Given the power of a human arachnid through an experiment, Julia Carpenter uses her spider abilities to become a government super-agent and one of the most powerful members of the Avengers.
Lab Experiment Gone Right
Born in Los Angeles, California to Elizabeth and Walter Cornwall, Julia Eugenia Carpenter Cornwall is raised in LA and grows up there. She attends college where she meets her husband Larry Carpenter, but drops out of school to support him during his college education, and they have a daughter named Rachel. The couple eventually divorces due to Larry’s unfaithful actions.
Julia is then drawn into a covert double life by an old college friend, federal agent Valerie Cooper, who runs a secret research project dedicated to creating government super-agents for the Commission on Superhuman Activities (CSA). The project’s key scientists are celebrated genius Dr. Carter Napier and his assistants, Japanese grad student Hashi Noto and Peruvian-born Pacqui Indian Dr. Sylvie Yaqua. During a CSA-backed research expedition to the Peruvian Amazon, Noto and Yaqua gather rare plants and spider venoms with the aid of Julia’s long-absent parents, famous jungle guides who run the survival-style Junglerama Lodge resort on a remote Peruvian Amazon tributary. Using the expedition’s finds, Napier develops a process to grant humans spider-like powers. Needing a loyal and trustworthy test subject, Cooper thinks of her old friend Julia who is smart, athletic and discreet; and through the research team’s acquaintance with the Cornwalls, Cooper knows Julia needs the money since Julia ends up with sole custody of her daughter Rachel.
Arranging a seemingly chance meeting with Julia, Cooper hires Julia as a project test subject, supposedly for physical exercise research. Napier’s team puts Julia through weeks of intensive athletic training to see if she is physically suitable for their new spider-serum. Napier worries about the formula’s potential side-effects, but an impatient Cooper pressures him into giving Julia daily injections of the serum, telling Julia these shots are a means of studying her body’s reactions to certain types of exercise. The serum dosage increases each day, until Napier—threatened with firing if he did not produce rapid results—doubles the dosage to near-fatal levels. Julia passes out, and when she comes to hours later, the project team claims they had accidentally injected her with spider venom. Furious, Julia punches and severely damages a wall, discovering she now had super-strength. A quick series of tests proves she could also cling to walls and psychically generate adhesive energy webs.
Pretending Julia ‘s powers are a lucky accident, the CSA gives her a spider-themed costume and a new job as a government super-operative. Julia wants to call herself Arachne (after a mythical weaver who was transformed into a spider) or Ariadne (after the woman who gave Theseus the thread which led him out of the Labyrinth), but the CSA insists on giving her a more media-friendly code name: Spider-Woman.
Julia has superhuman strength (lifting over 10 tons), and she can leap well over 30' high from a standing position. Her speed and durability are enhanced slightly beyond human limits, and she heals slightly more quickly than normal. By mentally affecting the inter-atomic attraction between molecular boundary layers, she can cling adhesively to objects or other people; this power is concentrated primarily in her hands and feet, enabling her to scale walls and ceilings and other unconventional surfaces by simply crawling or walking across them. Her sticking power has an upper limit of several tons per finger—enabling her, for instance, to hold up a pair of steel beams while clinging to a wall. She is also incredibly agile.
A different application of Julia’s mental attractive power enables her to generate and manipulate highly adhesive strands of psionic energy. Julia typically shapes these strands into energy “webs” via mental concentration and hand gestures, which now takes only seconds thanks to extensive practice. Usually cast from her hands (though she can materialize webs some distance away if needed), her “psi-webs” typically manifest as rope-like strands to bind an opponent, as woven shields or domes durable enough to shield her from high explosives, and as nets to snare an adversary or break a target’s fall. They can also allow her to breathe under water. The webs will fade away within moments unless she purposely infuses them with enough energy to last longer. Fully charged, her webs are strong enough to stop a speeding car, catch a falling helicopter or slow a crash-landing airliner to a safe stop. If necessary, she can weaken her webs or dissipate them altogether by re-absorbing their psionic energy.
She sometimes feels painful feedback if her webs are damaged while she is still mentally linked with them. Julia can reduce or eliminate the adhesive properties of her “psi-webs” in relation to her own body, which prevents her being snared in her own webs. Using this ability, she can handle her web-strands as if they were conventional ropes—for instance, swinging from them, or walking or sliding across them like tightropes. Her “psi-webs” do not conduct electricity, but electricity can disrupt her webs unless she mentally matches her own psionic projections’ electrical frequency to that of the opposing electricity, in which case she can trap electrical energy within her webs. Certain exotic energies such as Skids’ frictionless force field can also disrupt her webs.
Julia is a capable pilot of the Avengers’ supersonic Quinjet planes, with some training in unarmed combat from the CSA and the Avengers.
When clairvoyant Cassandra Webb, AKA Madame Webb, dies, Julia inherits her psychic abilities and as such her psionic powers grow. She loses her sight but can perceive the future, telepathically read and project thoughts, and astral project.
A Spider’s Predators
When Spider-Woman joins the government’s Freedom Force, mostly made up of criminals avoiding their sentence terms, she goes up against her allies, the X-Men. The team’s amoral attitude makes Julia uneasy especially when they arrest the Avengers. She frees the Avengers from a super-prison and becomes a wanted fugitive.
When the Superhuman Registration Act (SHRA) goes into effect, Julia tries to escape with her lover Max Coleridge, AKA Shroud, but is separated from her daughter by Carol Danvers, AKA Ms. Marvel (later Captain Marvel), Simon Williams, AKA Wonder Man, and Araña “Anya” Corazon, AKA Araña. Julia receives a pardon with the caveat of joining Omega Flight, Canada’s government-sponsored super team.
Charlotte Witter, AKA Spider-Woman, steals Julia’s powers, along with other Spider-Women. Julia joins Jessica Drew, AKA Spider-Woman, and Mattie Franklin, AKA Spider-Woman, and the psychic Madame Web, and they defeat Witter.
Family Ties and Allies
Marrying her college sweetheart Larry Carpenter, Julia and Larry have a daughter named Rachel. While Julia drops out of college to support Larry, he eventually cheats on her and they get a divorce. He later dies saving Rachel from one of Julia’s enemies, Ferrel Thompson, AKA Manipulator, and Julia is left to raise Rachel on her own.
Julia eventually reveals her superpowers and double life as Spider-Woman to her parents and her daughter Rachel. Her parents are initially supportive until they think she is no longer fit to raise their granddaughter and enter in a custody battle with her.
As a superhuman with enhanced strength and the abilities of a spider, Julia joins several superpowered teams including Omega Flight, Avengers Initiative, Queen’s Vengeance, Force Works, Secret Defenders, Commission on Superhuman Activities, Freedom Force, and the West Coast Avengers. She is always a team player and often gives directives with confidence.
After Julia loses her powers to Witter, Julia finds a friend and benefactor in Max Coleridge, the vigilante known as Shroud. Coleridge’s company re-creates Napier’s spider-serum and uses it on Julia which restores her powers and mobility. She and Max fall in love and when the SHRA goes into effect, they try to escape registration though they were both eventually arrested.