Spider-Woman: my stay-at-home adventure

Since today is National Superhero Day, I thought I would take a moment to briefly tell you about my new at-home adventure; I’m reading the original Spider-Woman series (and then some) in its entirety, one issue per day. A few years ago, I purchased the entire series in one box at a con for a steal, and I decided to finally give it a shot since I adored her series with Dennis Hopeless as the writer. I began 9 days ago, and let me tell you, I’m surprised how much I’m diggin’ it. Now, to clarify, there have been many Spider-Woman series over at Marvel, but I’m talking about the original Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew.

If you’re like me and you’re bad at math, this means I’m on issue 9 so far, but I’ve actually read more. I began with Spider-Woman #1 on the first day, but then quickly realized that her first appearance was elsewhere. So, I also squeezed in her first appearance in Marvel Spotlight and then her follow-up appearances in Marvel Two-in-One. These, plus the first several issues of her solo series, are written by Marv Wolfman.

This. Character. Is. Awesome. I mean, really she is so interesting, and a far-cry from what she is today. Whereas she is currently portrayed as an otherwise normal, modern woman who struggles with normal, modern issues (hell, she’s a single mother by choice now), in these earlier appearances she is something…else. Having attained her powers through tragedy, orphaned, and raised in a land of man-beasts far from other humans, these issues emphasize Jessica’s weirdness, her otherness. She is imbued with a sort of monstrous quality; her powers are creepy, she’s very serious and dour, and her pheromone powers inadvertently repel or draw others (usually the former). Her very presence makes others uncomfortable. Because of this, as a reader, you don’t even trust that her love life is authentic.

Besides the otherness derived from her powers and isolation, Jessica is also rendered different due to her victimhood. Sure, many superheroes begin their journeys with trauma, such as Batman and Spider-Man (whom Jessica is wisely detached from completely), but not trauma like Jessica’s. I’ve already mentioned her upbringing separate from the rest of humanity, but there’s also her childhood illness, the treatments that turned her half-spider (she even suspects at first that she’s a spider-turned-human), her parents’ deaths, and the cruel manipulations by Hydra…all before she ever turns to the life of a superhero. Even her superhero life is strange, as Jessica doesn’t typically go on patrols looking for crime but merely stops it when she stumbles upon it while looking for answers to her past. She even assists a man in committing suicide, which is hardly heroic (though to be fair, he was cursed with immortality). Hell, even her superhero moniker is different as she is the Spider-Woman rather than just Spider-Woman, yet another way to make her seem as something other than human.

Aside from this, the issues are also incredibly dark and written, as Marv Wolfman admits, with the same use of verbose descriptions as old EC horror comics. Her rogues gallery so far is composed of monsters and murderers and many of her stories are rooted in magic and the supernatural. This emphasis on her weirdness makes the character so incredibly endearing, and I am excited to read on to find out if she becomes a more adjusted woman comfortable in her own skin as her story progresses or if writers along the way just dropped these elements. Along with this series, I plan on reading her later adventures, including the Agent of S.W.O.R.D. story and Origin story by Bendis and the cartoon from the ‘70s on Disney Plus. The upcoming issues I’ll be reading beginning tomorrow are written by a different writer, so we’ll see where her adventures go.

Another interesting note, according to Marv Wolfman, the legend behind Spider-Woman’s origin is in fact true; she was created to get ahead of another company trying to rip-off Spider-Man’s success so Marvel could copyright the Spider-Woman name. But what could have been something cynically cheap is instead rich and authentic. I’m so grateful to have Jessica Drew keep me company while I stay at home.