It’s no secret I love Peter and Mary Jane together. Their relationship was the foundation of all the Spider-Man comics I read as a kid, getting into Spider-Man the year before they got married. Heck, the very first image on the very first page of the very first Spider-Man comic I ever had (Web Of Spider-Man #12) was Peter and Mary Jane standing together, in the remains of his ruined apartment. For me, they’ve always been Marvel’s power couple (sorry Reed and Sue) and a testament to love’s power to endure all things. I still resent Marvel for breaking them up in 2007’s contrived “One More Day” storyline. Boo. HOWEVER, despite my eternal love of Peter and Mary Jane there’s just something about the Black Cat. She’s an incredible character and she balances Peter in an important way. After Mary Jane, no one’s close to Felicia Hardy in my favorite love interests for Peter – not even Gwen Stacy. And, despite my love of Mary Jane, I think Felicia fits with Peter in a way none of his other love interests can.
GASP. I know, right?! Here’s what I mean.
First appearing in 1979’s The Amazing Spider-Man #194, Felicia Hardy was something of Spider-Man’s answer to Catwoman. Felicia’s father was a world-renowned cat burglar and, when she grew up, she followed in his footsteps taking on the identity of the Black Cat. At first she entered Spider-Man’s world as a villain but, as the ‘80s progressed, she and Spidey fell in love. Their relationship would take center stage, particularly in Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, starting in 1983 with her reentering Peter’s life in issue #74 until they eventually (and sadly) broke-up over two years later in issue #100. Even though they didn’t work as a couple, Felicia stayed by Peter’s side as a friend and one of his closest allies. As a kid I saw the Black Cat help Spider-Man fight everything from Spider-Slayers to Carnage’s homicidal maniacs on parade as he tried to burn New York to the ground. I loved that Peter had someone in his life whom he could trust, with both parts of himself, to fight by his side!
No matter how well Peter connects with Mary Jane or Gwen Stacy or Betty Brant they can never share this side of his life. Spider-Man will always come between them and potentially put them in danger. But the Black Cat fell in love with Spider-Man and she suited up beside him every night. She was a woman he could go to the movies with (even if that was never really Felicia’s style) or defend New York from Doc Ock with. I loved that about her – as his girlfriend and as his friend. I still do.
You may be able to imagine how sad I was when my first experience of Felicia upon returning to comic reading was seeing her face off against Miles Morales as the new Queenpin of Crime. I think my mouth actually dropped open when I was reading Spider-Man #2 and saw she was bad again. I was so sad! And she wasn’t just bad…she’d taken Wilson Fisk’s place!!! It hurt my heart. She had returned to her villainous ways! What the heck happened to Spider-Man comics after I left?? Peter and MJ sold their marriage to the Devil and now Black Cat was a criminal again. C’mon Marvel! That’s messed up! Thankfully, Felicia was suiting up alongside Peter (and co.) in the “Venom Inc.” storyline again. And while she doesn’t seem good per se in The Amazing Spider-Man’s current storyline, she’s certainly good-ish and I’ll take it. She’s there to help Spider-Man at least and that makes my heart happy again.
Despite the way Felicia balanced Peter so well they weren’t a perfect couple. First, she was always far more in love with Spider-Man than she was with Peter Parker. She struggled to accept his “boring, normal” life. She was drawn to the adventure of the Spider! She wasn’t ready for the man. This led to one of the saddest moments any Spidey comic’s ever had. When Peter finally takes Felicia to his Chelsea St. apartment and unmasks for her in Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #87, it doesn’t go well.
How sad it that?!? I remember reading it as a kid and feeling sad but having trouble wrapping my mind around where the sadness was coming from. I couldn’t understand Felicia’s reaction…I just knew she was shocked and sad and Peter was sad too. Now, as an adult, I understand what goes on between them – Felicia having her idealized vision of her lover burst by reality and Peter dealing with the woman he loves rejecting the other side of him – and it makes the scene all the sadder. However they love each other enough to work through it and that is something I appreciate even more as an adult too. Their attraction is too strong to walk away from and their feelings for each other have grown beyond that sexual attraction too. There’s a relationship there worth fighting for now, for both of them.
The Black Cat and Spider-Man found a natural chemistry and instant romantic/sexual tension with each other. Even when she is still robbing museums and he’s trying to catch her they can’t stop flirting! Nor can they get the other out of their head. Is it ideal for a superhero and a cat burglar to be so attracted to each other? Um, nope. It’s a BAD IDEA. But it doesn’t matter because their chemistry is too strong and the attraction is too fun for either of them to walk away. Plus, the heart wants what the heart wants, you know?
In this way, the Black Cat represents the people in our lives who we pursue romantically even though we know they’ll be trouble. They aren’t necessarily world-ending trouble, but they’re trouble. At the very least, we know the relationship won’t be entirely smooth. No matter what hesitations we may have, what trouble we may sense, we can’t resist. They’re alluring all the same. Felicia’s flirty and fiery and far more dangerous and reckless than Peter would ever be on his own. But this isn’t all bad! Because of this, she pulls him outside of his usual bubble. Together, they become something more – and certainly something more fun. That’s the thing about relationships like this, good idea or bad idea, they’re fun. And no matter what your inner spider-sense may be telling you at the beginning or how you think it may end, you jump in with both feet anyway because it’s worth it.
In addition to all the fun and sexual chemistry, Felicia and Peter had the sort of relationship where because of – and not in spite of – their differences they were able to make each other more. Because of her love for Spider-Man (and then Peter Parker), Felicia went from an exceptional thief to an antihero and then eventually a full-blown hero (she’s shifted back and forth between those last two a lot but c’este la vie). Peter’s presence in her life made her more noble, more willing to sacrifice, more caring and compassionate. By the same token, because of his love for Felicia, Peter loosened up a little. He stepped out of his bubble and became more daring, more flirtatious, and more willing to embrace the fun in life as well as his own romantic and sexual needs. He dropped the pale of guilt hovering over his crime-fighting and enjoyed being Spider-Man. They helped each other become a more complete human being.
During their time together, Felica matures a lot with Peter. At first (as detailed in The Amazing Spider-Man #205) she looks to Spider-Man as a sort of surrogate father figure. This becomes a school-girl crush as she’s drawn to the thrill of adventure and mystery Spider-Man’s life brings. Eventually Felicia grows out of this and learns to authentically love Peter and embrace the responsibility superheroing brings. Peter, on the other hand, learns his time as Spider-Man doesn’t have to be a curse. It is part of who he is and he deserves to be loved for both parts of himself. He embraces the thrill and the fun of his life more fully because Black Cat shows him how. And he learns how to let someone else protect him, sharing the risk of his lifestyle. After her injury at the hands of Doctor Octopus in Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #75, Peter spends a lot of time telling Felicia to hang back. Ultimately he learns it’s her choice whether she wants to risk her life or not. She chooses to fight with her beloved and he comes to appreciate her being there to guard his back. They each grow as a result of their time with the other.
When their relationship eventually ends, Felicia Hardy becomes something else for Peter Parker. We all have these people from our past, too. She becomes (to paraphrase Sheryl Crow (and who though I’d get the chance to quote Sheryl Crow today?!?)) a favorite mistake. Yes, it didn’t work out. Maybe it never could have worked out. But damn it was a brilliant ride all the same. We all have failed relationships we regret or the people who have faded into the “someone I used to know” parts of our memory. Then there are the ones who carry the sting of resentment, hurt, betrayal, and loss. But there are also the people who we look back on with appreciation for all the fun and all the memories even though it was bound to fall apart. To return to Sheryl Crow for a minute, “My Favorite Mistake” was another one of those phrases/lyrics I didn’t fully get as a kid. But I sure do now. And Peter and Felicia find that in each other.
They were just so good together!!! Yes, I will now and forever hardcore ‘ship Peter and Mary Jane. I love them so much I used a phrase (“hardcore ‘ship”) I never imagined myself saying out loud, let alone writing. But now, over thirty years into my comic reading, I still love the idea of Spider-Man and the Black Cat. As a kid, I enjoyed her teaming-up with Spider-Man so much I tried to find any adventures of theirs together I could in the back issue boxes at Books Galore. Granted, this was before the internet made this sort of research easy so my method was to basically flip through the long boxes with The Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man in them until I found something with the Black Cat on the cover :). But it worked! The oldest story I ever tracked down with Spidey and the Black Cat together was The Amazing Spider-Man #204-5. But my favorites were the issues of Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man I could find. (which gave their relationship the spotlight in a way The Amazing Spider-Man didn’t). Felicia and Peter were always center stage there, flirting and fighting crime together.
I loved that “Spider-Man” wasn’t a burden for them. Felicia loved him as much for Spider-Man as she came to love Peter Parker. And she could share in that life too! Of all the women Peter’s loved, she’s the only one who could participate in the totality of Peter’s life (Okay, Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird did this recently in The Amazing Spider-Man but Felicia was the first and the only one for decades so I stand by what I said). Felicia could share all he does as Peter Parker and as Spider-Man. I love this because I love happy endings and this had the potential to be truly happy for Peter. Now, obviously, that wasn’t the case. Their relationship became more and more complicated until they eventually broke up.
It ended on a dark note too. Worried about how having no superpowers could endanger Spider-Man in a fight, Black Cat desperately sought powers of her own. The Kingpin gave them to her but they would ultimately prove a curse. Felicia gained the ability to affect probability, giving “bad luck” to anyone who attempted to harm her. However, as her powers grew they’d come to affect anyone around her, ultimately putting Spider-Man himself in danger. The Kingpin gave her what she wanted, knowing he’d destroy her relationship along the way. With this revelation, alongside the growing tension plaguing their relationship for months, Felicia and Peter went their separate ways. But I wonder if it ended from a narrative standpoint because there wasn’t the potential for enough drama. If Peter and Felicia worked and were together forever, they would have worked in all ways across the board.
Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh…what could have been.
Years later, Felicia and Peter would give their romance another shot. As those old familiar sparks start to ignite again, we see something beautiful happen. Peter is cautious, naturally. But he just…abandons himself to this thing between them. In so doing, he finds joy free from guilt. Think of what a beautiful blessing that is for a responsibility-obsessed, trauma-engulfed superhero like Spider-Man! And think of what a beautiful blessing a relationship like that can be for the rest of us. To put aside all fear, all sense of societal expectations, all weight given to ridiculous societal taboos and just be able to say, “I want this” – to own and pursue our own needs and wants and desires over and above our guilt and fear – changes everything. It’s as freeing as it is empowering.
Felicia gets this. She understands how difficult life can be. She understands we owe it to ourselves to take the moments of happiness we can find when they are presented to us. While society/culture/the world so often cautions deliberation and discernment and weighing pros and cons, she knows why we need to follow our heart, grab a good thing when it comes along, and revel in it! These are the experiences which make life worth living! This is hard for Peter to do. This is often hard for all of us to do. It can make us more than a little uncomfortable. But Felicia – and the thrill of the relationship offers – pulls Peter along all the same.
We see Black Cat help Spider-Man continue to grow as they enter their fun, flirty, friends with benefits thing. Following the Black Cat’s lead, Peter gives himself permission to just do what he wants. They flirt. They sleep together. They fight crime on the regular, too. They come together and have fun with the other whenever they want. And they do this with zero sense of possession over the other. When, as they battle some criminals on a quiet street one night, Peter tries to make Felicia jealous by referencing an old girlfriend he saw, she confidently tells him, “Sweetheart, you could tell me you ran into your wife today – s’no my business, baby. So long as when you’re with me, you’re with me…you can spend time with whomever.”
On the one hand, that can seem jarring. How couldn’t she care if he was married?! But that line captures so much of who the Black Cat is and what she sees in love. For her, love is free and without possession. It doesn’t mean she never gets jealous. It doesn’t mean she can’t wish things were different at times. That’s human. But she meets Spider-Man exactly where he’s at and she asks of him only what he is willing to give. That’s beautiful!
Love is not an exchange for her. I think that’s part of what keeps drawing the Spider back to the Cat. In her he finds a truly free (and romantic, erotic, exciting) experience of love. She doesn’t even ask him to tell her who he really is (because this story happens after Peter revealed who he was to the world, regretted it, and made a magical deal to make everyone forget who he is (…because comics)). The Black Cat accepts Spider-Man exactly as he is and asks nothing more of him. This sort of love can only be modelled by the truly courageous.
Yes, the comics present it as all fun and flirting. And it is! But if we see this as just being about sex, we’ve missed the entire point of what’s happening and ignored the history they share. The reader knows the depth of the feelings that exist between them. It’s never just about sex with Spider-Man and the Black Cat. They share so much more. So of course Peter keeps being drawn back to Felicia! Even when you know it’s not going to work, who doesn’t want all that fun and excitement wrapped in a relationship where you can be who you are and do what you want free from guilt and judgment?
As their relationship progresses, Spider-Man begins to worry. It failed before. They got hurt before. Won’t it happen again? But none of that matters to the Black Cat. She assures Spidey all they need do is live in the moment and follow their passion. Felicia sees the beauty of what lays before them, “Here we are with a miraculous second chance to have a little fun if we just let go enough not to screw it up.” Skeptically and worriedly Peter asks, “And how do we do that, Miss Relationship Expert?” She tells him, “Just be who we are. Two consenting superheroes with a little history having a little fun one night at a time…maybe an afternoon if we’re not busy punching someone in the face. Nothing more. Nothing less.” And she promises him, “It is easy, Spider. Easy as falling, baby.”
Can it be that easy? Can we just let go and fall? Simple as that? Well, with those partners like the Black Cat it can be. Again, Peter is worried. Again he knows this will be trouble. But again, he lets go. He jumps. He falls.
Often the friends with benefits trope ends with the couple a) finding a full-blown committed romantic relationship together or b) breaking apart amidst all sorts of emotional agony, mixed signals, and mismatched emotions (in real life I’d bet it’s far more of the latter). But that doesn’t happen here. The Black Cat and Spider-Man just keep doing this thing with each other…until they stop. There’s no anger. No animosity. No broken hearts or hurt feelings. They are meeting each other’s physical needs. They are supporting each other emotionally and professionally (as they continue to superhero together). They are enjoying their time together – and all they are asking of the other is their presence in the moment. Their relationship is sincerely obligation-free. This is true possessionless love. It shows us how fun, freeing, and fantastic love can be – even when it doesn’t work out (again). And that’s why we always jump in, even when we know what we’re getting into.
At the end of the day, what I love most about the Black Cat being in Spider-Man’s life is, with her there, he isn’t alone. Peter has someone to love him (romantically or platonically) who is able to watch his back in battle. So often Spidey’s a solo act and that sort of life wears on someone. He carries the weight of the world on his shoulders and it’s sad to see Spider-Man always suffer losses and struggle to survive on his own. But with Felicia there, he doesn’t have to be. She balances him. She pushes him. She protects him. And their chemistry is undeniable. Together, they are just about perfect.
This is the first post in a li’l series exploring romantic archetypes using Spider-Man comics! If you’d like more of this, check out:
Spider-Man and Mary Jane: Soul Mates? (Y/N/Maybe) for an examination of Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship, with a focus on the question of Soul Mates as well as the classic romantic tropes of the will-they-won’t-they and best-friends-first relationships.
Spider-Man and the Spider Family: A Look At What Might Have Been… to contemplate the “What if…?” people we think of when we consider our romantic “what might have been”s care of the alternate reality series The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows.
Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy: All the Beautiful Angst of First Love to consider how Gwen Stacy has far more significance than just “the girl who died” and how her relationship with Peter perfectly presents all the awkward, cringy, and still oh-so-magical moments of the first time we fall in love.
Spider-Man and Silk: You Gotta Love A Physical Attraction looks at Peter and Cindy Moon’s relationship as an example of those people who inexplicably turn us on. The attraction, the draw to these people, is like a force of nature, completely beyond our control. It’s fun buuuut complicated without romantic feelings, too.
Spider-Man and Captain Marvel: The Super Friend Zone which uses the one date Peter and Carol Danvers went on as the frame to examine the friends we’re attracted to, the nature of “the Friend Zone,” and what we do when, consequences be damned, we start to feel a li’l romantic chemistry percolating in a platonic pairing.
Spider-Man and Betty Brant: Complicated Affairs of the Heart uses one of the oldest characters in Spider-Man’s character history to explore everything from first crushes and first dates to the confusing pull of falling in love with someone who’s married.
Spider-Man and Michele Gonzales: Hook-Ups, Hang Ups, and Bad Habits and explore how all the personal problems and issues and baggage we have that we refuse to acknowledge/own/see can hurt our ability to make it work with a really fantastic partner, as well as what happens when we meet someone who calls us on all our shit.
Spider-Man and Mockingbird: The Allure of the Workplace Romance looks at Peter’s relationship with Bobbi Morse during his time as CEO of Parker Industries to consider why we are so drawn to the workplace romance…and what awkwardness may be waiting for us if it doesn’t work out.
Spider-Man and Jessica Jones: Harkening Back to the High School Crush opens the door to reminisce about allllllllllll those awkward, anxiety-filled high school crushes we had and could never find the courage to act on while also considering the influence we may have on all the people we hardly know who come in and out of our lives.
Spider-Man and Jean DeWolff: The Lonely Echo of Unrequited Love is a sort of mirror to the cute-anxious experience of the crushes we don’t voice in high school, as it examines the very real pain we can carry in our hearts when we love someone who has no idea how we feel nor loves us back in the way we love them.