Across The Spider-Verse’s Spider-Woman Doesn’t Need Defending

Across The Spider-Verse’s Spider-Woman Doesn’t Need Defending

Any footage of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse was going to get folks talking, and the newest trailer from earlier in the week introduced a whole plethora of Spiders for folks to instantly fall in love with. While the trailer primarily focuses on the original Spider-Verse trio of Miles Morales, Gwen Stacy, and Peter B. Parker, two of the sequel’s substantial additions are Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac) and Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman (Issa Rae).

Including any B-tier Spider in this film was going to elicit some kind of reaction, and that’s exactly what happens here in Across. Not only is Jessica pregnant, taking inspiration from the 2015-2017 comic book storyline by Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez, she’s also Black. As in, visibly Black in a way that leaves no kind of room for any interpretation or mental gymnastics. The reception to this was basically what you’d expect; a mix of “oh, she’s Black?” and “oh, she’s Black?!,” with the latter making up a bunch of folks who probably never even cared about the comic book version of Jessica Drew to begin with suddenly had a lot to say about how her character’s ruined because she has melanin.

Image: Sony Animation/Marvel

This is something we see all the time whenever a pre-established character — whether it’s from comics, games, or whatever else — becomes a different race than what they were before, which is more often than not white. It’s the most powerful fuel to the internet nerd economy: if a character who was white or read as white is now made a different race or played by an actor of colour (see Starfire and Batwoman as two of many, many examples), that hate can be monetized for clicks, views, and clout. Much of that is due to people either wanting to get some dunks in, or wanting to set the record straight, coming to the defence of Across’ Jessica Drew by pointing out that the original original Spider-Woman was a Black woman named Valerie the Librarian from 1974’s Spidey Super Stories #1 by Jean Thomas and Winslow Mortimer.

But here’s the rub, gang: it’s just not worth it. These type of guys don’t really care that you’ve corrected them on comic book history, and they probably don’t even really care that Jessica was Black in the first place. They’re doing it just to do it, because they know they can and will increase their notoriety the more they get proverbially dunked on. Correcting or clowning on them in the replies, or even just quote tweeting them, isn’t really a win, seeing as how they’ve provoked you into getting caught up in their black hole of ignorance. Again, they probably didn’t care about Jessica in the first place, so there’s no point letting them get under your skin.

And even if they do actually care that Jessica’s a Black woman now, it’s not like it matters. This is a movie debuting in theatres in six months; the character herself has already been concepted, written, animated, and voiced. Unlike Paramount with Sonic the Hedgehog, there’s no real legitimate threat that Sony would push the movie back and un-Black her. There’s a solid shot that her being Black was something that even came before Rae was cast, and there’s no conceivable reason to go back on it. And going so hard in the paint for her against these type of folks also does a disservice to the character, running the risk of smothering any real critiques folks may have about her after the film comes out. By that point, she wouldn’t be a character, just another chess piece in the eternal discourse wars that a lot of Marvel stuff easily falls into.

Image: Marvel Comics/Javier Rodriguez

It’s not anyone’s job to come to Jessica Drew’s aid, not against people who’ve determined they hate her based off nothing at this point beyond how she looks. She’s a character who’s definitely going to stick around in Sony’s animated superhero ventures, where she’ll accrue her own fanbase and be appreciated by those who see themselves in her or just find her great as a character. Let her grab your attention on her own merits, and not because someone is inciting you to.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse arrives in theatres on June 2, 2023.

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