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Spider-Woman

Marvel Select
by yo go re

Last year, ToyBiz finally broke the seal, so to speak, with the release of the exclusive Marvel Select She-Hulk. They hadn't played the convention exclusive game until then, but it must have gone pretty well for them, because they're back again this year with Spider-Woman.

No, not Jessica Drew, the Spider-Woman who's currently a member of the Avengers; they made her a few months ago. This is Julia Carpenter, the emergency backup Spider-Woman.

Julia Carpenter is the true identity of the second Spider-Woman. A secretive government group called The Commission decided to use Julia Carpenter as a test subject in their drug experiments. The experiments were a success and Julia was granted power very similar to those of Spider-Man. Not long after adopting the identity of Spider-Woman, she was drawn into the Secret Wars. After returning to Earth, Julia joined Freedom Force, but much like her predecessor she found herself on the wrong side of the law. She then found her place with the West Coast Avengers and once they disbanded, she joined their spin-off team Force Works. Eventually Julia walked away from the superhero business to concentrate on raising her daughter Rachel. Like Jessica Drew (the original Spider-Woman), Julia was also attacked by Charlotte Witter and had her powers stolen. After the loss of her superpowers, Julia has returned to the life of a normal mother.

All that stuff about her losing her powers? Ignore it. It was part of a ridiculously terrible storyline by John Byrne, in which he introduced a new Spider-Woman. The character was, to put it mildly, a raging failure on every level, and was pretty much written out of continuity within a year, where she was promptly forgotten until Brian Michael Benids dusted her off for a guest shot in Alias, which seemed to exist basically to play with the rumor that ex-superhero turned private investigator Jessica Jones was originally supposed to be ex-superhero turned private investigator Jessica Drew. Boy, don't know how that rumor got started. In any case, Julia's back now, serving on the pro-registration side in Marvel's big Civil War crossover.

Spider-Woman was sculpted by Sam Greenwell, and she looks great. This isn't one of those female action figures where one part (or maybe two) looks accurate, but is stuck to a body that's off-proportion and awkward. She's actually more feminine than most comicbook women, with at least somewhat realistic measurements - her hips are round, but she's got a normal waist, too. Her arms and legs aren't spindly, and her feet are neither undersized nor stuck in some stupid "pointed" pose. She's got her hip cocked to the side, and her shoulders drop at a contrasting angle. It's solid, but feminine. Comics' first single mom is looking really good.

Spider-Woman's costume details are just painted on, not sculpted, which is good - this exclusive is a straight repaint of the standard Marvel Select Jessica Drew Spider-Woman, and while it works really well, their costumes are quite different. If we had to worry about sculpted costume details, it wouldn't look nearly as good. The design should look familiar to even casual Spider-Fans: a black body with a big white spider across the chest. Yeah, that's right, it's Venom.

No, Julia isn't wearing the Venom suit; hers is just body-hugging Lycra spandex. Oooooo! The story goes that when he first received his mimetic symbiote costume, Spider-Man was subconsciously influenced by Spider-Woman's suit - she had just been introduced beforehand. That's the in-story reason: the real reason is that editor Jim Shooter saw the designs for Spider-Woman and liked them so much that he used them for Mr. Parker. Minus the thigh-high boogie boots, sadly. Pete would have looked hawt in those.

The colors are very nice. Spider-Woman's suit was never really portrayed as solid black, like Spidey/Venom's. It was always sort of a midnight bluish-grey, probably so she didn't look as sinister. The spider on her chest is painted crisply, as are the edges of her gloves and boots. Her hair could stand to be a bit more orange, but that varies from artist to artist anyway. The white is actually tinged with blue and slighlty pearlescent, so the whole costume really blends together nicely while still maintaining some contrast.

Articulation is above-average for a Marvel Select figure. She moves at the ankles, knees, hips, wrists, elbows, shoulders and neck. The head twisted off mine, but the way it's designed means it still rests in place correctly. The only thing we're really missing are biceps (and maybe a waist), but you can still get a nice little variety of poses out of her. Spider-Woman is 6½" tall, so if you don't want to wait for the Marvel Legends version due in a few months, this figure will fill the ranks of your Avengers well.

Exclusive Spider-Woman comes with the same display base as the regular (and variant) Spider-Woman: an irregularly shaped black platform with a set of stone steps, a flaming brazier and one and a half Hydra Agents. One and a half, you ask? Yes: three of them, but only down to the waist. That "cut one down and two more shall take its place" thing only applies to heads, apparently, not legs. Each of the three is a solid piece, but painted well enough to be a real figure. They have unique poses, and they can be positioned on (or off) the base however you like. The stone stairs are sculpted and painted nicely, and there's a bit of green and yellow carpeting on the steps. The flame is translucent orange plastic, and the bronze basin had a raised Hydra logo on the front. It's all very nice, and will make a good display for almost any figure you care to put on it - think how cool Captain America, Nick Fury or Baron Strucker would look on here.

All the Marvel Select figures come in oversized bookshelf-style packaging, and DST actually created all-new packaging for this exclusive. The text on the back, the headshot on the side and the comic covers behind the figure are all specific to this Spider-Woman, not reiterations of the mass-market release. There's still a slot in the tray for Jessica's snap-on plastic bio-energy blast, but Julia doesn't have any accessories - not even her psychic webs or whatever they were. Her costume doesn't have the flexible wings that the original SW used to glide, but the figure still has the slots on her arms where the pieces would have been attached.

Recently, Marvel Select re-released their re-release of Spider-Woman, repainting the repaint to give us Jules's renamed alter ego, Arachne:

Once content with her life as the second Spider-Woman, Julia Carpenter joined with Captain America in opposition to the Super Human Registration Act. This rebellion did not go unnoticed, resulting in her defection to Canada and new identity as Arachne! Now a member of Canada's Omega Flight super-team, Arachne continues to fight for her beliefs as well as the safety of her daughter.

That's kind of glossing over a few details. One, she didn't join Captain America, she just set out with her boyfriend to undermine the SHRA on their own. Two, it didn't go unnoticed because they were spectacularly bad at it. Three, the only one endangering her daughter throughout the whole thing was Julia herself, who dragged the poor kid into the middle of an armed conflict in the paranoid belief that Iron Man would kidnap her otherwise. Four, she was already calling herself Arachne during all that. And five, she didn't "defect" to Canada on her own, she was captured, and her move up north was arranged by Ms. Marvel, who felt bad about taking her down, despite the whole mess being Julia's damn fault to begin with.

Still, the lady looks good in black, and until action figures get a lot more technologically sophisticated than they are at present, you can buy them without having to put up with their personality malfunctions.

Julia's new costume made its debut when she joined Omega Flight, a fancied-up version of her old I-can't-believe-it's-not-a-symbiote Spider-Woman look, with the white spider symbol enlarged to cover her whole torso (and mirrored on the back), with the legs extending over her arms and legs in the form of long, angular stripes. She is of course sculpturally identical to her earlier incarnation, including the slots originally intended for Jessica Drew's little wingalings, but with Julia's old white gloves now replaced by black arms, they're much less visible. She's also packaged with the same elaborate base, including the same three Hydra guys, the third of whom must really be sick of being zapped by now.

The repaint isn't just a matter of pointing the paintbrush somewhere different - instead of the midnight blue base costume Spider-Woman Two sported, Arachne has a full black bodysuit rendered in glossy paint. I rather prefer the blue-black, especially the texture, but the change does set the figures apart quite well, so it serves a purpose. The white patterns retain the blue shading from the previous version, but as you'll no doubt already have noticed, the shading is way over the top. The mask's eyes are pure blue, as is the majority of the torso, and there's so much blue on the remainder that it badly dilutes the stark simplicity of the black and white palette. The lines also get a bit erratic at the sides of the torso and around the hips, not lining up well at the seams and joints; on the credit side of the ledger, the white/blue stays scrupulously within its outlines, never bleeding onto the black areas of the suit.

The hair is also a different colour, toning Julia's lush chestnut down to a drab sandy brunette, with nothing to speak of in the way of shading or highlighting. Again, given the vibrancy of her hair in the comics - depending on the artist, either chestnut brunette or copper-redhead, either way very striking against the monochrome suit - that's a real shame. While we're complaining about hair, hers is also too short, since it was originally sculpted for Jessica Drew; Julia's hair is much longer, though if it were well painted that'd be easy to forgive. For the record, she's also giving a darker scarlet lipstick a go.

The blue really mucks her up, but in other regards she's adequate - she doesn't excel, but then she is just a repaint (of a repaint), so there are limits to what it's reasonable to ask of her. If you've got a steady hand and feel inclined, repainting the white will produce quite an eye-catching action figure without requiring any demanding painting.

Right now, it's the original Spider-Woman in the spotlight. All the folks who are writing comics now grew up reading about Jessica Drew, so they've brought her back. Unfortunately, that means Julia's been pushed to the side - Jessica gets the standard release, while Julia is stuck being the variant. It was true for Minimates, it's true for Marvel Select, and it's going to be true for Marvel Legends. At least by offering this one as an exclusive, rather than a chase figure, Diamond Select recognizes that while she may be the second one to use the name, this Spider-Woman is no second-rate replacement.

-- 08/11/06


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