Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. - Many Outfits & Faces of SPIDER-WOMAN
Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. - SPIDER-WOMAN
Many people are familiar with Peter Parker, the self-described "friendly neighborhood Spider-Man." But there have been a few women over the years who have adopted a similar moniker. And, in an interesting twist from most superhero comics, most of these women got their powers and began their costumed careers without the direct influence of the previously existing male superhero. We're talking about those ladies who have used the alias: Spider-Woman.
Please note, this focuses on people called Spider-Woman and not those characters called Spider-Girl. They'll get their own focus. Likewise, we'll be sticking with mainstream Marvel Comics reality and not delve into parallel universe or alternate timelines.
The first true Spider-Woman character was Jessica Drew, who made her first appearance in Marvel Spotlight #32, published in 1977. Jessica had a few conflicting stories about her origins for a while (at one point she was even said to be the daughter of Morgan Le Fey, the famous nemesis of King Arthur). A recent mini-series entitled Spider-Woman: Origin presented a new definitive look at her beginnings and revealed that Jessica's parents had been researching the DNA of spiders in an effort to see if certain abilities could be transferred to a human being. Jessica's mother had, while pregnant, been exposed to an energy beam meant to imbue someone with the characteristics of different spiders.
As a result, Jessica had a host of strange abilities. Like Spider-Man, she had superhuman endurance, agility, reflexes and strength. She could cling to surfaces by sheer force of will, running up walls and across ceilings as easily as one might run across the street. Jessica didn't have Spider-Man's psychic "spider-sense" to warn her of oncoming danger nor was she as strong as him, but she did have a few abilities he didn't. She was immune to any toxin and type of radiation. Her body produced a high concentration of certain pheromones, which could cause serious attraction in some and deep-seated fear in others. Generally, this drew men and repulsed women. Later on, Jessica developed a specialized "perfume" she prayed herself with that would nullify this effect.
When Jessica made her debut in comics, she had been recruited by the terrorist organization HYDRA (recently seen in the film Captain America: The First Avenger). As an agent of HYDRA, she initially went under the official codename of "Arachne" and operated in a red and yellow costume that covered her from head to toe, allowing only the lower half of her face to be shown. It's not a bad suit. It's sleek and has the feel of a gymnast, which is something essential to spider characters who are usually depicted as having superhuman agility. The colors here may not be the best if you wanted a stealth agent, but Jessica was meant to be a display of HYDRA's power so it makes sense she'd wear something that would draw your attention.
The web-wings resemble an element in Spider-Man's original costume that most artists don't really include these days. But whereas Spider-Man had it for decoration, Jessica has a purpose for it. These web-wings were designed by HYDRA to give Jessica the ability to glide through the air. This definitely helped her when leaping from rooftop to rooftop in major cities such as Los Angeles and New York and it gave her a means of travel that did not involve mimicking Spider-Man's mechanical web-shooters or using a grappling hook like the spider-themed character Black Widow.
In the meantime, a new Spider-Woman had debuted...
The new Spider-Woman first showed up during the crossover story Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars (1984), a mysterious new superhuman with extremely long red hair and no connection to Jessica Drew. The second Spider-Woman was later revealed to be named Julia Carpenter. She quickly proved her worth during the Secret Wars and her costume inspired Spider-Man to adopt a similar design (giving us the famous Venom costume). Like Peter Parker, she had the "proportionate strength, speed and agility of a spider." she could cling to surfaces and leap 30 feet in the air. She didn't have a spider-sense, venom blasts or mechanical web-shooters. But she did have the unique power of focusing psychic energy into tangible web-like forms. These "psi-webs" were incredibly strong but were a bit slower than Peter's web-shooters since Julia had to mentally weave her webs.
Julia had several adventures as Spider-Woman ("Spi" to her friends) and even joined the Avengers West Coast branch before we finally learned her origins. A natural athlete, Julia had agreed to be the subject of a specialized program funded by a group called the Commission. These folks the injected Julia with an experimental serum, telling her it was an accidental mix-up, that granted her abilities. She then became their field agent, asking for the codename "Arachne" but instead getting saddled with "Spider-Woman." Eventually, she left behind the corrupt Commission and continued as a full-time superhero. When the Avengers West Coast disbanded, she joined the new team that took its place: Force Works. When they disbanded, Julia decided to focus on her role as a single mother and only donned the costume again when the Avengers occasionally needed to call in reserve members to help out.
It's not my fault if things get complicated here, I didn't write the stories.
In 1998, Spider-Man's arch-enemy Norman Osborn (AKA the original Green Goblin) got together with some other corrupt people in an effort to harness supernatural forces and gain incredible power. A teenage girl named Martha "Mattie" Franklin found out about this clandestine ceremony and (bizarrely) decided to participate. Mattie wound up getting the power Norman had intended for himself. Mattie wound up with abilities similar to Spider-Man, her hero. Around this time, Peter Parker temporarily retired from his Spider-Man identity (not the first or last time this has happened). So Mattie wore a padded outfit and began operating as a new Spider-Man. Eventually, Peter returned to the costumed champion career and Mattie decided that she was now the new Spider-Woman.
Mattie got to star in her own title and was the biggest example of how indecisive teenagers can be. In her first dozen issues or so, she constantly changed her costume. Almost none of them that interesting or inspired. Most, honestly, just looked like swimsuits with a small spider-design stamped on. Her original Spider-Woman costume was perhaps the laziest of all, as it was just Spider-Man's costume without the web-lines. So really, she just looked like Spider-Man's kid sister wearing a costume that had lost its webs in the wash. And adding a very thin, long ponytail isn't interesting enough as a design element nor does it carry the same sense of action that Jessica and Julia's hair could achieve.
And her costume? Incredibly lazy. That mask design is just bizarre, the way it extends to her shoulders but doesn't connect to anything else. The rest is just gloves, boots and a work-out leotard with webbing seemingly added as an afterthought. About as creative as naming a spider-themed character Charlotte.
The one element I question is the shoulder pads. I just don't think they need to be there. Depending on the angle, they can even be distracting.
Now, why did Julia call herself Arachne when she returned to the life of a costumed hero? Partly because she always preferred that name and partly because the name Spider-Woman had been taken again. Jessica Drew started showing up in comics again in 2004, back in her classic red and yellow threads. We had seen her in the pages of Mattie Franklin's series, with her powers seemingly returning but in a very unstable way. We eventually found out that a later experimental procedure brought back her full abilities and stabilized them in the process. She also now had the ability to fly rather than having to rely on her costume to help her glide on air currents.
And that brings us to a close. As for those heroes called Spider-Girl, we'll speak of them soon enough. But you can see Spider-Girl, Spider-Woman, Spider-Man and many other spider-powered characters in the new Spider-Island storyline happening right now in the pages of Marvel Comics. Until next time, this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off!FACEBOOK and TWITTER!