Black Cat: The Gilded City (#5 – 7) – Jed MacKay

2 out of 5

I’m having a gut reaction to this which is tanking the rating. Black Cat introduced me to writer Jed MacKay, and for the past couple years’ of issues of the book, I’ve been – more often than not – pretty blown away by it. Jed has navigated through one of the Big Two universes magnificently, jumping in to crossovers and including several major Marvel players without losing the spirit of his book; using the tried and true quippy-dialogue format of Marvel characters mapped to his own particular humor and pacing, and balancing an impressive emotional and human undercurrent for the book, and star Felicia Hardy, with big scale action and heist antics. Wanting more MacKay, I started collecting everything ‘tween then and now, plus reading other books he’s been writing at the same time. …And my guard rails went up. Some of the other books were good, but most of them were rather more generic. I began to worry for my precious Black Cat – that maybe this was the exception to the rule amongst the writer’s catalogue. And to be clear, that doesn’t make Jed’s output bad in any way, just, as mentioned, more typical; the kinda stuff that unfortunately doesn’t work for me on the whole, and keeps me away from Marvel and DC and similar toned books.

So I have that anxiety building up while waiting on new issues of Black Cat. The Gilded City – the (it seems) end point of all the heists MacKay has had the Cat working on for these years – had me hyped up to parallel that anxiety, because Michael Dowling was doing full art, and Dowling’s work had been one of the big draws from me at the start. …But back then, MacKay had used Dowling as an artistic counterpoint – flashbacks versus present stuff. And while The Gilded City makes excellent use of Dowling on the whole, the arc is also the point when Jed decided to “get real” with the book, and drop a serious tone on every thing. So Michael’s art is no longer tonally juxtaposed against anything; as gorgeous as it can be (and as cool looking as the main antagonist of the arc is, gorgeously colored by Brian Reber), I’m not sure it works for this style of story. That’s not to say that it can’t, but the scale of what Jed jams in to three issues is too compressed for Dowling’s wide-open style; combined with that sober tone, I just felt like I was reading a different book than the dozen+ preceding issues.

That was part of the gut reaction. The other part is maybe more direct: that this seriousness didn’t feel earned, and that the final, effected heist didn’t feel as clever as any of the other ones, and that the final pages felt somewhat out of character.

The Black Fox reveals what he’s had Hardy’s crew stealing all of these things for, and then shit gets world-ending serious for a page or so, and then Felicia figures a way out. From the top down, that fits within the contexts of the book, but it’s never fun like the other issues have been. Being serious can be a good thing, but this is going back to “the Marvel style:” you’ll be all repartee and then you have ‘a very special issue’ in which people are sad; I’d dug that MacKay had been running the two things rather concurrently, inserting a human vibe into an outlandish series, but trying to go all-in on the seriousness comes across as an overreach, and also cheap – the actions and reactions of Black Fox and Black Cat didn’t necessarily follow what we’d seen previously.

Oh well. MacKay held the title on for much, much longer than I would’ve expected, and it’s likely it’ll bounce back for some solid issues, but I’m also guessing this arc has pulled the rose-tint from my eyes, and it’ll be tough for me to appreciate the series as a whole in the way I had been. At least we’ll always have those first dozen or so issues.