Madame Web: the comic book history of the new Sony Spider-Man spin-off

Madame Webb
(Image credit: Marvel)

Sony's Spider-Man spin-off Universe has expanded once again with Madame Web, starring Dakota Johnson in the title role. The film is out now and already stirring up a lot of discussion...

Madame Web, likely known to viewers of the '90s Spider-Man animated series, might seem like a strange choice for a solo movie, given her usual status quo as an observer and mentor to Peter Parker - and the fact that she's usually an old lady who rarely leaves her special spider-throne, where she psychically monitors Spider-Man related goings-on.

But there's more to Madame Web's history, especially in recent years, and we now know that the film has more than a few direct connections to another Spider-hero (or two). So who exactly is Madame Web, and how might she manage to hold down her own movie? Newsarama will gaze into the psychic web and explain it all right now.

Who is Madame Web?

Amazing Spider-Man #210 panel

Amazing Spider-Man #210 art (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

For starters, there are actually two characters in the Marvel Universe who have gone by the name Madame Web - the second and current of whom, who we'll get to in a moment, has also gone by a much better-known codename and superhero identity in the past.

The original Madame Web, real name Cassandra Webb, was an elderly woman who suffered from a real neuromuscular condition known as myasthenia gravis, which causes muscle degeneration, especially in the eyes. 

As a result of her condition, the original Madame Web (introduced by Denny O'Neil and John Romita, Jr. in 1980's Amazing Spider-Man #210) was blind, wearing a blindfold to hide her eyes and spending most of her time seated in a special web-like chair that also functioned as her life support system.

Amazing Spider-Man #210 cover (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Interestingly enough, Cassandra Web was also a mutant with the powers of precognition and clairvoyance, as well as telepathy. She first encountered Peter Parker when she aided him in finding the victim of a kidnapping, going on to act as something of a guide and mentor to Spider-Man over the years - even psychically learning his identity, though she later lost this knowledge after a near-death experience in a fight with the Juggernaut.

The original Madame Web also has a connection to three heroes who have used the name Spider-Woman - she had a relationship with the second Spider-Woman Julia Carpenter (more on her momentarily), she acted as a mentor to the third Spider-Woman Mattie Franklin, and she was the grandmother of the fourth Spider-Woman Charlotte Witter.

Sadly, there's a reason we've been referring to the original Madame Web in the past tense, as she was killed by Ana Kraven, the daughter of Kraven the Hunter, in the story 'The Gauntlet.' However, before her death, she was able to pass her abilities, as well as her mantle as Madame Web, down to a successor - Julia Carpenter, the previously mentioned second Spider-Woman.

Who is Julia Carpenter?

Secret Wars #7 panel

Secret Wars #7 art (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Julia Carpenter was introduced in 1985's Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, as a resident of the city of Denver, Colorado who was transported to the artificial planet known as Battleworld when its creator the Beyonder stole Denver to make up part of his new world, on which he pitted Marvel's greatest heroes and villains against each other in combat.

She was already active as Spider-Woman by the time she appeared in Secret Wars, with her backstory revealed as being a government agent who was given a special formula that caused her to develop powers akin to those of Spider-Man, along with the added power of being able to create psychic telekinetic web, her version of Spidey's web-shooters.

Avengers West Coast #74 cover (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Though she initially sided with the villains, she switched sides in the fight after meeting Spider-Man. Despite this, when the participants of Secret Wars returned to Earth, Carpenter, still in the guise of Spider-Woman, joined the government mutant-hunting team known as Freedom Force alongside former members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, including Blob, Pyro, Avalanche, Destiny, and leader Mystique, ostensibly acting as a villain and enemy of the X-Men for a time.

Once again, however, she switched sides when Freedom Force got embroiled in a fight with the Avengers and X-Men, going on to join the West Coast Avengers, and later serving on Iron Man's Force Works team. For a little while, she quit being a superhero to raise her daughter as a single mother, though she later returned under the name Arachne. 

When the original Madame Web is killed by Ana Kraven, she's able to psychically pass her powers onto Julia Carpenter through their shared metaphysical connection to the so-called 'Great Web' that connects Spider-Man and his related Variants throughout the Multiverse (or rather Spider-Verse - more on that momentarily).

And along with her role in the 'Great Web' and her powers - which cause Julia to go blind as a result of taking them on - Madame Web also imparts a message for Julia: a warning about the then-impending events of the story Spider-Verse.

Madame Web in the Marvel Universe

Amazing Spider-Man #637 panel

Amazing Spider-Man #637 art (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Since 'The Gauntlet', Julia Carpenter has been Madame Web, using her psychic connection to the 'Great Web' and her precognitive powers to aid Peter Parker just as her predecessor did. 

However, in the events of Spider-Island, in which the Jackal uses genetically engineered spiders to give all the people in Manhattan powers like Spider-Man's, she falls into a coma.

Julia later awakens at the end of the story Spider-Verse, in which villains known as the Inheritors attempt to kill all versions of Spider-Man across Marvel's Multiverse. Though she's able to aid in the outcome of the Inheritors' spider-hunt, the experience costs Julia her precognitive powers.

Amazing Spider-Man #15 page (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

There was also a time when the original Madame Web, Cassandra Webb, seemingly returned from the dead. In actuality, she was a clone, created by the Jackal in the story Spider-Man: The Clone Conspiracy

Along with all the memories of the original Madame Web, the clone also had her powers, which led her to see what the future would hold, should she remain alive and return to the Great Web. Seeing only disaster if she were to do so, she instead sacrifices herself along with the rest of the clones created in the Jackal's scheme. 

Despite no longer having her precognitive powers, Julia Carpenter is still Madame Web, and along with some level of clairvoyance and telepathy, has developed highly sophisticated blind-fighting skills under the training of Shang-Chi.

Madame Web in movies

Amazing Spider-Man #637 panel

Amazing Spider-Man #637 art (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Madame Web has now made her cinematic debut in a new film directed by S. J. Clarkson - and it's fair to say that is has already proven divisive. Here's a spoiler warning, as we're about to discuss what happens in the film.

The new film acts as an origin story for Dakota Johnson as Cassie Webb/Madame Web. Cassie is a paramedic working in New York City who starts to develop powers of clairvoyance following a near death experience. These powers lead her to realise that she must protect three young women - Julia Cornwall (Sydney Sweeney), Mattie Franklin (Celeste O'Connor), and Anya Corazon (Isabela Merced) - from the murderous Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim), who has stolen a rare Peruvian spider and now has precognitive dreams. Because of these he knows that all three of these women are destined to one day kill him, after seeing a vision of them as Spider-Women.

Honestly, it's quite an odd film in many ways, but it's clear that Sony are keen to bolster their ties to Spider-Man. The film also features a young (soon-to-be Uncle) Ben Parker, and even goes so far as to feature the birth of Peter Parker - though he is not directly named in the film.

Amazing Spider-Man #637 page (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

With multiple Spider-Women and links to Peter Parker, it leads to the question of whether all of this could lead to a live-action Spider-Verse movie. It's possible that this is what Sony are hoping will happen, though it remains to be seen if the Madame Web film will be a success (and be able to weather the storm of negative reviews that have marked its arrival). Whatever is coming, it would take someone who can gaze into the 'Great Web' to say for sure.

You don't need Madame Web's powers to know what's coming for Spider-Man in comic books - you just need our listing of all the new Spider-Man comics Marvel has planned for release.

George Marston

I've been Newsarama's resident Marvel Comics expert and general comic book historian since 2011. I've also been the on-site reporter at most major comic conventions such as Comic-Con International: San Diego, New York Comic Con, and C2E2. Outside of comic journalism, I am the artist of many weird pictures, and the guitarist of many heavy riffs. (They/Them)