Spider-Woman, Silk, Spider-Gwen. Who are these characters and what relationship do they have to the Peter Parker Spider-Man most of us know? Read on to find out a little about their background and what is happening with them in comics today!
First off, if you’re expecting a bemoaning of male superheroes being replaced by female versions then you can fuck off. Like the new female Thor, each of these characters is far more than just a gender-swapped re-skinning of a popular character. They each have their own story to tell and, from what has been put out so far, these are some very interesting stories. I’m also focusing on the three Spider-Women who currently have their own on-going series’. If you’re a Julia Carpenter/Arachne fan you won’t get much information here. Also, more sadly, left out is Spider-Girl, Peter Parker’s alternate universe daughter May “Mayday” Parker. Well, that’s enough caveats, right? On to the spiders!*
Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew)
Writer: Dennis Hopeless Artist: Javier Rodriguez
As the first Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew has the longest and most convoluted history of the three. She has been a hero in the Marvel universe since 1977, though she apparently fell out of use for a large part of that. Admittedly, I don’t know a whole lot of her background and I’d rather this not just turn into a recap of her wikipedia page. Her powers are similar to those of Spider-Man but not identical. She can “glide”; has super-strength, speed, agility, and senses; projects bio-energy “venom blasts” from her hands much like the Wasp; and can manipulate her pheromones to manipulate people. No web-shooters though.
What makes Jessica Drew such an in interesting character is the backstory that Brian Michael Bendis built around her in the earlier 2000s. Turns out that she was actually a Hydra (Hail Hydra!) project/trained super-spy/assassin. Turns out that, like every other super-assassin ever trained by an evil organization, Jessica ends up going over to the side of the good guys. Just like Black Widow joining the Avengers after being trained by evil Russians and Wolverine joining the X-Men after being trained by evil Canadians (I know, redundant). Bendis absolutely loves Spider-Woman. Like a lot. She joins the Avengers during his run of writing the book… but wait! Turns out that wasn’t really Spider-Woman, it was a shape-shifting alien queen! Eventually Norman Osborne (the Green Goblin) saves the world by blowing the alien queen’s head off with a giant cannon, Bendis ends his run on Avengers, and Spider-Woman kind of gets forgotten.
Until now! Spider-Woman (apparently the real one) is now headlining her own book, written by Dennis Hopeless. This book started out in the midst of a massive Spider-Man crossover called Spiderverse in which every single variation of the Spider-Man character had to team up to fight vampires. It was pretty good. Spider-Woman joined up even though she isn’t actually connected to the other multi-dimensional Spider-Men versions except in name and she got to fight pirates on a parallel Earth. It was fun but didn’t allow much room to develop who Jessica was and what the book was going to be about post-crossover. Now that Spiderverse has ended though, the Spider-Woman book has picked up a lot of steam of its own. Jessica has left the Avengers and is working with newspaperman Ben Urich to solve cases and help people. The art is clean and dynamic and the focus has shifted from pan-dimensional vampires to a more intimate look at Jessica- who she is and why she does the superhero thing. I’m enjoying it quite a bit.
Overall my take on Spider-Woman is positive. Across every iteration of her character that I’ve read, the one thing that has always stuck out is how professional and skilled she is at her work. Yes she has some cool powers, but she’s always been the character that struck me as having put in the most work honing her skills, whether at fighting or espionage. Spider-Man has always relied on his powers to get through fights, but Jessica spent years training and I don’t have a doubt that she could kick his butt. Her new costume reflects that concept too, putting an emphasis on functionality and her new role less as a superhero and more as a private investigator.
Silk (Cindy Moon)
Writer: Robbie Thompson Artist: Stacey Lee
Remember those pan-dimensional vampires I mentioned earlier? Good, because they’re important here too. It seems that when Peter Parker was bitten by that radioactive spider, he wasn’t the only one bitten. Cindy Moon was also bitten by that very same spider. In addition to giving her the same basic spider-powers (though Cindy is faster, has a better spider-sense, and has organic web-shooting abilities with which she is much more skilled than Peter) it also mucked about with there pheromones. Basically, whenever they’re around each other they’re as horny as teenage bunnies on ecstasy. What is it with Spider-People and pheromones anyway? And why do I have such a hard time spelling “pheromones”. Anyway, that whole thing was… weird.
After getting her powers Cindy let some weird dude lock her in a vault. It was meant to protect her from the dimensional-vampires hunting done spider-powered superheroes, but I couldn’t help but think of it in terms of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the theme song of which will now be stuck in my head all day. Spider-Man found her and freed her and together they went off to kill some vampires. While Silk wore nothing but webbing.
Silk also got her own title recently and she’s started making some better choices with her life than agreeing to be locked in vaults by weird old dudes. First off, she got an actual costume (which is distinctive enough from Spider-Man’s while still showing some connection). She also has a job and a secret identity now, working for none other than Spider-Man nemesis J. Jonah Jameson. The central onus of the book so far is Cindy’s search for her family- which she lost contact with when she agreed to get locked in a vault- and also an ongoing conflict with Spider-Man villain/paramour Black Cat. The cool thing about the new Silk book is how good it is at capturing the fun of a new superhero learning the ropes. It combines elements of old Spider-Man with no little bit of the Unbreakable Kimmy schtick about someone who has been locked away for years having to adjust to a whole new society.
Spider-Gwen (Gwen Stacy)
Writer: Jason Latour Artist: Robbi Rodriguez
I’ve arguably saved the best for last with Spider-Gwen. She is definitely the character that made the biggest splash when she was introduced during the (yes, again) Spiderverse vampire story. Spider-Gwen comes from a parallel Earth in which Gwen Stacy rather than Peter Parker was bitten by the radioactive spider and she becomes Spider-Woman. Yes, she goes by Spider-Woman not Spider-Gwen, because that would be the fastest way to spoil a secret identity. The name Spider-Gwen is a meta name given to her title because that’s what fans started calling her.
One of the best things about Spider-Gwen was how readers were thrown into this whole new world already in progress. We found out that Peter had died and that Gwen hadn’t been able to save him. This is a nice play on how Spider-Man has always been haunted by the death of Gwen Stacy in his universe. Gwen is not as morose as Spider-Man often was, not as neurotic. She still has a lot of work-life balance issues just like Peter has always faced, but hers involve being a drummer in a band fronted by Mary Jane. This is honestly one of the best parts of the book, as the internal politics of the band make for great humor and remind me a lot of Scott Pilgrim.
Like all alt-universe stories, part of the fun of the Spider-Gwen book has been seeing new versions of old characters. In Spider-Gwen we get a Punisher who is a serving, if over-zealous police officer, a rock-star/international-thief version of Black Cat (called Le Chat Noir because she’s French), and an evil Matt Murdock working for the Kingpin. The book is dense with a sense of lived-in history. Reading it you always feel like you’ve missed out on years of development- and I mean that in a good way.
Of the three books the art in Spider-Gwen is by far the most frenetic and vibrant. This is not always a style that I prefer, but Rodriguez never lets the wildness get in the way of showing a clear story. Theoretically the series ended last week at #5 (Marvel’s new mega-crossover Secret Wars is ending everything) but I have no doubt that it will be back in the Fall. Fan support has been huge and the story seems to be accelerating into high gear.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Spider-Gwen’s costume. At Denver Comic-Con I think I saw more than half a dozen cosplayers dressed as Spider-Gwen. More than I saw regular Spider-Man cosplayers in fact. It is a great costume and probably a big part of why the launch of the character went so well. Finally, it seems like Sony may actually be making a Spider-Gwen movie. I find this both exciting and odd. I would definitely go see this movie, especially if Emma Stone gets to continue portraying Gwen Stacy, but this seems like a very esoteric choice for a major movie launch. But then again, Sony has basically no clue what to do with their Spider-Man franchise rights and Spider-Gwen has been such a breakout success… I guess I’ve got my fingers crossed on this actually happening.
*No spiders were harmed during the writing of this article, but this was only because no spiders were seen. Had any of those evil animals shown up they would have been squished with extreme prejudice. Not by the author, but by the author’s very understanding fiancee.