The Challenge Ahead for Sony's 'Black Cat' Movie

The newly in-development 'Spider-Man' spinoff might be too unlucky for its own good.
Amanda Conner/Marvel Entertainment

The news that Sony has dropped plans for Silver & Black in favor of solo movies for both lead characters — Spider-Man supporting characters Silver Sable and Black Cat — is somewhat complicated to unpack. That seems fitting for the undoing of a project that seemed difficult to fully comprehend when first announced.

On the one hand, it remains true that there’s little obvious crossover between the two characters — Silver Sable in comic book continuity is the daughter of a Nazi hunter; she became a mercenary in the U.S. while funneling her profits back to fund her home country (yes, really; even better, her real name is “Silver Sablinova”), while Black Cat is, as the name suggests, a Catwoman analog who later gains “bad luck powers” that make it a mistake to cross her path (again, yes, really). Their disparate origins made the idea of them teaming up for a movie somewhat unexpected, to say the least. On that level, at least, the idea of separating them and letting them exist in standalone movies is a good one.

Similarly, it’s a decision that can — and should — be applauded purely from the point of view of increasing the amount of women-led superhero movies. (Even better, Sony is also developing a Silk movie, based on the Korean-American heroine that debuted in 2014’s Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3, No. 1.) The response to last year’s Wonder Woman demonstrated how underserved that market is, and Sony rushing to fill that void feels like a smart move.

And yet, there remains the question of how to create the demand for either a Silver Sable or Black Cat movie. The former, at least, feels like an easier sell to the audience: At this particular moment in history, the appeal of a kickass woman, who also happens to have had her worldview shaped by her Nazi hunter dad, taking on the world should be obvious. Black Cat, however, is far more problematic.

It’s not simply that the Black Cat — a cat burglar that becomes a morally ambiguous, on-again, off-again romantic foil to the titular hero of the strip she appears in — so closely parallels DC’s Catwoman that even their secret identities seem analogous. (“Selina” becomes “Felicia”; the parallels are something that, curiously enough, was a surprise to the Black Cat’s creator, Marv Wolfman, who was apparently drew on a Tex Avery cartoon when coming up with the Marvel character in the 1970s.)

This, obviously, could present a problem when trying to promote the movie to noncomic book fans — “Yes, she’s a cat-themed villain, but not the one who fights Batman. Yes, there’s another one. No, it’s a different company. Yes, there is a Catman” — but we’re in a landscape where Thanos can be widely accepted by movie audiences despite being little more than a low-rent Darkseid with a fetish for gloves. It’s not an unsurmountable problem.

Instead, the bigger problem is that there aren’t really many Black Cat stories that aren’t really Spider-Man stories. There have been two solo Black Cat miniseries, in 1994 and 2010, although the second was literally titled Amazing Spider-Man Presents: Black Cat — but the significant stories concerning the character have all centered around her relationship with Peter Parker’s webheaded alter ego, and as a result, she’s a character that essentially ceases to exist outside of his orbit… which is a problem when the Sony movies don’t include Spider-Man in any way so far.

The same can be argued for Venom, of course, and Tom Hardy’s curious accent in the trailers proves that it didn’t prevent a feature from being made. Venom has two things over Black Cat, however; first, there’s more to the parasitic symbiote concept even stripped of Spider-Man than there is Black Cat’s feline-themed criminal schtick, even ignoring that Felicia’s concept is already taken in most pop culture eyes, and second, Venom has traditionally been a far more successful property in comics and other media than Black Cat, meaning there’s more of an audience waiting for him to arrive in theaters.

Does this mean that there shouldn’t be a Black Cat movie? Not at all; it just feels like a difficult proposition to bring to the screen. Given that Sony dropped the similarly difficult Silver & Black — and earlier, an entirely separate woman-led Spider-Man spinoff — it doesn’t seem too unlikely to imagine this project could end up running aground as well. Who knows? Perhaps Felicia’s luck will change this time around.

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