Many Moons ago I started these writings with a series of “Desert Island Comics”, a list of ten comics I would want to have with me were I stranded on the proverbial desert isle. It was an enjoyable enough exercise that after I wrapped it up, I decided to dig a little deeper into my long boxes with this series. Along the way I had the notion, never acted upon, to incorporate another “desert island” series into the Way Back Machine, a series devoted to the comics I would most like to use to start a signal fire if I ever spotted a ship on the horizon– the ten least favorite books which have found their way into my collection. Were I to compile such a list, the issue below would have a fighting chance for the #1 spot since it is directly responsible for the excesses which ruined the comics I was reading a decade and a half after its publication.
Marvel Spotlight #32
Like DC trotting out Man-Bat a few years earlier, Spider-Woman and She-Hulk were created to protect the copyright for concepts which might draw off the popularity of their own established characters. Rather than empowering figures, Marvel had an unfortunate habit of making their female creations mere extensions of their male counterparts rather than independent characters in their own right. While Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk were the figurative offspring off their namesakes, Spider-Woman’s lineage is a bit less obvious and a bit more convoluted, incorporating elements from Thor and Nick Fury’s backstory into her origin.
At the story’s beginning, “Arachne” is an amnesiac who has been duped into working for the evil spy organization Hydra. SHIELD has captured her Hydra agent paramour, so she breaks into the good guys’ Mediterranean HQ to assassinate Nick Fury and free her lover. Her boyfriend is killed in the crossfire, and Fury reveals that her beau was manipulating her into using her against SHIELD, and that Hydra is actually a force for evil in the world. Disillusioned, she breaks out of SHIELD HQ and heads back to her Hydra base to bust some heads.
Nick Fury rounds up a posse of SHIELD agents and follows her to Hydra’s base of operations, and while they tear the place apart, Spider-Woman corners the leader of the Hydra goons, who tells her of her own pre-amnesiac origins. She was created by Thor’s sometimes-enemy, the High Evolutionary, who has been trying to build a scientific utopia populated by “New Men” technologically evolved from simple beasts. She herself had been created by the High Evolutionary, evolved to human form from an actual spider, from whence she gets her wall-crawling abilities and “venom blasts.” The Hydra leader tries to escape while she reels from the shock of this revelation, but she damages his ship and sends it crashing into a mountain before wandering into the sunset herself.
Apparently the response to the character was positive enough that Marvel gave her own series a green light, but someone along the way (Stan himself?) decided the original origin story was a bit too “icky” and decided it should be changed, making her the daughter of a scientist who had worked with the High Evolutionary and had thus become the subject of some of his experiments.
Why does this book have such an effect on me that I blame it for screwing things up nearly two decades afterwards? Check out the panels below from one of the first few issues to feature the All-New, All Different X-Men. The X-Men have been captured by Sentinels and imprisoned by Larry Trask, but their mutant detecting hardware is having trouble processing Wolverine:
“Whatever the Wolverine is, HE ISN’T HUMAN.”
A few issues later while battling the Juggernaut in Banshee’s ancestral Irish castle (or whatever, I’m not rushing to look it up right now), the team is aided by a bunch of leprechauns (seriously). The wee people rebut Logan’s disbelief in them by telling him they’ve never met a talking wolverine before, either.
No less than one of the architects of the new X-Men’s early days reports that Logan was planned to be not a mutant, but an actual wolverine that had been technologically evolved by the High Evolutionary. The plan was scrapped, however, when Archie Goodwin and Sal Buscema were working down the hall on their new Spider-Woman character. Imagine how close we came to having Wolverine lumped into the pile of short-lived oddball bronze age characters, his bizarre origin consigning him to c-list status until Brian Bendis could come along decades later to try to revive him (as seems his mission with 1970’s c-listers, but that’s another post). Imagine the 1990’s if Wolverine’s skyrocketing popularity hadn’t caused an escalating game of one-upmanship as writers and artists tried to make characters more grim, more brutal, more badass. Imagine, then, the damage done by Marvel Spotlight #32 in taking– then abandoning– this goofball backstory which would have sidelined Wolverine early in his career and spared us a lot of suffering down the road.