Marvel announced that it’s going to bat for the seventh time and will debut a new Spider-Woman comicbook series in 2020. Written by Karla Pacheco with art by Pere Perez, the book will be a re-launch of a character that’s been in the Marvel comicbook universe since 1977. That gives the writer plenty of material to draw from given Spider-Woman’s long history.
Spider-Woman was created by famed comics writer and editor Archie Goodwin and original “Marvel Bullpen” artist Marie Severin. The character debuted in 1977 in Marvel Spotlight #32. Jessica Drew began as a super-powered, brain-washed HYDRA agent sent to kill S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury, but soon became a hero of the Marvel universe as she turned against HYDRA and dealt with the consequences of her origin.
Stan Lee also had a major hand in her creation, but more for the sake of copyright than anything else. Of the character, Stan once said: “I suddenly realized that some other company may quickly put out a book like that and claim they have the right to use the name, and I thought we’d better do it real fast to copyright the name.”
Stan explained this in a 1978 published interview with The Comics Journal, issue #42. After her successful debut as a “villain” in Marvel Spotlight, she was given her own series that same year, which lasted an incredible 50-issue run until 1983.
She even had her own Saturday morning animated series in 1979, her character voiced by television actor Joan Van Ark before her successful run on the Knots Landing series.
This was a major achievement given that every following series featuring the character never reached those numbers again, and there have been six re-starts of the character since. In a few cases, the Spider-Woman comics that were launched didn’t even feature Jessica Drew!
Julia Carpenter aka Spider-Woman was introduced with little explanation in Marvel’s 1984 series Secret Wars issue #6, written by Jim Shooter and drawn by Mike Zeck and John Beatty. She was the first to sport the distinctive black and white design that became the look for Spider-Man and subsequently Venom in the following years – Spidey didn’t don the black and white suit until Secret Wars #8.
Although the character and the look was popular, this iteration of the character was eventually replaced with yet another Spider-Woman by the name of Martha “Mattie” Franklin in 1998. But she didn’t catch on and her series only lasted 18 issues. Finally, Marvel went back to the original Jessica Drew for seven issues in 2008.
However, in an interesting case of what might have been, the Alias series, written by Brian Michael Bendis, was slated to feature Jessica Drew, not Jones. “Originally, Alias was going to star Jessica Drew, but it became something else entirely,” Bendis wrote in the letters pages of issue #11 of his independent Powers series.
The next two attempts to feature Spider-Woman in her own series were a 10-issue run in 2014 and a 17-issue run from 2015-2017. This most recent series had Jessica give birth to a child with no obligation to a biological father in a rather forward-looking story that championed female independence.
So, why does Marvel keep going back to a character who, outside of her initial success, has only had sporadic success since? Well, Spider-Woman is certainly visually dynamic and her backstory complex and interesting. Besides, once the Sony deal with Marvel Studios concludes, why not keep a spider-themed hero in the public eye with either a Spider-Woman MCU movie or as a future television series on Disney+? As the Man himself said above, gotta keep on top of that copyright!
NOTE: Spider-Woman is not to be confused with similar characters such as the Marvel Ultimate Universe Spider-Woman who is revealed to be Peter Parker’s clone; Spider-Gwen from a parallel universe where Gwen Stacy is bit by the radioactive arachnid instead of Peter; Spider-Girl, the future daughter of Peter and Mary Jane Watson-Parker, known to her friends as May “Mayday” Parker; or any of a handful of other Spider-themed femme heroes. Into the Spidey-Verse, indeed!