When bright but bullied high school student Peter Parker was bitten by a genetically altered spider, he was granted superhuman strength, agility, a sixth sense warning him of coming danger, and the uncanny, oh, I'm sorry, amazing and spectacular ability to walk on walls.
In the span of 49 issues thus far, Spider-Man has had to deal with creeps and baddies like Doctor Octopus, the Green Goblin, Venom, and the Kingpin of crime, among other. This is all while trying to hold down school, an internship at the Daily Bugle, as well as his relationships with legal guardian and Aunt May Parker, friend and housemate (after her father's death) Gwen Stacy, as well as his girlfriend and confidant (that means she knows he's Spidey), Mary Jane Watson.
It hasn't been easy, mind you. As Spider-Man, he's been blackmailed, spied on, mocked, shot, beat up, unmasked, tossed off the side of a building, and ripped out of a plane. As Peter, his grades are slipping, the bullies harass him, his best friend Harry was sent away, MJ broke up with him for a while, and he was even fired from his job, albeit briefly.
But I guess that's all in the past. Let's see what's next for Spidey.
That stunning femme fatale, the Black Cat stands atop the Chrysler building looking across into an office building and, likely, her next target. When she sees the lights in the window go out, she shoots a grappling hook to that building's roof.
This sets off the rooftop alarm, and the senior security guard sends the rookie up top to investigate. When the younger guard is topside, his hat mysteriously blows off, leaving the Black Cat an open and unguarded door to sneak in.
The janitor also hits a bit of "bad luck", as a bucket, seemingly for no reason, splashes her, allowing the Black Cat to sneak by unnoticed and disable the cameras. A electronic keycard grants her easy access to a room, and she disables the final barrier, a red laser grid, with ease. Clearly, she's got some experience doing this kind of thing.
Removing the painting behind the grid, she notices a safe, which she's able to open simply by removing an orange file from the desk. Inside, is a tablet of stone with some writing on it.
Suddenly, security comes in to investigate the open door. In another case of bad luck, the older guard trips and his gun discharges, ricochets off the window, and hits the sprinklers. This distraction affords the Black Cat her escape, only to encounter Spider-Man on the roof.
After Spidey compliments the Maxim-worthy beauty, she dives off the side of the building. Spidey instinctively dives to save her, but the Black Cat simply used her claws to hang off the side of the building. When Spidey's webshooters fail to discharge (my bet is that he's out of webbing), he nearly dies.
Spidey continues his pursuit, and the two engage in a brief skirmish. The Black Cat easily best Spidey, and steps on his head for good measure. "Crossed a black cat...Seven years bad luck," she taunts him. But we see a bit of smile before she disappears into the night.
Back in Peter's basement, Mary Jane notes that Peter needs to "decompress" from his swing-time as Spider-Man, and Peter confides that he's thinking about hanging up the costume for a while. After all, Peter hates fighting and he often comes close to being hurt. When Peter asks what MJ thinks, she admits that it would be nice to have more of a normal relationsip.
Changing topics, Peter asks about MJ's dad. She angrily admits that she hates him for cheating on him mom. This leads to a tender moment and a kiss. But this all comes to a stop when May calls the two upstairs.
It seems that MJ's dad, Craig, is over. He read MJ's diary and now knows that his daughter fell off a bridge and nearly died, if not for Peter. He demands an explanation from Peter, but Peter is defiant in his refusal. Craig Watson forbids Peter from seeing MJ any more and proceeds to threaten Peter until May kicks him out.
Peter explains to May that it was just a minor incident (big lie. Minor incidents don't involve creeps like Norman Osborn doped up into some kind of green monster) and that he didn't want to answer that Jerk. May takes Gwen next door for a walk, and she says they'll call the police if they hear any noise.
Meanwhile, Peter is left alone with his thoughts, grateful that MJ didn't write a word about Spider-Man in her diary. But when he looks to the television, he sees Spider-Man in the news, with video taped footage of his pursuit of the Black Cat. Except, those wacky reporters have the crazy notion that they're working together in a crime spree.
"And that seven years bad luck starts...right now."
That's some real impressive art on the whole robbery sequence. With barely any words (save that funny exchange between the guards), Mark Bagley tells us everything we need to know. And I really like his design for the Black Cat, very true to the original with some minor modifications (like the yellow tinted eyepieces). If you can get past the fact that she's practically bursting out of her costume, you get the idea that she's a professional. And now, this professional has a tablet of some kind in her possession...could it be a tablet...of TIME?
The instant question is whether she really generates bad luck or if she sets it all up. The Black Cat clearly won't clue us in, as she only has one line in the entire issue. But it's quite a line, and the entire first act of the issue proves that the old adage "less is more" rings true.
And it's cool to see a minor thing like MJ's diary entries from previous issues come back to haunt her. The one-two punch of cheating on his wife and then invading his daughter's privacy sets Craig Watson up as the "herb" that MJ tells us he is. And the typical "I forbid you to see my daughter" line is turned on it ear in that Peter's guardian, May, is quick to try and remedy the situation as best she can.
Not a lot of Gwen, but some is better than none.
The media plays our role...they don't even know who Spider-Man is behind the mask but they're already pairing him up with the Black Cat, albeit as a criminal duo. With the Peter-MJ relationship disrupted, and Peter's admission that he'd never cheat on her, the Black Cat is poised, it seems, to become the third point of a new love triangle.
Oh, and there's finally a letters page! It's about time! Even a the cost of an extra page an issue, it's worth it to see some fan feedback and answers from Brian Michael Bendis himself, and not just some editor.
The story kicks off what looks like a very fun, very cool story. Art looks good, and the Ultimate Black Cat looks like dynamite! I'm very much so looking forward to issue 51. And, in the day and age where Marvel has dropped it, the return of the letters page puts this issue over the top.
I was honestly hoping that this issue would fall short, so that people wouldn't claim I'm a Marvel hype machine boosting the rating in conjunction with a number. But the fact is that, even if the number were as ghastly and unattractive as 23 (nobody likes that number, ick!), the rating would remain the same.
Now, the only question is if Bendis and Bagley can hit 5 webs two issues in a row.