Marvel’s Original Spider-Woman Is a Forgotten POC

Since the first issue of The Amazing Spider-Man in 1962, Marvel Comics have published many iterations of the hero, both male and female, and even spanning over different species. From pigs and monkeys to aliens and humans, the spider-based heroes have covered a lot of races and genera. Spider-Man began with Peter Parker and has seen many other versions since, with some being long-standing, such as Spider-Woman. However, before the famous Jessica Drew, a Black woman named Valerie the librarian adopted the mantle, and she made quite the impact.

Valerie’s first appearance was in 1974 in issue # 6 of Spidey Super Storiesa promotional comic produced by Marvel and the PBS TV series, The Electric Company, where she helped Spider-Man defeat a literal bookworm who was destroying books. Following this experience and witnessing Spider-Man take on higher caliber villains, Valerie wanted to become a hero herself. The opportunity literally fell into her lap in issue # 11 in the form of a spider suit, which had been hanging from a web above where she was pondering.

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Knowing she did not possess superpowers, Valerie attached suction cups to the hands and feet of the suit to allow her to climb walls. Spider-Man came across the newly self-appointed Spider-Woman practicing her wall-crawling while he was searching for his missing suit. Eager to be a hero, Valerie convinces Peter that two Spider-People are better than one, which he accepts and offers his help should she need it. Immediately thereafter, the original Spider-Woman gets her taste of action. Spider-Man is snared by the Vulture but is saved by the new hero, who swings into action with her web-shooters. Then she frees Peter, and the two take the Vulture down with ease.

In her first and last outing as Spider-Woman, she helps to defeat one of the most formidable villains that Peter Parker has ever faced with a double web takedown from the duo.

Valerie the librarian had a short stint as Spider-Woman, but she was the first Black female hero in Marvel Comics. Black Panther made his debut in 1966, and only a few Black superheroes were introduced between then and Valerie’s heroine debut. Because of the civil rights movement, Stan Lee was reportedly hesitant to publish Black superheroes during the 1960s, though he did want to create characters with different backgrounds.

When they did create Black Panther, his character leaned heavily on stereotypes of African culture as seen by Western people at that time. Subsequent heroes such as Luke Cage also began with these regressive stereotypes. What makes Valerie different from these examples is that her character does not rely on stereotypes; she is simply an educated woman who wants to be a hero.

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With the expansion and increasing popularity of the Spider-Verse thanks to the comic book storyline and movies, there is room for the first Spider-Woman to exist in the spotlight. Her story took place outside the main continuity of Spider-Man, but the Spider-Verse has given way to the possibility of bringing the other worlds together. Although it is a good thing to see Miles Morales gain popularity as a representation of the Black / Puerto Rican, there is room for more heroes from different backgrounds. If Peter Parker is the most well-known Spider-Man for being the first one, Valerie the librarian should be in the spotlight for being the first Spider-Woman.

Spider-Woman’s limited time on the pages made such a positive impact that it makes sense for her to have more exposure, especially with the existence of the popular Spider-Verse. Comic book heroes have existed for many reasons, but for a lot of readers, they have served as role models. It is important that every demographic is represented by a hero to spread positive messages about courage, willpower and simply being a good person. During her short-lived time in the comics, Valerie the librarian embodied what it meant to be a true hero. The first Spider-Woman had a short tenure, but she paved the way for representation as the first Black female hero, and she deserves recognition and exposure for it.

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