Of all the spider-themed superheroes running around the Marvel Universe, few are quite as prolific as Spider-Woman, with a comic book history stretching back to 1977 and several different characters holding the mantle since its creation. The first character to hold the mantle of Spider-Woman is Jessica Drew, with Jessica still the character most closely associated with the role. Jessica Drew has gone on to appear as Spider-Woman in television and video games, with a feature film appearance currently in development.
With this year marking the 45th anniversary of Spider-Woman and Jessica Drew’s creation, here is an overview of the character and her place in the wider Marvel Universe from her introduction in the '70s to her current activities today.
Who Is Spider-Woman?
Spider-Woman was created in 1977’s Marvel Spotlight #32 by Archie Goodwin and Marie Severin, with the story heavily implying that the superhero was actually a highly evolved spider developed by the High Evolutionary. This was retconned later that same year in a four-part storyline running through Marvel Two-in-One #30-33 by Marv Wolfman, John Buscema, and Ron Wilson, which served as a precursor to a Spider-Woman ongoing comic series launched the following year by Wolfman and Carmine Infantino. Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Reed, Jonathan Luna, and Joshua Luna would retcon and streamline Jessica Drew’s backstory further with the 2005 miniseries Spider-Woman: Origin, revealing Jessica gained her powers from gene splicing experiments performed by her father.
Jessica is kidnapped at an early age by HYDRA and brainwashed by Count Otto Vermis into becoming an operative under the codename Arachne with orders to assassinate Nick Fury. Failing this mission, Jessica is assigned to kidnap Alicia Masters while she is vacationing in England with the Thing, with the latter helping her recover from her brainwashing through magical help from Modred the Mystic. Shortly after making her debut as Spider-Woman, Jessica relocates to San Francisco where she becomes a private investigator. After her body is nearly taken over by Morgan le Fay, Jessica temporarily loses her powers and operates solely as a private investigator for a time before her superhuman abilities gradually return.
When Bendis and David Finch launched New Avengers in 2005, Spider-Woman was among the founding team members, after joining the team to contain a supervillain prison break. This version of Jessica Drew was revealed to be the disguised Skrull Queen Veranke, who captured and switched places with the real Jessica while she was investigating a Skrull sleeper cell plotting a grander invasion of Earth. Following Veranke’s defeat during the 2008 crossover event Secret Invasion by Bendis and Leinil Francis Yu, the real Jessica was freed from the Skrulls and joined the New Avengers.
Spider-Woman continued to have a prominent role in the Marvel superhero community after Secret Invasion, serving as an agent of SWORD to protect Earth from further extraterrestrial threats while occasionally serving on various Avengers teams. The sixth volume of Spider-Woman’s ongoing comic series, launched by Dennis Hallum and Javier Rodriguez, began with Jessica pregnant, and later giving birth to a son named Gerry, balancing her life as a mother with that of a superhero. Jessica Drew currently continues as Spider-Woman in an all-new ongoing series (volume seven, if you're counting) by Karla Pacheco and Pere Perez.
Spider-Woman’s powers and abilities
When Jessica's mother was pregnant with her, a gene splicing experiment exposed her to a powerful laser containing spider DNA, while Jessica herself was artificially aged to a teenager with superpowers shortly after her birth. Many of these powers are similar to Spider-Man's, with Jessica possessing superhuman strength, speed, and endurance and a relatively accelerated healing factor. Like Spider-Man, Jessica can also stick to solid objects through a tactile chemical secreted through the palms of her hands and soles of her feet.
In comparison to Spider-Man, Jessica has several unique powers and abilities, including enhanced senses, which have helped her private investigator career. Jessica can also emit pheromones to change someone’s demeanor at will, helping her defuse certain situations or aid in her undercover work. Jessica can also build up a high amount of bioelectricity which she can redirect from her hands as an offensive blast, a technique that predates Miles Morales’ similar venom blasts. After being experimented on by HYDRA, Jessica also gained the ability to fly, previously having relied on a special suit to glide on air currents.
In addition to her superhuman abilities, Jessica has also been trained by both HYDRA and SHIELD to become a highly skilled hand-to-hand combatant in a variety of martial arts styles, and she can speak several different languages fluently.
How Spider-Woman fits into the movies
There have currently been no overt references to Spider-Woman or Jessica Drew in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date but, as the Marvel Multiverse grows, an alternate universe Jessica is poised to be introduced. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the upcoming sequel to 2018’s Academy Award-winning animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, will feature an iteration of Jessica Drew, portrayed by Issa Rae.
Across the Spider-Verse has Miles Morales reunite with the webslinging Gwen Stacy from another universe, with Jessica joining them, to protect the multiverse from a new threat. Taking inspiration from Jessica’s recent status quo in the comic books, this version of the character will be pregnant in the film as she teams up with Gwen and Spider-Man 2099. An animated spinoff to Into the Spider-Verse starring Gwen, Jessica, and Cindy Moon – the Korean spider-themed hero Silk – is currently in development. In addition to animated projects, filmmaker Olivia Wilde is attached to helm a Marvel project for Sony, with speculation that the project could focus on a version of Spider-Woman.
Though the Spider-Verse isn’t explicitly connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, both Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness suggest that previous cinematic and television adaptations of Marvel properties exist somewhere in the expanding multiverse. The MCU may not have introduced its own version of Jessica Drew yet, but increased emphasis on a shared multiverse could lead to an appearance of some form of the character someday.
To learn about another Spider-personality who is also about to make their big screen debut, read Popverse's guide to Spiderman 2099.