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Spider-Woman (Marvel Comics) (Jessica Drew) (Wolfman Infantino era)

Spider-Woman

(Jessica Drew) (Profile #2 - Wolfman/infantino version)


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

To know her is to fear her !


Context

We strongly recommend that you read before this one.

This profile covers Spider-Woman during her Marv Wolfman-penned appearances in Marvel Two-in-One and Spider-Woman Vol. 1, in 1977-1978. This era is spent haphazardly f(l)ailing to try and find something that makes the character s(t)ing.

Emergent history reminder

As with the Spider Woman (Profile #1 – Goodwin take) this is an emergent history profile. This means that we *only* use information from the Marv Wolfman issues. Mr. Wolfman left the book after #8, and was succeeded by Mark Gruenwald.

So for instance information and retcons  about Meriem Drew added by later Spider-Woman writers ain’t in this profile. It’s purely the Wolfman take.

As you’ll see there are big differences between the Goodwin version and the Wolfman version. This is why we’re doing it as an emergent history rather than attempting to reconcile the versions. Reconciling versions just mushes incompatible material together.


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Background

  • Real Name: Jessica Drew.
  • Other Aliases: “Webs” (nickname from the Thing).
  • Former Aliases: Arachne.
  • Marital Status: Single.
  • Known Relatives: Jonathan Drew (father, deceased), Meriem Drew (mother, deceased).
  • Group Affiliation: Former agent of Hydra.
  • Base of Operations: A tiny flat in London, then rented rooms in Los Angeles.
  • Height: 5’7″ Weight: 120 lbs.
  • Eyes: Blue Hair: Light brown (usually dyed black).


Powers & Abilities

Spider-Woman’s powers are:

  • Enhanced strength (“Class 5”). She can for instance rip a lamppost from the pavement and hurl it a score of metres away as a weapon. Or bodily crash through some walls.
  • Augmented — but not superhuman — speed and agility.
  • Flight. This is presented as “gliding”, but she can carry at least her own body weight in flight. She also can soar without limitation. This flight is silent, except of course for the air displaced by her body.
  • High resilience against toxins and radiation poisoning.
  • Adhering to vertical, sheer or inverted surfaces like Spider-Man does.
  • “Venom blasts”. These are now presented as blasts of radiation that attack the human nervous system, knocking people out.
  • Superhumanly acute (or perhaps peak human) hearing.

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Jessica has the mysterious ability to change into her costume within perhaps three seconds. This works even if she couldn’t possibly have it on her. Say, because she was wearing a short skirt and dress shoes. The length of her hair also apparently changes at will.

Spider-Woman can transfix ordinary persons with her gaze. That spooks them and makes them unable to move for a short while. This is chiefly useful to escape from police officers without harming them. Later on she learns to use this for interrogation.

Skills

Spider-Woman still has a background as a trained Hydra operative… or so we’re told. Little of it is apparent in the material. She can proficiently sneak around, but this seems based on her powers rather than genuine technique. She once throws a spear with remarkable accuracy, but TMK Hydra doesn’t teach spear-throwing.

Spider-Woman lacks people skills, from lack of practice.

Drew is relatively easy to manipulate based on her insecurities and lack of experience. Yet she is surprisingly resilient against magical assaults and hallucinations aimed at her neuroses.

Jessica is knowledgeable about Arthurian legends, even though she has no memory of ever reading about them. The same was true of Dante Alighieri’s  works (including the Gustave Doré  illustrations), and presumably other classic literature.

One assumes that these were taught hypnotically by the High Evolutionary (hypnopædia ). But that doesn’t explain why Spider-Woman is surprised by having this knowledge.

What’s wrong with her ?

By Spider-Woman Vol. 1 #1, a new ability gets retconned  in. She now has an “aura” that affects people around her, based on their gender :

  • Women feel physical discomfort around her. Jessica makes them queasy and makes their skin crawl. They’ll likely want her to go away and never return.
  • Men can’t help but notice her beauty, and feel some sorrow and compassion for her. However, it doesn’t make it more likely that they will *act* upon that. Unless they’re unusually generous and helpful. So it’s not much of an asset, and arguably more of a hindrance.
  • Prepubescent children did not seem affected.

This wrecks Drew’s professional opportunities. This is the 1970s and she has no marketable skill. Therefore, employment is to be found in women-dominated professions. And even if she is interviewed by a man, her résumé is essentially a blank sheet of paper.

Uplifted  animals on Wundagore also disliked her, even if male. However, that seems to be an unrelated phenomenon. It appears to be more of a cultural thing, the New Men having conflicted feelings about Humans.

Ordinary animals aren’t affected.

Little things of venom

Spider-Woman is superhumanly resilient against toxins and radiation poisoning. She might ignore the weaker ones outright. If affected, she presumably recovers fully and at a greatly accelerated pace.

Spider-Woman (Marvel Comics) (Jessica Drew) (Wolfman Infantino era) sitting Hollywood sign night

One early scene has her ignoring laser blasts. There’s an emphasis on these being radiation, since that’s what the “r” in “laser” stands for. However, these “lasers” do not work like lasers usually do in comics. Their effects are mix of minor impact and fast-acting radiation poisoning.

Thus, contrary to the impression this scene might convey, Jessica doesn’t have special resistance to conventional energy blasts.

Spider-Woman is once easily felled by knockout gas. From a/ a biochemical standpoint and b/ given the likely functioning of her immune system, our medical hypothesis is that this was poor writing.

A blood transfusion from Spider-Woman will considerably bolster resilience against both radiation poisoning and poisons. How long it lasts is unclear, but it can save a near-terminal patient.

Overall assessment

Though this list of abilities may seem impressive, it’s important to note that Jessica doesn’t… do much during this era. She’s quite easy to capture and/or stun (then lovingly tie up, of course !). She doesn’t show much initiative, doesn’t speak much, etc..

Mostly she sneaks around, flies around, delivers a few good attacks, and occasionally shows surprising resilience toward an assault. In DC Heroes RPG terms she has few Hero Points . And she hoards what she gains to make herself surprisingly resistant to some attacks her player didn’t like.


History

Jessica is the daughter of one Meriem Drew, and eccentric arachnologist Jonathan Drew.

Mr. Drew had a bleak view of how humans would destroy the Earth via pollution and radiation. Thus, his lifelong quest was to develop a mutagenic serum. This would give humans a spider-like ability to endure even in dismal conditions. This would save humanity when the worst — presumably meaning nuclear war — would come to pass.

(FWIW, real-world research at Chernobyl shows that spider population drops  with radiation count (though it might be because their preys die off), and that spiders do suffer significant DNA damage.)

Jonathan Drew became a friend of Herbert Wyndham. Wyndham was another inventive eccentric with odd ideas about evolution. They allied since they faced too much scorn from their peers.

They pooled their resources to buy a large plot of land in Transia (in South-Eastern Europe) so they could study in peace. As it turned out this land, on the slopes of Mount Wundagore, was exceptionally rich in uranium.

Irradiated

The uranium made the scientists very, very wealthy. They sunk all this money into creating a Kirbyesque  science citadel also called Wundagore. It was filled with extraordinarily advanced labs.

Both Wyndham and Drew laughed at your puny conventional biology. Drew did develop several early versions of his mutagenic serum. And Wyndham embarked on the path that would turn him into the godlike High Evolutionary.

However, the uranium in the ground had another effect. Little Jessica (who seemed to be about 5) became fatally ill from unforeseen radiation poisoning.

(How this happened is at best unclear. Especially since the symptoms went from zero to terminal within hours. However it was later revealed that Mount Wundagore was saturated with fell magic. It certainly helps explain what happened to that poor kid, and why it blindsided such brilliant scientists.)

Mutated

Out of options as his daughter was rapidly dying, Jonathan Drew injected her with his experimental serum. However, at this stage, its mutagenic properties needed weeks to assert themselves. Jessica Drew clearly didn’t have that long to live.

Spider-Woman (Marvel Comics) (Jessica Drew) (Wolfman Infantino era) flying low in the night

Howbeit Wyndham came through. He placed the kid under an early version of his “genetic accelerator” ray. It would accelerate and amplify the reaction to Drew’s serum.

The stress of seeing her daughter subjected to such unproven, DNA-altering technologies killed Meriem Drew. Shocked, Jonathan vanished without a trace.

But Wyndham continued his work. Jessica was in a coma, but his ray and John’s serum were interacting in incredible ways. This combination narrowly kept her alive — if comatose — for years.

The ABC of her DNA

When Jessica awoke, she looked 19-ish. Wyndham had become the High Evolutionary years before. He had already started uplifting  animals into New Men, who lived in the science citadel.

Jessica received an education to compensate for her years of coma. But though the environment of Wundagore was extraordinary, she was shunned.

Unlike everyone there but the High Evolutionary, she was Human. Her DNA had been modified with spider-like properties giving her superhuman powers, but she looked like a normal Human woman. And the New Men resented this.

She eventually left to join other Humans in Transia. Apparently, just like in the previous version of her story, she :

  • Joined a village.
  • Accidentally killed her lover.
  • Ran from a crowd.
  • Was recruited and deceived by Hydra.
  • Tried to kill Fury.
  • Escaped from S.H.I.E.L.D..

However, she was soon shot by a marauding Hydra aircraft, and recaptured.

London calling

Hydra put her under hypnotic control, but knew that it wouldn’t hold for long. Thus, they forced Professor Louis Kort in London to reverse-engineer the Drew serum from Jessica’s body.

However, Shang-Chi and the Thing disrupted the operation. Hydra retaliated by sending Spider-Woman to kidnap the Thing’s girlfriend, Alicia Masters. Then they turned Alicia into a spider monster using Kort’s serum. But Jessica regained her free will. Along with the Thing and the Invisible Woman, she saved Masters and Kort – and routed Hydra.

The Thing was then caught in the misadventures of Modred the Mystic. Spider-Woman followed him to help. The three of them repulsed four evil elemental monsters.

At the conclusion of this case Modred assured Jessica that she was completely Human, rather than an uplifted spider as she believed.

You’re my heart, you’re my soul

Drew hung around in London. An old man let her stay in a tiny flat for a tiny rent. But she couldn’t find a job no matter how hard she tried. She also developed a bad reputation since she made women so uneasy. Jess soon found herself starving.

(How she didn’t actually starve, bought herself some clothing, etc. is unclear. Perhaps the Thing gave her a roll of cash, and she made it last as long as she could.)

As if it weren’t enough, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jerry Hunt obsessively stalked her. Since Hunt briefly saw her face, Jessica started dyeing her hair black as a simple disguise.

The super-heroine sensation they said couldn’t be done !

The rest of the run is… a mess, I’m sorry to say. The salient points are :

General storyline

Jessica seeks to find her father. A mentor named Magnus takes her to Los Angeles to do that.

Jessica discovers how and why her dad was murdered. She and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jerry Hunt become an item.

Jonathan Drew

Mr. Drew came to London after leaving Wundagore, when Jessica was still a comatose child. He worked for a time at the British Natural History Museum .

Spider-Woman (Marvel Comics) (Jessica Drew) (Wolfman Infantino era) with Magnus

Then he left for California, where he worked for a company called Pyro-Technics. He developed a variant of his spider-serum. However, he eventually realised that he was working for a conspiracy headed by Congressman Wyatt.

In 1976, as he attempted to flee, Drew was shot dead by Wyatt.

Congressman James T. Wyatt

Wyatt procured both a neutron device and the new Drew brew. He could thus make radiation strikes against US military bases, then have his Drew-enhanced troops walk right in and seize resources. Apparently he wanted to create his own nation by carving out a large chunk of California.

Wyatt was stopped in the nick of time by S.H.I.E.L.D. and Spider-Woman. He confessed to the murder of Mr. Drew as he died. His rogue soldiers apparently never received the Drew injection, which was to take place just before the coup’s launch.

Magnus

An aged soothsayer whom Jessica associates with. Because she sees no other option and at least it’s somebody to talk to. Magnus is Terribly Mysterious™, and thus never explains anything. He soon convinces Jessica to move to Los Angeles, promising she’ll learn about her father there. And yes, he knows all along that what she’ll actually find is a grave.

Magnus seems to be a Merlin figure. But he then reveals that he’s a rebellious student of Morgan Le Fay. For centuries, he kept a forbidden mystical tome, the Darkhold, hidden from her.

He’s twice attacked by Morgan during the run. First, Morgan sends Excaliber after him in London. Then in L.A. she attempts an all-out assault, which starts by battering Spider-Woman’s psyche. Magnus uses illusion spells to convince Morgan that she has killed everyone during her attack. It works and she leaves.

Jerry Hunt

This S.H.I.E.L.D. agent is obsessive about Spider-Woman. He states to random colleagues that he “has to have her” and “loves her” after having just seen her for seconds. Hunt stalks Drew in London then in L.A. with the backing of Scotland Yard, Dr. Bill Foster and the LAPD.

In L.A., Magnus telepathically summons Hunt in, without warning Drew. The “plan” seems to be about distracting Morgan by throwing a normal guy into a magic fight (?). After Magnus magically erases the memories of one of their allies, he gestures at Drew and Hunt, and the pair starts making out without a single word. They become a couple. That’s tots legit.

Hunt then starts helping Spider-Woman in her adventure. As a James Bond type he’s more competent than she is. Thus, he tends to push her out of her own comic.

Bit players

  • The L.A. lodger for Drew and Magnus is Mrs. Dolly, the apparent widow of Mister Doll.
  • An important villain during this span is Brother Grimm. Nothing is explained during their Terribly Mysterious™ cutscenes.
  • The Hangman (Harlan Krueger) briefly captures Spider-Woman, then leaves.
  • A captured Magnus once directs Morgan toward the Werewolf by Night (Jack Russell). Russell has read parts of the Darkhold, making it possible to magically learn forbidden spells from his mind. Which Morgan does.

The last two issues

The last two storylines are disconnected from the previous events, and evoke old horror comics à la Strange Tales.

First, Spider-Woman runs into a 200+ year-old soldier seeking suicide. This man is cursed, and the death he seeks can only occur in convoluted circumstances. Spider-Woman engineers these, and the cursed man can die at last.

Second, Spider-Woman recovers money stolen from a children’s hospital. She receives the unwitting help of a salesman wearing a haunted suit. The suit previously belonged to a dead criminal.


Description

When she starts dyeing her hair, Jessica also alters her costume. The main change is that the top of her hood is now open.


Personality

Half-human and half-spider, Jessica is excluded from both mankind and the animal kingdom. Thus, she is destined to forever be alone and brooding in the night.

An important plot point early on was to establish that she’s Human. Then the captions and thought bubbles make it a big deal of how… she’s not. Her “half-spider” nature is apparently what creeps people out.

At this stage, Drew has little agency or initiative. She appears to have little life experience. She comes across as a sheltered 16-year-old, though she’s physically older than that. She’s lost, lonely and can’t interact with most people. Thus she mostly reacts and follows.

In the field, she doesn’t speak much. When she does it’ll probably be because she feels angry and defiant. Which may lead to outburst of violence and intimidation.

Early scenes have her refusing to steal food even when famished. But after that her ethics become typical “avenger of the night” ones. Particularly when it comes to discovering the fate of her father.


Quotes

“I may look and feel human, but I’ve the blood of a spider coursing through my veins. I’m a spider-woman, and wherever I go, I take that deadly curse with me.”
(Writeups.org note – spiders don’t actually have blood, they have haemolymph . So now you know.)

“I’m the only one to blame. No one’s manipulating my life anymore ! I’m finally free. So why is everything going wrong for me ? Why ?”

“You’ll see him up soon enough… once you awaken from Spider-Woman’s deadly sting !”

“All my life I’ve lived apart from mankind — trapped in a world with only genetically altered animals as my companions. And now that I live alongside humans… I still find myself — alone. Am I destined always to be different ? Is that my fate… or my curse ?”


DC Universe History

There’s something a bit Teen Titans-ish about this version of Spider-Woman. And of course, Wolfman was on the verge of leaving Marvel for DC and writing the enormously successful 1980 run of Teen Titans.

Perhaps she was an early project by the Wildebeest Society ?


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

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Spider-Woman

Dex: 05 Str: 08 Bod: 05 Motivation: None.
Int: 04 Wil: 04 Min: 04 Occupation: None.
Inf: 03 Aur: 02 Spi: 05 Wealth: N.A.
Init: 014 HP: 015

Powers:
Cling: 04, Directional hearing: 03, Energy absorption: 02, Extended Hearing: 02, Flight: 06, Mental blast: 07, Regeneration: 03, Systemic Antidote: 02

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • Energy absorption only vs. toxic radiation.
  • Flight requires having her hands free (similar to the Winged Limitation).
  • Mental Blast has Limited Penetration, and its Range is but a 04.
  • Mental Blast EV is lowered by 3 APs against targets without a nervous system.
  • Regeneration only against RAPs inflicted by radiation poisoning or toxins.

Skills:
Accuracy (Mental blast): 06, Charisma (Interrogation, Intimidation): 06, Martial Artist (w/Techniques): 04, Thief (Stealth, Security systems): 05, Weaponry*: 05

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • Charisma is a Powered Skill.
  • Thief usually receives bonuses (typically -1CS OV/RV) as she is crawling along the ceilings. Which normally have no security systems and aren’t watched by guards.
  • Thief (Stealth) can be used in flight.

Advantages:
Insta-change, Language (Unspecified Transian language), Misc.: enhanced blood (see below).

Connections:
Jerry Hunt, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (High), Magnus (Low).

Drawbacks:
Attack Vulnerability (-1CS OV/RV against Character Interaction exploiting her weak sense of identity), Exile (Involuntary – Jessica doesn’t know much about the world), Socially Inept (only affects women).


We suck young blood

A transfusion of Jessica Drew’s blood greatly helps resist poisoning. One would imagine that she’s also a universal donor, though it’s doubtful that her blood is a standard type O Rh D negative.

A typical transfusion will Endow the recipient with 1 AP of Systemic Antidote and 1 AP of Regeneration, with the same Bonuses and Limitations as Jessica’s. The Systemic Antidote will also be effective against radiation poisoning.

A full-bore transfusion, with Spider-Woman stuck for a while in an hospital bed as a heavy donor, would mean 2 APs in these two Powers. It also Endows with 2 APs in Invulnerability with the same Bonuses and Limitations as Regeneration. Invulnerability checks can be done every 12 hours.

By Sébastien Andrivet.

Source of Character: Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 1 #29-33 ; Spider-Woman Vol. 1 #1-8.

Helper(s): Darci.

Writeup completed on the 20th of December, 2017.

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