Publication: Misty 17 June 1978 – 16 September 1978
Artist: Jaume Rumeu
Translations/reprints: Anita 1980 as De Zwarte weduwe [The Black Widow]
Sequel: Spider-Woman, Tammy & Misty, 19 January 1980 – 22 March 1980
In “her silken lair, hidden from the eyes of the world” is Mrs Webb, who is to become known to the world as The Black Widow. She calls out to her spiders, “Tonight is the time…the time of the spiders!”
Not far away is Corey End School, where we meet our two protagonists. The first is Sadie Lincoln, who wants to be a scientist. But Sadie has phobia about creepy crawlies, especially (you guessed it) spiders. The science teacher, Miss Dexter, tells Sadie she must overcome this if she is to handle biological specimens and make her way as a scientist. The second is Freda Lawrence, a rather unlikeable girl who thinks Sadie is always sucking up to teachers.
Sadie prefers astronomy as a science, and is spending the night with her telescope. She is surprised to see a type of meteor, which bursts into fragments. She goes out to investigate and finds a capsule containing a spider. She takes it to Miss Dexter, who cannot identify the species, but puts it in an aquarium for study. They are astonished to find it has doubled in size 24 hours later. And it continues to grow. They don’t realise they have captured the spider that should be at the centre of Webb’s new web. Webb goes in search of the spider and says there will be “no mercy for anyone keeping him!”
Webb turns up at the school, suspecting it is the place to start looking for the spider. Telling everyone she is on a mission to save spiders from the cruelty of man, she promises a £5 reward for anyone who brings a spider to her. Figuring she will get more than that if she brings Webb the super-growing spider, Freda steals it from the science lab. Sadie catches Freda and suspects what she is doing. She tags along with Freda to Webb’s house in the hope of grabbing it back.
They are both surprised to find the house is derelict. Inside, they are caught in a mechanical web manned by a giant mechanical spider. But this is actually the mechanism that brings them to Webb’s lair. Webb scares them into handing over the spider.
Webb explains that she and her husband were biological chemists. Her husband was forced to participate in a military biological experiment that killed him when it went wrong. Now she is out for revenge on Britain with the aid of her specially engineered spiders – and with Sadie and Freda, who are going to be her instruments. Freda says if there’s a few bob in it, she will be happy to do it. This disgusts Sadie, who also expresses her fear of spiders. At this, Webb hypnotises Sadie into liking spiders. She then gives Freda a hypnotic prompt “you creep!” This will have Sadie doing whatever Freda commands when she says it. She also imprisons the girls in slave pendants that give them electric shocks whenever they try to remove them. The pendants label Freda as Tara and Sadie as Tula. Finally, Webb gives Freda a bag of spiders for their first test. She then sends them out, with Sadie having no recollection of what happened.
What Webb does not realise is that Freda is not loyal to her because she was too shocked at the sight of the hypnotism done to Sadie. Freda is only playing along with Webb because she does not want to be hypnotised as well.
Using the “you creep!” prompt, Freda has Sadie unleash the spiders at school, which causes a panic. Afterwards, Webb says the spiders have been installed with transmitters, so she can track them on her electronic map.
Sadie has no memory of what happens when the hypnotic power wears off, so she cannot explain her action to her headmistress – or her absenteeism the next day. This is, of course, because they have been directed to their of next target – one Major-General Oliver Bullivant. Webb blames Bullivant for her husband’s death. The girls plant Webb’s spider on Bullivant’s dog. When the spider bites Bullivant, he falls into a paralysis that leaves him incapable of speaking and doctors baffled. However, the investigation, led by Inspector Bird, is soon drawing the right conclusions. Bird is now searching for the spider and the two girls.
Freda wants to call it quits, but when she tries to tell Webb, Webb demands to know the fate of the Bullivant spider. Webb realises the spider is still with Sadie and uses the pendant to summon her – only to find that Sadie has let the spider go. Later, the spider turns up in the papers that a despatch rider is taking to Bullivant’s. The spider bites and paralyses the dispatch rider, causing him to have a crash. Bird realises what happened and is now searching the scene of the accident for the spider. Then Carfax of SI9 turns up and tells Bird that someone stole a batch of spiders that the Ministry had been testing in the stratosphere. The purpose had been to create super-spiders, but the results are unknown because of the theft. Carfax has a pretty good idea who the thief is (guess who?), but is having trouble locating her. The stratosphere theft also explains the “meteor” that Sadie observed earlier.
Meanwhile, the next target is Professor Lawton, who devised the experiment that killed the husband. This time the girls are to plant the spider on Lawton’s baby. But as they leave, they are attacked by rough girls. Freda tells the leader, “Go an’ jump in the lake, you creep!”
Oops – Freda unwittingly used the hypnotic prompt, which has Sadie jumping in the lake and losing the spider. When Webb finds out the spider’s fate, she is hysterical and furious as she regards her spiders as her children. She decides to go out and do the job herself. However, Mrs Lawton intercepts the spider and crushes it, which means another upset for Webb. Also, Lawton compares notes with Bird and they see the connection.
When Webb returns to her base, she gets another shock – Freda has used the hypnotic prompt to get Sadie to smash her tank of beloved spiders. Webb uses her spider powers to turn the spiders on them. Freda pretends that they have learned their lesson and Webb calls the spiders off.
Sadie now understands what is going on and she quietly teams up with Freda. But Webb hypnotises her into delivering a spider to the Prime Minister. Webb plans to use this attack to blackmail Britain into capitulating to her. However, Freda uses the “you creep!” command to bring Sadie back to Webb’s lair to do a more thorough job of smashing the place.
The police arrive. The girls try to explain – and the police are forced to take them seriously when they find millions of spiders crawling all over their car! Soon, the girls are explaining everything to Bird himself.
Meanwhile, there has been a series of blocked drains in London. Investigation reveals an enormous web and equally enormous spider in the drains. It is the spider Sadie captured earlier. It was engineered to be a super-growing spider. It has now grown to giant proportions, feeding on sewer rats – and is still growing! What’s more, it is moving on from rats to people as prey and causing panic in the underground railway station. The giant spider, complete with its web, emerges in Trafalgar Square, which causes even more panic and makes the news. Webb sees the broadcast and gloats, “The day of the spiders is here at last!”
Back at her lair, Webb has less to gloat about when she discovers what the girls have done. But when the authorities arrive, there is no sign of Webb. Then they hear her over a loudspeaker, where she finally delivers her ultimatum: if they want to stop the spider – which is now moving on from Trafalgar Square and travelling across the country via the power lines – they must do what she says. The first of her demands is to bring the girls to a rendezvous point, where the spider is waiting to devour them.
The authorities bring the girls, and Webb orders them to climb up to the spider. But the authorities have prepared a trap. The national grid is down, but the power station is waiting for their signal to turn on the power. Ironically, it is accidentally turned on when an employee is scared by a spider. As planned, the giant spider gets fried. Webb falls to the ground, though not to her death. At the same time, the slave pendants fall off Freda and Sadie. Webb is taken to hospital, but they are surprised when she seems to disappear into thin air from the ambulance. A spider scuttles away from the ambulance unnoticed, and there is a question mark after “The End”.
Misty was huge on scary spider stories and playing on the common fear of arachnophobia. In her very first issue she had “Red Knee – White Terror!” where a girl has many close calls with a poisonous spider without realising it but in the final panel it looks like her luck may have finally run out. Other spider-themed stories included “Web of Lies”, “Dressed to Kill!” and “Spider Woman” (no connection to Mrs Webb) in the 1984 Misty annual. But the Black Widow tops them all. What is not to love – or scare the living daylights out of you – with how she uses spiders as deadly weapons? Poisonous spiders, flesh-eating spiders, and spiders growing to monstrous proportions and emerging from the sewers of London to strike terror into everyone who sees it.
Mrs Webb comes from a long line of mad, evil scientists. However, she is more rounded than most of them as there is a sympathetic element to her. Her insanity stems from the grief of losing her husband, and she believes the military was responsible for it. There may even be some truth to Webb’s suspicions because Bullivant is such a pompous, overbearing, unlikeable git. He forces his unfortunate batman to do jobs that are not supposed to be part of a batman’s job. At any rate, readers must have felt a sneaking sympathy for Webb when she shuts Bullivant up with her spider and felt that she had given Bullivant what was coming to him.
But sympathies for Webb don’t last. After all, she is not just doing it for revenge – she’s doing it for power as well and is out for conquest. In the sequel she will take this a stage further and be out for world conquest. But it’s not just for herself – it’s for the spiders, and she seems to see herself as a champion of them. There are no limits to what she won’t do or the types of spiders she will devise as weapons.
This story gives the military a chance to shine, something it seldom does in girls’ comics. Usually when the military does feature it is in a humorous sense (Annie’s Army in June) or female soldiers (Kitty Hawke in Girl I). But here the military is portrayed more realistically, given plenty of screen time in the story, and more time is devoted to developing the Army characters. This is all for a very credible reason – Webb’s attack is directly against the Army, and it’s personal. Whoever wrote this story must have been one of the Battle writers.
However, although the military is given more spotlight than girls’ serials usually give it, the centre stage is still given to girl protagonists and the true resolution of the story depends on them. Pairing a principled girl with an unsavoury one is not an unusual one in girls’ comics; Fairy Tale in Princess II was one to use it. What is unusual is that it is the unsavoury girl who is proactive against Webb and is key to resolving the story. By contrast, the more moralistic girl is far less proactive and more prone to succumbing to Webb’s brainwashing. The key is in their strength of character. Freda may be the more unpleasant girl, but she is the much stronger and more resourceful of the two girls. She may be greedy, willing to do it for money, but she has her limits. These stop her from turning into Webb’s willing flunky. These also help to redeem Freda as a character. Sadie, by contrast, may be more principled, but she has a weaker personality and is more prone to succumbing to Webb’s power. However, the brainwashing of Sadie enables Freda to turn Webb’s power against her on several occasions.
Mrs Webb was the only Misty villain who was brought back for a sequel. She was not killed off as many of Misty’s villains were, such as Dr Bracken from “The Body Snatchers”. Misty had several of her villains plunging to their deaths, as in “House of Horror”, but Mrs Webb not only survives her fall but escapes as well, with a hint she might be back. Perhaps Misty decided she was too good a villain to kill off. Or maybe it was all those spider menaces that she loved to use time and time again.