Marvel and DC comics love to copy each other. Though they might not like to admit it, they’ve been borrowing each other’s ideas for decades. Numerous characters from the two franchises share similar powers and origins: Namor and Aquaman, Sandman and Clayface, Thanos and Darkseid, and, perhaps most obviously, Felicia Hardy and Selina Kyle.

Critics frequently point out the striking similarities between the feline thieves to show how insignificant the copy-cat character is. Appearing almost forty years after her DC counterpart, Black Cat (aka Felicia Hardy) does, on the surface, resemble a second-rate Catwoman. Were it not for the white mane, she could undoubtedly pose as Catwoman and vice versa. Both are anti-heroes who use unsuspecting male heroes as romantic interests and adopted cats as their costumes’ mascots. They seem like perfect parallels, and in a lot of ways, they are.

Felicia hardy
SPIDER-MAN: BLACK CAT #1. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

But, on closer inspection, it becomes plainly evident that Felicia Hardy is more than just Catwoman’s shadow. She’s a sarcastic antagonist who isn’t afraid to flaunt her sexuality. She’s the shining example in comics of an independent woman who can find happiness outside of relationships. She may have claws and wear a black latex suit, but she isn’t Selina’s twin. She’s an influential female character in her own right and here’s why.

Claws Out

Felicia Hardy made her first appearance in 1979’s AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #194 as an inexperienced thief trying to break her father (a famous cat burglar) out of prison. Felicia meets Spider-Man during the mission and instantly finds herself attracted. From then on, Felicia and Peter Parker frequently find themselves lovingly foiling each other’s plans. As always in comics (and more broadly in fiction), it doesn’t take long for their flirtatious jokes to become more serious. A surprisingly balanced relationship blossoms…and then ends abruptly. Spider-Man becomes so enamored with Felicia that he decides to show her his true identity in SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #87. Unfortunately for him, Black Cat fell in love with Spider-Man and not Peter Parker.

Felicia hardy
SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #87. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Their relationship continues to crumble when Felicia undergoes surgery to gain superpowers (yes, that’s a thing that happens in comic books). Unbeknownst to her, the powers come from villain Kingpin’s lab and aren’t exactly Avengers-quality. The surgery grants Black Cat the rather useful ability to give those around her bad luck (and, in return, give her good luck). In a fight, Black Cat’s power is a blessing. In a relationship, it can trigger more than many inextricable arguments. Since then, Spider-Man and Black Cat’s relationship has had a million ups and downs, but, in recent times, the pair usually sticks to flirting.

Felicia Hardy’s Cat-titude

Though Marvel originally introduced her character as a romantic interest for Peter Parker, over the years Black Cat has become a character synonymous with independence, as seen in her numerous solo series including SPIDER-MAN: BLACK CAT and FELICIA HARDY: THE BLACK CAT. Spider-Man is still sometimes paired with the feline burglar (their relationship is still a popular one among fans), but her position as an autonomous character in comics has found solid ground. Felicia doesn’t really need Peter Parker anymore. Readers know her and like her with or without Peter. But the thing is, sometimes she still wants him — as a friend and as a lover. She just doesn’t need him. That’s the big difference.

There are essentially two kinds of women in comic books: those who hate romantic relationships and those who crave romantic relationships. The sexual orientation of the relationship doesn’t matter — just as long as it’s romantic. The stereotype that women are either fiercely single or obsessed with monogamy is a pretty common issue in other forms of fiction as well, but in comics, female characters are easily caught in this trap. Comic books relationships can be simple since, frequently, saving the world takes precedence over finding a SO. Writers rarely critically consider romance.

What makes a realistic female character?

Writing female characters who encompass both ends of the romantic spectrum is challenging, but it makes them more realistic. Black Cat doesn’t hate relationships, nor does she perpetually want to be in one. She’s content with either scenario and can find comfort both inside and outside of a relationship.

Black Cat Spider-Man
SPIDER-MAN/BLACK CAT #11. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

I’m not trying to say that Black Cat is a purr-fect character without any flaws when it comes to forming relationships. The argument that Felicia relishes living an unhealthy lifestyle is completely valid. She leads people on and seldom handles important decisions maturely. The thing is, it doesn’t matter if Felicia lives a picturesque life. What matters is that writers portray her realistically. She isn’t Wonder Woman because not everyone in comics can be Wonder Woman. Fiction should not have boundaries that keep only the “good” characters in print. Realism should be in print.

Looking Good and Feline Good

I’m about to bring up one of the most controversial topics in comics, so get out your pitchforks and torches now. Alright, here it goes: Felicia Hardy is an attractive female character who likes to have sex — and that is utterly okay. She also likes to wear revealing clothes. That’s part of her character and that’s perfectly acceptable.

So many female comic book heroes are sexualized for absolutely no reason beyond pleasing the audience. For those female characters, sexualized costumes and dialogues are out of character. Putting Sue Storm in that awful Fantastic Four one-piece in the 90s is an example of sexualizing a character who doesn’t have the personality to match. A female character who wouldn’t want to be portrayed in a sexual way shouldn’t be.

black cat and wolverine
CLAWS 2 #3. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Now, let’s look at Felicia Hardy. Unlike a lot of other female comic book characters, Black Cat is a sexual character who is exceedingly open about what she does. In the mini-series CLAWS (illustrated by Joseph Linsner and written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray), she’s the one who initiates a sexual relationship with Wolverine — not him. She’s not afraid to acknowledge that she enjoys having several sexual partners, which is a huge deal for a female character.

I know a lot of readers don’t like seeing characters like Felicia because they think she gives all female characters a poor reputation. But, actually, I think she does the opposite. Women should be able to dress and act the way they like without fearing severe labels. Felicia shows that females can be whoever they want to be. If she wants to dress or act a certain way, she can and so can you.

Always Stay Paw-sitive

Perhaps Black Cat’s greatest trait is her amazing ability to always remain confident and light-hearted. Like everyone in comics, she’s gone through some tough times, from being sexually assaulted in college to losing her father. Her life hasn’t been anywhere near easy and yet she’s never lost her sense of humor. It makes sense why Spider-Man and Felicia Hardy hit it off so well — they both love to laugh.

It’s sort of strange that she has this reputation because Felicia doesn’t look like someone who tells good jokes. She’s a thief who lurks the streets of New York looking for the next thing to steal. That description doesn’t exactly scream “friendly.” Female characters in particular rarely get to be funny since many writers assume a female hero can’t be sexy and funny at the same time (and they’d rather choose “sexy”). Deadpool, Iceman, the Flash, Beast Boy, and the Human Torch are all written with witty dialogue, but female characters pretty much never get that same treatment (excluding Squirrel Girl, of course). Crass humor, it seems, clashes too much with beauty.

black cat spider-man
SPIDER-MAN / BLACK CAT #3. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Thankfully, we somehow, against the odds, have Black Cat, who completely defies those norms. She’s a bluntly sexual character who is also hilarious. She doesn’t have to be a man to crack a joke about body parts or to banter with Spider-Man about the Green Goblin’s latest hair cut. Her willingness to be sexually appealing doesn’t mean she can’t snort when she laughs. She can be smart, sexy, funny, and creative and still be the same woman.

The Future of Felicia

In recent comics, Felicia Hardy alternates between being a “good guy” and being a “bad guy.” Some readers find this flip-flopping confusing, but I think it’s acceptable because it’s in line with her character. She struggles with making decisions and regularly fails to follow through with the ones she does make. She doesn’t have the same moral compass as Captain America. Just because she sometimes fights alongside the good guys doesn’t make her a good guy. With Felicia, that’s an important point to remember.

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