Golden Age Showcase: Spider Widow

So I saw Spiderman: Homecoming yesterday.

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It was good, I liked it, and it’s good to know that Spiderman is back in the loving arms of the company that spawned him.

You can make the case that Spiderman is the closest thing Marvel Comics has to a mascot, or at the very least he’s Marvel’s most successful solo hero.

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And what’s not to like about him?  He’s got a great gimmick, he’s got a great backstory, and he’s one of the best creations to come out of the mind of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

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But here’s the thing, great ideas like this don’t just come from nothing, and there were spider themed superheroes published in the 1940’s.  One of these heroes was a Quality Comics character named Spider Widow.

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Origin and Career

Spider Widow first appeared in Quality Comics’ Feature Comics #57 in June of 1942.

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She was created by comic book artist Frank Borth.

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While he did do some work for a Catholic magazine called Treasure Chest and did occasional work for Cracked (the magazine not the website), Spider Widow was his most popular creation.

As for her bio, her civilian identity was Dianne Grayton, rich socialite and lady about town.

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How did she get her powers?  Not mentioned.  Why did she decide to fight crime?  The comic didn’t seem to care.  What was her power?  She dressed up like an old hag and had the ability to control black widow spiders,

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swarms of them.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #58

You sure this is a superhero comic?  Because I’m getting more of a horror vibe from this.

Her enemies weren’t that special.  She fought the traditional assortment of stereotypical racist caricatures of Axis saboteurs.  What made her pretty unique was what Qualiy did with her.  First, they paired her with a superhero named the Raven, who made his first appearance in her title.

The story was simple.  Axis spies kidnapped her because she was meddling in their affairs a bit too much and the Raven swooped in and saved her.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #60

The day was saved, the two shared a thank you kiss, but sadly it was dark so they couldn’t see each other’s faces.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #60

The Raven was later revealed to be a man named Tony Grey, and the two wound up forming a romantic relationship on top of their crime fighting.

One of their more notable adventures was when they teamed up to fight Spider Man, a Nazi saboteur who controlled a giant robotic spider.

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Nazis controlling giant spiders?  NOPE! SOUND THE ALARMS!  PREPARE THE TERMS OF SURRENDER!

Now, two comic book heroes coming together in a comic isn’t really that special, but bringing in another hero and crossing over in two books?  That was pretty unique for the time.

I don’t know why they chose her, but Quality Comics had The Raven crossover with another Quality character named The Phantom Lady in Police Comics #20 in 1943.

Comic Book Cover For Police Comics #20

She wound up rescuing the Raven while he was investigating a crime ring and he brought her from Police Comics to Feature Comics for a couple of issues.

The two ladies did not get along very well.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #69

Plus, I’m willing to bet the writers were venting some pent up frustrations in the book through some impressively subtle fourth wall breaks.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #69

Look at the second to last panel and tell me you aren’t a bit impressed.

The two even went as far as to fight a duel for the Raven’s affections,

Comic Book Cover For Police Comics #21

but it turned out to be a set up by some criminals and they quickly patched it over.  The day was saved and then everyone went back to their own titles.

So what happened?

Aside from her crossover with the Phantom Lady, Spider Widow wasn’t really that popular or noteworthy.  She lasted for a couple more issues and then disappeared around 1943.

It’s kind of a shame because she really did have a great gimmick and power set.  Sure she was pretty boring as a person, and having her fight with another lady over a man probably won’t score her a whole lot of points with modern audiences, but she is in the public domain and could be a great horror protagonist.

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While I don’t want to mistake correlation for causation, you can kind of see something resembling Spider Widow’s legacy in Marvel’s more modern characters.

For example. what’s the name of Marvel’s favorite super spy femme fatale?  Black Widow.

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Sure, she doesn’t have the power to control spiders but I like to think the creatives at Marvel were remembering Spider Widow when they came up with her.

Also, there was a villain in the Spider Man books named Spider Queen who had the power to control insects,

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(yes I know spiders aren’t insects),

Sure, she’s not a wealthy heiress and controlling insects isn’t exactly a rare power, but it seems that Marvel has a pretty pronounced fascination with spiders and I like to think that Spider Widow was a start.

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Golden Age Showcase: Spider Queen

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You know what we need to talk about more on this blog?  Female superheroes.

The way I see it, if we’re going to talk about female superheroes we should go all the way with it.  We need something daring, something obscure, something so original and new that it has stood the test of time and has never shared any background or history with any other established character.

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Huh, that’s a woman swinging from a thread, in a strange costume, and calling herself “Spider Queen”.

This sounds familiar, but I just can’t quite place it.

Origin and career

Spider Queen was published by Fox Features Syndicate, the same company that gave us the original Blue Beetle.

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The Spider Queen first appeared as a back up story in a comic book called The Eagle in September of 1941.

Comic Book Cover For The Eagle #2

The story names a person called Elsa Lesau as the creator.  It would be fantastic if this character was actually created by a woman, but sadly I can’t find any pictures of her.  Also, Elsa may have been a pen name for a writer/artist duo named Louis and Artuo Cazeneuve who were two brothers from Argentina who did a lot of work for Fox and would go on to successful careers as comic book artists.

And this is where I would have a photo of them but alas, Google is a cruel mistress.

It’s worth mentioning that the Golden Age of comics wasn’t very good with things like creators’ rights and giving credit to the people who deserved it so it’s all very up in the air.

Anyway, the Spider Queen was a mild mannered assistant named Sharon Kane.  She worked as an assistant for her husband, a chemist who designed weapons until he was killed by “enemies of the country”.

Comic Book Cover For The Eagle #2

While sifting through the stuff in the lab, Sharon uncovers a formula for a super strong, super sticky thread like substance similar to spider silk.

Comic Book Cover For The Eagle #2

Once she realizes that with great power comes great responsibility, Sharon takes the formula, crafts her own wrist mounted spray guns that she can use to swing across buildings, and dons a costume to become a “sworn enemy to all wrongdoers”.

Isn’t it amazing how “scientist with a fascination with bugs” is such a common trope, especially in comics?  It’s not like anyone’s turned this idea into anything successful.

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Anyway, over the course of her career The Spider Queen simply contented herself with punching out goons and other small time criminals.  There may have been a budding romance with a detective named Mike O’Bell, but that didn’t pan out because…

So what happened?

She only lasted three issues, and since she was only a backup character she didn’t get a chance to develop as a hero or as a person.

Comic Book Cover For The Eagle #3

The character would have been doomed to comic book purgatory if it wasn’t for the folks at Marvel resurrecting her in a 1993 mini series starring a superhero team known as the Invaders.

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In a rather interesting twist, Spider Queen was actually a villain.  In fact she wasn’t just a villain but a Nazi as well.

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To be fair, they give her some justification by explaining that she’s only with the Nazis because they’re fighting the same group of people that killed her husband, but still…nazis.

Plus they gave her costume the 90’s comic book treatment.

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Eh, personally I’m on the fence about it.

So that’s the history of the original Spider Queen, but you’re probably wondering if Spider Queen has any thing to do with Marvel’s flagship hero, Spider man.  After all, I have been dropping subtle hints about it throughout the article.

The answer is yes, Spider Queen and Spiderman did meet.  That being said, it got a bit…weird.

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Long story short, this new Spider Queen was a woman named Adriana Soria who was a failed S.H.I.E.L.D experiment in 1945.

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She has super strength, a sonic scream, and the ability to control people with an “insect gene” which allows her to turn people into spider monsters.  One of her victims is Peter Parker.

We’ll ignore the “spiders are not insects” thing and focus on the fact that Peter actually becomes pregnant while in his spider form, dies, and is reborn as a new Spider Man with organic web shooters instead of mechanical ones.

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ew.

This version of the Spider Queen would come back as a semi regular Spider Man villain in a couple more stories but other than the fact that this new villain was more of a body horror, all powerful lady spider that’s really all you need to know.

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The Spider Queen was an interesting super heroine.  Sure she didn’t have a very long career as a hero, and her time as a villain was both short and very weird, but I like to think she was a real trailblazer.  She was the first super hero to utilize web shooters as a gimmick and would have one of the most interesting transitional careers as a super villain.

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