There was a glimmer of hope for progressive superhero fans today: Anonymous industry sources say there might be a female-led flick in Sony's Spider-Man franchise. That's the good news. The bad news: If those reports are to be believed, it's extremely likely that the movie will be about longtime Spidey supporting character Black Cat. After all, her alter ego, Felicia Hardy, was notably introduced in this year's The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Please, Sony, don't do this to us. Black Cat is boring, her depictions are usually misogynist, and her movie would likely be a step back for women in costumes, not a leap forward.
The character pounced onto the comics scene in 1979's Amazing Spider-Man No. 194 and immediately fell into a mold that was already tired by that point in comics history: a slinky, busty, morally ambiguous woman in a revealing outfit who's largely defined by her gender and uses her feminine wiles to seduce the male protagonist. In that issue, readers met Felicia Hardy, the saucy daughter of an imprisoned cat burglar who has the power to bring bad luck on anyone near her. (Naturally, she wore a skintight catsuit that left nothing to the imagination.)
Her debut was filled with cringe-inducing moments, such as Felicia throwing Spider-Man off his game by stroking his chest and saying "How could little me ever escape you? You're so strong, so powerful," and Spidey kicking her in her lustily drawn posterior while exclaiming, "Oh, mind if I 'butt' in, cat?" Oy.
Series writer Marv Wolfman claims he didn't base the character on DC Comics' feisty sometimes-criminal Catwoman. While that may have initially been true, subsequent stories have reduced her to a ripoff of Catwoman's lamest qualities. Y'know, dumb cat puns, teaming up with the hero, making erotic poses, executing high-stakes robberies, firing off sexy come-ons, that sort of thing.
Take, for example, 2009's Amazing Spider-Man No. 607, in which Felicia spends about half her time either making out with or flirting with Peter (at one point, when some bad guys show up just before a kissing session, she remarks, "Damn it. I hate fighting when I'm frisky"), and makes wisecracks about her "female intuition" while mugging with her cleavage in the reader's face. Or 2010's Black Cat No. 1, in which she and Spidey bone, the penciler gives us an ample view of her lacy thong, and she gleefully goes shopping in a miniskirt and stiletto boots. Those are two examples picked at random, but pick any story with her in it and you're likely to find the same bullshit.
Of course, creators have occasionally presented vaguely interesting slants on Black Cat. In the early 2000s, Kevin Smith (yes, that Kevin Smith) wrote a miniseries called Spider-Man / Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do, in which we learn that Felicia was raped as a young woman and derives much of her aggressive personality traits from that experience (although giving a woman her raison d'etre in the form of sexual violence is more than a little questionable when analyzed through a feminist lens). Writer Mark Waid gave her a lot of fun dialogue in a Daredevil crossover story a couple of years back. There are plenty of story lines where she's somewhat fun in a supporting role. And the upcoming Sony flick is rumored to be written by a woman, Lisa Joy Nolan, so perhaps she'd prevent the tale from getting too gross and sexist. But don't hold out too much hope. The character is sort of rotten from the core.
Unfortunately, Sony is in a bit of a tough spot here, no matter how good their intentions are. There aren't many great female superheroes in the Spider-Man orbit, and those are the only Marvel characters they have access to. "But what about Spider-Woman?" you (if you're a comics nerd) might ask. Well, Spider-Woman, a.k.a. Jessica Drew, is indeed a totally awesome character who has been written with a bold feminist angle in recent years, but her name is misleading: She was introduced in a non-Spider-Man story line; her backstory has nothing to do with him; and she has very rarely overlapped with Spidey — all of which means Sony might not have have the rights to her. Deadline tossed around the idea of a Silver Sable movie, but Sable has barely been used in the past 15 years, has no superpowers, and is generally considered a useless relic of the '80s fad for mercenaries with huge guns. They could always do what Brian Michael Bendis did in the alternate-reality Ultimate Spider-Man series and have Gwen Stacy come back to life as a zombie possessed by the murderous Carnage symbiote … but that doesn't seem particularly likely.
Perhaps a Black Cat movie will come out and it'll be great. I'd love to be proven wrong. But when people talk about wanting a female superhero movie, they all too often forget that such a movie would not be the first female superhero movie. Remember Catwoman and Elektra? A comics-licensed flick starring a woman does not necessarily mean a feminist victory. I hope I'm wrong in my estimations here, but as Felicia Hardy would readily tell you: When the Black Cat shows up, your luck usually runs out.