Origin Story: The Spider-Women and Spider-Villain of Madame Web

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With the Madame Web trailer out, here's a look at the history of the many web-slinging characters featured in the new Spider-Man-based film.
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The Spider-Verse is about to get several more denizens, as director S. J. Clarkson’s Madame Web nears theaters. The first trailer dropped this week for the 2024 film, starring Dakota Johnson as the title character (AKA Cassandra Webb), plus Celeste O’Connor as Mattie Franklin, Isabela Merced as Anya Corazón and Sydney Sweeney as Julia Carpenter, characters who have all been Spider-Woman or Spider-Girl in the comics.

(L-R) Celeste O’Connor as Mattie Franklin, Dakota Johnson as Cassandra Webb, Isabela Merced as Anya Corazón and Sydney Sweeney as Julia Carpenter in Madame Web
(L-R) Celeste O’Connor as Mattie Franklin, Dakota Johnson as Cassandra Webb, Isabela Merced as Anya Corazón and Sydney Sweeney as Julia Carpenter in Madame Web

Produced by Sony, the film presumably takes place in the same Spider-Man-less universe that has played home to Venom, Venom: Let There Be Carnage and Morbius. From the trailer, we can see that Webb starts seeing the future, which brings her into contact with the three young women, all of whom are seemingly being hunted by Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim). Clearly they are all connected in the film, but how are they related to one another in the source material and what might that mean on the big screen? Read on to find out!

Cassandra Webb 

Madame Web's initial set-up

Debuting back in 1980’s Amazing Spider-Man #210, Cassandra Web, best known as the mysterious Madame Web, first appeared as an elderly, blind psychic who advertised around Manhattan. During a case, Spider-Man visited her, though he was skeptical of her abilities. She proved her worth by helping him find a kidnapped woman and gained his trust. Obviously, the original look of the character is much different from the one played by Johnson. In addition to her blindness, the comic version of Cassandra was initially hooked up to a variety of web-themed life support systems built by her late husband.

Since then, she became an ally to the Wall-Crawler and a target for some of his enemies. She was immortal for a time and she was de-aged, but ultimately passed her abilities on to a Spider-Woman when a crisis lead to her death.

Dakota Johnson as Cassandra Webb in Madame Web

If Cassandra Webb seems an odd choice to lead a major motion picture, you’re not wrong! The character is rather unknown outside of the comic, though fans of the 1990s Spider-Man cartoon will remember her multiple appearances there, along with some video game cameos. On a few occasions, though, Web has been brought together with various other Spider-Women in the comics in ways that might make their way into the film, as you’ll learn below.

Julia Carpenter

Julia Carpenter's original Spider-Woman costume

Okay, so this is where things are going to get a bit confusing, but we’re here to help you keep it all straight. Before Julia Carpenter, the original Spider-Woman was Jessica Drew. She’s held the title the longest, has been an Avenger and has a pretty wild history that we don’t need to get into right now! A version of that character played a prominent part in this year’s Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. The second comic book version of Spider-Woman, Julia was a divorced mom whose old college friend tricked her into participating in an experiment that gave her Spider-Man-like powers that were enhanced by additional psionic abilities in hopes that she would then work for the evil Commission. Though she accepted the name of Spider-Woman, Julia jumped over to the side of good after learning the truth.

After a storied career as a hero, Julia found her role greatly changed when she was drawn into a plot to resurrect Kraven the Hunter — a character who will star in the next Sony Spider-Man-based film after Madame Web — that lead to the death of Cassandra Webb. Before dying, Cassandra passed along her clairvoyance powers to Julia. Now Julia, as the current Madame Web, is the one who pops up with vague hints about what’s going to happen in various Web-Slingers’ lives.

Sydney Sweeney as Julia Carpenter in Madame Web

Carpenter is also not a well-known character outside of comics, but she has been out there a bit more than Web. In the 90s, she joined a team called Force Works in the comics that was prominently featured in the Iron Man cartoon of the same era. More recently, she was the Madame Web used in the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series. There’s a pretty sizeable age discrepancy between the movie and comic versions of Julia, so the filmmakers have something of an empty canvas to work with in painting her character.

Mattie Franklin

Mattie Franklin in her 1999 solo series

Of the characters in this film, Mattie Franklin is probably the least well known, even in comics. The niece of J. Jonah Jameson, she debuted in a story called The Gathering of Five involving bestowing various abilities on the quintet involved. At 15 years old, she took her father’s place and was granted superhuman powers, including flight. By the way, Cassandra Webb was also involved in the Gathering, which is where she received her immortality. It did not take Mattie long to get her own costume and start flying around as Spider-Woman. Shortly after, she and Spider-Man were attacked by another woman, Charlotte Witter, who claimed to be Spider-Woman. Madame Web’s granddaughter, Witter had been experimented on by Doctor Octopus and driven mad to the point where she attacked Jessica Drew, Julia Carpenter and Mattie.

Mattie’s ensuing Spider-Woman series continued this story, bringing together Webb, Franklin, Carpenter and Drew for more adventures. Sadly, things did not go well for Mattie after her series ended. She was harvested for a drug that briefly gave people super powers, joined a support group for young heroes and was eventually sacrificed in the same Kraven-related scheme that resulted in the aforementioned death of Madame Web.

Celeste O’Connor as Mattie Franklin in Madame Web

And that’s really it. The character came out in the late 90s, had a series that lasted for just over a year and was remembered here and there until she was killed off in 2010. It seems highly unlikely that the film version will go down this route because they’re most likely focused on building the world and adding heroes to a series of films that have primarily focused on villains to this point. On the plus side, Maddie utilized a number of different costumes and wielded different powers (flight, super strength and, later, giant retractable spider legs which you can see in the trailer), so that might be fun to work with in the films. Beyond that, there’s also the potential to utilize her connected to Jameson who only appeared in Let There Be Carnage after Eddie Brock and his symbiote were transported to the Marvel MCU during the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home. Could Mattie be our way to meeting a different version of JJJ?

Anya Corazón

Anya Corazón's first look, in her 2004 debut

Born in Brooklyn, but transplanted to Mexico, Aña Corazón (often written as Anya) returned to New York as a teenager. She got off to an unusual start after getting mixed up in the war between the Spider Society and the Sisterhood of the Wasp which resulted in her getting arachnid powers for a time. She started calling herself Araña and became a hero in the same vein as Spider-Man.

Araña briefly fought alongside Carol Danvers who was still going by Ms. Marvel at that time. Shortly after, she lost her powers and got mixed up with the Kravens along with Madame Web, Mattie Franklin and Julia Carpenter. Later on, she became an integral part of the multiversal group of arachnid heroes that first came together during the initial Spider-Verse story. Going back to the Araña identity, she helped establish the Order of the Web to keep watch over the various alternate realities.

Isabela Merced as Anya Corazón in Madame Web

Along with being the most recently introduced character, having made her debut in 2004, it may come as a surprise to some that Corazón might have arguably the most widespread exposure beyond the comics out of this particular bunch, but she played a prominent role in Marvel’s Spider-Man, the animated series that ran on Disney XD from 2017 to 2020. She started out as a brainy classmate of Peter Parker who eventually became Spider-Girl. Maybe the filmmakers will take that route with their version or go a completely different direction.

Ezekiel Sims 

Spider-Man hangs out with Ezekiel Sims

In the early 2000s, the powers that be behind Spider-Man decided to add a few more layers to the hero’s origin. He was not simply a kid who got chomped on by a radioactive spider, but part of a long line of Spider-Totems created by the god Neith. Ezekiel Sims is one such being with powers very similar to that of the Web-Slinger’s. Instead of doing good for others, though, he focused solely on building his own wealth. That is until he became aware of a villain called Morlun who hunted Spider-Totems throughout the multiverse and later became a major factor in the Spider-Verse stories.

Spider-Man battles Morlun

Down the road, it was revealed that Sims found another young person who had been bitten by the same spider as Peter, Cindy Moon. He trained her how to use her powers and placed her in a bunker that would mask her presence from Morlun. She could leave at anytime, but was concerned about a danger, so she remained hidden away long after Sims died saving Spider-Man. When she finally left, she met Spidey and took on the name Silk. Introducing yet another Spider-Woman in this film might be a bit much and it’s worth noting there is a version of Cindy Moon in the MCU (she had a small role in Spider-Man: Homecoming), plus the character is slated to get her own Amazon series produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

Ezekiel Sims (we think?) in Madame Web

Sims is an odd choice as the villain of Madam Web because, for the most part, he was not a bad guy in the comics, albeit not quite a hero. He was selfish and looked out for himself, but ultimately proved himself a last minute hero. From what the trailer has shown us, this take on Ezekiel seems more like Morlun whose whole thing is killing spider folks. Perhaps it’s a case of mistaken identity or maybe the two characters have been remixed into one for the film. For what it’s worth, neither character wore a costume like the one seen in the trailer.

Potential SPOILERS follow!

We’re diving into rumors about who some other actors in the film are playing below! 


Who does Adam Scott play in Madame Web?

According to unconfirmed rumors — and the film’s IMDb page as of this writing —Adam Scott and Emma Roberts play Ben and Mary Parker in Madame Web. Scott’s character works with Cassandra in her job as a paramedic, but Roberts is not noticeable in the trailer. Of course, when you hear the name Parker, you have to start thinking about Peter and how his alter ego Spider-Man could finally play into these Sony films. Here’s the odd bit, though, Ben is Peter’s uncle while Mary is his mother (his father’s name is Richard in the comics). At this point, none of the rumors include anyone playing Richard or May, Ben’s wife and Peter’s aunt. It will be interesting to see how the filmmakers use these characters to continue building what has, so far, been a Peter Parker free world that is still based on Spider-Man’s friends and foes.

Here’s an interesting thought, though… What if Sony doesn’t actually need a Spider-Man to make this whole thing work? With three movies out and three coming in 2024 (both Kraven the Hunter and Venom 3 open next year as well), it seems possible that the studio could potentially build something that still honors the Wall-Crawler while celebrating the less known aspects of his 60-plus year history – while presumably leaving space for more Peter Parker adventures over in the MCU.

We’ll see what’s next when Madame Web opens February 14, 2014.

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