The story begins with Felicia getting a phone call from an old friend in NYC concerning the possible disappearance of another friend, and she sets off to come back to her old stomping grounds to see what she can dig up—sadly, this is said right at the time when the reader is shown said friend’s body in a dumpster. During the exact same time, Spider-Man investigates the overdosed death of one of his honor roll students, and, eventually, the two track down the same person believed to be responsible for both incidents: a young flavor-of-the-month movie star who has a thing for teenage boys. As they confront the man, he suddenly dies from a heroin overdose, as does his paid beard...but with no evidence of either shooting up or snorting “the ‘ron” (as Spider-Man likes to say).
A distant voice from an off-the-hook phone is heard, saying that he killed the two would-be junkies. The scene then switches to one of the most influential and important people in NYC, Garrison Klum, hanging up his cell phone while his name is announced behind him at an award ceremony. Not long after comes in Scorpia, trying to kill him and his brother during the reception, thus grabbing the attention of the skyscraper-swinging duo. Peter and Felicia expertly de-tail the assaulting Scorpia and are congratulated by Klum, and allow for the two sides to finally begin colliding together: Peter recognizes Klum’s voice from the phone conversation earlier.
Knowing, but not having any proof, eats away at Felicia, especially when Peter wants to sit back for a couple of days to make sure they get that proof. Feeling as though she can bring him to justice without any solid evidence, Felicia tries to bust into Klum’s apartment, but soon finds herself incapacitated by a large overdose of heroin inserted directly into her bloodstream...via teleportation. It turns out that Klum can teleport small amounts of liquid anywhere he wants to, including cooked up heroin straight into the bloodstream of his customers, so as to avoid being tracked back to him due to an unfortunate soul who buys it. Now, under the influence of more heroin than can possibly be good for her, Felicia is subject to Klum’s unhealthy desires, and he makes it seem as though he’s about to rape her.
A couple of days pass and we find Felicia in jail for the murder of Klum. Matt Murdock is hired as her lawyer by Peter, and it becomes evident that Felicia was not raped or responsible for Klum’s demise; however, when the two heroes of NYC go to break her out of Ryker’s Island, they’re met with Klum’s brother, Francis, who has telekinesis, as well as teleportation powers. Falling victim to the younger Klum’s powers, Daredevil and Spider-Man start dishing it out on one another while Francis escapes with Felica in tow.
Francis explains to Felicia atop one of the main bridges in NYC that he was picked on a lot as a child, but that his brother looked out for him. It is then shown that the other reason the elder Klum saved Francis was so he could have leverage over the younger brother, using the fact that he kept the bullies away as a bargaining chip for when he molested Francis. This continued for several years, until the two of them started in the drug trafficking business, using teleportation to transport the drugs directly into their clients’ bodies with no evidence; however, shortly after building their empire to the present-day size, Garrison appears to want to continue his molestation of Francis, to which the younger sadly capitulates. When Garrison attempts to rape Felicia, Francis could no longer stand by and watch his brother destroy another innocent life and teleports himself into Garrison’s body, killing him in a most horrific fashion.
At this point Felicia tries to get Francis to turn himself in, saying that no one would blame him given what his brother has done to him over the years. Feeling as though Felicia is just trying to get him to let her go, Francis tells her that she couldn’t possible understand what happened to him: oh, but how wrong he was, when it is revealed that Felicia was raped when she was in college. She tells him how a man she thought was right for her took her virginity from her when she tried to get him to stop, and how the event made her feel as though it was her fault. Felicia goes on to explain that she decides to exact revenge on him by training in martial arts, combat moves, and self-defense courses so she may one day kill him...only to have him die by a drunk driver the same day she was ready to strike. Full of energy with no outlet, she turns to crime, and, thus, the identity of the Black Cat is born.
After telling her story, Felicia is nearly able to get Francis to turn himself in, but Peter—thinking he’s about to throw her off of the bridge much like the Green Goblin threw Gwen Stacy off of a roof—launches an attack on the man. Believing that Felicia was only stalling her until Peter arrived, Francis refuses to turn himself in and ends up falling off of the bridge, but teleports himself away before he hits the water. Unbeknownst to either the Black Cat or Spider-Man, Francis survives, though horribly disfigured, and pledges to exact his revenge by taking on the mantle of Mysterio (thus leading up to a storyline within the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man title).
Personal Observations & Reactions
From what I’ve read in comics thus far, there hasn’t been much exploration or development concerning superheroes being sexually assaulted. I’ve seen plenty of villains give a flashback about how they were molested or raped and use that as an excuse for their criminal and maniacal behavior, but I can’t think of many on the good side of the line who have dealt with it. However, the Black Cat is one of them, and I can honestly say that I didn’t see it coming until it was revealed; Smith did a great job of hiding the backstory until nearly the very end of the series, as well as letting it weave into her character as a great reason for some of her past activities and present attitudes.
I especially enjoyed how Smith showed the two sides of Felicia’s feelings concerning her rape: part of her wanted it to all go away, to make it disappear, but the other part wanted to make sure that it never happened to him (or anyone else) again, and took matters into her own hands. During her recitation, she tells how studies show 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted, then goes on to say how another study gives the figure at 1 in 9; however, it’s when she relates how she wouldn’t care if it were 1 in 4 million, the number would still be unacceptably high in her opinion. But, she only relates the numbers concerning women; what about the numbers concerning men? While it’s not nearly as widely reported as women, there are men who are raped and molested—the survivors just tend not to report it, because of the social and emotional stigma that is present.
Looking at Francis Klum’s background and personal experiences, I can identify in some way with him: I was picked on as a child, bullied, even beat up a few times because I was different. If someone had come to my rescue, would I not idolize that person; would I not want to show that person how grateful I was? Many may wonder just how Francis could allow his brother to molest him, but it’s not as though there’s always a choice to stop it; it’s not always possible to stop such an action, physically or psychologically, and the ramifications can be devastating to the survivor (and, sometimes, to the perpetrator).
Smith didn’t write an evil character with Francis Klum; he wrote a character that did some evil things due to the circumstances of his life. He did a superb job in showing Francis’ shame and desire to leave the past alone and how he felt trapped by his circumstances, but he also showed Francis willing to stand up and stop the abuse from happening to someone else—even if not under the most ideal of circumstances for either him or Felicia. If not for Peter’s intervention, Francis probably could have come to terms with his past and progressed toward a healthier mindset—but, Peter’s intervention shows just how easy it is to push away that olive branch in the guise of indignation or feelings of betrayal. Francis felt utterly betrayed by Felicia, telling her a story that he’d kept buried for his entire life, allowing himself to actually trust someone—and then he gets punched in the face by the Amazing Spider-Man; not a very welcoming experience.
Although it’s a relatively short series, and there was a huge gap between the first and second half due to Smith taking a hiatus to finish writing it, I consider this series to be something that everyone should read to better understand not just Felicia’s background, but the impact that sexual assault and molestation have on a person even decades after it first happens. It’s not gory or gritty, and the visual and emotional content is acceptable for the PG-13 crowd and, perhaps, younger, but it gives a much needed exposition about how serious these situations can affect a person. Trust me when I say this: there are more people out there who have experienced these kinds of situations than are reported, and they need to know that they’re not alone, and that people will listen, even if the person they talk to hasn’t experienced it themselves.