The Big Picture
- Spider-Woman has a complicated and evolving history, with Jessica Drew being the original and most well-known version of the character.
- Julia Carpenter was the first Spider-Woman to join the Avengers and had a complex journey, including being brainwashed and joining Freedom Force.
- Spider-Gwen, a variant of Gwen Stacy from Earth-65, has become a fan-favorite and has led her own comic book series and appeared in animated projects, including the Spider-Verse movies.
Spider-Man has never had many long-term sidekicks, but he does have partners and associates with similar powers, abilities, and or histories who fight crime under similar monikers. While some have more distinctive secret identities, many of his female companions have used the name “Spider-Woman” for various lengths of time. While every Spider-Woman has their own unique qualities, a few stand out as more significant and distinctive in Marvel history. With two of them set to make their live action debuts in Madame Web, now is the time to untangle Spider-Woman’s complicated history.
- Release Date
- February 14, 2024
- Kerem Sanga , Matt Sazama , Burk Sharpless
Jessica Drew Is the Original Spider-Woman
Created by Archie Goodwin and Marie Severin, the original Spider-Woman, who was later given the civilian name Jessica Drew, first appeared in Marvel Spotlight #32 in 1977, before headlining her own series. Goodwin portrayed Jessica as a spider that had evolved into a human being, but Marv Wolfman, who served as the initial writer of the Spider-Woman solo comic, retconned this. Wolfman’s version of Jessica’s origin presented her as a human girl who became ill due to exposure to uranium. Her father, a scientist associated with the High Evolutionary, treated her with a serum derived from the blood of an irradiated spider, which also gave her superhuman abilities.
Jessica was subsequently abducted and brainwashed by Hydra to serve as a super-powered assassin. Hydra’s mental manipulations resulted in her having memories of being an evolved spider to account for Goodwin’s origin. Her backstory was rewritten again when the character had a resurgence in popularity due to Brian Michael Bendis’ use of her in the Avengers franchise. Bendis co-wrote the aptly titled Spider-Woman: Origin miniseries which established that Jessica’s powers resulted from her mother being affected by a specialized laser she and Jessica’s father were working on while the former was pregnant. Origin also simplified Jessica’s connection to Hydra by having her parents work directly for the organization.
Spider-Woman Led to Jessica Jones
After breaking free from Hydra’s influence, Jessica remains in the Spider-Woman identity but uses it to fight crime. She has often worked as a private investigator, both in addition to and sometimes in place of being a superhero. Because of this, Bendis initially planned to use Jessica as the protagonist of his comic book series Alias, which told noir detective stories in the Marvel Universe, before ultimately creating the character of Jessica Jones instead. However, Jessica Drew did guest star in Alias, encountering Jones. Although she fought alongside him on various occasions, Jessica was not closely related to Peter Parker/Spider-Man until they were both recruited onto the initial roster of the New Avengers. The Secret Invasion event revealed that, starting some time prior to the formation of the team, Jessica had been replaced by an impostor, Veranke, queen of the shape-shifting aliens the Skrulls. After Earth’s heroes repelled the Skrull invasion, the real Jessica, who had been held captive, was found along with other abductees. She subsequently maintained Veranke’s place on the New Avengers but faced suspicion from various members of the superhero community.
Even though the Jessica who appeared in a significant portion of Bendis’ Avengers stories wasn’t really her, they still led to increased popularity for the character, who has since been featured in various solo titles, maintained ties with the Avengers, and become a more central part of the Spider-Man comic book franchise. A particularly popular arc in Spider-Woman saw her continuing to fight crime while pregnant, before she gave birth to her son, Gerry. Joan Van Ark voiced Jessica in a short-lived animated Spider-Woman series that premiered in 1979 and a pregnant version of the character referred to as « Jess Drew » appeared in the 2023 film Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, voiced by Issa Rae. In the film, Jess serves as the second-in-command of Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man 2099’s (Oscar Isaac) Spider-Society team that protects the multiverse. Actress and director Olivia Wilde was attached to develop a movie many suspected would be a Spider-Woman live action film, but the current status of the project is uncertain.
Julia Carpenter Was the First Spider-Woman To Join the Avengers
The second major Spider-Woman, Julia Carpenter, was created by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck and first appeared in Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars #6 in 1984. She was involved in the conflict between armies of superheroes and supervillains the Beyonder arranged on Battleworld. Later appearances revealed the character’s origin story. Julia was tricked into participating in an experiment meant to create a super-soldier by her college friend Valerie “Val” Cooper, who worked as a government agent. After being injected with spider venom and extracts from several exotic plants, Julia gained superhuman powers similar to Spider-Man’s.
Who Is Madame Web, the First Female Superhero in Sony’s Spider-Verse?
Dakota Johnson, this is Marvel. Marvel, meet Dakota.
Early in her superhero career, she joined Freedom Force, a government-sponsored team overseen by Val, that often acted as rivals to the X-Men. Working alongside her teammates, most of whom were nominally reformed members of the supervillain team known as the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, leads Julia to question her decision and after Freedom Force comes into conflict with the Avengers, she aids the latter team, even though doing so makes her a fugitive from the government. After subsequently teaming up with Iron Man, Julia receives a pardon that the armored hero helps arrange. She eventually joins the West Coast Avengers. The character has occasionally taken on other costumed identities, notably replacing Cassandra Webb as Madame Web for a time.
Julia appeared as a main character in the 1994 Iron Man animated series, voiced by Casey DeFranco and Jennifer Hale. As Spider-Woman, she serves as a member of the superhero team Force Works, also becoming romantically involved with Tony Stark (Robert Hays). As Madame Web, the character also appeared in Ultimate Spider-Man. A character that is presumably Julia and wears one of her distinctive costumes can be seen among the Spider-Society in Across the Spider-Verse. Sydney Sweeney plays the first live action version of the character in Madame Web.
Mattie Franklin Gains Madame Web’s Powers
Created by John Byrne and Rafael Kayanan, the third heroic Spider-Woman, Mattie Franklin, had a fairly dark history. When she is a teenager, Mattie overhears her father, Jerry, planning to take part in The Gathering of Five, a cultish ritual whose participants, including Norman Osborn, hope to attain mysterious powers. Mattie replaces her father in the ritual and gains superhuman physical abilities as well as the power of flight. During a period when Peter Parker had retired from being Spider-Man, Mattie, a big fan of the hero’s, dons a similar costume to his and replaces him. When Peter becomes Spider-Man again, she takes on the Spider-Woman identity. During a conflict with Charlotte Witter, a supervillain who also uses the name Spider-Woman, Mattie temporarily loses her powers. When she regains them, she also receives the combined abilities of Witter, the two previous Spider-Women, and Madame Web. Frustrated at her relationship with her father, Mattie eventually moves in with her aunt Marla, who is married to Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson.
One of Mattie’s most notable appearances came during a disturbing storyline in Alias. After going missing, Mattie encounters Jessica Jones, who subsequently discovers that she was drugged and abducted by a man she had gone on a date with, who was now using genetic material from her to create Mutant Growth Hormone, a drug that grants users temporary superpowers, as well as using Mattie herself as a prostitute. Working with Jessica Drew, Jones rescues Mattie and returns her to Jameson, after which Mattie enters counseling to deal with her resulting dependence on drugs. Mattie follows in Jessica’s footsteps by starting a career as a private investigator, though she is later murdered by Anya Kravinoff, daughter of Kraven the Hunter. Like Julia, a character that resembles Mattie appears in Across the Spider-Verse, and the character is also being brought to live action in Madame Web, played by Celeste O’Connor.
Spider-Gwen Is a Current Marvel Fan-Favorite
One of the more recent additions to the plethora of Spider-Women has come to rival, if not outright surpass Jessica as the most recognizable and popular version of the character. Created by Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez, Spider-Gwen was introduced in 2014 during the Spider-Verse comic book event. She is a variant of Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker’s famously doomed love interest, from Earth-65, who was bitten by a radioactive spider like the main universe Peter. Although most often referred to as “Spider-Gwen” by fans, within the world of the story Gwen is known as her universe’s Spider-Woman, though she has also used the code name “Ghost-Spider. » Feeling powerless after a lifetime of being bullied, the Earth-65 Peter used his scientific expertise to experiment on himself, turning himself into a version of supervillain the Lizard. In their final battle, Gwen, who did not yet know her friend Peter was the Lizard, is forced to kill him to protect civilians. As he dies, Peter returns to his human form and Gwen’s father, Police Captain George Stacy, begins hunting Spider-Woman, hoping to apprehend her for murder. But after Gwen reveals her identity to him, the pair eventually begin to mend their relationship.
The character’s popularity has led her to lead multiple comic book series that develop the world of Earth-65, though she also frequently appears in crossover stories involving the multiverse and other heroes. Due to arcs like these, she has developed close relationships with other Spider-Man-related characters, especially Jessica Drew, who serves as a mentor figure to her, and Miles Morales, with whom she briefly explored the possibility of a romance. Spider-Gwen has appeared in an assortment of animated projects, the most prominent of which are the Spider-Verse films, in which she is voiced byHailee Steinfeld. After a supporting role in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the character was made a co-lead of Across the Spider-Verse along with Miles (Shameik Moore). The films follow Gwen’s comic book origin closely, adapting Peter’s (Jack Quaid) death and the resulting tension with George (Shea Whigham). Gwen joining the Spider-Society as she does at the beginning of Across the Spider-Verse sets her on a somewhat different trajectory from her comic book counterpart, although it also allows the mentor/student relationship with Jess to be adapted and for her relationship with Miles to continue to be explored.
At the end of the film, a schism emerges between Gwen and Jess after the former’s feelings for Miles lead her to defy orders, which in turn leads Miguel to kick her out of the Society, a decision Jess reluctantly supports. Gwen subsequently forms her own team of heroes to rescue Miles, who is stranded in the wrong universe, possibly setting her and Jess up for further conflict in the upcoming third film, Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse. The commercial success and critical acclaim of the Spider-Verse films has led to even greater popularity for Spider-Gwen, with many fans hoping that either Steinfeld or Emma Stone, who portrayed a non-powered Gwen in The Amazing Spider-Man films, will get to bring the character to live action.
Spider-Woman Has an Impressive Legacy
In addition to Witter and the four heroic Spider-Women listed, there have been an assortment of more obscure versions of the character throughout Marvel history. The Ultimate Marvel universe has its own Jessica Drew, a female clone of Peter Parker, and variants of Mary Jane Watson have taken on the Spider-Woman mantle in several alternate universes, to name just a few examples. But with the Spider-Verse films and Madame Web raising the profiles of Jessica, Gwen, Julia, and Mattie, they will likely remain the four most prominent iterations for some time.
Madame Web is in theaters February 14 in the U.S.