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REVIEW: MARVEL UNIVERSE SPIDER-WOMAN
By Thomas Wheeler

I find it interesting that Hasbro's line of MARVEL UNIVERSE action figures is showing an increasing willingness to produce figures of somewhat obscure characters. One recent entry, SPIDER-WOMAN, may not be especially obscure, but the character – or characters – have certainly had one of the more convoluted histories within the Marvel Universe. And if one considers the Marvel Universe – that's saying something…

Of course, the Marvel Universe is probably best known for the character of Spider-MAN. Then high school student Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider, and was granted super-powers similar to that of a spider. So what about Spider-Woman? I tend to be of the feeling that, much like She-Hulk, Marvel initially came up with the character to keep anyone else from coming up with a female character bearing powers similar to one of their flagship heroes. This was around the time when both Spider-Man and the Hulk had live-action television series, and apparently it was considered a possibility that the show's producers could have done something like this, and subsequently owned the rights to such characters.

Ironically, both Marvel Comics and DC Comics have characters named Spider-Girl. Marvel actually has two, the best known of which is the daughter of the original Spider-Man in an alternate timeline. DC's is a more obscure character, a lesser-known member of the 31st century Legion of Super-Villains.

Technically, there have been several characters since the late 1970's that have borne the name Spider-Woman. The first, and the subject of this review, is Jessica Drew, who was first introduced in Marvel Spotlight #32, in February of 1977, and was sufficiently popular that she went on to star in not only her own TV series, but an animated TV series in 1979.

The second was Julia Carpenter, introduced in Marvel Secret Wars in 1984, and essentially the originator of the "black" Spider-costume – even though hers wasn't a symbiote that would later become a super-villain. She would go on to be a member of the Avengers for a time, and would subsequently be known by the names Arachne, and Madame Web.

The third was a character named Mattie Franklin, who briefly impersonated Spider-Man before receiving her own short-lived comic series. The fourth was a woman named Charlotte Witter, who was actually a super-villain.

But let's consider now the Spider-Woman who is the subject of the Marvel Universe action figure. Jessica Drew was first introduced in Marvel Spotlight #32, and subsequently starred in 50 issues of her own self-titled series. After the conclusion of the series, the character was de-powered, and fell into disuse, which is basically what led to all these other Spider-Women over the years.

Originally, Spider-Woman was a spider evolved into human form by the High Evolutionary. However, publisher Stan Lee was disgusted with this interpretation of the character, and insisted that her origin be changed. And when Stan says to change something, it's going to get changed.

Her original origin has Jessica Drew born to parents Jonathan and Mirriam Drew, in London, England. At a young age, Jessica was lethally poisoned by radiation while living near Mount Wundagore in Transia. In an attempt to save her life, her father injected her with an experimental serum based on irradiated spider's blood. Because this did not have any apparent effect on her, the High Evolutionary placed her in a genetic accelerator. While in this device, she aged at a decelerated rate. When she was finally released, decades later, Drew was only seventeen years old.

Jessica grew up on Mount Wundagore under the care of Lady Bova, one of the High Evolutionary's so-called "New Men". She eventually left when she felt she no longer fit in with the population of New Men. Her first few years were confusing, as she had no experience with the outside world, as she tried to adjust to life among humans. Eventually, the terrorist organization HYDRA found and recruited her as an agent.

Through brainwashing and manipulation, she was convinced she was not a human but actually an evolved spider. During this time, she went by the alias of Arachne. As a HYDRA agent, she battled Nick Fury and SHIELD. Until Jessica learned HYDRA's true nature, and turned her back on them.

In 2005, Marvel released a five-part mini-series written by Brian Michael Bendis, titled "Spider-Woman: Origin", that reworked certain aspects of her past. "Origin" does away with the spider-blood serum and the genetic accelerator. Instead, Jessica's powers derive from her mother's womb being bit by a laser beam containing the DNA traits of several different species of spiders while she was carrying Jessica. The Drews were trying to splice and harness spiders' environmental adaptive capabilities, in order to graft them into the human genome.

After Jessica's parents disappeared under mysterious circumstances, Jessica was recruited into HYDRA under false pretenses, where she was made into a formidable fighter/assassin, under the tutelage of the Taskmaster.

In her own title, using the name Spider-Woman, Jessica used her new identity to track down her father's killer, starting her search in London. During this time, she was recaptured by HYDRA and brainwashed into working for them again. This brought her into direct conflict with Ben Grimm (the Thing), but eventually, the brainwashing was reversed.

Jessica battled an agent of the medieval sorceress Morgan Le Fay, and then came into contact with Morgan's arch nemesis, the sorcerer Magnus. He would become one of her strongest allies, and provided her with information that would lead Jessica to relocate with him to Los Angeles where she began her career as a costumed crime-fighter. She was also pursued at this time by SHIELD agent Jerry Hunt, with whom she would begin a romantic relationship.

In her early days, Spider-Woman tried to keep her presence in Los Angeles a secret, managing nevertheless to fight a fair crowd of super-villains, including Hangman, the Enforcer, Hammer and Anvil, Nekra, the Silver Samurai, Viper, Gypsy Moth, and others.

She worked as a secretary for a medical research company known as the Hatros Institute, hoping to gain a greater insight into her powers in the process. Her culmination of her time there led to her confrontation with Nekra, and the loss of her job. Unemployed, she briefly considered stealing, but at the last moment decided against it. She came into contact with Spider-Man, who advised her to use her powers to help others in need. She chose to heed his advice, and became a bounty hunter, and later a private investigator, moving to San Francisco with her best friend Lindsay McCabe.

Several subsequent adventures cost her some of her powers, and Spider-Woman was totally depowered following an encounter with Charlotte Witter, the villainous Spider-Woman, who managed to steal her remaining powers. After this, she returned to her life as a private investigator, and served as a teacher and mentor to Mattie Franklin, a young woman who assumed the Spider-Woman identity. During this time, Jessica's powers returned, but unpredictably and unreliably.

Years later, a HYDRA agent attacked her and offered her powers back if she would rejoin SHIELD as a double-agent. Knowing the HYDRA agent would kill her if she said no, Jessica agreed and contacted Nick Fury, who confronted her securely and urged her to accept the offer. He told Jessica that he would feed her limited information until SHIELD could analyze the HYDRA cell and then use the information to take them down. It is not long after this that she also joins the newest incarnation of the Avengers.

It was revealed during the Secret Invasion storyline, however, that the Jessica who joined the Avengers and was acting as a double-agent for Fury was in fact a Skrull imposter. When she went undercover to regain her lost powers, she was ambushed by the Skrulls and replaced by their Quuen Veranke, who took her place in the New Avengers and assumed her role as Fury's spy, in preparation for the forthcoming invasion.

In the conclusion to Secret Invasion, the real Jessica is revealed to be alive when Iron Man finds a Skrull ship in orbit, with all of the replaced heroes. In the aftermath of the Secret Invasion, Jessica is invited by Wolverine to join the New Avengers, having nowhere else to go. She is later approached to join SWORD, an agency similar to SHIELD, which she accepts. After run-ins with HYDRA, another Skrull, and the new Thunderbolts, Jessica eventually find yet another Skrull and takes it down with the help of her teammates in the New Avengers. After the mission is over, she is offered new and different opportunities within SWORD. She also was part of the membership roster for the new Avengers lineup which debuted in mid 2010.

As to her powers and abilities, as a result of a combination of a special serum derived from spider blood and certain radiation treatment. Jessica possesses superhuman strength, endurance, reflexes, and speed. She can focus the bioelectric energy that her body generates into "venom blasts" sufficient to stun or kill normal humans, and she can also adhere to almost any surface. She rapidly forms an immunity to all poisons and drugs, and is totally immune to radiation. With the glider-web extensions on her costume, she can glide through the air over limited distances.

In addition to her powers, Jessica is a superb hand-to-hand fighter, and has trained in several fighting styles including boxing, judo, karate, and others, learned under the training of the Taskmaster. She has also had training in fencing and the use of other weapons. Her training by both HYDRA and SHIELD has given her knowledge of covert operations, stealth, espionage, and information gathering. She is a superb athlete. Jessica speaks multiple foreign languages, including Korean, Russian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and German. Pretty impressive resume.

So, how's the figure? Equally impressive.

I've always liked the classic Spider-Woman's costume. There are some costumes that I just don't think need to be messed with. Superman became an energy being for a time, and wore this weird blue-and-white lightning-like outfit. I really think DC thought they had re-created Superman for the new millennium. Yeah, that lasted a long time. Pretty much all Batman has ever changed is whether or not to put a yellow circle around the bat insignia on his uniform. The colors have darkened or lightened here and there, but the basics have maintained. Spider-Man has been known to dress in black from time to time, but there's something about the blue and red – with the web patterns in it – that is just too iconic to abandon for any length of time. And don't get me started on Wonder Woman's wardrobe change.

While Spider-Woman is nowhere nearly as iconic as those characters, she does have a good, basic, straightforward costume, that has certainly come to be firmly associated with the character more than any other incarnation of Spider-Woman, that just simply doesn't need to be messed with. Interestingly enough, except for the eyes, it's not at all like Spider-Man's costume. But no one said it ever had to be. And it certainly works, and certainly looks good.

Spider-Woman wears a mask that, unlike Spider-Man, leaves the lower part of her face visible. It also allows her hair to be out in the open. The earliest interpretation of Spider-Woman had her hair covered as well. Fortunately, this didn't last long, as she definitely looks better with it on display. Jessica Drew has long, black, slightly wavy hair.

The eyepieces of the mask are about the only comparable part to Spider-Man. The eye pieces are large, white surrounded by a thick black border, and are roundish except for an angled upsweep to the outside on each one, pretty much identical to Spider-Man's own.

Spider-Woman's costume is almost entirely solid red – no little web lines like Spider-Man's. There is a yellow triangle on the forehead, and Spider-Woman wears yellow gloves and boots. There is a yellow triangle at the top of her torso, and a yellow arrow-like shape on her abdomen and lower torso. It's not a black widow's hourglass, however. The separation point between the red and the yellow on her costume at any given point is outlined with a thick black line, which allows the eyepieces to merge well with the rest of the costume design without entirely losing the Spider-Man connection. There are also black lines extending over her shoulders.

Since Spider-Woman doesn't shoot webs or use a web-spinning device, she possesses glider wings for faster travel over various distances. These are translucent, with thick black web lines, and are part of her costume, stretching from the insides of her arms to her sides and back.

The headsculpt of the figure is, of course, unique, and extremely well done. The eyes and the triangle on the forehead have been distinctly sculpted, and very neatly painted. The lower part of her face possesses a rather serious expression, and has also been neatly painted, including a bit of red lipstick. Her hair is a separately molded piece, glued into place. The hair is very well sculpted, nicely layered, and looks like a little "windswept", but not to the point of looking "pre-posed". I do rather wish that it had been made from more flexible plastic, as it is something of an hindrance to the head articulation.

I'm reasonably certain that the body used for the figure is a fairly standard set of female body molds that are used for multiple figures in the Marvel Universe line, although granted I do not collect the line extensively enough to be certain of this. However, none of the detail markings on the costume are sculpted in. They are painted on. In a way, this is actually more appropriate if you think about it. And the details are very neatly painted on, for that matter.

Then there's the web wings. These are molded from very flexible, translucent plastic, given their black outlines and web lines, and clipped to the arms during assembly of the figure. They are not removable. There is one clip on the upper arm, and another near the wrist. Fortunately, the clips have been painted in the appropriate colors of red and yellow, and blend about as well as one could hope.

However, they do stand out a little bit. This is inevitable just because of the limitations of plastic molding. You're not going to mold these paper-thin and get away with it. However, I have to say that, thanks to the matching colors, it doesn't look bad at all, and they're flexible enough and positioned in such a way that they don't interfere with Spider-Woman's articulation in the slightest.

Spider-Woman stands precisely 4 inches in height, and is superbly articulated. She is poseable at the head (although this is hindered by the hair), arms, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, double-jointed knees, and ankles. I don't usually approve of double-jointed elbows and knees, since I think it's unnecessary and generally doesn't look very good, but Spider-Woman's assembly is tight enough so that it's not bad at all in this case. The waist articulation is a little obvious, and this makes me think all the more that the molds for this figure are used on multiple females, many of which probably wear belts that would conceal this point a little bit more. The mid-torso articulation point is very well concealed simply because of – well, certain aspects of female anatomy…

Any complaints? About the worst thing I can say about this figure is that the upper arm attachment rings for the web wings keep the arms for being able to fold down to the sides all the way. But this is a relatively minimal complaint on an otherwise superb figure.

Spider-Woman comes with a display base. One might think that she might also come with some attachment to mimic her energy-based "venom blasts", but she doesn't. No big loss as far as I'm concerned. There's something about trying to render energy-based super powers in plastic that I have yet to see work well in any toy line, not just Marvel Universe. I think the "attachment" for this figure is the web wings, even though they don't really qualify as an "accessory".

I'd like to address the packaging for a moment. In an effort to keep up with the storylines as they have played out in the comics, the initial assortments of Marvel Universe figures featured a SHIELD logo and Nick Fury on the back, encouraging people to visit a Web Site called "furyfiles.com". After the events of Secret Invasion and leading into Dark Reign, the SHIELD logo was replaced with that of HAMMER, and Fury was replaced by Norman Osborn's ugly mug and corn-rowed hair. Now, rather thankfully, SHIELD is back, and the character on the back of the package is Steve Rogers in his new "Super-Soldier" uniform, although the references to the "furyfiles.com" Web Site are gone, as is the little packet that used to come with each Marvel Universe figure that contained a small trading card and informational letter. I sort of miss that. I don't miss Osborn.

So, what's my final word here? This is an impressive figure. Although Spider-Woman is not as iconic as some other super-heroes, she is certainly a recognizable character, has a significant if somewhat sporadic and muddled history in the Marvel Universe – although she seems to be on a better track these days than she's been in years – and she has always maintained a reasonable level of popularity. Her inclusion in this Marvel Universe line is certainly welcome, and the results are extremely well done. If you're a Marvel fan, a Spider-Fan, or even just a Spider-Woman fan, you'll definitely want to find this figure!

The MARVEL UNIVERSE figure of SPIDER-WOMAN definitely has my most enthusiastic recommendation!