In Hell, I’ll Be In Good Company: Reviewing ‘Mary Jane & Black Cat’ #1
by Scott Redmond
‘Mary Jane & Black Cat’ pairs the two women that are friends and share a certain web-swinging hero in common, pitting them against the demonic forces of a hell dimension in a spectacular character-focused beginning to this ‘Dark Web’ tie-in series. Anything that features Black Cat in the last few years has been instant gold and this series is no exception. It showcases just how top-tier both of these characters truly are and why they need to have even more time in series that takes them away from the large shadow of Spider-Man.
New York City has gone straight to Hell, of sorts, and Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat, is caught right in the middle. Felicia has been enjoying a steady stream of mini-series continuing her adventures since the end of her main series, and now with her Iron Man adventure behind her, it’s time to once again team up with the wonderful Mary Jane Watson.
I’m quite behind on the current Amazing Spider-Man series and have yet to dig into anything else Dark Web related, the event where Madelyne Pryor/Goblin Queen & Ben Reilly/Chasm brought the hell of Limbo on New York, but per usual Jed MacKay made sure that wasn’t a hindrance to this story. We get references to what is happening in the main stuff and that within the Spider-Man series at some point Felicia and Peter are a couple again, a secret she’s keeping from Mary Jane since she and Peter had some mysterious break-up/rift between them, and the status of Mary Jane overall. They’re all peppered in well enough that they don’t leave confusion but instead intrigue, and really the way that MacKay always writes Felicia is so powerful that it makes everything work out.
This is an event tie-in series so there is a ton going on and a lot of moving pieces, and some well-used cameos such as the armored Avenger, but it never feels overwhelming. It’s pretty smoothly moving along, and the character work is top-notch as we see Felicia and Tony bouncing off each other again but namely the back and forth between Mary Jane and Felicia as they both harbor powerful secrets.
Throwing two characters like Felicia and Mary Jane into a realm like Limbo where they are completely out of their element is storytelling gold. Demons are not the usual day-to-day for either of them and MJ’s seemingly unpredictable power might not be as helpful as she would hope, while Felicia has skills that might not translate as well to this space. Especially when the classic former ruler of the realm Belasco comes strolling into play.
Speaking of Belasco, the visual of his return with him wearing flayed skins the same way that tons of us wore our sweaters/hoodies around our waist in the 90s is beyond fantastic. Such a solid logical redesign for this character that hasn’t shown up quite enough in recent years. Vincenzo Carratú and Brian Reber are the duo behind this visual and all the rest of the issue.
Carratú’s style is super detailed and heavy feeling with a ton of dynamic movement and slickness to it. Characters 100% feel like they are in motion through the pages just from the way that they are drawn and the energy around them but also the way that the panels are structured and move around the page. Over the two years of writing these reviews, I’ve come to realize more and more just how much power something simple as changing how panels look or are placed on the page can add so much to the overall movement of the story.
Color-wise, Reber does some really great work here with two different palates sharing space. What I mean by that is how in much of the issue the overall city and spaces have a sort of more ‘normal’ tone-down style to their colors. We get some brighter pops of color here or there for buildings that happen to be brick red or other such colors. Everything else though from the Limbo demons to the heroes/characters is colored in far more vibrant ways that make them stand out from their surroundings. As they should since they are larger-than-life elements starring within a real city that we know in our world, basically following the whole world outside your window theme of Marvel.
There are a number of pages where the vibrant nature of some of the colors is just so huge and makes everything stand out so much. Like where we get the whole page of Mary Jane using her powers to escape the demonic water tower. All of this flips a bit once they are in Limbo because there the colors take a wide turn since it’s a more fantastical place itself so the characters and their powers fit the world, even more, color-wise.
It’s a given that if Ariana Maher’s name is on the credits of a book, the lettering work is going to be next level. Not only can Maher capture personality and energy within any bit of wording, dropping in all the best ways to set tone/volume for any moment, but she also makes it as much of a powerful star on the page as the rest of the artwork. A lot of that is done through placement, making sure that bubbles and boxes are used accordingly and slide around between the artwork to make the most impact. Dropping in big bold colorful right at the moment SFX adds another layer because just like the adjustments done to the dialogue fonts, it lets us hear things happening on the page as they are meant to be heard.
Alongside the main story, we have a quick backup piece from MacKay, Michael Dowling, Reber, and Maher. Felicia spinning a yarn at the poker table with other heroes about how she claims to have stolen Doctor Doom’s mask is hilarious. As she makes claims it allows an exploration of some of the realms and characters that make the Marvel Universe so unique and wide. MacKay always comes across as having great fun with Felicia and here he gets to dig deep into the Marvel Universe, pulling off some really great bits leading up to the final reveal.
Dowling just has such a light and gorgeous art style that can be deep on details in some spaces but in others, it eschews that detail in order to focus on the moment. Such as Felicia punching a Nazi or kissing people or stomping on Kang. What is happening behind it is almost out of focus in some spaces because it matters but doesn’t matter at the same time. Reber matches the energy here with a color palette that is similar to the main story but goes for far more vibrancy overall since Felicia is telling such a fantastical story.
Just like in the main story, Maher hits all the right notes with lettering in the second story, adding little flairs that help sell Felicia’s storytelling as we can hear it in her overall ‘voice’ all the way through. Love seeing big, huge fonts in a bubble for someone yelling, and never tire of someone shouting out a name that comes out in the exact shape of that character’s logo. Comic books are just so great like that.
Mary Jane & Black Cat #1 is now available from Marvel Comics.