The Sony Spider-Verse is continuing to expand, with news of Dakota Johnson’s possible casting as Marvel’s Madame Web. The film even has an official release date, July 7, 2023. Now, this news might lead even some Spider-Man’s biggest fans to wonder just who the heck this Madame Web even is. Is she good or evil? What kind of powers might Madame Web possess? And the answer is, there are actually two of them. One Madame Web was actually Spider-Woman for quite some time. And even a member of the Avengers. But what are the comic book histories of these two arachnid ladies? And how might a live-action Marvel movie appearance by Madam Web enhance the growing post-No Way Home live-action Spider-Verse?
Madame Web’s First Marvel Appearance as Cassandra Webb
Madame Web first appeared in 1981’s Amazing Spider-Man #210. In that first story, the original Madame Web, whose real name was Cassandra Webb, appeared as an elderly woman who helped Spider-Man through her clairvoyant visions. Born blind, Cassandra possessed telepathic, clairvoyant, and precognitive mutant powers. She suffered from a chronic neuromuscular disease, myasthenia gravis. This made it very hard for her to move and breathe on her own. So they connected her to a life support system, which looked like a giant spider’s web. In truth, it was a sophisticated contraption built by her late husband. This made for a very creepy, almost Tarot card-inspired image of her. In her original form, and in those to come, Madame Web is on the side of good. Although Madame Web does sound slightly sinister, the character is not a villain or evil.
Marvel realized that Madame Web was a cool character and name. But clearly, they didn’t how to center stories on a clairvoyant older lady. So, during the ’90s, the Green Goblin, Norman Osborn, lured Madame Web into an arcane ritual known as “the Gathering of the Five.” During this ritual, she gained immortality. Not only that, but it restored her youth and cured her myasthenia gravis. During this time, Cassandra Webb acts as the mentor figure to the third Spider-Woman, Mattie Franklin. Mattie, however, gives up the title when the original Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew, returns.
Cassandra Webb Passes Her Powers to Julia Carpenter, the New Madam Web
But the whole being young and immortal thing doesn’t last long. During the X-Men event called “Decimation,” 98% of mutants around the world lost their powers, thanks to the Scarlet Witch. Madame Web keeps her clairvoyant powers and abilities, perhaps as a result of the Gathering of the Five ritual. But she loses her youth and immortality. However, her myasthenia gravis seemed to stay gone. She returns to help Peter Parker in Amazing Spider-Man #600, and entangles herself in the battle between the wallcrawler and the family of Kraven the Hunter. Julia Carpenter, the second Spider-Woman, now going by the name Arachne, was also involved in the fight. Sadly, Cassandra was killed in this battle, but not before giving a special gift to Julia Carpenter.
Julia Carpenter, the Forgotten Spider-Woman
So who is Julia Carpenter? Her origins go back to 1984’s epic Secret Wars mini-series. There, she’s introduced as a brand new hero, taking over the name Spider-Woman from the now-retired Jessica Drew. In Secret Wars, we learned that a secretive government organization called The Commission created their own superheroes, presumably to use as soldiers. They convinced single mother Julia Carpenter to be part of an “athletic study.” As an unknowing guinea pig, they subject her to their experiments. The Commission injected Julia with a mix of spider venom and exotic plant extracts, which gave Julia powers almost identical to those of Spider-Man’s.
Unlike Peter Parker, Julia’s webs were psionic in nature. She could spin them out of pure mental energy. Embarking on a superhero career, she joined various teams: First, the American government’s Freedom Force, then later, the West Coast Avengers. In the subsequent years, Julia lost her energy powers and then gained them back, more than once. During her non-powered eras, she focused on raising her young daughter Rachel. When the original Spider-Woman returned, she changed her heroic name to Arachne, and helped Spidey out on several cases. It was during the previously mentioned battle with Kraven the Hunter’s heirs that the original Madame Web died, passing her powers, and her blindness, to Julia.
Julia Carpenter Becomes Marvel’s Madame Web 2.0
It was during this time that Spider-Man and his allies, including Julia, learn about the Great Web. Also called “The Web of Life and Destiny,” the Great Web is a three-dimensional construct in a five-dimensional space which acts as a model of Marvel’s entire Multiverse. It is what enables certain individuals to travel from one reality to the other. Spider-Man, the Spider-Women, Madame Web, and other arachnid-powered characters from across the Multiverse ultimately draw upon the Web of Life to access their spider-powers. And both women named Madame Web have a unique power. They have a connection to this Great Web, perceiving things that Spider-Man and others cannot.
So what does this mean for Madame Web’s big-screen appearance? Given her age, we bet that Dakota Johnson will play Julia Carpenter’s Madame Web, and not Cassandra Webb. It’s possible we see Cassandra as the original Madame Web, who passes on her formidable powers to Julia, who may or may not be a superhero already in whatever universe they set this film in. But given the introduction of the Spider-Verse in No Way Home, we could see the idea of the Web of Life introduced. (We should also note, Madame Web in the ’90s Spider-Man: The Animated Series had connections to the Multiverse too). Maybe, there needs to be a Madame Web to navigate this Great Web. Though some thought Madame Web may appear in Spider-Man: No Way Home, we now know more about how she might come to life in a Marvel movie. We think Madame Web, a relatively minor (but powerful) hero, could become extremely important for Sony’s upcoming Spider-Verse plans. Perhaps Madame Web may even find her way to the MCU.
Originally published on February 4, 2022.