Ultimate Spider-Woman: Definitely Wasted Potential
Last year I wrote about the Ultimate Comics version of Spider-Woman, how he had excellent potential to be a great high-profile transgender character in the world of comics and that he was so under used he didn’t even really have a character to speak of. Well in the most recent issue of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man there was an answer to that question I asked a year ago, is Spider-Woman was transgender or just wasted potential. Sadly it was the latter.
Just to recap this Spider-Woman, also known as Jessica Drew, is a clone of Peter Parker who had all of his memories and experiences, and with that clearly it should just as if Peter’s brain was in a female body. Which should lead to an obvious, if a bit heavy handed, allegory for a transgendered man being in woman’s body. Now of course that didn’t happen, Spider-Woman barely appeared and when he did all it did was re-establish he had no real character beyond being a clone and that no one knew what to do with him. Some retcons happened; he then ended up joining the Ultimates (Avengers-lite) which didn’t actually lead to anything other than him being a background character in that book and confirming no one had a clue what to do with the character.
Then he started appearing intermittently in the new Ultimate Comics Spider-Man comic with Miles Morales as the new Spider-Man, where he spent most of those appearances being annoyed at Miles for no established reason, and dodging questions about who he is. Then in issue 25 he finally sits down with Miles to chat about everything. So finally, seven years since his first appearance and forty odd appearances after that, we get something other than him hating the company that was retconned into making him and him running away from Johnny Storm flirting with him. This is what we got:
And from now on I’ll be using the female personal pronouns for her. Those pages feel more like a check list of things fans have said online about her as they then tried to address them in ways that feel a little artificial. Specificity stating that she’s “not a boy” to get rid of the gender identity dysphoria, that she’s “not Peter Parker” and that “all Peter’s memories are gone and faded” to explain why, as a clone, she was nowhere to be seen in the aftermath of Peter’s death and comforting with her/Peter’s family. Why she didn’t have a story about confronting her own mortality when Peter/her DNA donor died. But now she’s not Peter, doesn’t even think she’s a person, and it’s just a way to distance her from Spider-Man for no real reason.
What has now happened is Jessica saying she’s not a real person because she doesn’t “have a mother or father” and having some sort of identity crisis. Which is a little late to be doing so since the character’s been around for seven years, long enough for her to have figured things out. That would also be true for any gender identity stories, which is the problem with not doing anything with her for so long. Realistically any identity issues wouldn’t be as prominent with that much time passed. Even if we don’t know exactly how much time has gone by because it’s the comic where Peter was in the same high school year for over 150 issues. I’d say Jessica has been around for two to three years in universe, they also just did a one year time skip along with some other time skips so I’m not just making up a number here. And after all those years she’s just now gone “I’m not a real person” or she’s held onto that thought for three years, accept whichever is least believable.
Sad thing is that the “I don’t have a mom or dad” characterisation is the most character she’s ever had in her forty odd appearances. That’s how bad this is, they got rid of all her potential but at least something was done with her. There’s no real clone dynamic anymore, that’s being replaced with a Frankenstein’s Monster dynamic of all things, and nothing tying her to Peter other than feeling like she’s living under his shadow. So they did all of this wiping the slate clean just so she’d have more in common with the new male lead of the book. That’s just speculation and I’m not accusing them of intentionally wiping away a potentially transgender female character just to make her better fit in with the male lead. But that’s what’s happened regardless of intent.
This is not just about the lose of potential but also why the character was unlikely to actually be transgendered anyway. I still maintain my theory that after she was created someone actually thought about what it would mean to have a character deal with being a different gender. So they did the bare minimum with her for the longest time, possibly to not offend anyone with any story they could tell with her. Though the “Johnny’s making the moves on her not realising she’s a clone of his best friend” is a bit clichéd and comes close to the offensive ‘trap’ stereotype of transgendered individuals, so thankfully nothing came of that joke story. That’s why this is important, because transgendered people have very little representation in the media and a positive one, even if it is more fantastical than realistic, would be good. They could’ve delved into what it’s like to know and feel like your gender is wrong regardless of what other people say.
Sadly it’s unlikely Marvel would ever do anything like that right now with a Spider-character. It’s a little too high profile and if they screw up anything in a way that could be deemed offensive then it’ll blowback in their faces. Given the media attention Miles Morales got, and the rather racist comments that popped up, it’d be a risk for them on a character they weren’t confident about or didn’t know what to do with. So they’re not going to do anything like this with an accidentally.
They still probably won’t use her for much anyway even with the controversial parts removed. The Ultimate Universe has a number of characters that were important parts of big storylines but haven’t showed up since then. So she’ll probably appear in some more Spider-Man comics and then not show up again till they feel like doing another small guest spot, like all her other appearances. Not that I care anymore when she appears next, or even if Marvel makes a spin-off book for her, since everything unique and interesting has been excised. I’m sure they could do some good stories with the character, but right now all she has is a ‘clones aren’t people’ complex. Not really broaching the story potential of a gender opposite clone who remembers being a boy, at all.
Now I’m not really mad about this, a year ago I might’ve been, but not now. After everything Marvel and DC has done over the years I can’t get angry anymore about a character that was barely in any comics and had little real character. I’m sad, but not angry, and with DC messing around with fan favourite characters like they have some vendetta against them, not to mention how they’re treating the creators, and then there’s Marvel making great movies but terrible TV shows like they only have one bit of quality control that can only be used for the movies. It’s hard to muster up anything other than disappointment most of the time right now. So it’s just sad a potentially great transgender character wasn’t used in any decent way. It’s a shame every interesting thing they could explore was taken away in a few pages. It seems like with every appearance they’ve made the character less interesting.
The Ultimate Comics line might be ending soon, though I’d bet they’d keep Spider-Man around because it’s the only one that sells, and I can’t think of anything other than Miles Morales that would be missed. A big shame for such wasted potential.