Spider-Woman Costume History
Since Spider-Man’s first appearance in the 1962 issue of Amazing Fantasy #15, he has consistently been one of the strongest selling and most loved superheroes in the Marvel Comic Universe. With such huge popularity, it is only natural that they would create a female version of the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. Stan Lee and others at Marvel began to fear that somebody might create a Spider-Woman comic and claim the name as their own. In order the secure the name, they quickly created Jessica Drew, who would become the first Spider-Woman. She made her debut appearance in the 1977 issue of Marvel Spotlight #32. Over the years Marvel has had many women take on the role of Spider-Woman. They have all had unique origins, powers, and costumes to help identify their individuality. These women are so varied that a few have even been villains. However, most are superheroes fighting on the side of justice.
The original and most famous woman to take on the role of Spider-Woman was Jessica Drew. She was not only the first Spider-Woman in comic books but also had her own animated television series that lasted from 1979 to 1980.
Her character can be a bit confusing in the comic book world, because she has two origins. In the first story, she was poisoned with radiation. Her father injected her with experimental irradiated spiders’ blood (is there any other kind). After it didn’t cure her, the High Evolutionary put her in a genetic accelerator that slowed her aging process. When she was awakened as a teenager decades later, she was raised by Lady Bova. Jessica was found by HYDRA and brainwashed to believe she was not human but an evolved spider. While working with HYDRA under the name Arachne, she discovered the truth about HYDRA and helped S.H.I.E.L.D. take them down.
Great origin story, now scrap that. Jessica would now be hit by a laser beam with the DNA of different species of spiders. This occurred while she was still in her mother’s womb. How did this happen? As luck would have it, her family was attempting to graft the human genome with different spiders’ environmental adaptive capabilities. This new origin still had her tricked into joining HYDRA, but this time it was after her parents mysterious disappearance. To improve her combat skills, the Taskmaster trained her in several fighting styles.
Jessica Drew would have some of the same powers of her male counterpart Spider-Man but many additional powers as well. She is from lots of different spiders, unlike Peter Parker who only got bitten by one itty-bitty radioactive spider (whimp). She had the standard superhuman strength, stamina, reflexes, speed and like Spider-Man can stick to almost any surface. She also could create a venom blast that was a burst of bioelectric energy, capable of stunning or killing a person. If she focused, it had enough power to break through metal walls. Not only could she pack a punch but she could take one too. She was able to quickly build up a resistance to poisons and was immune to radiation. The most interesting power is the pheromone that her body produced. She had to wear a special chemical perfume to hide this powerful scent, that induced pleasure in human men and fear in women (I swear, I did not make this up).
Jessica Drew’s original costume would be very similar to her signature look. (The signature costume will be discussed in more detail below.) The only major variation would be in the mask design. This would be one of the few times a woman taking on the role of Spider-Woman would cover her long hair. Most preferred the wind blown look.
This would not only be Jessica’s main costume for her crime fighting career but also the one most people associate with Spider-Woman. This tight full body suit is brightly colored for the comic book world but bares a lot of similarities to the black widow spider. Rather than having the main color be black, the dominate color is red. The red hourglass associated with black widows is then colored in yellow on her costume. Spider-Woman’s womanly curves are accentuated by having this hourglass shape placed in the center of her costume.
For almost 40 years, Jessica Drew has never drastically changed her Spider-Woman costume. When it finally happened, her new design drew headlines from non-comic book news sources. Marvel wanted to embrace her detective background and give her more functional clothing. Something with pockets. She kept the red, black and yellow color pattern, but ditched the highly sexualized skin tight spandex. Her spider symbol was now on a leather, red and black jacket with yellow accents. The spiderweb wings remained under her arms. Rather than wearing a mask, she has yellow tinted sunglasses. Their design is very similar to her classic mask. Red and black gloves look like something a biker might wear. Her red boots are great for fighting crime or going for a stroll. This is still a sexy female heroine, so skin tight black pants are held up with a yellow belt.
The second woman to take on the role of Spider-Woman would be Julia Carpenter. She was a single mother who was given her powers through yet another secret super-soldier program being run by the government. This serum would be made from spider venom and rare plant extracts. Super strength, stamina and reflexes are a must for any spider superhero. Julia had psionic powers at the root of many of her abilities. She spun psi-webs which could be moved on their own, made into different shapes and be formed at a distance. This allowed her to be more versatile with how she used her webs. Her psionic powers also allowed her to attach to any surface and crawl along with the greatest of ease. Her heightened senses made it possible for her to sense vibrations, much like a spider might feel the vibrations from its web, and acted as her own version of a Spider-Sense. While living in Denver, the Beyonder transported her suburb to Battleworld and she fought alongside the other Marvel heroes. She would make a cameo appearance in the 1984 issue of Secret Wars #6 and a full appearance in the following issue, Secret Wars #7.
Spider-Man’s symbiote costume would draw its inspiration from Julia Carpenter’s Spider-Woman costume. The biggest differences between these two costumes would be Julia’s outfit had more white incorporated into the design and parts of her head were exposed. O yeah, and Spider-Man’s costume was actually an alien symbiote that was feeding off his body, while Julia had a costume made of fabric (little things). A large white spider was plastered on the front of this black costume. The white spider would be relatively thick compared to her future Arachne costume. Over her black tights, she had on thigh high white boots and white opera gloves, both of which would be just as tight as the black bodysuit. The lower portion of her mask was left open to reveal her womanly lips, because it was important that people knew this was Spider-WOMAN and not Spider-MAN (Her exaggerated curves may not have been a big enough clue for most people). Proud of the fact she never had a bad hair day, the top of the mask was opened allowing for her hair to flow perfectly in the wind.
The third female to call herself Spider-Woman was Mattie Franklin. Mattie took her father’s place in the Gathering of Five ritual, with his former business associate Norman Osborn. She was lucky enough to be granted the gift of power, while two others were given knowledge and immortality. The remaining two, including Norman, were cursed with insanity. With her new powers of strength and flight, she took the place of Spider-Man, who had recently retired from crime fighting. When Spider-Man returned, she took on the name Spider-Woman. Later, Charlotte Witter (who will be discussed later) drained all three of the different Spider-Women powers and claimed them as her own. Mattie would eventually reabsorb her powers, along with Jessica and Julia’s. Mattie now had all the abilities of the previous Spider-Women. With her new psi powers she could create psychic spiderlegs, which besides being handy extra appendages, could also produce a psionic sting.
Mattie Franklin’s first cameo appearance would be in the 1998 issue of Spectacular Spider-Man #262 and the following month she would make her first full appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #441. She would be a key player in Spider-Man’s world until the Grim Hunt storyline in 2010, when she was used as a sacrifice to resurrect Kraven the Hunter.
Of all the costumes worn by the women to take on the role of Spider-Woman, Mattie’s original costume was the closest to their male counterpart. This is probably because unlike the other women, she actually took on the role of Spider-Man for a short period of time. The biggest difference between her Spider-Woman outfit and Spider-Man is the large skinny spider that is displayed across her chest. This thing looks more like a daddy longleg than the more typical shorter legged spiders often used on Spider-Man’s costumes. Rather than having a web mesh imprinted over the red section, Mattie went with a solid red. If not for the ridiculously long ponytail coming out the the back of her mask, this costume would have been a nice subtle change from the Spider-Man costume. Again, we find artist afraid that having a form fitting outfit, that shows everything is not enough to separate a male and female costume. Seriously, that ponytail is longer than the Scorpion’s tail.
Mattie attempted to find a costume vastly different than Peter Parker’s Spider-Man classic. Sadly, her efforts reminded me of the dreaded Wonder Woman biker shorts incident of the 1990s. This long sleeve, black, spandex suit looks like Mattie is ready to fight crime or race in the Tour de France. To add some semblance of a superhero feel, she wore a simple black masquerade mask and a small red spider symbol on her chest. For keeping her secret identity, she wore the red gloves and matching red boots. Sometime the boots would reach all the way up to her shorts and at other times they went slightly above the ankle.
Mattie Finds Her Groove
In my opinion, Mattie’s last costume was her best. It is a good thing too, since this would be her last chance to redeem her clothing choices before dying. This costume could be recognized as a spider suit and had enough originality to claim it as her own. The new mask didn’t cover much more of her face than the Biker Spider costume but the goggles gave a nice spider appearance. The majority of the spandex bodysuit was a dark blue. The red was used sparingly and effectively; the spider wrapping around her body helped identify her, the red tips on her feet looked like stingers, and the red on her arms helped articulate her movements. The large spider legs coming out her back gave her a deadly presence, something lacking in her previous wardrobe choices.
The granddaughter of Madame Web would be the fourth Spider-Woman. Unlike the previous versions of our webbed heroine, Charlotte Witter would be a villainess. She was created by Dr. Octopus to siphon people’s superpowers. Charlotte used this power on the women who had previously been Spider-Woman, to become the ultimate female arachnid. She had augmented her powers with all of the women she drained. Spider-Man would finally end her criminal career and a now powerless Charlotte Witter was being held prisoner by Madame Web. Charlotte would regain a fraction of her powers but was defeated once again, this time around she ended up in a coma.
As a villain, Charlotte Witter’s costume would diverge the most from our arachnid heroines and hero. Although all of our Spider-Woman costumes were not modest in their snug design, Charlotte would have the most revealing costume by far. She chose to wear a simple green one piece bathing suit as her base. She had long green opera gloves, that when combined with her long fingernails made it appear as if she had claws. She opted for plain, black, thigh high, stiletto heel, boots. They might not have been the best thing to move around in, but they did add to the deadly spider image. The boots and gloves had a yellow band at the end, sometimes they would be drawn as if made of webbing. The mask was the most menacing part of this wardrobe. It did not cover a lot of her face but the red eye shields and red dots going down the sides mimicked the creepy appearance of real spider eyes.
Veranke would become the fifth Spider-Woman, by impersonating the first. Princess Veranke was banished after warning the Skrulls of a prophecy that foretold the destruction of their planet. When their capital, Throneworld, was devoured by Galactus years later, the Skrulls searched her out. Finally discovering her on a barren planet they made her their queen. With their civilization in ruin, she believed that Earth was prophesied to be their new home and salvation. She would lead the Secret Invasion by taking on the appearance and powers of Jessica Drew. Vernake quietly started setting the groundwork for their invasion. While posing as Spider-Woman, she was able to infiltrate H.Y.D.R.A., New Avengers, and Mighty Avengers. As she manipulated these teams and their members, the Skrull slowly started to impersonate other superheroes. The Skrulls were almost successful in their invasion but Earth’s Heroes and Villains were able to kill her and drive the Skrull forces back into the vastness of space.
Veranke would wear Jessica Drews classic Spider-Woman costume while impersonating her.
Spider-Man is a far more popular character than Spider-Woman, which is why most mass market Halloween costumes are more female versions of Spider-Man's costume, rather than the the Spider Woman costumes found in comic books.
With most mass market Spider-Woman costumes looking more like sexy female Spider-Man variations, fans have to put their own costume design skills to work.
Superhero Transformed To Superheroine is an article exploring why many superheroines are copies of their male counterparts. A look at their creation and how they have been interpreted into real life.
If you enjoyed this article, you can find links to my other Costume History Hubs by clicking on the link above. Explore the history of some of the greatest female superheroes in comics through their costumes.
Google Images (Images appeared on several sites and was unsure of original)
And of course: Reading way too many comic books.