While “every Spider-Man ever” will appear in a number of Spider-Man comics over the next few months as part of the “Spider-Verse” event, the major crossover is also expected to introduce a couple of new Spider-characters. Of all of these new “Spider-Verse” character variants, none are arguably generating as much buzz and anticipation as “Spider-Gwen” – an alternative version of Spider-Woman portrayed by Peter Parker’s famously deceased girlfriend Gwen Stacy.
Spider-Gwen will make her Marvel Comics debut this week as part of the second issue of the Edge of Spider-Verse miniseries. Written by Jason Latour, with art by Robbie Rodriquez, fans have responded very positively to some of the comic’s preview pages, setting expectations for the character sky high.
But before anyone declares Spider-Gwen the greatest of all time, let’s run down some of the best alternative timeline female characters from the Spider-Man universe. All of these women have appeared in series and storylines that are set in a different timeline from Marvel's “mainstream,” Earth-616 universe. And just to spread the love around, a specific character (i.e. Black Cat, Mary Jane) and a timeline (i.e. Ultimate, Spider-Man Noir), will only be used once.
7. Felicia Hardy (Earth-90214)
Felicia Hardy, as depicted in the Spider-Man Noir universe, is not a master cat burglar like her Earth-616 counterpart. Instead she is the shades of grey-ified proprietor of the Black Cat nightclub. Felicia was once romantically involved with the Noir version of reporter Ben Urich and utilized her proximity to the crooks and mobsters that passed through her club to feed Ben information. Felicia is also romantically linked with the Goblin, and later the Crime-Master.
In the first Spider-Man Noir series, she witnesses Ben’s murder at the hand of who she thinks is J. Jonah Jameson (it turns out to be one of the Green Goblin’s henchmen, the face-changing Chameleon). In turn, she shoots Jameson/Chameleon.
Like the Earth-616 Felicia, the Earth-90214 variation is independent and capable of taking care of herself, though she is forced to wear a mask after her face was slashed by the Crime-Master (who was jealous by his girlfriend’s obvious infatuation with Spider-Man) in the follow-up to the original Noir, Spider-Man Noir: Eyes Without a Face.
6. Alex (Earth-8351)
As featured in 2008’s What If? Spider-Man vs. Wolverine one-shot, Alex is an assassin and sister to Wolverine’s friend Charlemagne. In this story, after Peter/Spider-Man accidentally kills Charlemagne, he vows to stay in Europe to protect Alex from rival terrorist groups. Over the course of the issue, Peter falls in love with Alex, despite the fact that he’s involved with Mary Jane Watson back in New York.
What makes this alternative universe romance so significant is how profoundly Alex’s presence changes Peter. Because of his vow to protect Alex and his guilt over Charlemagne’s death, this Spider-Man has a more hardened take on “with great power, there must also come great responsibility.” Rather than allowing his adversaries to live while relying on the proper authorities dole out punishment, What If? Spider-Man vs. Wolverine Spidey is not afraid to kill the opposition if they pose a major threat to his or Alex’s livelihoods. Because of his "ends justify the means" attitude, it’s no surprise that Otto Octavius, the Superior Spider-Man befriends this alterative version of Spider-Man in the recent “Edge of Spider-Verse” prologue in Superior Spider-Man #32.
5. Betty Brant (Earth-78227)
Betty Brant, the somewhat timid Daily Bugle secretary who Peter first went ga-ga for during the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko era on Amazing Spider-Man, actually becomes a spider-powered superhero during the first volume of Marvel’s What If? series in the late 1970s. What If? #7 looks at three different scenarios of what might have happened if the radioactive spider bit someone other than Peter.
Betty, with Peter’s urging, becomes Spider-Girl (wearing, what is undoubtedly, one of the most heinous-looking costumes of all-time). Betty and Peter work together with Peter taking Brant’s photos and selling them to the Daily Bugle. However, like the Earth-616 Spider-Man, Betty, out of indifference, fails to stop a petty burglar. The burglar goes on to murder Peter’s Uncle Ben. But rather than pledge her life to power and responsibility like Peter did in the 616 storyline, Betty decides that the hero’s life is not for her and she quits as Spider-Girl.
4. Gwen Stacy-Parker (Earth-58163)
Proving that in an “idealized” world Gwen Stacy, not Mary Jane, was Peter Parker’s one true love, in the altered reality created by Wanda Maximoff, aka, the Scarlet Witch, during the House of M event, Peter marries Gwen and the two have a child together, Richie.
In this timeline, Wanda fabricates a reality that grants all of Marvel’s heroes their deepest desires. In addition to being married to Gwen, the House of M Peter is one of the world’s most popular celebrities who lives in a mansion with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May and Gwen’s father, George. Considering how, in the mainstream timeline, all of these characters, save May, are dead due to their relationship to Peter/Spider-Man, Spider-Man is arguably living one of the more tragic and heartbreaking realities in the House of M universe. When the mainstream timeline is eventually restored, Peter’s marriage to Gwen is wiped from existence and his true love is once again deceased per the events of the iconic Amazing Spider-Man #121.
3. Jessica Drew (Earth-1610)
In major twist on the Earth-616 iteration of the character, within Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, Jessica Drew is a clone of Peter Parker that was created by Doctor Otto Octavius. But definitely don’t dismiss Drew as just another clone, as the character has become so much more than that over the years.
While Peter originally viewed Jessica as a threat, she goes on to become an ally of Peter’s and plays a key role in helping him to defeat Octavius during the Ultimate version of the “Clone Saga” (which was far superior – and shorter – than the oft-derided Earth-616 version of the arc). She then sets off to live her life independently of Peter as Spider-Woman.
After the death of Ultimate Peter, Jessica continues to be an integral part of the Spider-Man mythos, helping Parker’s successor, Miles Morales, on two separate occasions. In her capacity as a member of the Ultimates Drew approaches Miles when he first becomes Spider-Man, introducing him to Nick Fury. And when Morales later quits as Spidey after the death of his mother, she convinces him to get back in the game.
2. Mary Jane Watson (Earth-70701)
Naturally, Marvel’s most famous redheaded bombshell was cast as Little Red Riding Hood as part of the 2007 Spider-Man: Fairy Tales miniseries. In the mini’s very first issue, MJ is the primary focus, as she sets off into the woods to make a delivery to Peter’s Aunt May only to be stopped by the big bad wolf.
However, C.B. Cebulski’s script deviates considerably from the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Rather than just make Mary Jane another damsel in distress in need of saving from a vicious predator, Spider-Man: Fairy Tales #1 is an insightful look at how a women is defined, vis a vis a man. While she loves Peter, MJ expresses reservations about marrying Peter and becoming just another doting wife rather than a fully independent woman. When she is confronted by the wolf later in the issue, rather than beg and please for mercy, she accepts her presumed fate. Peter does show up to save her, but he is unable to lift the axe and defeat the wolf without MJ’s help, making her an equal to her husband-to-be.
1. May Parker (Earth-982)
In an alternative universe, May “Mayday” Parker is the first child of Peter and Mary Jane Parker, who develops powers similar to her father (who has since retired as Spider-Man) when she turns 15. Spider-Girl was a cult favorite series which published more than 100 issues, making it the longest continually running female-led book in Marvel history. And Mayday’s popularity as a character obviously had a lot to do with Spider-Girl’s success. Like her father, Mayday is bright, snarky and totally relateable. These character traits combine with the classic sensibilities of Spider-Girl creators Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz, make for a title that is both a throwback to one of the most popular eras in Spider-Man comics history, and a fresh and original series that stands on its own.
Mayday is expected to appear in next month’s Amazing Spider-Man #8, as part of “Spider-Verse.” It marks the first time the character has been written by current Spider-scribe, Dan Slott.