If recent reports are to be believed, Sony is hoping to expand its Spider-Man universe with a film focused on a female hero. There are no details yet as to whom it might be, and any such film will have to compete with planned Spider-sequels and villain-focused Spider-spin-offs like Venom and The Sinister Six, but we thought we’d look at some of the notables from the comics…
The original Spider-Woman debuted in 1977, largely because Stan Lee was worried that someone else would rush out a comic and claim the title before Marvel could. “I wanted to protect the name, because it's the type of thing where someone else might say, 'Hey, why don't we put out a Spider-Woman; they can't stop us,’” he said in 1978.
Jessica Drew first received her powers when she’s treated with a serum derived from spiders’ blood after she fell gravely ill due to uranium exposure, though that origin story has changed through the years and is much better than the proposed origin that cast her as a spider given human form. In her time she’s been a villain (she was at one point recruited by Hydra, though that obviously can’t happen in Sony’s world) but more often she's a hero (she's been with the New Avengers in recent years). Her powers include a mixture of spider-based abilities, similar to Peter Parker: strength, speed, agility and the ability to heal quickly. In the Ultimate Marvel version, she’s a clone of Peter Parker himself, which could tie into the current movies’ plotline, what with all that genetic tinkering around the Parker family.
Essentially the Marvel universe’s answer to Catwoman, Felicia Hardy first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #194, back in July 1979. The creation of Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard, she’s a cat burglar who honed her fighting skills after deciding to take on her father’s stock in trade. She’s enjoyed a complicated relationship with Spider-Man, and even acquired powers so she could be the equal of some of the characters she hangs around with – though her bad luck power proves to be more of a burden than a benefit. When Spider-Man asked Doctor Strange to help him remove her accidental hex, Felicia gained different powers, including enhanced agility and retractable claws.
Unlike most of the women on our list, Hardy has actually been introduced into the current film canon, via a small cameo from Felicity Jones as an assistant at OsCorp in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Whether this was a stealth plan to have the Black Cat slink on to screens in her own film is something only Sony’s team knows for now, but she seems the most likely candidate for a Spider spin-off on this list as a result of that quick appearance.
Created by Tom DeFalco, Ron Frenz and Josef Ruvenstein for The Amazing Spider-Man #265 in 1985, Silver Sable is a mercenary and warrior who was first introduced hunting war criminals. Originating from Symkaria (just next door to Doctor Doom’s Latveria; surely you know it) Sable channelled youthful trauma – including her mother being murdered in front of her – into life as an emotionless and effective fighter. She does let rage get the better of her from time to time, and while she’s more usually on the side of the heroes, she has occasionally clashed with the white hats.
Silver Sable enlisted Spider-Man’s assistance in battling the Sinister Syndicate – no, not the top-tier rogue’s gallery that will be forming the Sinister Six – and while she doesn’t have superpowers, she can more than handle herself in a battle. She also has a protective, synthetic suit and access to the sort of gadgetry that would make James Bond go weak at the well-tailored knees. She’s the sort of warrior woman who could be the focus of a movie, but we suspect she’ll need a lot of set up.
As is common for so many of Marvel’s heroes, the name Jackpot has been usedby more than one person. Jackpot began life in 2007 as Sara Ehret, a scientist working on gene therapies to cure Parkinson’s. Exposed to the mysterious Lot 777 virus, her cells are re-written, giving her super-strength.
Recruited by the government for superhero duty, Sara quickly decides that life as a costumed vigilante is not for her, and sells her identity to Alana Jobson, who took on the role. Initially lacking Sara’s powers, Alana downed a cocktail of drugs to develop them, eventually gaining super-strength, stamina, and invulnerability. She teamed up with Spider-Man on numerous occasions before being killed in action, whereupon a guilty Sara resumed the gig. It’s a complicated story, but it could make for a fascinating film if they actually played with that handover of powers. Alas, our suspicion is that if the studio looked to Jackpot, the plot would be streamlined.
Not to be confused with Aunt May (Although the idea of Sally Field kicking arse, or even Rosemary Harris from the Raimi trilogy suddenly turning into a Supergran figure, does have a sort of appeal), May “Mayday” Parker is the daughter of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson from another timeline. Created by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz, she first took comic life in a What If issue published in 1998. She eventually scored her own eponymous book, which was the longest-running superhero book with a lead female character ever published by Marvel before being re-launched as The Amazing Spider-Girl, and later The Spectacular Spider-Girl.
The teenager starts developing her own set of spider powers at the age of 15. Despite her parents’ wishes, she sets out on her own superhero mission, and actually has more luck than her dad even if, like him, that luck doesn’t extend to her private life most of the time. Though she’s not quite as strong as Peter, she’s much more agile and heals faster than he does. The idea of a younger character taking on the mantle could certainly appeal to the studio, but given that they've just rebooted Spidey as a younger guy, the chances of his suddenly appearing as the father of a teenager are low, making May an unlikely prospect.
Hey, guess what? There’s more than one Spider-Girl! Actually, there are several but one popular option is Anya Sofia Corazon, who was created by Fiona Avery and Mark Brooks, based on ideas from Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski’s run on The Amazing Spider-Man. Half-Mexican and half-Puerto Rican, she’s given the usual powers – strength, speed, agility, wall-crawling etc. – by a mysterious spider tattoo applied during a ritual. But she’s different from Peter Parker in that she can also create a blue, symbiote-alike exoskeleton to protect herself.
Anya is recruited by a mystical clan called the Spider Society and helps them fight evil once she’s designed her own costume. First calling herself Arana, she later takes on the Spider-Girl moniker and has been teamed up with the likes of Ms. Marvel and a certain P. Parker during her 10 years in the Marvel universe. Assuming Sony has the rights to her, the company may consider her as a great way to reach Latin American audiences and break the usual, boring white-superhero mould.
A World War II-era character, Adriana signed up to serve her country in the US Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. Selected as a likely candidate for the super-soldier serum in the years after Captain America’s successful creation, she’s exposed to radiation during the Bikini Atoll tests in the hopes it’ll activate her latent powers. Unfortunately, all it does is drive her insane. Several years in an asylum later, she vanishes and pops back up as a baddie with an army of human drones under her control thanks her powers kicking in.
That’s a dicey proposition for any studio – and her rights might involve a troublesome tussle between Disney/Marvel’s Captain America universe and Sony’s Spider properties. But hey, if the Quicksilver character can be shared… Plus she has the awesome advantage of a mad plotline where she’s stabbed in the back by Venom with Cap’s shield and becomes a 28-storey-tall actual spider queen. If there is a person in the world who doesn't want to see what that would look like, we have never met them. We need some more insane scale in this film franchise, right?
Another character with more than one claimant to the name, and a character who has gone by multiple names, is Julia Carpenter. She was originally created by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck as a superhero by a secretive government group known as The Commission, who inject her with a mix of spider venom and exotic plant extracts (imagine what L’Oreal could do with that!) that grant Jennifer the basic spider-abilities. In that incarnation, she was the second Spider-Woman and eventually changed her name to Arachne. Under that name, she was generally a hero (although sometimes found herself at odds with the Avengers or X-Men) but proved someone who would disobey orders she felt were unjust when
In recent years, however, Carpenter took on the mantle of Madame Web, a psychic who acts as a sort of mentor to Spider-Man. She now has pre-cognitive powers and can see trouble coming for Spider-Man and the Marvel universe as a whole. We suspect that's probably a bridge too far for a first film, but the whole mystical-seer thing might be an interesting avenue to explore in future if you started with this character. She's also a mother, so there might be some interesting stories about trying to balance superheroics with parenting, if Sony wanted to look for something different.
Another character whose name has appeared elsewhere in the Marvel universe, as a Hawkeye opponent, the likely best choice for a cinematic Bombshell is Lori Baumgartner, as re-imagined by Brian Michael Bendis for the Ultimates comics. Lori and her mother Lana were a criminal team who used their abilities to fire energy blasts from their palms. Spider-Man confronted them as they were robbing a jewellery store, and Lori’s mother Lana is sent to jail.
Interestingly, the Baumgartners' power only works when they’re near each other, so Lori became powerless with her mother behind bars and vice versa, which introduces some interesting family dynamics to the fray as Lori eventually learns to use her powers alone and escapes the mother who forced her into crime. In order to make the character work in a film, there would need to be some fancy script footwork and her powers would probably have to be used for the forces of good - as they have been on occasion in the comics, to bring down the sinister Roxxon Industries, for example. Oh, and because things can never be too confusing when dealing with Marvel comics lore, their names are reversed in other stories. Let’s hope any writer sticks to exploring how Lori/Lana/whoever can fight the good fight instead of waiting in line to get her name changed.
All right, so – spoiler alert for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – she’s no longer with us, a fact that has been true since a 1973 storyline in the comics. But this is the Marvel universe, people, where death is but a doorway, and everyone loves Emma Stone and wants her to hang around a little longer. Heck, in our podcast spoiler special director Marc Webb didn't even laugh off our suggestion that they bring her back as a clone or long-lost twin as hard as we thought he would.
In the Ultimate universe, Gwen is returned thanks to a clone created by Doc Oc and Ben Reilly using a blend of Stacey’s DNA and some from Carnage. Why? Who needs mere reasons when you're a supervillain! Their methods mean she has most of Spidey’s powers. Since she’s established in the film’s universe, Stacey’s the perfect character to continue the fight. You know, aside from the having-to-cheat-death thing.