47 years ago - Eric Needham is born.
35 years ago - 12-year-old Eric Needham starts using drugs.
32 years ago - 15-year-old Eric Needham accidentally kills a man during a robbery and is tried as a juvenile.
30 years ago - 17-year-old Eric Needham joins the military and is selected to receive special forces training.
25 years ago - 22-year-old Eric Needham is dishonorably discharged for his drug habit. He is poached by H.I.V.E. for its operative program, who use his drug addiction to build an augmented adrenal system.
19 years ago - 28-year-old Eric Needham, released from the abandoned H.I.V.E. operative program, begins working as an enforcer for the mob of Star City.
16 years ago - 31-year-old Eric Needham has his son and tries to go straight.
13 years ago - 34-year-old Eric Needham son and his mother are killed to force him to do a job, He becomes the vigilante Black Spider and begins targeting the drug trade with lethal force, unaware he is being secretly funded by the William Tockman. He regularly comes into conflict with Green Arrow & Speedy.
10 years ago - 37-year-old Eric Needham is cut loose by the William Tockman when he becomes the boss of Star City but continues to attack the cities drug trade.
8 years ago - 39-year-old Eric Needham is finally apprehended by Black Canary when the William Tockman rolls over on him.
4 years ago - 43-year-old Eric Needham dies while attempting to kill the other members of the Suicide Squad.
I actually had an action figure of this character as a very small child, long before I had any clue as to who he might be. Probably because of that, I've always had a spark of recognition whenever he showered up in massive group pictures of bad guys in the late eighties and early nineties. While his brief period of influence happened largely before I was old enough to be aware of it, in retrospect he's a very interesting barometer of American pop culture in the late seventies and early eighties. At first, I was just researching him out of personal interest, but it turns out he's a pretty useful character for fleshing out our Green Arrow rogues gallery.
Black Spider's Comic History
Black Spider appeared for the first time in 1976 in detective comics, Created by Gerry Conway, he was simply a drug-using criminal who, after accidentally killing his own father, became a vigilante who targeted the drug trafficking in Gotham. The idea of a hero being confronted by a far more violent vigilante wasn't exactly new territory; the Punisher had just debuted over in Marvel Comics two years earlier. What is innovative about the character is just how heavily it relies on the then-extremely-topical evils of drugs; the drug trade into America was ramping up for the 80's when American got the FBI involved in what was still being coined as the 'war on drugs' from the Nixon era. From 1980 to 1984, the FBI's drug enforcement budget went from 8 to 95 million dollars, and this massive expenditure held a huge influence over how we saw our bad guys in the '80s. All of this was predicted in this character, which saw a brief but potent surge in popularity.
Of course, while America's fixation on it's drug problem persisted, pop culture moved on. Black Spider would continue to appear, but as a more generic villain. The bulk of his appearances were simply in group shots, but once 2011's New 52 rolled around he started to occur more regularly in depictions of the Suicide Squad, who could always use a dangerous ninja-looking dude who thinks he's better than everybody.
Our Black Spider Story
While the framework of Black Spider's story is pretty solid: ex-user and criminal turned violent vigilante who serves a stint in the Suicide Squad, there are a few small changes that we can make that will make him really useful to our larger story. Probably most obvious is our addition of military experience and H.I.V.E. labs shenanigans to his backstory, just to amp up his abilities a little and make him a bit more threatening.
Also, he's much more useful to us as a Green Arrow villain than for Batman. First, he works as a player in setting up Clock King as a more dangerous crime boss. Second and maybe more importantly Black Spider can, narratively speaking, actually introduce some interesting questions into the world of Green Arow that he just can't' do with Batman, who is basically an adolescent power fantasy. In a Batman context, Black Spider is just an attempt at being 'edgy', while Green Arrow stories at least make an attempt at exploring ideas like social justice and collective responsibility. Third, Green Arrow might actually be physically challenged by Black Spider, while for Batman taking out baddies like this is part of his morning pre-breakfast workout.
Finally, we decided to make Black Spider a wildcard addition to one of our main Suicide Squad lineups rather than the more recent ones. His depiction as a guy who is constantly at odds with the rest of the group really works, and we love the idea of him trying to actually sabotage them, forcing them to put him down.
Black Spider's Costume
Black Spider's influences are pretty obvious: depending on which way you look at him, he's either Spider-Man with guns (which is how he shows up in the Young Justice cartoon, almost a direct Spider-Man allegory) or he's Punisher wearing Spider-Man's outfit, and also using guns. As a kid I loved his purple costume, but in all honesty it doesn't really hold up as something this drug-cartel murder-machine would actually put on. The New 52 depictions give him a high-tech ninja suit and load him up with knives, which certainly looks cool but also doesn't stand out as anything in particular, just a faceless mix of details resulting in an easily-disposed-of non-character. You want his look to pop, but also make at least some level of sense.
I think the solution is to bite the bullet, give him a spider-suit, and then let him cover that with gear. It doesn't have to be the brightly colored affair, something dark with red spider detailing and deep red eyes. Then go ahead and give him a jacket and harnesses for guns... Even though I'm just a big sucker for this sort of thing, this look with the leather jacket and shoulder spikes might be way to '90s-tastic. Even still, I think there's a direction there somewhere and I'd love to see an artist take a stab at it.