A Whole New Dynamic Duo: Reviewing ‘Mary Jane & Black Cat: Beyond’ #1

by Scott Redmond

Overview

Tapping into the Spider-Man Beyond realm, this issue serves not only as a fun team-up between the title characters but puts a definitive statement in place about who and what Felicia Hardy/Black Cat is as a person and character. This is the perfect epilogue to properly close out what was truly among the best titles that Marvel Comics was publishing the past few years.

Overall
10/10
10/10

Saying goodbye is always really hard, and in comics, those goodbyes are often a very final thing. Especially in work-for-hire situations where a creator gets to put their stamp on a character, finishes their story, and then often the next team will take things in a different, sometimes wildly different, direction.

Last year brought an end to the amazing solo adventures of Felicia Hardy the Black Cat as Jed MacKay, C.F. Villa, Brian Reber, and Ferran Delgado brought their story to an end and rode off into the sunset. Except turns out MacKay and Villa had a bit of an encore in them.

Thus, we got Mary Jane & Black Cat: Beyond #1 which ties into the ongoing Spider-Man: Beyond storyline going on in Amazing Spider-Man currently. Basically, Parker Robbins, the villain known as the Hood (because he wore a magical demon cloak with a hood that gave him abilities), holds an unconscious Peter Parker hostage in the hospital to force Felicia to steal back his hood and she brings Mary-Jane Watson along for the ride.

It’s another fun heist book from part of the team that brought us Black Cat, with colorist Erick Arciniega and letterer Travis Lanham along for the ride. Behind all that fun and danger and heisting is something else though, something even more important.

For most of her existence, Felicia has been a supporting character in the story of Peter Parker. Either as an antagonist or a love interest or a bit of both depending on the day of the week. For the past few years, though she got so much more development and grew so far beyond those confines of a supporting character, with the ending of her book, the reality is that she’ll likely begin to slip back into that role. What MacKay does here though is push the idea, quite directly and wonderfully, that Felicia is “not a footnote in anyone’s life” as Mary Jane put it so eloquently.

Felicia is a character that does not and never should be fit into any box, and it feels great to get to see that acknowledged here by the character and part of the team that was responsible for growing the character so much. They got to put a stamp on it while gracefully handing the character back to Amazing Spider-Man or wherever she might show up next. What MacKay, Villa, Reber, Delgado and others did was create a version of Black Cat so large and out there that seeing her in the middle of dire events right alongside Captain America or Iron Man or others doesn’t feel strange at all. It feels 100% absolutely correct.

Villa brings the same dynamic energy to this issue as he did with all the work on Black Cat, making all the action scenes, as well as the character-focused scenes, look truly awesome. There is just an inherently fun energy to Villa’s work, no matter what the given story happens to be. Facial expressions and body language help sell so much of the story, and Villa nails them every time. Just in the first few pages, we get so many great emotional shots of Felica, MJ, and Parker that cannot be mistaken about how they feel in the moment.

One aspect of art that I’ve come to appreciate so much more these days is the paneling style that any given artist might use. The way they set up the flow of the story, the use of close-ups, breaking barriers with panels over panels, use of white space as borders, etc. There is a lot of great work in that regard these days and Villa’s might be one of my favorites. There is just this distinctive energy to the way he lays things out that instantly made this book visually feel like the coda for the Black Cat series.

At the end of the Black Cat book, there were a lot of bright popping colors mixed well with dark shadows from Reber’s colors, and we get something similar from Arciniega here. There are some of the brighter colors but at the same time, there are a bit more of the overarching dark shadows that loom around this story, for good reason.

As this is a heavier story at the moment the weightier somewhat dulled shadowy tones that Arciniega brings to the page fit the story. Felicia and Mary Jane are colorful characters with colorful personalities, and Arciniega makes sure they stand out compared to even the costumed criminals they go up against here which is a really neat touch. This is their story, and we can see that on every single page.

Another way all these varied personalities get their moment to shine is through their dialogue and the lettering that brings that to life. Lanham has a fun style that keeps fonts somewhat similar for normal dialogue (different for demons and others) but there are little bits of flair that make Felicia and Mary Jane’s voices different from one another and from all the other assembled characters. Down to the always great visual of Tombstone’s whispery gravelly voice that is depicted fantastically here.

The black of the caption boxes and the stark white font for Felicia’s thoughts are always a nice touch and should just be her thing always no matter who is guiding the character. Comic book SFX are 100% necessary and welcome in my book and we get some fun ones here rife with all the dark but bright and fun energy that comes with the book.

This era of Black Cat might have come to an end, for a second time, but the energy and the fun and the character work that we got to witness will always remain with us. Felicia Hardy is not a footnote in anyone’s life, not even ours.

Mary Jane & Black Cat: Beyond #1 is now on sale in print and digitally from Marvel Comics.

%d bloggers like this: