Amazing Spider-Friends is a twice-monthly column, written by contributor Tyler Barlass, that highlights the rich and complex relationships that Spider-Man has built with just about every character in the Marvel Universe through the years.
In preparation for the reveal of the new spider powered female known as Silk (who actually debuted in Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 3) #1 but is set to play a major part in next month’s Amazing Spider-Man #4), I’ve been highlighting the various spider women who have appeared over the years and their relationship with your friendly neighborhood wall crawler. A few weeks ago I showcased the original Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew. Just 6 years after Drew made her initial appearance, Marvel introduced another Spider-Woman going by the name Julia Carpenter. Not surprisingly, her life as a superhero has been just as tumultuous as Jessica’s or any other woman who’s been given the extraordinary powers of an arachnid. In fact, Julia may be the most interesting wall-crawling lady of them all.
Julia Carpenter was first introduced during the Secret Wars crossover of 1984. She was whisked away to the mysterious Battleworld along with the entire city of Denver where she was living. Having already been given spider powers at a previous point in her life, she chose to join the heroes in their struggle to survive. This is when Spider-Man first met Julia and took notice of her interesting black and white costume. After Spidey acquired the alien symbiote that would go on to serve as his new costume in Secret Wars #8, it was Julia’s costume design that Pete had in mind. The alien used Peter’s memories of Julia’s suit to create the iconic black costume that we all know and love.
Eventually it is revealed that, like her predecessor Jessica, Julia did not receive her special powers by choice. She was duped into being injected with a special formula that granted her powers similar to those of Spider-Man by a government sanctioned group called The Commission. After her adventures on Battleworld, Julia returned to Earth and joined the Commission’s group of super powered characters called Freedom Force. Her time with Freedom Force would not last long though. After members of the Avengers were erroneously imprisoned, Julia rebelled against her team and released Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. This caused Carpenter to become a wanted woman which inadvertently made her a pawn of the Commission again in order to clear her name.
Julia’s first real team-up with Spider-Man occurred while she was doing covert missions for the Commission. Her assignment would put her face to face with the enormously powerful villain known as the Wrecker. After a short scuffle with Spidey and a defeat at the hands of Wrecker, the black-clad Spider-Woman decided to stop her pursuit of the super powered villain stating that she was a single mom and had a daughter to take care of. She had second thoughts though and eventually came to the aid of Spider-Man when he needed her most.
Soon after, Julia moved back out west and joined up with the West Coast Avengers. The Commission would not leave poor Julia Carpenter alone though. It was revealed that the organization used the same process that gave Julia her powers on three other individuals known collectively as Death Web (which, interestingly enough, featured a spider powered woman that went by Julia’s future super hero handle Arachne). In a Los Angeles convention center, Death Web attacked Julia, the West Coast Avengers and Spider-Man (who just so happened to be in LA investigating a mystery). After a few massive battles and an unnecessary fight between Spidey and Spider-Woman, Peter and Julia teamed-up, defeated Death Web and saved Rachel (although Julia’s ex-husband perished in the melee).
Julia soon realized that raising her daughter was more important than playing super hero and she retired from dressing up in long underwear. She was brought out of retirement though when the evil Spider-Woman Charlotte Witter reunited all of the spider gals and stole each of their powers. While Jessica Drew recovered from her encounter with Witter, Carpenter found herself paralyzed from the waist down. Over time, with the help of the vigilante known as the Shroud, Julia regained her powers and her ability to walk again. In the process, a romantic relationship with the Shroud blossomed.
After changing her alias to Arachne (to avoid confusion with Jessica Drew), her next fateful run-in with Spider-Man would prove to be a life changing experience for Julia. In an attempt to resurrect the deceased Sergei Kravinoff, Kraven’s children captured Julia and Anya Corazon along with Madame Web. The sacrifice of Kaine (Peter Parker’s clone) would eventually bring Kraven back to the land of the living. In the midst of these morbid rituals, Madame Web was mortally wounded and just before she perished she transferred her psychic power over to Julia, blinding her in the process. When an irate Spidey nearly put Kraven back into the grave, Julia showed Peter the folly of his possible actions and Parker spared his enemy’s life.
Julia quickly took to her new role as Madame Web. She helped prepare Peter for the Spider-Island event that saw a majority of New York City’s citizens transform into spiders. Later, her warning against the complete destruction of the city allowed Spider-Man to time travel and save the city once again.
Shortly before Doc Ock swapped bodies with Peter, Julia foresaw a number of dangers in the Marvel Universe. This overload caused Julia to fall into a coma. Having seen the future, Julia made preparations for her destiny by filing off her own fingerprints and sending Rachel to Colorado to live with her grandparents.
Of all the spider women that I’ll be writing about these next few months, Julia Carpenter may be my favorite. She’s a single mom struggling to do what’s right and she always fights for those she loves. Much like when she was given spider powers earlier in life, she didn’t flinch when given the burdensome abilities of Madame Web. The fact that she is currently comatose is a shame, but based on the fact that she forewarned us about the upcoming Spider-Verse event, I have a funny feeling that her story is far from finished.