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Spider-Man: I didn't say you could lend [the name] out. There's, like, ten of you now.
Spider-Man was a huge success to the Marvel comics, so obviously, later on a Distaff Counterpart would be inevitable. No, we're not talking about his daughter from The Clone Saga, Spider-Girl. We're talking about the one Distaff Counterpart conceived way before the Clone Saga. These are what we'd like to call... The Spider Women. As you can see, there's more than one person who has taken the name Spider-Woman.
The first and probably most known is Jessica Drew (Pictured on the 6 o'clock direction). She was in fact created at the last minute when Marvel found out that Filmation animation studios was going to create their own super heroine by the name of Spider-Woman; since the comic version managed to come out first, Filmation was forced to change their character's name to "Web Woman". The character first appeared in Marvel Spotlight #32 (February, 1977), created by Archie Goodwin, Sal Buscema, and Jim Mooney. Jessica was the star of Spider-Woman vol. 1, which lasted for 50 issues (April, 1978-June, 1983).
When Jessica was little, she was infected with uranium radiation and was in danger of dying. Her father used an experimental spider serum to save her, and put her in a tube to accelerate the serum's growth, saving her life but aging her rather rapidly to the point that she looks, and acts, much younger than she is. She was raised in Wundagore by Lady Bova, a cow-woman, fell in love... then accidentally killed her first love with her latent superpower: bio-electric blasts. Accused of being a witch, Jessica fled Wundagore and was taken in to HYDRA, tricked into thinking that it was a good place for refugees, even though it's actually a terrorist group. She was trained in martial arts and learned to harness her powers more effectively. These include the discovery of her other powers such as Wall Climbing and Pheromones, which attract men and women. Oh, and she was given her codename, first Arachne, but quickly changed to Spider-Woman. (It should be noted that the preceding paragraph is the result of decades of Retconning with at least two complete origin changes, including one where she was a hyper-evolved spider. Spider-Woman rivals Hawkman in the Continuity Snarl category.)
On her first mission to assassinate Nick Fury, Jessica came to realize that HYDRA was wrong, so she rebelled and was left on her own to cope with her power and with her daily life. It was tough, but eventually she managed to overcome her problems, especially after the Crossover with Spider-Man, who advised her to use her power for good; she later became a Bounty Hunter and a private detective. She also gained a Rogues Gallery, the most notorious being Morgan le Fay, whom she eventually finished in her book's finale, at the cost of her soul being separated from her body, and she requested her magician friend cast a spell that would erase her from the memories of everyone that ever knew her.
However, the spell was faulty and eventually her body was found by The Avengers, which led to a story arc where they tried to get her soul back to her body. They succeeded, but with a cost: Spider-Woman's powers are gone. Jessica later led a normal life with her friend Lindsay McCabe, moving to Madripoor and briefly getting involved with the adventures of Wolverine. Of course, her powers slowly started to come back, but they tended to be fluctuous and unstable.
The second Spider-Woman is a Hot Mom named Julia Carpenter (10 o'clock on the picture). She first appeared in Secret Wars #6-7 (October-November, 1984), created by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck. She mostly appeared in team books. But was the star of Spider-Woman vol. 2, a 4-issue mini-series (November, 1993-February, 1994).
Carpenter got tricked into entering a program to create a superhero, under the guise of 'Athletic Study', and was accidentally injected with a different spider serum, granting her super strength, wall-climbing and psychic web. She was given the identity of Spider-Woman, although she preferred 'Arachne' (suggestion overruled). Her first major involvement was the Crossover event Secret Wars, which eventually got her to meet Spider-Man and give him the inspiration of the design for his Alien Symbiote black suit (later Venom). After that, Julia joined the West Coast Avengers and later got involved against the criminal Deathweb, who threatened her with her daughter Rachel. Julia rescued Rachel and eventually retired from superhero business.
Martha "Mattie" Franklin and Charlotte Witter
The third Spider-Woman is less known and more into the mythos of Spider-Man. Martha 'Mattie' Franklin (2 o'clock on the picture, don't worry, she got her own distinctive costume later) is the niece of J. Jonah Jameson, who thinks Spider-Man is cool. Mattie first appeared in Spectacular Spider-Man #262 (November, 1998), created by John Byrne and Rafael Kayanan. She assumed the Spider-Woman identity in Amazing Spider-Man vol. 2 #5 (May, 1999).
Mattie attended a ceremony in place of her father, giving her the Spider Limbs. Later, Spider-Man had a Ten-Minute Retirement, so Mattie donned a costume similar to his and called herself Spider-Woman, taking his place in crime-fighting. Spider-Man realized this and helped her a bit after he got out of retirement.
Around this time, Doctor Octopus created a new villain named Spider-Woman (11 o'clock on the picture) using Madame Web's daughter Charlotte Witter; she attacked Jessica, Julia and Mattie and absorbed their powers. Both Jessica and Julia eventually guide Mattie to become the next Spider-Woman and defeat Charlotte, also getting parts of their Spider-Woman powers. Charlotte first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man vol. 2 #5 (May, 1999), created by John Byrne and Howard Mackie.
Mattie became the star of Spider-Woman vol. 3, which lasted for 18 issues (July, 1999-December, 2000). Charlotte made regular appearances as an opponent for Mattie.
After this, the fates of the Spider Women separated. For the most part, Mattie kinda faded into obscurity. Julia eventually regained her power and called herself Arachne like she always wanted. During the Marvel Civil War, she acted as a double agent for both sides, earning the ire of Ms. Marvel, who forced her to do something horrendous - separating from Rachel. Bad idea. They eventually reconciled a bit, but it was clear that their relationship had been strained. Julia later joined the Canadian superhero team Omega Flight.
As for Jessica, Nick Fury later suggested she infiltrate HYDRA to get her powers back, or at least stabilize them. However, instead, she ended up ambushed and captured by the Skrulls, and for two years spent her time imprisoned while their queen, Veranke, impersonated her and tried setting up the heroes for their eventual invasion; she also joined the New Avengers in Jessica's place, participating in big events like House of M, Marvel Civil War, and World War Hulk. Jessica herself was rescued, but when she came back, everyone looked at her funny. In fact, she was vilified by the world, as people still thought she might be Veranke. Naturally, she was not amused.
Congratulations, Wolverine. You're no longer the only title holder of "The most screwed over person in the world".
While there were many people who didn't trust her, there were some who sympathized, leading her to join the New Avengers. She served the team loyally, and after the Dark Reign concluded, she became one of the core Avengers team, seemingly having gotten over her despair, for now...
Jessica also had a solo comicbook in Noir style, which took place somewhere at the beginning of Dark Reign, where she joined SWORD and hunted down a remaining Skrull, who proceeded to give her a verbal smackdown on how much she was alone, leading to the success of Secret Invasion. But this got interrupted when the other New Avengers came to the rescue, assuring her that she really belonged to the team. Even Wolverine got to rebuke what she said:
Just you remember, I'm still the most screwed over person in the world.
Since then many of the Spider-Women crossed paths again in a Spider-Man event (Grim Hunt) where the Kravinoff family captured all the "spider family" as retribution. In the aftermath, Julia is blind having absorbed the powers of Madame Web and becoming her successor, Mattie was killed, Jessica was not involved at all (although she currently is a mainline Avenger). Oh, and there's a new Spider-Girl - no, not that one, but a girl named Anya Corazon, who used to be part of the Young Allies and a Tagalong Kid for Ms. Marvel as Araña (Spanish for "spider").
Jessica herself used to star in an animated series of her own (after Web-Woman). On the other hand, Julia was featured in the old Iron Man cartoon (and even got to marry Tony himself... in a ploy).
Tropes associated with the Spider Women:
- Action Mom, Hot Mom, Mama Bear: Julia. Harm Rachel at your own risk.
- Adaptation Dye Job: Julia goes around with orange hair, red hair or blonde, depending on who drew her.
- Animal-Themed Superbeing
- Arch Enemy: Back in the day, Jessica's was Morgan Le Fay.
- Berserk Button: Don't insinuate Jessica being a Skrull or try to control her mind. She'll try to kill you for that. On the other hand, harming Julia's daughter means you put a 'Please Kick Me' sign on your butt.
- Bound and Gagged: Hoo boy, does Jessica get to this situation often in her early runs.
- Broken Bird: Jessica.
- Crossover: Often with Spider-Man, at times; it's also pivotal to Spidey's development (it created Venom)
- Distaff Counterpart: Subverted since none of the Spider-Women have any relation to Peter Parker whatsoever apart from acquaintance, all getting their powers from completely different sources. At least that's how it goes in the main canon...
- However the Ultimate Marvel version of Jessica Drew is a genuine example of this, being an Opposite Sex Clone of Peter who emerged intact from the Ultimate Clone Saga.
- Mattie's reason for becoming Spider-Woman was because she was a Spidey fangirl. And Jessica was created for copyright reasons like most Distaff Counterparts.
- In Marvel Ultimate Alliance, Jessica made a joke that she's not his sister, she's not his cousin that needed a blood transfusion from him, she's never received his powers from him, and they've never dated, although she does find him cute.
- Guy Magnet: Jessica, litterally; one of her powers is to produce pheromones that makes men want her (and cause women to be revulsed by her). She can't control it and relies on a perfume to correct it.
- Foe Yay: Archenemy Morgan le Fay consinstently attempts to possess Jessica's body. She claims said body is a battery of Elder God Chthon's magical energies. Morgan also later goes after Scarlet Witch for the same reason. No particular interest yet in Quicksilver who is also infected with said magics but is male. The relationship between Jessica and Gypsy Moth, a lady villain, is also a bit peculiar. In "Spider-Woman" vol. 1 #10, 48, 50, Jessica always tries to befriend the mutant because of their perceived similarities. On the other hand, the Moth's main power is to psychokinetically manipulate fibers. Her favorite moves are either stripping opponents of their clothing or binding them in it. Guess how this looks in battles against Jessica.
- These days, Morgan seems to have a thing for Doctor Doom.
- Happily Married: Horribly averted by Julia. Her original husband doesn't take her superhero career well, and they were eventually divorced.
- Hero with Bad Publicity: Just to show just how messed up Jessica's life is, this is her past (being an ex-agent of HYDRA) and present life (still being thought of as the Skrull Queen). Who knows if this'll change in the future.
- Insistent Terminology: Call Julia Spider-Woman or Spider-Girl after she gets to use her intended alias, and she'll correct you that "It's Arachne."
- It's Personal: Jessica really hates Skrulls after Secret Invasion. Part of the reason why she joins SWORD is because it gives her more opportunities to kick Skrull ass.
- Luke, I Am Your Father: In this case, mother. Meriem Drew, Jessica's mother, was supposedly killed in a werewolf attack decades ago. In Spider-Woman #44 (June, 1982), Meriem was revealed to be alive and unaging, in the person of Viper/Madame Hydra, the latter being a long-established super-villainess. Jessica and Viper were also stated to be "mirror images" of each other. This was retconned away in "Captain America" vol. 1 #281 (May, 1983), "revealing" that both ladies had been manipulated by Chthon into thinking they were related.
- Most Common Superpower
- Ms. Fanservice: Mainly Jessica, but even Julia could be this.
- Mythology Gag: Jessica was at first assigned with the name "Arachne", then changes it to "Spider-Woman". The reverse happened to Julia (who wanted to be called Arachne from the start).
- Power Incontinence: Jessica had to learn to keep her pheromones in check, at first.
- Red Headed Heroine: Julia Carpenter. Sometimes.
- Ret-Gone: It fails.
- Rogues Gallery: Jessica fought a surprising number of villains during her initial 50-issue series, including the Brothers Grimm, the Needle, Daddy Long Legs, Turner D. Century, the Flying Tiger, the Waxman, Gypsy Moth, Morgan le Fay, the Human Fly, Hammer and Anvil, the Hangman, Nekra and Dr. Karl Malus.
- Sensual Spandex
- Shock and Awe: Jessica's bio-electric blasts.
- Spider Limbs: Mattie.
- Statuesque Stunner: Both Jessica (5'10") and Julia (5'9").
- Stock Subtitle: "Spider-Woman: Resurrection"
- The Three Faces of Eve: Jessica as the Seductress, Julia as the Mother, Mattie/Anya as the Child.
- Unlimited Wardrobe: Mattie went through nine costumes before settling on one.
- Wall Crawl
- Bottom-right, Madame Web.