Jessica Drew is one of the first characters written for Marvel as a female counterpart to the male character Spider-Man. She appears in Marvel Spotlight #32 in 1977 and had 50 issues
in her first ongoing series.
At the end of the series, she is killed and resurrected, and fell into a bit of obscurity and the title of Spider-Woman fell to other characters.
It’s a little funny with the character history because she was originally created just to secure the IP for the character. They learned the lesson from some debacle involving the IPs of Wonder Man, Wonder Woman, Power Man and Power Girl. So instead of passively allowing another publisher to have a swipe at a character trademark, they created Spider-Woman.
A Spider-Woman World
Like we said, Drew had 50 issues in a series that began in 1977. And she got back to it in 2007 under the Brian Michael Bendis’ New Avengers title.
In between, we saw Julia Carpenter take on the role of Spider-Woman, only to become the next Madam Web.
Mattie Franklin was also Spider-Woman for a short time during the 90’s.
Charlotte Witter, the granddaughter of Madam Web, had the title of Spider-Woman for short time. She eventually devolved into a villain role.
And Veranke, the queen of the Skrull Empire shape-shifted herself to resemble Jessica Drew and served as a sleeper agent on the New Avengers in the later 2000’s. She got away with this for a while before the real Jessica Drew appeared on the scene to expose her.
There are other world versions of Spider-Woman to consider. There’s Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane, Mayday Parker, Ashley Barton and a bunch of other versions who show up during the Spider-Verse events by Dan Slott and later by Brian Michael Bendis.
A Divided Origin Story- Goodwin
Her creation was the collaborative effort of writer Archie Goodwin and artist Marie Severin. The first comic she appeared in, Marvel Spotlight #32 in 1977, sold incredibly well for Marvel at the time. Archie Goodwin initially intended for the character to be a spider who evolved into a human. However, that’s not how her origin eventually turned out.
Jessica Miriam Drew is the daughter of Jonathan Drew and Mirriam Drew of London, England. The family moves to Mount Wundagore, and Jessica becomes ill due to radiation from uranium nearby.
Her father injects her with a serum he created from an irradiated spider’s blood. The serum incubates in her for months while she is placed in a genetic accelerator. Her mother dies while she is recovering and her father leaves for the United States. While in the accelerator, she ages at a decelerated rate and when she comes out decades later, she is only 17 years old.
She sets out on her own, gets brainwashed by Hydra (cuz that’s a thing they usually do), goes by the codename Arachne for a while, and she ends up captured by S.H.I.E.L.D. and goaded by another Hydra agent into assassinating Nick Fury.
A Divided Origin Story – Wolfman
It was after this initial appearance that Marv Wolfman was asked to take the character in an ongoing title. Wolfman retconned Goodwin’s origin plot in a four story arc in Marvel Two-in-One.
She quits Hydra, assaults their base, gets some more brainwashing by Hydra convincing her she was actually a spider who turned into a human, and falls back into Hydra’s grasp. This made any spider origin of the character a false memory implanted by Hydra.
She is trained by Taskmaster in a number of martial arts and disciplines, and there’s a bunch of modifications to her backstory that essentially retcon the uranium from the origin story.
Mark Gruenwald took on writing duties for her solo title and Carmine Infantino continued to do the artwork for the book, as he did for Wolfman. Eventually stories for the character started to dry out. And new writers and artists were brought in to continue her story.
Drew starts a new career as a bounty hunter under writer Michael Fleisher for a short while. Chris Claremont was brought in after his success with the X-Men titles, and he made Drew a private investigator, very much like her namesake Nancy Drew. By the time Gruenwald returned to Marvel, as editor this time, the sales on the series had dwindled to a point of cancellation. It ended on its 50th issue and Drew met her end in a battle against Morgan Le Fay.
And a year later, she was resurrected after fan backlash. The eventual resurrection happens when Doctor Strange and Magnus the sorcerer intervene to get her soul back into her body. The latter and less popular sorcerer sacrifices himself to get Jessica back. And she returns to the land of the living. Albeit without her powers.
Drew in the Modern Age
Jessica Drew continues her life and adventures in non-costumed appearances alongside larger selling comic book characters like Wolverine and Mattie Franklin. At least for a short while.
She appears in the 2003 story arc by Brian Michael Bendis Alias, under the Marvel MAX titles. Fast forward to 2005 and Brian Michael Bendis brings her back in some fashion- as the “Spider-Woman” on the roster of the New Avengers Team. But this Drew is actually the Skrull Empress Veranke. We eventually discover the real Jessica Drew had been kidnapped, along with a number of other Earth heroes.
After her return to the Spider-Woman role, Drew eventually plays a part in the huge Spider-Verse event of 2014 by Dan Slott. She also is part of an all-female team of Spider-Women, with Gwen Stacy and Silk.
Then we got the time she’s in plain clothes as an investigator, and she gets her powers back via a black blade she is hired to deliver to Japan.
Charlotte Witter rises up as a villain, takes Jessica’s powers and leaves her near death, and she teams up with Mattie Franklin to track Witter down and get her powers back, although they come back intermittently and at unreliable times.
This leads up to her arrival in the Avengers, the whole Veranke Skrull invasion/impersonation “Secret Wars” storyline and her eventual return to the super-hero title of Spider-Woman of Earth-616. After fighting off the Skrulls, she officially becomes part of the Secret Avengers.
Spider-Verse and the Inheritors
Drew takes part in the huge Spider-Verse event, as a member of the web-warriors who defeat the family of Morlun. She helps banish the spider-eating family to another reality, far away from anyone across the multiverse who had gained the powers of a spider.
She actually participates in the next comic book event with the Inheritors trying to screw things up for the Spider-People again. This is all covered in the first Spider-Verse story line and the subsequent Spider-Geddon by Christos Gage and Jorge Molina.
After the events of Spider-Verse and Secret Wars, she resigns to civilian life. Instead of the super-hero lifestyle, she decides to start a family and gets pregnant along the way. She has a child named Gerry via a sperm donor.
During the events of Spider-Geddon, the kid ends up becoming a target of Morlun’s Inheritors. Drew is once again part of the Spider-Army to fight off against forces that are working across the multiverse to end everyone of her kind. And, she and the other Spider-People emerge victorious at the conclusion of the book.
However, she continues to have financial troubles, especially being a single-mom super-hero. I guess being selfless doesn’t pay the bills?
Cartoons, Film, and Future?
Jessica Drew had a solo cartoon series on ABC’s Saturday Morning Cartoon block in 1979. In ran until January 0f 1980 and had a total of 16 episodes.
In film, it looks like she’s going to appear in a female-centric spin-off. This was in response to the success of the 2018 animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. At least that’s what the plan was when that Vanity Fair article came out with Amy Pascal talking about the spin-off written by Bek Smith. Maybe it’s still in early development.
Albeit, there are some scoopers out there on the web under the impression that in 2021, we will see a Spider-Woman/Jessica Drew solo film coming from Sony.
Differing Powers and Abilities
Drew is one of the more powerful Spider-People. She has the standard abilities of wall-crawling, and strength that rival Spider-Man. She also has superhuman speed, stamina, agility, and reflexes.
Her body is more resistant to injury as well as superhuman hearing and sense of smell. She secrets a pheromone that stimulates pleasure and attraction from individuals in her range. However, this ability is dependent on gender and mood.
She can also discharge a bio-electrical energy that manifests as blasts from her hands. It’s like Miles Morales’ venom blasts. Yet her ability is more lethal in that it can kill a person and pierce through solid metals like steel.
In all the sources I’ve looked at, she does not have web shooters like many of her spider-counterparts. She also does not have any spider-senses that alert her to immediate danger. However, Drew has a pair of wings equipped to the sides of her suit. These allow her to glide through the air given enough height.