a KC Column by KC Carlson
Annnd, right off the bat, I have to stop and explain which (of several) Spider-Women I’m talking about, because: modern comics. (Ack. Fooey.) It’s the amazing Jessica Drew we’re celebrating here today, who just recently gave birth to a healthy baby boy, and immediately afterwards kicked a score of dastardly goons and creepizoid butts on sheer adrenaline alone. There are a few other Spider-Women in the Marvel Universe (including one who used to be a Spider-Girl), but we’ll get to them later in the column. Or maybe the next one. For now, let’s concentrate on the life (lives?) and career of Jessica Drew, star of the current Spider-Woman comic.
Drew was the first woman to be given the Spider-Woman name, but she would not be the last. Currently, she’s the star of the series by writer Dennis Hopeless and artist Javier Rodriguez. They have brought much-needed stability to the character/series, as well as great action and awesome character building. This is groundbreaking stuff — thoughtfully told, emotionally and powerfully moving, and yet still an action-packed thrill ride of a comic book.
The current creative team actually got their start in issue #5 of the previous volume of Spider-Woman (which was volume 5, according to the data geeks). The first four issues of that run were written by Hopeless, drawn by Greg Land, and were a part of that year’s Spider-Verse event. Those four issues are pretty impossible to read on their own because they are Chapters 5, 11, 17, and a wrap-up issue to Spider-Verse. They’re also pretty ignorable if you just want to start reading about Jessica. The collection you should be looking for is called Spider-Woman Volume 2: “New Duds!”, and it reprints issues #5-10.
After issue #10, the Spider-Woman series was interrupted/halted (like everything else in the Marvel Universe) by the 2015 Secret Wars event. The restarted series (volume 6) debuts with a stunning first issue. As shown on the cover, Jessica is very pregnant, and she’s keeping the father a mystery. She gives birth to a healthy baby boy in issue #4 while trapped on a satellite — and immediately after the birth, kicks a lot of Skrull butt. Jess is going to be one awesome mom.
THE WAY IT ALL BEGAN…
The Jessica Drew Spider-Woman wasn’t always cool. Her behind-the-scenes real-life creation was incredibly cynical. Back around 1976, Marvel needed to quickly create a Spider-Woman character to prevent Filmation Animation Studios from taking the trademark for a new TV cartoon. Stan Lee personally asked then-Marvel-editor-in-chief Archie Goodwin to help come up with a one-shot character before Filmation could. According to Marv Wolfman in his introduction to the Spider-Woman Marvel Masterworks Volume 1, “Stan’s one proviso was that Spider-Woman should have nothing in common with Spider-Man.”
Spider-Woman’s origin story in Marvel Spotlight #32 was only intended as a one-shot to establish Marvel’s trademark claim to the name. But, because of the professionalism of her creators (Archie Goodwin, first artist Sal Buscema, and character designer Marie Severin) and their solid storytelling, it was a much better story than what was to be expected from its dubious genesis. It IS, however, sorrily lacking many traditional origin details (like the real name of the main character). Much of what was presented there was almost immediately dropped or rewritten in subsequent stories. (Did you know, for instance, that she was originally not human but an evolved spider?)
Despite all this, it reportedly sold like crazy, perhaps because the previous issue of Marvel Spotlight (#31) was the then-awesome (and still classic) “Infinity Formula” story by Jim Starlin and Howard Chaykin that re-defined Nick Fury (as well as explained why WWII vet Fury was still a very vital man at the age of 60/70 years old). Spider-Woman’s Marvel Spotlight #32 origin also involves SHIELD and Nick Fury, and he very prominently shares the cover of that issue with Spider-Woman.
After the sales success of the Spider-Woman origin in Marvel Spotlight #32, Marvel began to prepare an ongoing series for the character. Goodwin was far too busy as editor-in-chief to script an ongoing monthly, so Marv Wolfman was asked to do it. He agreed but realized (along with Goodwin and Lee) that changes to the character would need to happen for Spider-Woman to be viable as an ongoing starring character. The first was to drop the idea of Spider-Woman being an evolved spider in favor of making her human. Other story problems could be solved by taking the tack that Spider-Woman “simply hadn’t been told all the story,” according to Wolfman.
Wolfman also wisely pushed to have the new Spider-Woman character slowly eased into the the Marvel Universe rather than start right out with a new first issue. Spider-Woman’s next few adventures would appear in the Wolfman-written Marvel Two-in-One #29-33 (guest starring Shang Chi, Invisible Girl, Modred the Mystic, and Nick Fury) in 1976-77. Spider-Woman #1 debuted in 1978, drawn by Carmine Infantino. Wolfman also finally gave her a real name in that issue — Jessica Drew — “obviously a nod to Nancy Drew, modern fiction’s first real strong girl hero/detective…. Jessica was suggested by the other Marvel editors. That was the name my then wife and I had given our newly born daughter, and I didn’t want anyone to think I was pushing it, but they all persuaded me it wouldn’t be a problem. So her name was now Jessica Drew,” Wolfman recalled.
Wolfman also created a string of memorable adversaries for the series, including Morgan Le Fay (based on the character from the Arthurian legends), Brother Grimm, and The Hangman. The early issues were very horror-oriented (Werewolf by Night also appeared). The Spider-Man villain the Black Cat was originally developed by Wolfman to appear in Spider-Woman, but when he was asked to write Amazing Spider-Man, Marv took her with him when he left Spider-Woman with issue #8.
Future writers on the series included Mark Gruenwald (continuing the run of bizarre, almost Dick Tracy-like villains) and a short but memorable run by Chris Claremont and Steve Leialoha, which helped the character by associating her more closely with the X-Men and other Claremont characters. A run of “out there” stories by Michael Fleisher didn’t help the book much, though, and by the time that Ann Nocenti got a crack at the series, it seemed like its fate had already been sealed. Issue #50 was the last in this first run, the longest Spider-Woman run to date.
Jessica was more or less killed off in that final issue in 1983. In 1984, she was brought back to life in the pages of The Avengers #240-241 by Roger Stern and Mark Gruenwald. Gruenwald was the editor of Spider-Woman #50, but he felt bad about it later and requested that Stern revive her in The Avengers.
MORE SPIDER-WOMEN, BUT DIFFERENT ONES
Later in 1984, Jim Shooter introduced a new Spider-Woman character named Julia Carpenter in the pages of Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, and for the next few years, Jessica Drew slipped into Marvel publishing limbo, except for a handful of minor appearances here and there.
Subsequent Spider-Woman series had limited runs, and at least two of them didn’t even star Jessica Drew. Volume two starred the Julia Carpenter version of the character in a largely forgettable four-issue miniseries, and volume three starred teenager Mattie Franklin as a new Spider-Woman… at least long enough for Charlotte Witter (granddaughter of psychic Madame Web) to steal the three previous Spider-Women’s powers — making her the fourth Spider-Woman. Madame Web, Drew, and Carpenter all acted as advisors to Franklin in an attempt to reclaim the stolen powers, which was successful, except that Franklin ended up with all the powers, and the others remained powerless.
This Spider-Woman series was written by John Byrne with art by Bart Sears. Franklin was later associated with the short-lived teen teams the Slingers and the Loners, eventually moving to LA. She also appeared in Alias, and later, she was killed by Sasha Kravinoff in the “Grim Hunter” Spider-Man storyline featuring the extended family of Kraven the Hunter. Jessica Drew and Julia Carpenter both eventually regained their spider-powers off camera.
Jessica Drew was eventually revived by Brian Michael Bendis in a 2003 story arc in Alias, beginning a decade in which he wrote most of her adventures. These included the Spider-Woman volume 4 seven-issue series in 2009, as well as a five-part 2005 Spider-Woman Origin miniseries which reorganized and redefined many of the more confusing elements of her origin and family. But first, also in 2005, Bendis put her in the New Avengers and actually arranged to have Frank Cho draw her there (for at least a while).
OR DID HE?…
In 2009, we discovered that during the Secret Invasion storyline/event, except for some flashback scenes, every Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman appearance in New Avengers was actually that of an Skrull imposter. Bendis had set this up four years previously in New Avengers #1. Following Secret Invasion, her real, non-Skrull self continued to appear in the 34-issue relaunched Avengers (2010-2013) series, as well as that 2009 seven-issue miniseries. As drawn by artist Alex Maleev, in that story, she went to work for S.W.O.R.D. She is also a regular character in the 2014 Secret Avengers series.
Which brings us full circle to Spider-Verse and the awesome new 2015 (and 2016) Spider Woman series (volumes 5 & 6) by Dennis Hopeless and artist Javier Rodriguez mentioned at the top of this column. I hope they have a very long and successful run, as I’m looking forward to many more well-crafted stories by these creators.
More fun Spider-Women facts/trivia tomorrow…
KC CARLSON SEZ: I haven’t got the patience right now to fully outline the complete history of the Julia Carpenter Spider-Woman other than to say that the vast majority of her appearances were in group titles or as a supporting character in other characters’ books. It is interesting to note that she is the second Spider-Woman, the second Arachne, and the second Madame Web. That’s got to be kind of ego-crushing….
WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you.
“Marvel’s Dark Angel” by Dan Johnson, Back Issue #17 August 2006.
“Introduction” by Marv Wolfman, Marvel Masterworks: Spider-Woman Vol. 1.
Various issues of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and the comics themselves.
Classic covers from the Grand Comics Database.