Felicia Hardy has the odd distinction of being both an enemy and a sidekick to Spider-Man. She's been his foil, his lover and his crazy ex-girlfriend. Theirs has been the definition of a roller-coaster relationship.
Felicia grew up in Queens, New York, the only child of Walter and her mother, who is never named. Walter doted on his daughter, telling her that could be whatever she wanted to be when she grew up. Her father meant the world to her, despite the fact that she rarely saw him. Felicia was led to believe that her father was a traveling salesman and was distraught when her mother told her that he had died in a plane crash. She was thirteen years old at the time but quickly learned that her father was not a salesman but a wanted cat burglar that had been captured by the police.
It was a few years later in high school that Felicia escaped from a mugger on the street after punching him in the stomach and running away. Far from traumatized, she felt excited by the adrenaline rush. The next day she joined a karate class, learning much about Okinawa Goju Ryu, a Japanese form of self defense. After accidentally forgetting her keys inside her house one day, she found that she could break into her home with ease. (She seemed to come from a wealthy family and I assume there was a burglar alarm.) Later that night, she broke into her mother's safe and found money, jewels and her father's burglary tools. (Uncanny Origins Featuring Felicia Hardy: The Black Cat)
Soon Felicia was a freshman at Empire State University. She met a frat boy named Ryan at a party and she quickly fell for the charming student. He soon turned out to not be as wonderful as she first thought after he raped her in his dorm room. She never reported the assault, as she was too ashamed. She became angry and determined to murder her attacker. She knew how to attack him with her karate training and which punches would be deadliest. She never got her chance, as Ryan was killed in a drunk driving accident. Felicia's anger was still there but she no longer had a target. It left her feeling reckless and later that night she stole her first diamond. The theft was gratifying for her. She had something stolen from her and she was stealing back. (Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do #6)
Soon after her debut as the Black Cat, Felicia learned that her father was dying of cancer in prison. She formed a plan to break him out of jail so he could die in peace at home. She recruited two criminals, one named Bruno Grainger and another, a demolition expert named Boris Korpse, to help her. She crossed paths with Spider-Man one night as she arrived at the place of business for Emil Greco, a weapons dealer. (He investigated the woman in the costume after she set off his spider sense.) After Black Cat escaped, Peter figured out that she would be breaking out Walter Hardy. Spider-Man found Felicia and her father at her mother's home after the prison break. As she tried to escape, Felicia told Spider-Man "I was one of the few on your side when the cops were after you! We were sort of kindred spirits." As Spidey got closer to apprehending her, Felicia faked her death. (Amazing Spider-Man #195)
She soon turned up alive and well, stealing romantic objects to prove her devotion to Spidey. After he finds her in her apartment with her walls covered with his pictures, he took her to a psychiatric hospital. The pictures on her wall turned out to be a ruse, to make him think she was crazy and have sent to an easier to escape mental hospital. After her escape, she had him meet her at the costume party of a gangster, whom Cat antagonized into a fight by telling him that she stole property of his. Cat and Spidey got through the resulting skirmish together and the police took care of the gangsters. After that, Spider-Man and Black Cat became partners in crime...fighting. (Amazing Spider-Man #226)
They took on many of Spidey's bad guys over the years, from the Owl and Doctor Octopus to the Hobgoblin. After a long time together, Peter and Felicia went their separate ways after Spider-Man found out that Felicia had gotten new new "bad luck" powers from the Kingpin, Wilson Fisk. She hadn't told him where the new abilities had come from, knowing that he wouldn't like that it came from a scientist in the employ of one of his enemies. (Amazing Spider-Man # 263) Cat worked with the Foreigner for a time, after she had stolen a notebook from him and started a romantic affair with him. After the Foreigner tried to kill her by bombing her apartment, Felicia moved in with Peter. (Spectacular Spider-Man #124) Felicia began to develop feelings for Peter again but left for Paris after double crossing the Foreigner. (Spectacular Spider-Man #129) After this, Peter went back to Mary Jane.
Felicia returned to New York years later to find that Peter and Mary Jane were now married. She didn't take to the news well and began to date Peter's friend, Flash Thompson, to make Peter jealous. She also assaulted Mary Jane, telling her that she was going to ruin her marriage by breaking Peter's heart and forcing him to come back to her. (Amazing Spider-Man #331) She only used Flash, but began to genuinely feel for him after he helped her with a group of muggers. Eventually she proposed to him, but he turned her down after learning about her dual identity. Mary Jane and Felicia gradually began to tolerate each other, mostly after Cat saved Peter's life as Spider-Man several times in a row.
Cat and Spider-Man partnered several more times over the years but became a couple again, briefly, after Peter's marriage to Mary Jane was erased.
Black Cat and Jail Bird
There are few studies that illustrate the difficulties and psychological traumas of having a parent in prison. Some have found that children face depression, increased aggression, resentment, withdrawal from other family members and bullying from classmates. Felicia seemed to have been spared much of this, as the world thought that her father was dead, not in jail. Far from being bullied in her school, she seemed to be very popular, at least with the boys if not the girls. (Uncanny Origins) Economic hardship is often experienced by families when a breadwinner goes to prison, but this didn't seem to be an issue for the Hardy's, who lived in a very plush home.
Still, it does seem that Felicia did have some aggressive feelings after her father's incarceration. She enjoyed punching the mugger and soon joined a martial arts dojo. She must have resented her mother after she told her that Walter was dead, as she stole from her safe.
While Walter was alive in jail, Felicia had to pretend that her father was dead to play along with her mother's lie. In a way, it may have felt to her that he really was dead. In a 1972 study, teenage girls were interviewed, observed and tested to determine what differences to their personalities occurred after either the death or divorce of their fathers. The daughters of divorcees tended to seek attention from men and had sex earlier. The daughters of widows, however, became more rigid and inhibited around men. This was the case for Felicia, who shot down many boys in high school and refused to sleep with Ryan in college.
Effects of the Rape
Prior to meeting Ryan, Felicia seemed like a fairly well adjusted young woman, considering the things that had happened to her. After the assault, she became angry and reckless, not caring if she ended up in jail for his murder.
There are two phases that women go through after a rape: the acute phase and the reorganization phase. The first phase, acute, usually lasts from days to weeks and features a complete disruption of the victim's life. There are two ways that the acute phase can be shown: expressed or controlled. "Expressed" means that she openly talks about her emotions. In the "controlled" way, emotions are not shared and the woman focuses on keeping her composure. They may sit quietly, answering questions in a calm, logical way. In the reorganization phase, the victim changes themselves and their lives. They learn to cope again.
Several factors influence how well a person reorganizes their lives after a rape: their personalities, their circle of support, existing life problems and any prior sexual assault.
The victim's personality can help or hurt their recovery, depending on how well they cope with stress. Felicia handled past stresses well, including the imprisonment of her father and the attempted mugging when she was in high school. She never told anyone about the rape, which doubtless made things harder for her. The only real life problem she had previously faced was her father's disappearance. The trauma of the rape can reactivate prior problems, even if they had been under control until the assault. It is interesting that Felicia took up theft after the rape, following in Walter's foot steps. She had never been assaulted previously, so that made her recovery easier.
Psychopathology: Borderline Personality Disorder
Felicia has always been a somewhat unstable person, going from thief to crime fighter back to a thief. She fought Spider-Man, dated Spider-Man, hated Spider-Man and loved him again. She used Flash and planned to throw him away when Peter came back to her, only to fall for him and propose marriage. She resented Mary Jane and then befriended her. (Kind of.)
The A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia defines borderline personality disorder as "a condition in which people have long-term patterns of unstable or turbulent emotions, such as feelings about themselves and others." The condition is most common in women and the risk factors are disrupted family life, sexual abuse, poor communication in the family and abandonment in childhood or adolescence. The cause of the problem is unknown, but it is suspected that genetics, social factors and family play a role.
Those with B.P.D. are uncertain of their identity; their values and identities can change quickly. They see things in extreme, all good or all bad. A person they know can be put on a pedestal one moment and be looked down on the next. Relationships with such people are often intense and unstable.
Felicia certainly shows many of these symptoms and risk factors. Her family life was disrupted by her father's arrest when she was thirteen, her mother lied to her about the reason behind Walter leaving them and her rape as a freshman in college. Her attitudes towards her friends have been erratic, loving Spider-Man and then starting a relationship with Flash out of revenge. Then she fell for Flash and proposed marriage to him.
After being dumped, she went back to pining for Spider-Man, eventually starting a brief physical relationship with Thomas Fireheart, aka Puma. (Sensational Spider-Man, vol. 2 #27) Then Wolverine. (Wolverine and Black Cat: Claws) Then she went back to Spider-Man. (Amazing Spider-Man #607) Then Daredevil. (Daredevil #8)
The usual treatment for borderline personality, talk therapy and psychotherapy, is usually very helpful for those with the condition. While a person is never cured of the illness, they can see progress over time. The patient needs to stay focused on getting better. Some medications may be added to treatment, such as anti-depressants, mood stabilizers or anti-psychotics. Felicia has said that she regretted never getting therapy for the rape (Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do #6), which shows she is at least open to the idea of professional help.