Retcons, Reboots And Resurrections #33: Spider-Man Spins A New Kind Of Web

by Scott Redmond

In life, they say only three things are certain: birth, death, and change. Within comic books, the three things that are certain are that there will be retcons, reboots, and resurrections. Retcons are elements retroactively added to a character’s history, reboots can either be revivals of a character/their title or extensive changes to canon, and resurrections are characters clawing their way back from the afterlife. 

Each week we’ll explore the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Retcons, Reboots, and Resurrections.

Corporate synergy is a thing that has become more and more prevalent in many sectors over the decades. Within the realm of comic books, this synergy exists connected to the corporate entities that own things such as Marvel or DC Comics. That synergy though tends to mostly run in one direction, from the movie/tv/animated adaption studios towards the comics. 

While the adaptations borrow storylines and characters from the comics, they are not beholden to what the comics fully do or will be doing later. Comics on the other hand are not beholden to what adaptations do but feel much more compelled to do storylines or feature specific characters right at the time an adaptation is coming out in order to somewhat tie into that adaptation. Despite the fact that the mass audiences that watch the adaptations are sadly not flocking to comics. 

Sometimes though there are interesting moments where an adaptation will make a drastic change to what comics have always done, only for comics to eventually follow suit and incorporate the change, till they later wipe it out once more. 

That’s how Spider-Man gained organic webs in comics, only to lose them. Buckle up, this is a weird one. 

The Backstory:

All the way back in 2002, the modern era of comic book films was still finding its way as things like Blade and X-Men were helping to stir things up after the spotlight had mostly been held by Batman for the ’90s. This was the year that the Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man film was released, welcomed with open arms by comic fans and the general masses alike. While this film was heavily based on things from the comics, it made some alterations here or there for the sake of ‘reality.’ 

One of those changes was to give Peter Parker organic web-shooters, for a number of reasons. First was the thought that since the spider bite gives Peter all these abilities of spiders, it would make sense that web making would be one of those. Second, Raimi reportedly felt it was unrealistic that even someone of Peter’s level of intellect would be able to create shooters and a synthetic webbing that no other scientist or government, or corporate group could create. 

Organic webbing was the standard for all three of the films in that series (with the two subsequent reboot series moving back to mechanical shooters), while the comics stayed with mechanical. At least, that was the case until 2004 when the choice was made to change the comics to match these popular films. 

In the summer of 2004 writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist David Finch kicked off the big event series Avengers: Disassembled which effectively ended the ‘classic’ Avengers in order to relaunch them later as the New Avengers and incorporating more street-level characters many of whom were enjoying big-screen success at the time (like Spider-Man and Wolverine). 

Many of the solo series of classic Avengers like Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man had tie-in stories to this event as bad events were unfolding around all the characters (all because of Scarlet Witch and Doom, that’s a story for next week). Spider-Man got one of those tie-ins within one of his many running titles at the time, Spectacular Spider-Man from Paul Jenkins, Michael Ryan, and Humberto Ramos. This is where the big change went down, and the weirdness begins. 

The Nitty Gritty:

As noted above, Peter had been using mechanical web-shooters since day one meaning that any change to make him use organic would have to come from some sort of retcon. With all the magical and science elements present in comics it would seem this should have been a pretty easy thing to retcon, throw in some science jargon, and claim that his cells were still mutating from the bite years ago and bam, make the change. 

That’s not the direction that these creators and Marvel decided to go. 

It begins with Spectacular Spider-Man #15 (2003) where a mysterious woman known only as the Queen arrived and begins gathering followers. These followers all have an insect gene of some kind that makes them susceptible to the Queen’s control. She and her followers take over a building, Spider-Man and Captain America show up, they fight, she beats both of them down, and as Spider-Man is beaten and bleeding and blacking out she kisses him. 

The Queen, or Ana, reveals to the captured Spider-Man that she’s trying to make him fall in love with her and keeps kissing him as he begins to feel a connection to her and her drones but he rejects her. Turns out that she also captured Captain America (who briefly escapes and almost rescues Spider-Man) who reveals that she was known as Adrianna and they dated previously all the way back in 1945. She is later revealed to have been an ex-marine and the first woman in combat back during WWII, subjected to nuclear blasts as part of the government’s obsession with making more super soldiers. 

So Spidey and Cap escape, Peter goes home and has moments with Mary Jane about the kiss and slowly begins to feel very strange. What appears to be a sickness turns out to be far worse, Mary Jane finds him in the bathroom with four eyes. The Queen’s kiss kicks in to gear a mutation turning him into an actual spider. 

As Peter continues to mutate and eventually ends up with the Queen under her control, Captain America finally tells Nick Fury all the secrets about the Queen. Because there has to be some bigger plot, it’s revealed that she has a bomb that will wipe out all of humanity except for her and her drones. The plot twist is, the bomb was created by the U.S. Government (of course) as a failsafe should Germany have won WWII.

Okay, now we get to the weird parts and the organic webbing. Spider-Man’s mutation was spurred on by a serum created by the doctor behind Ana’s altered state and said scientist (captured and clinging to life) reveals to the mutated Spider-Man (who Ana assumes can’t understand anymore) that the serum has made him pregnant. Having understood this Peter Spider seems to die, which sets Ana off to move up her bomb attack, but later Peter uses the babies that he would have birthed to actually create a perfect duplicate of himself and…well gives birth to himself. 

Having been a full spider and now reborn, Peter has a bunch of heightened and altered abilities including, you guessed it, organic webbing!

At the end of 2005 Spider-Man “dies” once more in the three series 12-part crossover event ‘The Other’ and is once again reborn. This time he also gains more powers namely things like night vision and some stingers that shoot out of his wrists. 

Just like how the Raimi movies wrapped up for something new, all these abilities were wiped out of the comics as well just a few years later. Remember when we dove into the messy world that was the retcon/reboot known as Spider-Man: One More Day last summer? Well, that was the moment where all these abilities vanished and were never mentioned again really. 

A retcon that was retconned away by another retcon. That’s comic books for you right there. 

The Verdict:

Let’s get right to it: this was not a great story or a great retcon. 

As noted near the beginning, there were so many simpler less messy, and weird ways to bring organic webs into the comics. It’s like there was something in the air at this period in Spider-Man books because it was by far not the only and sadly not the worst retcon that was being trotted out at the time. Also, there are a lot of sexist slurs that Spider-Man and other heroes are just throwing around about the Queen which are truly disgusting. 

It’s natural to want to insert things into the stories and history of these multi-decade old characters, to move them forward or spice things up or just to make some new character/thing feel more “relevant” but there are times when too much is very much a thing. 

Next Week: Some disassembly might be necessary

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