Monday, January 9, 2012

Amazing Spider-Man Presents: Black Cat #1-#4

*** (three of five stars)

Felicia steals some rings from a jewelry store and, in the process, encounters Spidey.  After a little "special hugging" in an abandoned hotel, Spidey returns all the rings, except the one Felicia hid, which she brings to her fence, Ernst.  He identifies it as Russian, which piques Felicia's interest, since Peter had mentioned during their romp that he's been having nightmares in Russian.  Ernst mentions the Imperial Fabergé Collection is coming to a local museum and asks Felicia if she wants a job; she declines and takes the ring with her while Ernst searches for a buyer.  In a flashback, Kraven's wife, Sasha, talks with a young man named Vasili, whose family were housekeepers to Sasha's family.  She shows a ledger he carries with him to her daughter Ana, commenting how it contains a listing of the family's treasures that were stolen by the Bolsheviks.  Back in the present, a copy-cat robber is making Felicia look bad.  She consults with her information broker, Byron, who informs her that the items the thief stole came from the collection of treasures of the former nobility that Stalin sold.  Felicia realizes someone is using these crimes as a way to get her to reveal herself and she (correctly) figures the thief will next strike at the Fabergé display.  Felicia intercepts the thief and "destroys" the egg he was trying to steal.  Spidey interrupts her as she pursues the thief because he thinks she stole the egg.  Furious at him, she tells him they're over. She returns to the museum the next day to retrieve the egg she "destroyed" and brings it to Ernst.  However, she finds Ernst dead and his phone ringing; the voice on the phone asks when the last time she "looked in on" her mother was.  Felicia races to her mother's only to discover that Vasili has been there first.  She calls the phone left for her and he informs her that she has seven days to steal a tiara in Bucharest.  Byron discovers that the tiara and all the previously stolen items are connected to the Kravinoffs, confirming Felicia's suspicion this affair has something to do with Spidey.  Meanwhile, Vasili shows Ana his latest trophy and, although she is pleased, she warns him that "initiative is only for alphas."

Felicia steals the tiara and leaves it at the appointed place and then follows Vasili after he picks up the item.  She has some heart-to-heart time on the phone with her kidnapped mother while she tracks Vasili to the storage locker where he's keeping his treasures.  Using her mother as messenger, she reveals to Vasili that she's at the locker and knows he still needs a sword.  Vasili returns to the locker and agrees to help Felicia get the sword, while one of Felicia's crew tracks where he's keeping Felicia's mother (the Kravinoff estate in upstate New York).  While Felicia and her crew are preparing for the theft, she gets a call from Vasili, who's angry her mother was attracting attention by singing to calm her nerves.  The call makes Felicia realizes that the Kravinoffs don't know he has someone in his quarters.  Later, Felicia and Vasili empty the contents of his storage locker, including a crate containing Felicia, into a moving van.  Vasili brings the van to the museum where the sword is located and drops off the crate as a delivery (using forged authorization papers created by Felicia's crew); he then directs the van to wait at a nearby park.  Felicia exits the crate and steals the sword, but stalls while her crew, who were posing as the movers, "mistakenly" drive the van to the Kravinoff estate.  Chaos ensues at the unexpected delivery; meanwhile, Vasili double-crosses Felicia when she appears with the sword, locking her in the trunk of his car with the sword.  However, when he presents the sword and Felicia to Sasha at the estate, it's revealed the treasures have been switched with fakes, as has Felicia, who's being portrayed Tami, one of her crew.  Felicia frees her mom from the explosives while Tami and the "movers" distract the Kravinoffs.  She rigs the explosive set on her mom onto a glass gazebo, and Tami "accidentally" detonates the explosives when Vasili threatens her with the detonator.  Sasha drags Vasili with her to see what's happening while "the movers" pack up the crates and leaves with Tami.  Felicia reveals to Sasha that Vasili was in love with Ana, but decides not to let Sasha kill him.  They fight long enough for Vasili to escape and then Felicia leaves.  Felicia regroups with the crew and her mom (who hid in a crate that the "movers" packed into the van) to make sure everyone is OK, but departs to try to find Spidey and warn him about the Kravinoffs.  She fails to find him, but moves her mom into a new house and gives her a new identity.  She sees Spidey weeks later, and he tells her about the events of "Grim Hunt" and she explains why she had to lie to him to keep him safe.  She offers him Sasha's wedding ring, which she stole, and he asks her to keep it for him.  Later, Ana tracks down and kills Vasili and Cat is seen back in action, this time stealing Cap's shield, seemingly on his behalf.

The Review
This series is OK.  It was actually pretty fun to read, and the twists-and-turns were exciting and interesting...until you started thinking about them too much, which is when they sort of unraveled.  I'm not sure if Van Meter really pulls off the reveals the way we needed to buy all the surprises he packs in here.  Some twists -- like Tami subbing for the Cat in the trunk of the car or Felicia getting the dogs to trip the floor sensors in the Bucharest museum -- worked really well, because you could draw the logical conclusion of how they happened for yourself.  But, other twists -- like Felicia smuggling the egg from the museum or Vasili deciding to trust Felicia to move his entire collection -- left me wondering how or why they happened.  To be honest, I have the same problem with heist films; I spent most of "Ocean's Twelve" wondering what the hell they were doing.  It plagued the entire series for me, because I often found myself wondering if I had missed something or whey the characters were acting oddly, rather than enjoying the witty banter.  I was inclined to give it a two, but went with the three because it was a mostly enjoyable read, despite its occasional failings of logic.

The Good
1) I've always liked Pulido's work, and he's pretty great here.  His style really works well for the Cat and her actives movements.

2) Van Meter has the Cat's easy-going style down pretty well here.  Both her internal dialogue and her actual conversations are as cheeky and playful as you'd expect them to be. 

3) I loved Felicia's recitation of the security specs in issues #1 and #2.  So professional!

4) I hate Ana Kravinoff, but Van Meter totally gets her here.  I really enjoyed the way she told Vasili at the end that they had nothing against the Cat, because she was doing what she does, stealing.  It's totally a Kravinoff way of seeing the world and makes perfect sense.

The Unknown
I'm not sure how I feel about Felicia getting indignant that Spidey thought she stole the egg.  On one hand, I feel like Van Meter did a good job showing how it makes sense to Felicia, who clearly has a moral code, even if it's one that's not entirely obvious to the outsider.  Moreover, I also get that she carried it so far on purpose, because she was trying to keep Spidey from getting involved with people who might just be using her to get to him.  On the other hand, was it totally unreasonable for Webs to think she stole the egg?  Um, no.  Again, I'm not sure I buy it, but it merited comment, because it does go to the weird not-exactly-villain-but-certainly-not-hero world Felicia inhabits.

The Bad
1) Maybe it's because I'm not a master criminal, but I'm not 100 percent sure how Felicia smuggled the egg from the museum.  It clearly happens on the two-page spread where we see Felicia at the museum the day after the theft, but I can't figure out what happens.  We see the security guard check her bag and her asking where she can get the calendar of lectures, but I don't see her actually doing something.  Did she stash the egg by the desk where the calendars were?  Also, why would the security guard be checking people as they were leaving the museum?  It's not like they have security tags on Fabergé eggs.  I've never been frisked leaving a museum before.  Also, why would the guard let Felicia leave unchecked but not the others?  I'm sure I'm missing something obvious, but I just didn't get it.

2) Having read pretty much every Spider-Man comic over the last few years, I was stunned when I discovered this mini-series is tied into "Grim Hunt."  For a variety of reasons, I wound up reading this arc after "Grim Hunt," and I'm surprised that I never saw the prologue that we see here in any other book.  It's actually not insignificant, showing Madame Web's efforts to warn Peter that "The Gauntlet" is a coordinated series of attacks on him.  (I, of course, have issues with "The Gauntlet," but I think those are well-documented.)

3) Pet Peeve #2:  The introduction page in issue #2 is insane.  First, it's a phone that rings, not a walky-talky.  Second, we don't really know the Kravinoffs are after their treasures; we just (at least until this page) assume it.  Moreover, the introduction page in issue #3 hints at Vasili's romantic interest in Ana, something not made clear until later that issue.

4) Why did Vasili load all his treasures into the van?  I'm still not sure if it was because he wanted to deliver the entire to collection to Sasha on the "important day" or if the Cat convinced him to do it?  If it's the latter, how exactly did she convince him to box up his entire collection and trust it to a moving company he had never used?  I get that he's not a master criminal, but, seriously, a moving company recommended by the woman you're blackmailing to steal for you?  Really?  He can't be a total rube, since he did pull off robberies for five years before he had to call in the Cat for help.  This point probably shouldn't have been left that unclear.

5) Along those lines, why did Vasili never hang up the phone with the Cat after he finished speaking?  You'd think he'd know her mother would pass her information.  I mean, I get that he's not a professional criminal, but seriously even I would know not to do that.

6) Why was she stealing Cap's shield?  I mean, if it's because he asked her to do so because the charity was keeping it under lock-and-key, won't it be suspicious when he suddenly has possession of it again?

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