As I mentioned before, all the written part of the Comic Character of the Month will be handled by our new admin and my close real life friend ImpulsiveSpidercide
. Like his first writings, it is rather long. Yet it is incredibly well researched, thorough, and educational. If you want to know about Spider-Woman without going to Wikipedia, you'll definitely want to read this!
The character of Spider-Woman has a long and tangled history, much like a spider’s web. In fact, there has been more than one Spider-Woman. While she was initially created to keep Marvel Comics’ “Distinguished Competition” from issuing a female character modeled after Spider-Man, Spider-Woman was her own character almost from the very start of her published existence.
To start with, her name is Jessica Drew, daughter of married scientists Jonathan and Merriem Drew, who were experimenting with radioactivity and exotic spider venoms. When a young Jessica became poisoned by the radiation her parents were experimenting with, her parents got the brilliant idea to inject her with the spider venoms they were also implementing in their experiments and then place her in a “genetic accelerator.” The genetic accelerator was a special chamber that would rapidly advance Jessica’s biological maturation, adapting the spider venoms into her biochemistry and with any luck overcoming the radiation poisoning. Comic book mad science at its finest, huh?
In any event, Jessica woke up years later in her late teens and baffled by the world she stepped out into. Meeting a boy she developed a crush on (and vice versa) ended less than well due to her accidentally electroshocking him, a quirk of her spider venom-altered biology. Being that this was the Marvel Universe and not even a big city, but a rather small European village, she was quickly hounded as a witch and would’ve been lynched as one, if she hadn’t been saved and recruited by HYDRA, better known as a terrorist organization that splintered from the Nazis in World War II and since went on to combat various heroes and the world security and intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D.
Seeing that Jessica’s parents had been working for HYDRA all along, it was relative child’s play to fold her into HYDRA’s ranks and train her as a superhuman assassin. However, when it came time for Jessica to undertake her big mission of assassinating S.H.I.E.L.D. director Colonel Nick Fury, Fury managed to stop her by revealing HYDRA’s true nature to her, horrifying her enough to turn against the organization. However, she was still a stranger in a world she didn't quite recognize, with powers she didn't quite understand . . . until a chance encounter with Marvel’s famous web-slinging hero Spider-Man gave her the inspiration to use her powers to protect those who couldn't protect themselves, to help the helpless, as it were.
This led to Jessica becoming Spider-Woman and operating as a private investigator and bounty hunter in her civilian guise, under the rationale that such a vocation would point her to people in need of help and criminals and villains in need of stopping. She ran into quite a few villains in her 50-issue-long first comic series, such as the mad scientist Dr. Karl Malus, the living mannequins known as the Brothers Grimm, a mercenary known as the Enforcer, a fiber-manipulating mutant called Gypsy Moth (who would later rename herself Skein), Count Otto Vermis who recruited her into HYDRA in the first place, an albino mutant named Nekra who drew superhuman strength from her hatred, and the ancient sorceress of Camelot Morgan le Fay.
Aside from struggles with various villains as listed above, Jessica grappled with feelings of alienation exacerbated by her powers, her double identity, and the failings of various romantic entanglements. Her truest friend through it all was Lindsay McCabe, a member of the group therapy sessions Jessica took part in at her previous place of work as a receptionist, and the two became even closer once Lindsay discovered that Jessica was Spider-Woman. However, her first series would ultimately end with her dying in a final battle with Morgan le Fay, and all memory of her existence erased from the world. At least, that was the case until her body was found by the Avengers in a later issue of their comic series, which led to those same heroes rediscovering their memories of her and going on a quest to reunite her soul with her body that succeeded, but with the not-so-small caveat of her powers being negated. From there, she would have infrequent guest appearances in the clawed X-Man Wolverine’s solo comic as an ally in his battle against the crime-ridden island nation of Madripoor.
Jessica Drew would eventually pass into obscurity, as the name of Spider-Woman was taken up by Julia Carpenter, a young single mother who’d been brought into an “athletic study” by her onetime college friend Valerie Cooper. The “athletic study” was actually a well-disguised super-soldier project by the secretive Commission (later the Commission on Superhuman Activities), intent on creating superheroes that would be under their control. In the process, she was injected with chemically modified spider venoms and exotic plant extracts that stimulated spider-like abilities in her, similar to and yet different from Spider-Man’s. As the new Spider-Woman, she would be embroiled in the Secret Wars, taken along with so many others --- heroes, villains, and even civilians alike --- to a constructed planet where the heroes and villains would do battle as part of a godlike being called the Beyonder’s experiment on whether good or evil was stronger. Julia would align herself with the heroes, including Spider-Man, who later adopted a new black costume based on hers. (Said black costume would actually turn out to be a living organism that wished for a permanent symbiotic bond with Spider-Man, much to his horror at what such a thing could entail, and be cast off to bond with a certain disgruntled ex-reporter with a grudge against Spider-Man, becoming one of the three major contenders for Spider-Man’s archenemy known as Venom, but that would be another story for another day.)
Upon returning to Earth from the Secret Wars, Julia joined Freedom Force, a super team sponsored by the government and comprised primarily of superhuman criminals who joined as an alternative to doing prison time. In her time with Freedom Force, Julia would find herself frequently battling the heroes she had worked alongside during Secret Wars thanks to the government’s often-misguided belief that said heroes were threats to society.
Eventually having enough of fighting genuine heroes alongside unreformed criminals that were basically super-thugs employed by the government to fight the very heroes they resented for stopping them before, Julia turned against Freedom Force to aid the Avengers and thus made herself a fugitive from the law. During this period, she would frequently team up with Spider-Man and Iron Man, the latter actually managing to get her pardoned, and later join the Avengers’ West Coast division. In that time, she would come into confrontation with Death Web, a trio of villains created from the same process that turned her into the second Spider-Woman. This confrontation eventually culminated in a story arc where Death Web’s backer, a corrupt politician named Mike Clemson, forced her to fight Spider-Man to the death by holding her young daughter Rachel hostage. While Julia managed to find a way out of this sadistic choice, it ended up costing the life of Rachel’s father and Julia’s ex-husband.
When the West Coast Avengers disassembled, several of its members would go on to form Force Works at Iron Man’s direction and sponsorship, intending to preempt future disasters both natural and man-made. This team, however, would eventually fall apart when Iron Man was revealed to have been a longtime pawn of the time-traveling conqueror known as Kang and turned against his fellow heroes. In the ensuing fallout, the membership of Force Works would either fold back into the Avengers or simply go into obscurity. Julia decided to retire from being a superhero at this point to focus on raising Rachel, though she would be briefly dragged back into action with her predecessor Jessica Drew to mentor a third Spider-Woman, a teenager named Mattie Franklin who had gained powers in a mystical ritual.
Mattie Franklin was a brilliant but lonely teenager with a father constantly absent due to work. It might have been because of this loneliness that she latched onto Spider-Man as a figure of admiration (and romantic obsession), and later took her father’s place in the mystic ritual that gave her the powers she used to mimic Spider-Man after Peter Parker had temporarily retired from the role to focus on his family life with Mary Jane Watson and his aunt May. However, Mattie was forced to give up the Spider-Man identity when up against an overpowering foe that Peter had to step back into the webs to defeat. This would not stop Mattie from being a hero, though, and she would become Spider-Woman, confronted by a villainous counterpart named Charlotte Witter who through Doctor Octopus, another of the three major contenders for Spider-Man’s archenemy, had gained spider-powers of her own and a power-siphoning ability that she used to drain Mattie and her predecessors Jessica Drew and Julia Carpenter. Eventually, Mattie would overcome Charlotte with some help from Spider-Man and the former Spider-Women and regain her own powers, combined with Jessica’s and Julia’s. As the new Spider-Woman, Mattie would star in a series that lasted 18 issues, throughout most of which she was constantly changing her costume --- though she would settle on a black-and-red outfit in her final issues --- and fighting an array of macabre foes similar to those faced by Jessica in her early days.
After her series ended, Mattie would fade into obscurity, only to be brought back for a six-part arc of Brian Michael Bendis’s gritty superhero crime drama Alias, starring a former superhero of his own creation named Jessica Jones. In the arc Mattie appeared in, she had fallen afoul of a drug dealer who found her after she’d been drugged into unconsciousness by her date and then kept her unconscious so he could harvest her genetic material for the street drug Mutant Growth Hormone, which could grant superhuman abilities to normal humans and later turned out to also enhance superhuman abilities in those already super-powered. Mattie was ultimately found by both Jessica Jones and the original Spider-Woman Jessica Drew, after which she went into therapeutic rehabilitation to overcome her dependence on the drugs she’d been sedated with.
Later on, Jessica Drew would join the New Avengers formed in the aftermath of Avengers Disassembled, an event that saw the Avengers destroyed from within by the mutant sorceress Scarlet Witch losing control of her sanity and her powers. However, the Secret Invasion event would reveal that “Jessica Drew” was actually Queen Veranke, the vanguard of a long-term infiltration of Earth’s heroes and villains and governments and other institutions by the shape-shifting aliens known as the Skrulls. While Veranke would die at the conclusion of Secret Invasion, thus destroying the Skrulls’ hopes for victory, the actual Jessica Drew would be found among the Skrulls’ captives, who had all been replaced by Skrull infiltrators at earlier points within Marvel Comics’ continuity.
Once again adrift and alone in a world she didn’t recognize, Jessica would join the renegade Avengers fighting against Spider-Man’s third candidate for archenemy Norman Osborn, better known as the Green Goblin, who had tricked the world in the wake of Secret Invasion into seeing him as a noble protector and viewing the actual heroes as ineffectual and duplicitous cowards. She would also join S.H.I.E.L.D.’s sister agency S.W.O.R.D., assembled to monitor extraterrestrial threats to Earth, in hunting down any Skrull infiltrators left on Earth, seeing it as an opportunity for revenge for them literally stealing her life. Eventually, she would make headway in overcoming her bitterness and anger and be invited to join the Avengers upon the final defeat and ouster of Norman Osborn.
In more recent years, Jessica has also been a supporting cast member in longtime friend and fellow Avenger Carol Danvers’s ongoing series as the new Captain Marvel and a frequently appearing character in the Avengers Assemble comic book series, both written by Kelly Sue DeConnick. Even more recently, Jessica has had a major return to prominence starring in a new series spinning out of the current comic book event Spider-Verse, which sees an alliance across time and space between Spider-Men, Spider-Women, and Spider-Girls from manifold realities within the Marvel Comics Multiverse to combat the Inheritors, vampiric predators that feed on the life energies of animal totems.
The other Spider-Women have had their own adventures since. Julia Carpenter, during the Civil War event that saw the superheroes pitted against each other over the Superhuman Registration Act following a mass death in the community of Stamford, Connecticut caused by the actions of inexperienced and reckless young superheroes (most of whom died as well), was working covertly for the anti-registration resistance movement led by Captain America, the discovery of which led to her capture and separation from her daughter Rachel. She was eventually pardoned for this as well, but on the condition of joining the Canadian superhero team called Omega Flight, where she worked alongside her onetime Force Works teammate the U.S.Agent, a super-soldier created to replace Steve Rogers as Captain America, only to reject the role after realizing he’d been set up as a pawn all along by Captain America’s chief foe the Red Skull.
Around that same time period, Mattie Franklin would return to costumed heroics in an attempt to get revenge on the drug dealer who had exploited her for Mutant Growth Hormone. During this period, she ended up recruiting several former teenage superheroes to assist her, even getting into an ill-advised one-night stand with one of them. Ultimately, she would break ties with them, disgusted with how they had seemed to forget what it meant to be heroes, though she would later reappear in the Spider-Man comics as a captive of the Kravinoff family, who used her as a ritual sacrifice leading up to the resurrection of their patriarch Sergei Kravinoff, a.k.a. Kraven the Hunter, who had killed himself after believing he had finally proven himself superior to Spider-Man in an arc called Kraven’s Last Hunt.
Meanwhile, Julia Carpenter would return to America and nearly end up a victim of the Kraven family’s mad quest to revive Sergei Kravinoff. However, she would end up acquiring the dying Madame Web’s powers, inheriting her precognitive and prophetic visions of the future tied to a cosmic web of fate and destiny binding those with the iconography of the spider. This enabled her to talk Spider-Man down from killing a successfully but imperfectly resurrected Kraven out of disgust and grief with what Kraven’s family had done to bring about said resurrection, and take Madame Web’s role as the seer of the Web of Life. In that role, Julia would offer cryptic advice to Spider-Man about his future, most prominently during the Spider-Island event, in which everyone in Manhattan was infected with a virus that granted them spider-powers to place them under the control of a psychic insect-and-arachnid-controlling villainess that called herself the Queen. Later on, though, she would end up falling into a coma upon receiving particularly strong visions of Spider-Man’s future, one from which she had yet to awaken except for a brief warning proclaiming that “ALL SPIDERS WILL DIE!” (That, of course, being foreshadowing for the previously mentioned Spider-Verse event.)
That is the general history of the Spider-Women. Quite a complex web to weave through, is it not? Hopefully, their powers will be simpler to describe, as follows.
Jessica Drew has superhuman strength, speed, agility, flexibility, reflexes, and stamina, much like Spider-Man, along with an ability to adhere to and scale surfaces by way of a chemical she secretes from the palms of her hands and soles of her feet. Her senses are superhuman as well, particularly her senses of hearing and smell, and she has a high level of resistance to all Earthborn toxins and poisons, as well as immunity to radiation stemming from her parents’ experiments to save her life. She can glide on air currents like some spider species and her body produces an excess of bioelectricity that she channels into “venom blasts” that can stun or even kill people or puncture solid metal at its greatest intensity, as well as pheromones that elicit sexual attraction and desire in men and fear and revulsion in women, though she used a chemical perfume to inhibit said pheromones until gaining control of that ability later on.
Julia Carpenter’s abilities are more psychically generated in nature. While she has strength, speed, agility, reflexes, and stamina comparable to Spider-Man’s, she clings to surfaces by way of telekinetically rooting herself to them and generates webs using her telekinesis to bind free-floating atoms into webs of various shapes and sizes, often to bind foes or sometimes to swing from. She has superhuman senses as well, able to feel vibrations in the air around her and ground beneath her much like an actual spider, a sense so acute she can detect hollow areas in a floor she’s standing on. After gaining Madame Web’s powers, she also exhibits telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, and an ability to sense psychic powers in others, but at the cost of her eyesight, which actually hinders her very little in combat or life thanks to her clairvoyant, telepathic, and precognitive abilities.
Mattie Franklin possessed both Jessica’s and Julia’s powers and some of her own, chiefly an ability to generate four psychic spider legs from her back that assisted her in climbing and fighting. While she could retract them to appear “normal,” it was their natural state to be extended and keeping them retracted created a constant sensation of pressure in her back. She was also far less experienced and trained than Jessica and Julia, and was thus unable to exploit her abilities to their fullest potential, which might have been the cause of her later predicaments and finally her tragically brutal death.
And that’s the Web of the Spider-Woman, as of the last days of 2014. What will 2015 hold for her besides her costume finally being updated after nearly 40 years? Who knows? I, for one, can’t wait to find out.