Two Friends, A Demon, And A Sword: Reviewing ‘Mary Jane And Black Cat’ #4
by Scott Redmond
‘Mary Jane And Black Cat’ #4 moves the protagonists closer to the conclusion of their Dark Web/Limbo adventure, continuing to dig into the deep emotional and character well that has supported Black Cat’s various series so well the past few years. Slick, smooth, colorful, deep, powerful, are just a handful of words to describe how great this issue and series are as a whole.
When faced with imminent death at the tentacles and eye beams of an ancient demon being, friendship magic is crucial. Well actually reconfirming a friendship so that one’s bad luck powers stop interfering with a friend’s powers so that they can level up to reality-altering levels is crucial. Just ask Black Cat and Mary Jane Watson.
Turns out it’s time to eat my words. See, if you didn’t check out last month’s issue review, I might have started off with a whole section about not being a fan of the Felicia/Peter Parker relationship rekindling and how it plays out with the whole mystery of why Peter and Mary Jane are apart (and how she has kids and another partner and powers now). In that space, I heavily noted that my dislike of the relationship had nothing to do with the creative team of this series (which I’m a big fan of) or even the one over on the main Spider-Man series currently. Just wasn’t a fan of the relationship, the drama, and the turn of events.
Except, Jed MacKay did that thing he always does and puts the character and emotional elements at the forefront and bypassed anything cliché about Mary Jane learning Felicia’s secret. Not that I expected anything remotely cliché, that isn’t something that is in MacKay’s toolbox at all, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. This is what made it so much better to have this really great moment between the two as they argue, but only because Mary Jane is upset that Felicia would hide from her and curse her to bad luck when she could have just told her because they are friends, longtime friends.
Truly, I could read a book with these two bouncing off each other forever, because they are so similar but also so different and have such great energy when they are apart and when together. Mary Jane calling her out and them hugging it out because they don’t care and are pals and will not let Peter or anyone else define them or their lives, that’s the good stuff right there.
We even get the implication that Felicia might have made a potential sacrifice move with Belasco’s soul sword to protect MJ, to get her back to her kids, showing us how close they are, but also continuing what MacKay has done for years now of showing what Felicia’s true colors are as a human being. She’s a thief and can cross lines, but through and through she’s a good person who deeply cares for those in her life.
A story that is going to focus very heavily on two (and also S’ym, can’t forget our demon boy) characters having big emotional and developmental moments peppered between fantastical action and elements, needs that artistic team that will do it all absolute justice. That’s most definitely the case with this series as Vincenzo Carratú and Brian Reber keep doing just absolutely amazing things on these pages. A character like Felicia Hardy is very unconventional, fluid, and hard to pin down, and the way that Carratú lays things out really captures that energy. Panels on top of panels with others taking on ‘abnormal’ shapes, all creating a smooth visual style that also befits the altered nature of Limbo. Much of it is composed of closeups shots that showcase how well the emotions are being depicted, letting us truly feel what the characters are feeling in that moment.
Carratú plays with levels of depth and detail here. At times panels will show off a lot of what is behind or around characters, while in others the focus will narrow so that the character or moment is clear but everything else is essentially out of focus in a manner of speaking. That’s where the background becomes just a solid color (sometimes colors that match the color of whatever landscape we were seeing previously) which allows the character, action, or important moments to pop and stand out even more so that our focus is fully upon them.
Also want to specifically point out the guardian and MJ’s power usage here for one how just utterly disgusting and powerful and truly terrific that monster demon looks (those eyes!), and two for just how awesome that reality-altering almost Phoenix-like MJ looks on the page. Such power, such awesomeness!
In many of those aforementioned panels with the color background, we see more of the slightly more toned-down natural almost ‘drab’ landscape colors at play that shows off the roughness and toughness of Limbo as a Hell dimension. Reber has a color style that is very smooth and somewhat slick, able to really mix together a variety of tones/levels of colors. Everything to do with the characters, their powers, and their situation allows for some bright flashes of colors (blues, reds, etc.) making them and their surroundings easily differentiated. They are elements that don’t belong in this realm, and they feel that way, but not in a way that makes them so bright or stands out that they don’t work in the space.
A lot of those color choices make sure that this feels like a Hell dimension, almost like all hope and other positive elements have been drained away. Weaving a lot of the darker colors and especially the shadows through all things helps to achieve this feeling even more.
Visual distinctiveness applies to the lettering as well, especially when Ariana Maher is the one behind this element. There is always a clear way to tell how one should hear a character’s voice with any bit of dialogue, or even captions, because of the way that Maher makes sure that tone, volume, and more are instantly clear. Sizing font up or down to indicate volume, throwing some colorful (in this case red) borders to word balloons either to emphasize one moment of speech or set a character’s voice apart from another, and even stuff like good old jagged explosive word balloons. No matter how some talk or don’t talk about it, there is an art to lettering and Maher is truly one of the best out there because the energy that seeps out of it brings that comic book joy.
When one can perfectly ‘hear’ the sound of an action or the tone of a voice in their head as they read, able to grab the intent when combined with the rest of the artwork, that’s a sign of great awesome work. There will never come a time when a big giant SFX dominating a page or color comes into play with various lettering that I won’t stop and think about how much I love comic books as a medium. Overall, every member of this creative team achieves that in spades, because this is great comic books right here.
Mary Jane And Black Cat #4 is now available from Marvel Comics.