Friday, April 11, 2008

To know her is to fear her!

When last we convened for Comic Art Friday, we memorialized the passing of veteran comic book artist Jim Mooney, who left us on March 30.

I noted in that post Mooney's close association with one of my all-time favorite superheroines, Ms. Marvel. Thanks to one of those mental blocks that occur with alarming frequency in those of a certain age (ahem...), however, I neglected to mention that "Gentleman Jim" was one of the artistic cocreators of another of those great '70s heroines that I love so much: Jessica Drew, the original Spider-Woman.

Like many female characters of the Silver and Bronze Ages of comics, Spider-Woman existed primarily to establish a trademark on a distaff version of a popular male hero (i.e., Supergirl, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk). Of course, once you've created such a knock-off character, you actually have to publish her in order for the trademark protection to take effect.

Thus, Marvel Comics cranked out 50 issues of Spider-Woman's adventures, to resounding ennui from the comics-reading public. The company even produced a short-lived (16 episodes, aired in the fall of 1979) animated TV series recounting the exploits of the Arachnid Adventuress. Again, the mass audience remained unmoved. (Trivia: In the cartoon, Spider-Woman's voice was supplied by the legendary Joan Van Ark of Knots Landing fame, who today sports one of the most horrific plastic surgery visages known to humankind.)

All of which is too bad, really. Not only did Spider-Woman evolve into an intriguing character — despite the superficial thematic similarity, she really isn't very much like Spider-Man at all — but Jessica's eventual fading from the Marvel Universe in the early '80s spawned an opportunity for a new and improved Spider-Woman, Julia Carpenter, to appear.

The rationale for Julia's creation was even more shallow than Jessica's — Marvel wanted to trademark, in feminine form, the black-and-white costume Spider-Man acquired during the 1984 mega-event Secret Wars. Her single-mother-as-superhero backstory, however, was novel for its time, and added a welcome layer of emotional realism to the character.

Here's Julia in action, alongside the Justice Society's Mr. Terrific, in a Common Elements commission by Fables artist Lan Medina.

These days, the original Spider-Woman is back with a vengeance. Jessica's a prominent character in the current New Avengers title written by Brian Michael Bendis, and figures to play a major role in Marvel's latest crossover epic, Secret Invasion.

It's good to have her hanging around the Marvel Universe again.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.

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5 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger MCF offered these pearls of wisdom...

I guess Jessica was slightly before my time; I grew up reading about Julia. I loved the psychic webs and the costume that inspired Peter to make the symbiotic costume with that black-and-white design. So are you saying Marvel had the male design in mind first but brought it into Secret Wars after Pete met Julia?

She kind of became a background character too after SW, hanging around with Freedom Force until they finally put her in with the Avengers(West Coast). I'm not even sure what Jessica's powers I recall it was a sting and gliding? Did she stick to walls like Peter or Julia? She always seemed like a less-powerful version of Wasp to me. I do have one NA trade where she has pheromone powers, probably a Bendis addition but cool nonetheless. Still, psychic webs and black costume, not a bad combo in my book.

6:59 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

MCF: That's the way I understand the history.

In the Earth-616 universe, Julia debuts (in Secret Wars) before Spider-Man acquires the symbiotic costume, and he suggests that he may have subconsciously borrowed her design.

In the "real" universe, Julia's costume was created specifically to foreshadow the new "Spidey black."

Jessica's powers were always a bit hazy, but they included Spidey-like strength, speed, and agility, plus wall-crawling, bioelectric "venom blasts," and the pheromone power you mention (which predated Bendis, I'm fairly certain). She's also invulnerable to poisons and radiation.

Originally, she was only able to glide (it was never clear to me whether that was an inherent power, or a function of her costume), but it seems as though she can actually fly in the current Bendis run.

We agree, I think, that Julia was a much more interesting character, both in terms of powers and in personality. I like what Bendis has done with Jessica recently, though.

2:06 PM  
Blogger I will not live in fear offered these pearls of wisdom...

This post has been removed by the author.

8:14 AM  
Blogger I will not live in fear offered these pearls of wisdom...

Blogger I will not live in fear said...

The Miss Marvel civil war tie in featuring Julia made her, without any question in my mind, the greatest heroine in Marvel.

If you have not had the chance you read them I would highly suggest you track them down. It's great seeing a super heroine who isn't afraid to be a woman first.

Also, Swan, my name is Liam.
If you are a minister I would greatly appreciate it if you e-mailed me at

I would welcome the chance to get to know you better and learn from your experiences.

8:17 AM  
Blogger Darci offered these pearls of wisdom...

If you've read New Avengers #42, then you know that Jessica Drew never regained her spider-powers courtesy Hydra, never worked as a double agent for Hyrda and SHIELD, was never a member of the Might Avengers or the New Avengers, etc. Ever since Giant-Size Spider-Woman, that character has been an impostor. Hence, inconsistencies like being able to fly when should only be able to glide, or emitting pheromones when she used to inhibit them with medication.
Is Jessica Drew still alive? We don't know at this point.

11:58 AM  

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