It appears that Sony’s evolving shared universe of Spider-Man characters (or whatever it’s called) may be growing even wider. Marvel fans have been waiting for Madame Web to get her own movie (let alone make her official cinematic debut) for a while now and it looks like Dakota Johnson has been, reportedly, cast in the celebrated role.
However, I imagine there are some more casual fans of the Marvel movies who were confused by her cryptic Instagram story of a single spider-web emoji and looking up the name of her supposed role did not help much either. Well, if that describes your reaction to the news, allow us to untangle the web for you with a quick, convenient breakdown of all you should know about Madame Web before she finally comes to the big screen, starting with the basics.
Madame Web Is A Blind Clairvoyant With A Rare Autoimmune Disease
Created by legendary comic book writer Denny O’Neil and equally esteemed illustrator John Romita Jr., Madame Web made her Marvel Comics debut in Issue #210 of The Amazing Spider-Man. Before creating her mysterious moniker, she was born Cassandra Webb in Salem, Oregon, and without the ability to see. However, she was gifted with unique psychic abilities that she discovered early enough in life to practice, perfect, and use in her career as a professional medium.
Years later, Cassandra developed a rare autoimmune disease that, eventually, caused her to completely lose the ability to use her muscles - prompting her husband, Jonathan, to build her a special chair with various, built-in support functions cybernetically linked to her Boyd. It kept her blood-pumping, lungs moving, and brain functioning, and also featured several arms she could control with her mind. The chair also bore a spider-web style aesthetic that would inspire the new name she went by when she began teaching paranormal phenomena in New York City’s Chinatown.
Spider-Man Often Enlists Madame Web’s Help, And Vice Versa
With a name like Madame Web, it is no surprise that she and Spider-Man are pretty close. Peter Parker first crossed paths with Cassandra Webb when a violent attack on the Daily Bugle that was tangentially linked to her led the webslinger to ask for her help in uncovering a mysterious conspiracy involving a rival newspaper owner. This would become the first of many times that Spidey sought guidance from the wise clairvoyant.
Of course, Madame Web has also called upon Spider-Man’s help on a few occasions, such as when she believed he was the only one who could prevent her nightmare of getting killed by the Dark One from coming true. As it turned out, the person after her was the hulking mutant, Juggernaut, whom Spidey ultimately failed to save her from. She was put on life support and, thankfully, did not die, but suffered traumatic brain damage and memory loss, including her knowledge of Spider-Man’s secret identity.
Madame Web Reversed Her Aging By Joining The Gathering Of Five
In addition to her psychokinetic abilities (which include telepathy, astral projection, and mind alteration), Madame Web is also immortal. Of course, considering all the years that she spent requiring life support, she would acquire this gift much later in life and by some pretty dark means.
Cassandra Webb joined antique shop owner Morris Maxwell, Gregory Herd (also known as Override), Mattie Franklin (who would one day become a Spider-Woman), and the power-hungry Norman Osborn for the Gathering of Five - a ritual that either grants participants immense power or costly circumstances. Because she had been nearing death at the time, Cassandra hoped for immortality and got her wish, along with a new youthful glow, though she still required the use of a wheelchair. Additionally, Mattie was granted immense power and Morris become extremely knowledgeable, while Osborn (unsurprisingly) went mad and Herd was punished with death.
Madame Web Put Together A Task Force Of Spider-Women
The freshly immortal Cassandra Webb would re-emerge for a new heroic endeavor of an especially personal matter. Webb’s own granddaughter, Charlotte Witter, had been made into a new Spider-Man by Doctor Octopus and was working as his accomplice.
Madame Web sought the help of two other well-meaning Spider-Women - Jessica Drew (one of the very first Spider-Women) and Julia Carpenter - as well as the aforementioned Mattie Franklin (just prior to her tenure as Spider-Woman) to subdue this new arachnid-like adversary. They succeeded, but Charlotte managed to steal Madame Web’s telepathy, somehow costing her her youthful appearance in the process. Spider-Woman and Mattie were thankfully able to help her regain both, or so it seemed.
Julia Carpenter Became Madame Web After Cassandra Webb’s Death
By the time the team of Spider-Women disbanded, Cassandra Webb had grown elderly in her appearance and, sometime later, was captured by the family of Sergei Kravinoff (otherwise known as Kraven the Hunter) in hopes to help them find Spider-Man and use his blood to resurrect the predatory criminal. Instead they used the blood of a Peter Parker clone named Kaine Parker (otherwise known as the Scarlet Spider), which caused Kraven to come back as not quite the same man. Distraught by this failure, Kraven’s wife, Sasha, took out her frustrations on Cassandra by slitting her throat.
Julia Carpenter, who had also been held captive by the Kravinoffs, came over to comfort her friend as she died in her arms. At that moment, Cassandra transferred her psychic abilities over to Carpenter, ultimately making her the successor to the Madame Web mantle. Unless Sony is planning a Cassandra Web origin story in their upcoming Madame Web movie, I would not be surprised if this is the version of the character that Dakota Johnson has reportedly been cast to play, but we'll have to wait and see. .
Stan Lee’s Wife Voiced Madame Web On Spider-Man: The Animated Series
Now, the iteration of Madame Web that I would be especially interested to see on the big screen (and one that would fit in perfectly well amid the strange, Multiversal stuff going on in the Marvel movies) is the one who appeared on Spider-Man: The Animated Series in the 1990s. In addition to also being a blind clairvoyant aided by a special chair, this Cassandra Webb is a powerful cosmic being from an alternate dimension who serves as an assistant to the godly entity known as the Beyonder.
Fun fact about this animated version of Madame Web: she was actually voiced by Stan Lee’s wife, Joan Boocock Lee, who died in 2017 due to complications with a stroke. The British-American model and actress had previously lent her voice to other ‘90s Marvel cartoons Fantastic Four and Iron Man and she would make a cameo in X-Men: Apocalypse alongside her husband in 2016.
There is plenty to look forward to and hope for in this upcoming Madame Web movie. But, above all, a tribute Joan Boocock Lee is something I would especially love to see.
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Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.