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SPIDERTEMBER: Tribute to Madame Web

Written by Mark Russell

Spider-Man has many compelling and memorable characters, but even Spidey’s universe is so big that a lot of characters fall into obscurity. Thus, this article is taking a look on one of Spider-Man’s most unusual, enigmatic allies – the psychic mutant Madame Web.

Madame Web was created by comic writers Dennis O’Neil and John Romita Jr, making her debut in the 210th issue of The Amazing Spider-Man. Born Cassandra Web, the character is a talented psychic possessing telepathy and clairvoyance. So, basically a superpowered Mystic Meg. However, Madame Web was born blind and paralyzed, and dependent on a life support system that was designed to resemble a spider web-shaped throne by her husband.

Web met Spider-Man during his search for a kidnapped journalist, and used her powers to track down said journalist, but in doing so, discovered Spider-Man’s secret identity as Peter Parker. Web played a major role in Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut, a story featuring the X-Men villain called the Juggernaut, a superpowered human in a cool helmet who is virtually unstoppable when he gains enough momentum. The Juggernaut was sent by Black Tom Cassidy to capture Madame Web in a way to use her psychic powers to defeat the X-Men. Web warns Spider-Man, who tries to stop the Juggernaut, but Juggs rips Web right out of her life support machine. Web is taken to hospital and survives, while Spider-Man temporarily traps the Juggernaut in a pool of cement. Due to the shock and a little convenience, Madam Web forgets Spider-Man’s true identity.

Madame Web hasn’t really had much role in the comics after that. She is the grandmother of the fourth incarnation of Spider-Woman, and served as a mentor to the third version. During her time, she has gained immortality, been returned to her youth, been freed of her illnesses, then regained them. The character eventually met her end in Grim Hunt, killed by Kraven the Hunter’s wife Sasha, and gives her powers to Julia Carpenter, the second Spider-Woman, who later took up the title of Madame Web.

Interestingly, Madame Web has a major role in Spider-Man the Animated Series, introduced in its third season to act as a cryptic mentor to Spider-Man and Peter Parker in a time of moral crisis. She is a bit of a trickster, hiding information and being shrewd, and ends up driving Spider-Man away at one point. She ultimately enlists him to help save the universe from evil, revealing she is a cosmic entity in allegiance with the godlike Beyonder. Web is able to traverse to different realities, taking Spider-Man to several different worlds, including the real world where they meet Stan Lee. And who voices Madame Web in the animated series? Noneother than Stan Lee’s own wife, Joan Lee.

Born Joan Clayton Boocock, Mrs. Lee was raised in Newcastle, England, but moved to America to become a model, actress, and singer. She met Stan after World War II, allegedly having the face of the beautiful women that Stan drew in the comics. There have been rumours that Joan was the inspiration for both Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man’s two key love interests. Possessing a rather unique, charming voice, Joan brought her wit and down-to-earth attitude to Stan’s life and work, marrying him in Reno, California, just an hour after Joan divorced from her first husband. Joan’s encouragement for Stan to write comic books his own way led to his success in the 1960s creating so many iconic characters.

Joan has made her own contributions to Marvel, namely in the animated television series. She provided the voice of Madame Web, delivering a very memorable performance for the character, bringing wit, seriousness, calm, and the occasional bit of anger or scolding like a strict teacher. She also provided the voice of grouchy landlady of the Baxter Building, Miss Forbes, in the 90s Fantastic Four animated series.

Of course, characters like Spider-Man, Mary Jane, and Doctor Octopus will be remembered and popularised for a long time, but I think that a lot of people like me wish to fondly remember the more obscure characters in comic books like Madame Web. And this can also be expanded to the real world – while Stan the Man was the one who brought such wonderful characters to eager readers, it was his wife Joan Lee who inspired him to do his own thing and create our favourite comic book characters.

What are your thoughts on Madame Web? Should she appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or return in the comics? Sound off in the comments below or leave a message on our Twitter feed.

About the author

Mark Russell