Best Shots Review: BLACK CAT ANNUAL #1 'Will Easily Steal Your Heart' (9/10)

"Black Cat Annual #1" preview
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Black Cat Annual #1
Written by Jed McKay
Art by Joey Vazquez, Natacha Bustos, Juan Gedeon and Brian Reber
Lettering by Ferran Delgado
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Credit: Marvel Comics

In a world where double-shipping singles and oversized events drive the publishing lines of Marvel and DC, it sometimes feels like annuals are a bygone relic, a lost art. Which is what makes books like Black Cat Annual #1 such a welcome surprise - writer Jed McKay and artists Joey Vazquez, Natacha Bustos, and Juan Gedeon use their expanded page count (and a guest-star turn from a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man) to deliver a wild and wooly adventure, complete with plenty of twists, turns, and side stories to keep readers on their toes.

Given Spidey and Black Cat sporting a tux and wedding gown on the cover, McKay leans quickly into the matrimonial hook - namely, this is how this spandex-clad odd couple are able to infiltrate the Maggia to pull off a heist in the heart of a ceremony called the Wedding of the Martyrs. It’s the kind of off-kilter silliness that evokes the comic books of the Swingin’ Sixties, but McKay and Vazquez give the annual’s A-story a modern sensibility that keeps things energetic and brisk. There’s almost a Raiders of the Lost Ark feel to McKay’s story, and it’s beautifully rendered by Vazquez, who really brings the best strengths of David Lafuente and Sara Pichelli to his work, particularly when they play Twister over a series of razor-sharp spikes or battle a giant robot. (If he isn’t called up for a regular Spidey title sooner rather than later, it’ll be a major injustice.)

Credit: Marvel Comics

But where McKay really excels is by using the expanded page count of the annual to play with structure, thereby fleshing out Felicia’s supporting cast, building up the tension of Felicia’s main story, and giving Vazquez some breathing room to let Natacha Bustos and Juan Gedeon some time to play. And honestly, it’s a testament to McKay’s skills at characterization (and being able to lean into high-stakes spectacle, no matter how implausible) that these side stories feel so fun and additive, rather than unnecessary detours.

McKay and Bustos’ story featuring Bruno has such a sympathetic hook - the fact that everybody looks at big guys based on their size, not their intelligence - while McKay’s B-story with Dr. Korpse has just enough floweriness to the character’s voice that it comes off eccentrically charming rather than self-indulgent. (“Mixing crime and science makes for a heady brew, but there is none other worthy to quaff such a draught as I.” If that sort of weird one-liner doesn’t make you want to learn more about this guy, this is not the comic for you.) Gedeon’s art is probably the sketchiest of the bunch, but given that he’s only working on four pages total, it’s not enough to hurt this story’s momentum in the slightest.

Credit: Marvel Comics

While there’s a certain level of convenience that’s baked into this plot - Felicia’s able to disable a death robot with a well-placed virus, Bruno is able to swerve into a clean getaway just when things start to heat up, and Dr. Korpse is able to defuse a bomb rather than have it just blow up in his face - but you gotta give this team credit where it’s due: they know their audience, and they know that by keeping the plot moving and ramping up the tension, there’s rarely enough time to overanalyze whether the solutions necessarily make a ton of sense. When you start with a Maggia wedding ceremony that involves death robots and ritual murder, the tone is elevated enough that we’re not necessarily hung up on real-world rules and stakes. But there’s an infectious enthusiasm to both the storytelling and the artwork in Black Cat Annual #1 that makes this a supremely well-done annual that will easily steal your heart.

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