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.
As I continue to shine a spotlight on the various women who have been given spider powers in the Marvel Universe through the years, I regrettably turn my attention to the third Spider-Woman, Mattie Franklin. It’s not that I don’t like Mattie, like so many others did when she was introduced. Instead, I find the way that Mattie’s story has been dealt with through the years the regrettable part of recalling her relationship with Spider-Man. Introduced during the unfortunate “Gathering of Five” storyline from the late ’90s and officially dubbed Spider-Woman during the even more unfortunate Amazing Spider-Man reboot, Mattie Franklin was a young teenage girl who, unlike the two spider women before her, was given powers through a mystical ritual rather than science. I’ve talked about how both Jessica Drew (the original Spider-Woman) and Julia Carpenter (the second Spider-Woman) have led difficult lives as a result of their powers. Well those ladies don’t have anything on Mattie Franklin, the most tragic Spider-Woman of them all.
Martha “Mattie” Franklin was only 15 years old when she stole her father’s sacred relic and took part in Norman Osborn’s madness inducing Gathering of Five ritual. The ritual gave Mattie special powers that even included the ability to fly. When Peter decided to call it quits (again) after Spider-Man #98, Mattie chose to take up the mantle of her idol and become the new “Spider-Man.” Her tenure as the webbed one didn’t last long though. Mattie was in way over her head and was beaten quite soundly by the fiery villain known as Shadrac. Coming to her rescue, Peter donned his familiar red and blues and saved the life of his temporary replacement. Curious as to who had been imitating him, Pete stripped off the mask of an unconscious Mattie to reveal the innocent face of a teenage girl.
After Peter reclaimed his rightful spot as Spider-Man, Mattie decided to continue to fight crime as the new Spider-Woman. Her original costume, which is little more than a revised version of Spidey’s with a place to let her hair out, was the first of many that she would sport during her short time as a superhero. Her first real nemesis as the third Spider-Woman was ironically the fourth Spider-Woman, Charlotte Witter who tried to absorb the powers of all of the first three spider gals. Witter succeeded in capturing Jessica Drew and Julia Carpenter’s powers but failed to take Mattie’s. In her first real triumph as a hero, Mattie reabsorbed the stolen spider powers which gave her the abilities of her predecessors as well as four spider-like appendages that sprung from her back (this obviously predated the tendrils used by both Pete is his Iron Spider costume and Doc Ock in his Superior Spider-Man suit).
Witter was far from finished with her new foil though. Spider-Man had to come to Mattie’s aid after she was captured and brainwashed by Charlotte and her creator Dr. Octopus. Later, during another team-up between Mattie and Pete, the young Spider-Woman stole a kiss from her much older counterpart. Pete quickly rebuked her advances and, after Witter was finally defeated for good, Parker asked Madame Web to erase Mattie’s knowledge of his secret identity. This inevitably squashed Mattie’s teenage crush and possibly had implications on the troubling choices she would make later in life.
Over time, Mattie would hang up her array of costumes and decide to live as a regular teenager under the roof of J. Jonah and Marla Jameson who became her adopted aunt and uncle. Her penchant for going after older men would continue though and Mattie would sadly find herself the source of a drug trade spearheaded by an abusive boyfriend. The process of extracting her blood for Mutant Growth Hormone and injecting it into their bloodstream would temporarily give people super powers. Mattie was eventually saved by Jessica Drew and private investigator Jessica Jones and returned to live with the Jamesons.
The next time Mattie was seen in costume she was watching an amusing battle between Spider-Man and Deadpool when she was captured by the daughter of Kraven the Hunter, Ana Kravinoff. The surviving Kravinoffs were on a mission to not only make Spider-Man’s life a living hell, but planned on reviving their deceased patriarch as well. In a practice sacrifice, Mattie was murdered in an attempt to bring Kraven’s son Vladimir back to life. Little to no mention of her or her death has been made since.
In 1998, when Mattie was introduced, I don’t think anyone felt that a third Spider-Woman was warranted and in the inept hands of Howard Mackie and John Byrne the potential of a teenaged spider girl was never realized. Still, the cruel fate that befell Mattie Franklin was certainly undeserved. The killing of Franklin during the Grim Hunt storyline served only to thin out the horde of spider women that had accumulated up to that point. I understand the concept, but why not at least let Mattie die with some dignity? We never once saw a panel showing Jonah or Marla grieve over the death of their adopted niece. Do they assume that she just ran away again (as she did when she joined in on the Gathering of Five ritual)? Not likely. It seems that Mattie was nothing more than an expendable character and that no writer felt the need to properly address the aftermath of her brutal death. Mattie Franklin was a tragic character indeed.