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Spider-Woman gets first major redesign in almost 40 years

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The last time that the original Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew) made online news, it was over a lambasted cover being offered as a variant for her new relaunch at the end of the summer, and Marvel Comics flip flopping on whether canning all future covers by that artist was a reaction or a scheduling hiccup. In reality, her latest ongoing series by Dennis Hopeless and “artist” Greg Land has so far served as just another installment of the latest “Amazing Spider-Man” crossover, “Spider-Verse”. Now, as revealed by USA Today yesterday (December 18th), the heroine is getting her first major costume redesign since her debut in the late 1970’s.

The new costume was designed by Kris Anka, who Marvel has employed to redesign the threads of several of their super heroines of late, such as Dazzler and Psylocke. The artist sought to get back to Jessica Drew’s roots as a spy and detective more than a flashy superhero with a look which uses hi tech glasses rather than a mask and a more stream lined symbol, along with a costume which doesn’t look painted onto a naked body. Although the world got a sneak peak at this suit in the “Spider-Man Unlimited” game for mobile devices, Drew will officially don it in “Spider-Woman #5”, which will be drawn by Javier Rodriguez (best known for “Daredevil” and “Hobgoblin”). It is unknown if Rodriguez will just be filling in for Greg Land for an issue or an arc, or will be the new regular artist for the series. The editor for “Spider-Woman”, Nick Lowe, noted that it was time for the heroine to modernize with the times.

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It is unknown whether this was done as a promotional ploy to help keep her series alive, or as a belated reaction to the poor press the company got with their “sexy” variant cover. There are some who have dismissed this redesign as claiming it caters too much to “cosplayers” – fans who dress in costume at conventions. Such a criticism seems absurdly short sighted as for decades, it was accepted practice to pose scantly clad heroines in sultry manners regardless of their personalities or modes of operation because it was supposed to cater to what was believed to be the majority of comic book readers – boys and men (mostly white). After all, the “bad girls” craze was a real trend in the 1990’s, which was a decade which saw the biggest highs and lows of comic book sales. Recent years have seen the realization that the comic book audience currently is (or always has been) more diverse than that, as the attendance of conventions has risen. Over 100,000 people attend the biggest cons in California and New York, yet few comics sell that many copies per month without gimmicks or number crunching tricks. Clearly there is a disconnect, and it would be foolish for Marvel or DC Comics to ignore it and not try to cater to passionate fans by offering up new costumes which are more flattering.

Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman first appeared in 1977’s “Marvel Spotlight #32”, created by Archie Goodwin and Marie Severin. The only drastic difference in her costume between then and now was her black hair showing. Born out of a desire to create female distaff counterparts to their heroes before competitors could (as in the 1970’s, Marvel Comics had begun to dabble in TV shows). Her original ongoing series lasted for fifty issues, and she even landed an animated series on ABC in 1979 – making her the first and to date, only, Marvel Comics heroine to star in her own cartoon series. More recent attempts to revive her popularity have stumbled – not even A-list writer Brian M. Bendis could keep an ongoing series with her afloat for longer than a year, despite having two attempts and much fondness for the character. Given the controversy with her newest launch, it could be a wise move to try to land on the positive side of the current social media zeitgeist.

It could also be a shrewd move with an eye towards alternative media. While Sony owns the film rights to Spider-Man and related characters, Jessica Drew has never been a part of his franchise despite her code name. Perhaps redesigning her costume into something a bit more functional is a way of further separating her from Spider-Man and thus any claim Sony could have should Marvel Studios seek to use her in some production. Rather than awaiting a film production team to redesign a costume for a TV show or movie, perhaps Marvel Comics are seeking to redesign certain figures in the comics beforehand. Or perhaps it is as simple as a woman being allowed to change her outfit for the first time since the Carter administration. It will be interesting to see if this news will help spike sales for “Spider-Woman #5”, or if Marvel may have been wiser to have merely used a spare mini series for “Spider-Verse” and instead launched a new series out of this.

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