In the latest Comic Book Legends Revealed, discover how Marvel’s first Spider-Woman was actually a Black character.
Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the eight hundred and twenty-ninth installment where we examine three comic book legends and determine whether they are true or false. As usual, there will be three posts, one for each of the three legends. Click here for the first part of this installment’s legends.
Marvel’s first comic book Spider-Woman was a Black hero.
With February ending and March beginning, I thought it would be fun to have this be posted as a sort of bridge from Black History Month to Women’s History Month.
In 1971, Children’s Television Workshop, the creators of Sesame Streetstarted a partner to Sesame Street with The Electric Companywhich was created by actor/writer Paul Dooley (the dad in Sixteen Candles and still a working actor to this day, at age 94) as a show for Sesame Street fans as they got a little bit older, helping them with learning just like the original Sesame Street series. The show lasted until 1977, but like many other shows on PBS, it remained on the air via reruns for many years after it ostensibly finished.
Perhaps the most famous character on the series was Morgan Freeman’s Easy Reader. There was also Hattie Winston, who played Valerie the Librarian, seen here with Freeman’s Easy Reader…
Winston is a longtime character actor who you might know for her regular gig on the Ted Danson sitcom, Becker. Morgan Freeman you might know from becoming a really big movie star later in his life.
One of the interesting aspects of The Electronic Company was that it did live action Spider-Man stories, with captions like in the comics to help kids read…
Naturally, in 1974, Marvel started to release an ongoing series called Spidey Super Stories to tie in with the TV series.
Originally written by Jean Thomas (Jim Salicrup eventually took it over) and drawn by comic book veteran artists Win Mortimer and Mike Esposito, the series was a mixture between original stores designed for a young audience and adaptations of the super simple Electric Company Spider-Man sketches.
On the front cover of the first issue, we see a number of recurring Electric Company characters, including Easy Reader and Valerie.
Valerie, though, would soon play a much more important role in the series.
In Spidey Super Stories #11 in 1975 (Thomas was still writing the book), Valerie discovers Spider-Man’s costume as Spidey accidentally lost one of his costumes…
She decides to alter the costume so that she could wear it, but she also has to figure out how Spider-Man sticks to walls and she decides that it must involve suction cups of some sort (close, Valerie, but not true!). ..
After figuring out how to use Spider-Man’s webshooters, she swings into action as the new Spier-Woman….
Spider-Man sees her in her new outfit and he is a bit patronizing about it, but he’s not TOO much of a jerk, really…
In the end, she helps Spider-Man defeat the Vulture, but her suction cups are ruined and she realizes that that is not a realistic way of emulating Spider-Man’s powers, so she decides to just give up as Spider-Woman…
Still, the timing of this story meant that Valerie’s stint as Spider-Woman actually pre-dated the introduction of Jessica Drew at Marvel. Drew, of course, was created by Marvel for a problem that this very issue sort of suggested could happen. You know how this story is all about, “Hey, why not do a Spider-WOMAN?” Well, with the proliferation of animated and live action superheroes of the late 1970s, Marvel began to fear that that was precisely what other companies were going to do and in one case, they were absolutely correct.
In 1978, Filmation expanded their hour-long combo of Batman and Tarzan adventures to create Tarzan and the Super 7…
The new characters (who each got their own 10-minute feature) were:
The Freedom Force—Isis, Super-Samurai, Sinbad, Merlin, and Hercules
Jason of Star Command (live action)
Manta and Moray
Superstretch and Microwoman
(Batman and Tarzan were counted as part of the Super 7, despite it being called Tarzan AND the Super 7)
Web Woman was originally going to be called Spider-Woman, but when Marvel heard about Filmation’s plans (back in 1976) to introduce her, Marvel rushed out its own Spider-Woman in Marvel Spotlight #32 (using an origin concept by Archie Goodwin of Jessica Drew being a mutated spider that was considered so weird that it was dropped in her next appearance), Jessica Drew and trademarked the name at the end of 1976 (comic books having much less lead time than cartoons, of course)…
So Filmation was forced to change the name of their hero to Web-Woman. However, as we can see here, Valerie was Spider-Woman a full year before Jessica Drew first came on to the scene.
In fact, Valerie/Spider-Woman was nearly Marvel’s FIRST Black female superhero, but she was beaten to the market by Storm earlier in that same year, 1975, as part of the All-New, All-Different X-Men in Giant-Size X-Men #1…
Still, Valerie as Spider-Woman remains an important part of Marvel comic book history. I imagine the fact that they based the character on a real-life person has made it difficult for Marvel to do much more with the characters in the years since, which is a shame, as this is the sort of thing that you would think that a company would want to talk about more often.
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