Who is Spider-Woman? by Jerry Whitworth
In August, it was announced Olivia Wilde (Booksmart) has signed with Sony to direct a Marvel film set in the Spider-Man universe with a female lead. Joining their Spider-Man, Venom, and emerging Morbius brands (with the likes of Madame Web, Spider-Gwen, Silver Sable, Black Cat, Kraven the Hunter, Sinister Six, Silk, Nightwatch, and Jackpot in various degrees of development), the mystery project is speculated to feature original Spider-Woman Jessica Drew. Created to ensure Marvel had the rights to the name Spider-Woman (something they did again a few years later with She-Hulk for the Hulk) supposedly from hearing about Filmation’s development of what became a Web Woman animated series, the character is in a unique position among the alleged 900 properties Sony has licensed from Marvel. While Sony have the film rights for the Spider-Woman name and costume, Marvel retained the rights for the character’s backstory. Meaning, if done independently, Sony could produce a Spider-Woman superhero film with an entirely new backstory as Marvel could effectively produce a Jessica Drew project so long as she doesn’t don the iconic red and yellow costume or use the name ‘Spider-Woman.’ The situation is not unlike how both Fox and Marvel had their own versions of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch for their respective X-Men and Avengers brands. However, with the new working relationship between Marvel and Sony over Spider-Man, it’s believed part of this arrangement means a co-produced Spider-Woman film. This begs the surprisingly complicated question of who is Jessica Drew?
Created in 1977 by Archie Goodwin and Marie Severin under direction by Stan Lee, Spider-Woman was allegedly the creation of the High Evolutionary, a mad scientist that evolved animals into humanoid creatures called the New Men. An evolved spider, Spider-Woman escaped her environment and was recruited by the terrorist organization Hydra becoming the super-powered agent Arachne. Donning a spider-themed modified Hydra uniform but cloaked in red rather than green, Arachne was sent to assassinate Nick Fury, a prominent agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Fury, realizing the woman was being manipulated, revealed Hydra as the terrorists they are, leading Arachne to turn on them. Proving to be popular despite seemingly being intended as a single appearance for trademark purposes, Marv Wolfman revamped the character in the pages of the Thing’s team-up title Marvel Two-in-One.
Once again an agent of Hydra, Arachne (now going by Spider-Woman) was sent to assassinate the Thing but again had a change of heart. Thanks to the anti-hero Modred the Mystic, she learned her origins were in fact implanted memories. Instead, Jessica Drew was the young daughter of Dr. Jonathan and Meriem Drew. Her father formed a partnership with Herbert Wyndham (who later became the High Evolutionary) and the pair opened a laboratory on Meriem’s plot of land on Wundagore Mountain in Transia. Over the course of their research, Jessica’s proximity to the mountain’s supply of uranium sickened her and Jonathan was forced to treat her with an untested serum derived from spider DNA. When the serum failed to heal her, Jessica was placed in suspended animation for decades in order to give her time to heal. Waking as an adult with remarkable powers, Jessica left Wundagore and fell into the clutches of Hydra who brainwashed her into becoming a weapon. Now free of Hydra’s influence, Jessica Drew left Europe for Los Angeles in the United States.
Working as a bounty hunter with criminologist Scotty McDowell (who acted for a time as hero-turned-villain named the Hornet) and later as a private investigator in San Francisco with her best friend Lindsay McCabe, Jessica Drew developed a supporting cast including sorcerer Magnus and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jerry Hunt while infrequently teaming with Werewolf by Night Jack Russell (partnering on occasion with the Shroud and Spider-Man, as well). In an intriguing twist of fate, Meriem Drew apparently died at the claws of Russell’s werewolf grandfather Baron Gregor Russoff. It would also be around her time in San Francisco that Jessica saved the life of Ms. Marvel Carol Danvers from the mutant terrorist Rogue. This event lead to on ongoing friendship between Jessica and Carol as the latter became an ally to the X-Men. Jessica acquired an array of rogues including the Brothers Grimm, Hangman, Waxman, Needle, Gypsy Moth, Enforcer, Dr. Karl Malus, Digger, and Tick Tock, most of which formed the Night Shift at the time of Jessica’s seeming demise. Imprisoned by the Locksmith who largely targeted Spider-Woman and her allies and enemies, the Shroud brought the heroine’s foes (and ally Jack Russell) together with other prisoners Dansen Macabre and Tatterdemalion as the Night Shift based out of the Tower of Shadows and manipulated them to combat other criminal organizations. However, as the group was formed, Spider-Woman faced what seemed to be her final battle with her nemesis Morgan le Fay.
Elder half-sister of King Arthur Pendragon and apprentice to Merlin, Morgan le Fay became a foe to both men as well as the heroic Black Knight, Sir Percival of Scandia. Eventually, Morgan was imprisoned in Castle Le Fey in eternal slumber by Merlin. However, she projected herself throughout time over the astral plane finding a nemesis in the modern age in Spider-Woman. Eventually, le Fay orchestrated a plot to steal Spider-Woman’s soul but the sorcerer’s former apprentice Magnus used his magic to send the heroine back in time for a final battle that appeared to bring about the end to both women. Fortunately, the Avengers involved themselves in the conflict and rescued their fellow hero (in turn, making themselves an ongoing target of le Fay). The event lead to Jessica Drew losing her powers, leaving numerous Spider-Women to emerge in her wake including Julia Carpenter, May Parker of Earth-982, Mattie Franklin, Charlotte Witter, and the Gwen Stacy of Earth-65. Drew regained her powers and became a supporting character for Wolverine for a time before seemingly fading into obscurity.
In the 2000s, writer Brian Michael Bendis used Jessica Drew in his series Alias, a book that initially was intended to star Drew but instead lead to the creation of the similar original character of Jessica Jones. Bendis went on to add Spider-Woman to his New Avengers run as a member of the team and re-imagined her origin for a new generation. Therein, Dr. Jonathan Drew was a Hydra scientist who worked under a General Wyndham alongside Miles Warren (who later became Spider-Man’s enemy the Jackal). When Jessica’s parents disappeared under mysterious circumstances, the young woman was recruited by Hydra. Implanted with false memories (including of the High Evolutionary) and trained by Taskmaster, Jessica was sent to kill Nick Fury leading to her revolt against the organization. Bendis wouldn’t be done playing around with the character’s backstory when he revealed during the event Secret Invasion that the Spider-Woman in the Avengers was in fact an impostor in Skrull Queen Veranke.
Following her team-up with Jessica Jones, Jessica Drew once again became an agent of Hydra to work as a double agent within S.H.I.E.L.D. However, Nick Fury was aware of the deception and used Drew against Hydra. Around this time, Drew was kidnapped by the Skrulls and replaced with their queen Veranke. The Skrull continued with her role in S.H.I.E.L.D. and later joined the Avengers, using her position to further her plans for conquering Earth. In time, Veranke’s plot was foiled and Drew tried to return to her life after years imprisoned. While other heroes were in a similar position in which a Skrull impersonated them, with Drew’s impostor being the leader of the invasion, it made it harder for others to trust her. Despite this, Spider-Woman found herself busier than in her entire career up to that point. Joining the Avengers and S.W.O.R.D., the heroine went on to be part of the Spider-Army made up of the multiverse’s Spider-Men and Women, became a private detective again, gave birth to her son Gerry, and learned her mother (now named Miriam) had faked her death, was alive as a clone, and had a son named Michael Marchand.
Something that should be noted, in 1979 there was a Spider-Woman cartoon seemingly based out of the 1967 Spider-Man animated universe (evidenced by Paul Soles playing the voice of Spider-Man in both series). The show was a distinctly different product than the comic. For the cartoon, Jessica Drew was bitten by a venomous spider and her father injected her with an experimental serum to save her life, inadvertently granting her super powers. Jessica grew up to become an editor for Justice Magazine that went on adventures with her photographer Jeff Hunt (not to be confused with Jerry Hunt) and nephew Billy. Spider-Woman’s powers were also different, becoming more in line with those of Spider-Man and beyond. Gone was Morgan le Fay and the future members of the Night Shift, the brief first season instead featured Dormammu, Kingpin, Count Dracula, and the Fly as her foes. The series lasted for one season with sixteen episodes. It appeared as though Spider-Woman also existed in the Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends universe where in its first episode, Firestar wore her costume for a Halloween party.
Within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a lot of groundwork has been laid for Spider-Woman. Hydra, of course, has been a significant presence in the MCU. Further, Jessica Drew’s connection to Wundagore Mountain puts her in the company of the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver who were born and raised there for a time in the comics. In the Bendis re-imagining of Drew, she was even attended to by Bova who raised the Maximoff twins. In the MCU, the twins were experimented upon by Hydra and developed super powers. In this mix, there’s also Chthon, an Elder God who was the primary author of the Darkhold, one of the most powerful magical artifacts in the Marvel Universe.
A tome of dark magic with a corrupting influence, the Darkhold was used by Morgan le Fay to make her a force able to surpass Merlin. Morgan employed the book to imprison Chthon in Wundagore Mountain and it was the Elder God who imbued Scarlet Witch with mystical energies at birth to use her as a pawn in later years. The Darkhold was responsible for the creation of werewolves and Baron Gregor Russoff obtained it with the hope to use it to cure himself of lycanthropy by summoning Chthon. This prompted the sorcerer Magnus to emerge and combat the Elder God. The Darkhold featured prominently in the fourth season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. prompting the emergence of Ghost Rider and final season of Runaways in the possession of Morgan le Fay. It’s likely had the Adventure into Fear project continued, the Darkhold would have had a role as a Ghost Rider series was planned. With the upcoming Moon Knight series coming from Disney+ allegedly tackling the supernatural (Moon Knight having first appeared in the Werewolf by Night comic book series and featured in a popular meme involving Count Dracula), Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness said to be introducing the MCU to horror, WandaVision acting as a lead-in to the Doctor Strange film, and Blade the Vampire Hunter on the horizon, Spider-Woman can fit nicely into the mix. As noted, Morgan le Fay has already emerged in Runaways and the latest person to inherit the mantle of the Black Knight is set to appear in Eternals. Spider-Woman, of course, goes beyond just horror and magic.
Nick Fury has been a cornerstone of the MCU since its beginning who has an upcoming series coming to Disney+. At this time, it’s unknown what the content of that series will be but it could set the stage for Spider-Woman interacting with S.H.I.E.L.D./S.W.O.R.D. San Francisco has also featured notably in the MCU, home to the Ant-Man and Runaways brands as well as Sony’s Venom franchise with speculation having the area’s San Quentin Prison being home to Carnage, Morbius, and Vulture. Carnage at one point in the comics had his own supernatural menagerie like the Night Shift with the likes of Shriek, Doppelganger, Demogoblin, and Carrion (clone of Miles Warren/Jackal). With an inevitable team-up between Venom and Spider-Man in the works, Spider-Woman could feed into rounding out aspects of an adaptation of the “Maximum Carnage” storyline. There is also the relationship between Jessica Drew and Carol Danvers in the comics. This can be played up in the films especially given Danvers’ connection to the Skrulls and ways in which Spider-Woman could obviously tie into an adaptation of Secret Invasion. The High Evolutionary is also alleged to be the primary antagonist for the third Guardians of the Galaxy film. But something significant that should be mentioned is a possible Spider-Women franchise.
Mentioned earlier, Sony has some 900 Marvel properties under license and the likes of Madame Web, Spider-Gwen, and Silk sit high in their priorities. This is especially true after the popularity of Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018). Rumor has it, a spin-off of the animated film is in development featuring Stacy heading up a team of Spider-Women as past speculation had a Spider-Gwen live action movie that would have had Jessica Drew and Silk prior to the Olivia Wilde project revelation. With Spider-Woman seemingly getting more traction than many of these films in development, it’s very likely her film could set the stage for Spider-Gwen/Ghost Spider, Silk, Madame Web, or any number of these other projects (at this point, Araña/Anya Corazon being announced wouldn’t be too surprising). Toss in a Black Widow to hit all the female Marvel spiders.