The concept of the super soldier has become a common (if not overused) conceit in the Marvel Universe — not only in the comics, but in its cinematic iteration as well. Abraham Erskine's Super Soldier Serum is probably best known as the stuff that transformed Steve Rogers into Captain America. Notably, Erskine's formula died with him, making Cap the only super soldier alive — at least for the moment. Countless tried to recreate its effects, spawning multiple heroes and villains in the process. A few writers took a page from that book in adapting the comics for Marvel's Cinematic Universe. Characters that previously had little to do with the serum were suddenly made into super soldiers. With certain characters, like Sebastian Stan's Bucky Barnes, it absolutely works. But the sheer influx of characters with similar origins has kind of taken the novelty out of it since.
With so many super soldiers running around in the MCU, you'd be forgiven for feeling a bit of fatigue towards the concept. But in the days before the MCU, adapting a comics character into a super soldier was a rare and, when done right, pretty inspired choice. One of the best examples comes from the well-loved "Spider-Man: The Animated Series," and its take on Felicia Hardy (aka Black Cat) in the mid 1990s. Writer-producer John Semper took a big swing in reintroducing the character to a different audience. Not only did she become Peter Parker's main love interest — temporarily taking the place of Mary Jane Watson, and replacing Gwen Stacy altogether — but also one of the first super soldiers to follow in Captain America's footsteps.
Turning The 'Ridiculous' Around
In the comics, Felicia Hardy was pretty much Marvel's answer to DC's Catwoman. Not unlike Selina Kyle, Felicia is a skilled cat burglar; the daughter of a renowned thief. In her early days as Black Cat, she has no powers to speak of. She's pretty much getting by on her cunning, her drive, and her hard-won physical strength and agility. But all that changed in Bill Mantlo and Al Milgrom's "Spectacular Spider-Man" #89. After making a deal with the Kingpin and subjecting herself to a scientific experiment, Felicia comes away with the gift of tychokinesis. It's essentially a means of probability manipulation, meaning that Felicia was able to "project" bad luck onto her enemies. It's a fitting power for someone who goes by the moniker of Black Cat — but to Semper, it didn't have any place in the animated series.
John Semper spoke to Marvel Animation Age (via DCAnimated) all about his take on Felicia Hardy. The producer had no love for her tychokinetic ability: "I always though that having somebody project 'bad luck' on somebody else as a 'super power' — the Black Cat's super-power in the comic books — was ridiculous," he explained. Semper chose to switch up her backstory in a way that connected her to Erskine's original serum. In the animated series, Felicia's father, John Hardesky, finds himself in Erskine's lab during World War II. His photographic memory allowed him to memorize the super soldier formula before the Erskine's death and the destruction of all his research. Decades later, Kingpin captured him and forced him to replicate the serum, which he later used on Felicia.
'It Was Something Fresh And New'
Not only did the Super Soldier Serum gift Felicia supernatural strength and healing powers, it also allowed her to turn those powers on and off, thus reinforcing her secret identity. It was a pretty inspired choice, one that John Semper (rightfully) takes the credit for. "That whole sub-plot that linked [Felicia] to Captain America and the Super Soldier Serum was completely my idea and I'm damned proud of it," he added. His work brought Felicia's arc "into a much deeper, richer storyline, which is what I had to do to keep the series unpredictable and interesting."
Felicia's new backstory, while effective, wasn't the only part of her character Semper decided to tweak. In an effort to set her apart from other love interests — both within the Marvel universe and otherwise — Felicia would come from a more distinguished, affluent family:
"I thought it made her more interesting and very different from Mary Jane, who was much more 'middle-class.' This Felicia was wealthy and a bit snobby, a total departure from the comics. It was something fresh and new. We even cast her voice, performed by the wonderful Jennifer Hale, to be like that."
And it was certainly effective. To this day, the Black Cat of "The Animated Series" is one of the most beloved iterations of the character. Unfortunately, Felicia hasn't been adapted for the screen very often since. She's yet to make the full leap to live action, but perhaps it's for the best. After all, too many super soldiers might spoil the pot.
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