Since the dawn of the Silver Age, legacy characters have been a staple of superhero fiction, and having a new character step into a well loved role can open up new opportunities for writers and artists to tell different kinds of stories. In The Replacements, we’ll look back at the notable and not-so-notable heroes and villains to assume some of the most iconic mantles in the superhero genre.
Jessica Drew was created as the first Spider-Woman in the '70s, partly to ensure that Marvel Comics had the legal rights to the name, but over the decades she has become one of the premier female characters for the publisher, in part thanks to her reinvention as part of Brian Michael Bendis’ New Avengers. Yet Jessica hasn’t been the only hero to call herself Spider-Woman, and today we look back at the other women to carry the name.
Arachne (Julia Carpenter)
Created by Jim Shooter & Mike Zeck (Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #6)
Julia Carpenter became the second Spider-Woman when she was recruited for the mysterious government agency The Commission by her college friend Val Cooper. Her hometown of Boulder, Colorado, was used in part to create Battleworld and Julia made her big superhero team-up debut as part of the original Secret Wars.
After the dust had settled and the heroes were sent home, Julia was drafted into Freedom Force, unaware that the rest of her teammates were the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. She rebelled by helping The Avengers and found herself wanted as a criminal, but she later cleared her name and joined The West Coast Avengers and their spin-off team, Force Works.
She took on the name Arachne and was a double agent working for Captain America during the Civil War. When her side lost, she was given the option of working off her sentence by moving to Canada with her daughter Rachel and joining the newly formed Omega Flight.
After returning to America, she was hunted by the Kravinoff family, and after the death of Madame Web she inherited her precognitive powers. She would assist Spider-Man cryptically as the new Madame Web, but lost the powers following the destruction of the Web of Life. She was then kidnapped by her ex-boyfriend The Shroud, but was ultimately saved by Daredevil.
Spider-Woman (Mattie Franklin)
Created by John Byrne & Rafael Kayanan (The Spectacular Spider-Man #263)
Mattie Franklin gained superpowers when she took her father’s place in the ritualistic “Gathering Of Five” ceremony, and when Spider-Man went missing for several months, she took his place using that name. When the wall-crawler returned, she switched to instead be the new Spider-Woman, working with Jessica Drew, who at the time was depowered.
Mattie fell in with a bad crowd and was exploited by her boyfriend, who used her abilities to make Mutant Growth Hormone. Seeking help, Mattie broke into Jessica Jones’ apartment and was ultimately rescued by the unlikely team-up of Jessica Jones, Jessica Drew, and Speedball, and returned safely to her uncle, J. Jonah Jameson.
Mattie moved to Los Angeles to start over, where she continued a quest to shut down the MGH suppliers in the city and fell in with the Loners, a superhero support group turned superhero team. She was later captured and sacrificed by the Kravinoff family to bring back the deceased Vladimir Kravinoff in what was revealed to be a test for the ultimate plan to sacrifice Spider-Man to resurrect Kraven The Hunter.
Spider-Woman (Charlotte Witter)
Created by Howard Mackie & John Byrne (Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 2 #5)
Charlotte Witter was the granddaughter of Madame Web, who was experimented on by Doctor Octopus and turned into a human/spider hybrid. Though she hated the villain, she was conditioned to obey his every command, and was given the name Spider-Woman with the mission to attack the other women that bore the name and steal their powers.
She was successful in defeating Jessica Drew and Julia Carpenter, but Spider-Man was able to warn Mattie Franklin. Though Mattie was injured in the fight, Spider-Man and Black Cat protected her and drove off the villain, who briefly broke through Doc Ock’s conditioning and felt remorse for her actions before her programming took over again.
Madame Web assembled the Spider-Women to capture her granddaughter, and Mattie was able to absorb all of the power that Charlotte had stolen. Madame Web cut Witter’s psychic link and the villain was placed in her grandmother’s care, escaping once, but ultimately being defeated again by Spider-Man and Mattie Franklin.
Silk (Cindy Moon)
Created by Dan Slott & Humberto Ramos (Amazing Spider-Man Vol 3 #1)
When the assembled heroes of New York were gifted an insight into dark secrets of their own history thanks to The Watcher’s eye exploding like a bomb, Peter Parker discovered that he wasn’t the only person bitten by the spider on that fateful day. Following his vision, he found a bunker that belonged to his former mentor Ezekiel and inside discovered a woman named Cindy Moon.
Cindy had been placed in the bunker by Ezekiel to keep her safe from the totem-devouring Inheritors, and she had lived in isolation for the past ten years. Due to their link together, Peter and Cindy found themselves unable to control their impulses when in close proximity, and would regularly be overcome with an intense lust for one another.
Eager to experience the world she had missed, Cindy crafted a masked identity for herself as Silk, and used her organic webbing to create a costume for herself. She was instrumental in defeating The Inheritors during the Spider-Verse event, partly due to ten years of having nothing to do but study footage of Spider-Man in action.
Cindy worked to build a life for herself while trying to find her missing family, and took a job at The FACT Channel as an intern for J. Jonah Jameson. She briefly worked with SHIELD as an undercover agent spying on The Black Cat’s criminal enterprises, but refused the offer to become a full-time agent.
Spider-Woman (Gwen Stacy)
Created by Jason Latour & Robbie Rodriguez (Edge of Spider-Verse #2)
In a different reality from the main Marvel Universe, Gwen Stacy was bitten by a radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker, and became the outlaw vigilante Spider-Woman. She initially spent most of her time building awareness of the identity as a means of getting attention, and it was only when her father suggested that Spider-Woman could be doing some real good that she began fighting crime and helping those that need it.
Tragedy soon struck when her close friend Peter Parker tried to become special like Spider-Woman and accidentally turned himself into The Lizard. Peter died due to injuries sustained in a fight with Spider-Woman, and the hero was blamed for a promising student’s death and vilified in the media.
Peter’s death inspired Gwen to work harder to fight crime in New York City, which brought her into conflict with its Kingpin and his right hand man, Matt Murdock. When The Inheritors began killing spider totems across the multiverse, Gwen was drafted onto the team and found that in many other universes it was Peter Parker who got spider-powers and Gwen Stacy that died.
Gwen returned to her universe and fought more villains such as The Vulture while making more allies in the superhero community such as Samantha Wilson, AKA Captain America. Gwen also remained a team member of the Web Warriors policing the Spider-Verse, and kept in regular contact with friends Jessica Drew and Cindy Moon from Earth-616.