Amazing Spider-Friends is a twice-monthly column, written by contributor Tyler Barlass, that highlights the rich and complex relationships that Spider-Man has built with just about every character in the Marvel Universe through the years.
If you’ve been keeping up with the first couple of issues of the newest volume of Amazing Spider-Man, you know that a female that received spider powers the same day as Peter Parker is about to make her grand debut in the life of Spider-Man. Her name is Silk, but she is by no means the first woman to be given the amazing abilities of an arachnid. Jessica Drew, Julia Carpenter, Mattie Franklin, Charlotte Witter and Anya Corazon have all either gone by the Spider-Woman moniker or have been shown to have the manifest abilities of a spider. Over the next few months I’m going to go down the ladder and explore the relationships between Spider-Man and all of the spider women that have popped up in his life and in the Marvel Universe throughout the years.
Dressed in a distinctive skin-tight red and yellow uniform, London native and current Avenger Jessica Drew is the original Spider-Woman. The story behind why Marvel decided to create a female version of their most popular character is one that has more to do with legal wrangling than super heroics. In order to keep rival companies from creating their own female Spider-Man, Marvel needed to introduce someone that adorned the character’s name so that they could claim copyright. Archie Goodwin was put in charge of crafting a story for the new character in Marvel Spotlight #32, but much of that story was retconned by Marv Wolfman once the heroine received her own title a year later. Rather than make Drew an evolved spider as Goodwin had implied in his story, Wolfman made the character into more of a traditional super hero who fought crime in her new home in Los Angeles.
In Spider-Woman #1 it was revealed that, much like Peter Parker, Drew’s spider-like abilities came from science. She was injected with a “spider-power” serum at a young age in order to combat the effects of uranium poisoning. After years spent in an incubator, she awoke to find that she had become an orphan. This made it easy for the terrorist organization HYDRA to trick her into becoming one of their pawns. Eventually Drew settled down on the West Coast and slowly became the hero that we know her as today.
The first time that Jessica met up with her precursor Peter Parker was 20 issues into her own title. This meeting occurred simply by coincidence, after Pete flew into LA on assignment. In a fit of rage, Jessica broke into a shady clinic she used to work at and stole money that was owed to her. Her conscious got the best of her though and, dressed as Spider-Woman, she returned to the clinic to bring back the money. When she attempted to access the safe, Parker (who just so happened to be at the clinic taking photographs) walked in on the gaudily clad Drew, causing her to panic. She shot a venom blast at Pete and ran away which forced Parker to change into his red and blues and chase down the mysterious woman. Interestingly enough, neither hero had heard of each other up to that point in their careers. The fact that they found another person with powers similar to their own was shocking to them both.
Spider-Man’s pursuit of Spider-Woman was less than successful and after failing to grab his target with a web line, the webslinger began a perilous free fall towards a Los Angeles street. This is when Spider-Woman glided into action to save her foil from falling to his inevitable death. Thankful that Spider-Woman saved him and feeling as if his female counterpart had much more in common with him than what first met the eye, Spider-Man allowed Jessica to go free.
Peter remembered Jessica’s valorous act some time later after reading about her in the paper. After being fooled into working with a thief known as the Enforcer, Spider-Woman was quickly connected to a rash of criminal activity. In reality, Jessica was only working with the Enforcer so that she could save a friend that had been poisoned and believed the Enforcer to be the only one in possession of the antidote. These newspaper stories persuaded Pete to fly to California to see if Spider-Woman was in trouble. By happenstance, the Enforcer and Spider-Woman decided to hijack the very plane that Peter boarded in route to the West Coast. Changing into his Spidey duds, Pete took out the Enforcer but was immediately attacked by the woman he thought that he had befriended the last time they had met. Spider-Woman, while trying to escape the plane, shot a blast of venom at Spider-Man which caused him to apparently fall to this death. This time around, Jessica made no attempt to save Spidey and instead flew back to the Enforcer’s base. Spider-Man certainly didn’t die though and after a clever web trick, he eventually tracked down the Enforcer and with the help of a reformed Spider-Woman took him and his goons out for good.
Jessica Drew’s life fell into flux not long after that. She appeared to die while in battle with Morgan le Fey but was brought back to life (albeit without powers) by the Avengers. She eventually got her powers back but they were lost again when the evil Spider-Woman Charlotte Witter (whom I will write about in the near future) stole them. All seemed well when Jessica, along with Spider-Man, joined the New Avengers. It turned out though that the Spider-Woman that joined up with Captain America’s New Avengers was not Jessica Drew but instead the Skrull Queen Veranke who impersonated Drew so that she could invade Earth. The real Drew was saved from captivity after the events of Secret Invasion and joined S.W.O.R.D. After all of that, Jessica’s life finally began to settle down. This is when she and Pete shared a number of adventures together.
As members of the New Avengers during Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign, Jessica learned of Peter’s true identity when he revealed it to the entire team. Soon after, Jess and Pete teamed up to battle a couple of villains known as Mandrill and Griffin. During the fight, Mandrill was able to use his powers to seemingly manipulate Spider-Woman but in reality she was only faking so that she and Spider-Man could take down the bumbling bad guys.
Spider-Woman would eventually become a full time member of the main Avengers team where she continued to work with Spider-Man from time to time. Recently, after Doctor Octopus brain-swapped his greatest enemy, the Superior Spider-Man tangled with all of the Avengers including Jessica when they questioned his strange behavior. She was also front and center during the Avenger’s battle with the Superior Spider-Man consumed by the Venom symbiote. In Superior Spider-Man #31, once Peter returned to take over his own body and again became Spider-Man, he and Spider-Man 2099 aided Jessica and the Avengers against the army of rogue Spider Slayers wreaking havoc on New York.
Jessica Drew has certainly had an interesting life; one filled with pain, betrayal, hatred and the ability to cling to walls. She has lived life as an orphan, she has lost loved ones as a result of her powers and she has even had her powers taken from her more than once. Like Peter, her life has seemingly been more burdened by her strange abilities than rewarded. Being Spider-Woman is no day at the beach and if Jessica’s story doesn’t illustrate that, maybe the other women who have you used the handle may. Next month’s edition of Amazing Spider-Friends features the second Spider-Woman (and current comatose patient), Julia Carpenter.