Black Cat vol. 2: Queen In Black (#1 – 3) – Jed MacKay

5 out of 5

I’ve already credited Jed MacKay with making it past the stumbling block for many first-time-series writers on Marvel and DC books (and Image and others, for that matter): delivering on a second or third arc that makes good on the promise of your first one. Jed’s worked on other single issues and mini-series prior to Black Cat, but I believe this to be his first ongoing, and his Ocean’s 11 heist-style shtick could, certainly, have run aground after the initial issues, except by smartly grounding things in character work – gasp! – and making sure that that shtick has a legitimate story driving it – double gasp! – the series remained consistently top-tier across a full year’s worth of issues and an annual.

But the real test, for any Big Two writer: the crossover. Put down your story ideas and hit pause for whatever event nonsense is going on in books that have very little to do with yours, and make sure to tie in to some calamity that makes zero sense in your character’s continuity. At best, these can be acceptable distractions, but more often they are throwaway issues, where your favorite hero can be swapped out with any other hero, and there will be some passing mention of what was going on in the series just prior to the event to prove that, like, we’ll get back to it.

The nearly impossible variant on crossover issues: to make them somehow seem like they were intended to be part of your series, and to make your featured character/s wholly matter. Yeah, granted, Captain America dropping an “only you can do this!” style line on Felicia Hardy when an alien symbiote named Knull has attacked the planet and killed / kidnapped all the heroes may seem a little cheeky, but it kinda matches with Cap’s image, and Jed reformats this in a way that makes sense: Dr. Strange is captured, and she’s going to “steal” him back. Just another high stakes heist for Black Cat and her gang.

It goes beyond that, though, weaving in and out of Hardy’s anti-hero way of processing the world’s sense of justice, and so the decision actually does make sense for her in the context of how Jed has presented her, and he crafts a dazzling mix of high-action and character banter and interesting inner monologue to get the job done. Furthermore, MacKay uses the overblown nature of a crossover event to go bigger in a way that would probably seem extreme during day-to-day Black Cat events – rampaging across the city in the Spider-Buggy, escaping from symbiotes, for example – thus properly upscaling without betraying the work he’s done elsewhere in the title. The contortions the story takes to get us from start to finish are fantastic, and even when a normal Marvel book would take a “break” for a full issue of splash page punches, Jed goes internal, and has Felicia processing what’s going on in a representation of her mental landscape, and it’s much more satisfying than some cool pinups would be.

Not that the art slacks in any way: C.F. Villa renders perfectly readable, dynamic, entertaining pages, whether it’s talking heads or mind-warping action or surreality, and colorist Brian Reber sticks to darker tones but doesn’t murk it up: every page shines with highlights. Sealing the deal, Jed works his way through quite a bit of narration, and letterer Ferran Delgado acefully lays this out on the pages, leading the eye and never getting in the way of the artistry.

No, Marvel, I’m not interested one iota in the King In Black series of which this is part, but MacKay (and his team) have given us the gift of crossover issues that will still be a heck ton of fun when everyone has forgotten about Knull, but is still reading Black Cat.