It’s not their fault this one’s a stinker.
Spider-Man/Black Cat: the Evil That Men Do was slated as a six-issue miniseries that debuted in August of 2002 and wrapped in (I kid you not) March of 2006. No, that isn’t a typo. Between issues three and four, there was a three-year gap. For no discernable reason beyond simply Smith not prioritizing his gig writing a high profile comic book mini, the story sat uncompleted for THREE YEARS. It’s a move that is quite honestly inexcusable and unprofessional. There’s really no way around it, fan or not. But hey, at least this story got finished. Smith’s Daredevil/Bullseye: the Target is never going to get farther than its first issue, released way back in 2003. At least The Evil That Men Do saw its end. The story was put to rest. Was it worth the wait?
The story begins with Felicia Hardy (aka the Black Cat) coming out of “retirement” to help look for a friend who’s gone missing back in NYC. Spider-Man (back when his friends and family knew who he was) is on the job looking for information on how a straight-laced kid in his class (He was a teacher, remember?) ended up dead from a heroin overdose without a single needle mark on him. Their cases are of course the same case and they soon find themselves on the trail of the mysterious drug pusher “Mr. Brownstone,” who is in his civilian life the well-known philanthropist and legitimate businessman Garrison Klum. So Spidey and Cat team up to take him down. It’s solid. It’s nothing mind-blowing, but it’s good. The banter and dialogue between the two leads is good and the plot is engaging. Smith writes a really good Felicia and nailed the dynamic between her and Peter. It was good. And then it all went HORRIBLY wrong.
The end of issue three has Felicia confront Klum in his penthouse. After a brief villain monologue, Klum teleports some freshly cooked heroin directly into her bloodstream. See, Klum has a latent mutant ability that allows him to teleport small amounts of liquid. Hence, no track marks on the dead kid. Klum is the dealer to the stars, since none of them can afford to look like junkies. As a concept, it’s pretty neat. It’s weird, but it’s at least unique. But we’re not in the realm of awful yet. That comes immediately afterwards where Felicia falls to the bed all drugged out. Klum cuts her costume away and says “Some say that a good high is better than sex. You’ll have to let me know if that’s true.” Then BAM! To be continued. For three years. But wait, it gets worse.
Three years later we’re back and Peter has gotten Matt Murdock to represent Felicia in her murder trial. That’s right; Klum is dead. He got killed deader than all Hell. She insists she’s innocent and what’s more, she adamantly refuses the rape kit suggested by Mr. Murdock in hopes of building a self-defense case. Suddenly we as readers are knee-deep in an episode of Law & Order: 616. Thelast half of the story reads like a different story altogether. Here’s the short version:
- Spidey decides he and Daredevil need to bust Felicia out of prison (for reasons I’m still not 100% clear on).
- When they get there, she’s being abducted by Francis Klum, Garrison’s brother, who rocks some mind control on DD, making him fight Spider-Man while he and Felicia escape.
- On the George Washington Bridge, Francis tells his sad, sad tale to Felicia. For most of his life, his brother Garrison would throw him a bone once in awhile… as in rape. The mini then completely dovetails into an After School Special.
- Somewhere during his years of sexual abuse, Francis discovers his stronger teleportation powers and his ability to control people, a gift he uses to later anally rape a hooker because that’s how he always had it done to him. I’m not joking.
- Spidey and Daredevil consult Nightcrawler on the matters of teleportation. Crime scene photos suggest Francis teleported inside his brother, exploding him from the inside out (pretty cool, actually).
- Francis tells Felicia he did it to save her from his brother because he didn’t want her to know what it was like to be raped.
And this is when it happens. After hearing all this and insisting they turn themselves in, Francis says that everyone will laugh at him and she can’t understand and blah, blah, blah. That’s when Felicia says she was raped, too… Take that in for a minute… Okay, so yes, apparently Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat, was sexually assaulted in college by some frat guy she thought she loved. It was THAT experience that drove her to train her body so that she could kill her attacker, only he got drunk and died in a car crash before she could murder him. So she turned to her safety school, cat burglary. She stole because something was stolen from her. THIS is the turn the book takes. Spidey and DD show up, a fight ensues, mistakes are made, Klum falls to his “death,” only to return and buy Mysterio’s old crap from Kingpin and Felicia tells Peter her secret origin. The end.
I realize this is a lot more plot summary than I normally put into one of these, but it’s vitally important o get some of the details down to properly appreciate just how BAD this story is. It’s terrible on two fronts. One, it adds an unnecessary blemish on Felicia’s past and completely changes her motivations for becoming who she is. It is in essence a pretty major retcon on her character, one that to my knowledge hasn’t been mentioned since the mini wrapped. It’s just there, lingering in the subconsciousness of fandom. We all know it’s there. We just don’t want to talk about it. It serves NO purpose other than to further the weird theme of the second half of the miniseries, which brings me to point two.
Second, the tonal shift is radical like I’ve never seen in a self-contained story. There is nothing in the early issues to even remotely suggest the insane turn things will take down the line. Now, there are people who have speculated that maybe it wasn’t going to go this way originally and that the story went through some major re-writes and changes during the three-year hiatus. While that’s not a completely unreasonable assumption, issue three ends with Felicia clearly in some serious trouble. She’s about to be assaulted. The story was definitely heading that way, even if it turned down that road incredibly fast. The degree to which these themes would factor in originally is of course anyone’s guess, but it’s unfair to say the rape angle was a late addition. It had to be in the original pitch.
I don’t mind some social commentary in my comics or a heavy dose of real. I’m all about mature themes in my comics. The problem with this story is that it’s an absolute bait and switch. What’s worse is that it goes for the most clichéd type of “telling the rape story” scene that we’ve seen in a hundred Lifetime movies. At one point, Felicia just starts mouthing off statistics about how many women are raped in the US each year. It takes the reader completely out of the story by just how damn WEIRD it is. It’s unsettling and not just on behalf of the characters. It’s hard to even identify and feel bad for them because of how strangely ham-fisted the last two issues are, nearly from beginning to end.
This didn’t need to happen. That’s all there is to it. This did nothing to add to Felicia’s character at all. Instead, it warped everything about her origins way beyond what had been established. I won’t at all go so far as to say it tarnished her. Felicia is an empowered female superhero. She’s always been very playfully sexual. It’s part of who she is. She’s still all those things, but the beginnings are now skewed in a messy way that doesn’t gel. To me, the better way to tell this story (and I use the word “better” loosely) would have been to have her assault take place in the present day. That’s still not a story I would want to read and would still be inappropriate, but it would be an easier pill to swallow than what we were given here. Or we could just leave the rape out of the mainstream superhero comics (lookin’ at you, Dr. Light). The last half of this story is so completely off-putting that it overshadows some of the legitimately neat ideas in the new villains and their unique power set. It’s hard to even remember their names. Garrison Klum is “the guy that tried to rape Black Cat.” Sorry, Kev. They can’t all be winners.