This article is about vigilante Eric Needham, not hitman Johnny LaMonica (who also used the name Black Spider), or professional super-villian Derrick Coe (who assumed the Black Spider name after LaMonica's death).
Black Spider is a ruthless killer vigilante who mainly targets the drug trade. His murderous methods and willingness to let innocents die or be injured in his plans have lead him into repeated conflicts with Batman. While the Black Spider does not see himself as a villain, he is willing to team with villains to achieve his vigilante goals, or to get revenge on Batman. Black Spider first appeared in Detective Comics #463 (September 1976) and was created by Gerry Conway and Ernie Chan.
Eric Needham was a small time crook who was addicted to heroin. Eric was first sentenced to prison after mugging and nearly killing an elderly woman but, as a minor, he was out in three years. Over the next twenty-four months, Eric married his friend Linda Morrel and they had a son, Michael. Desperate for money to buy more drugs, Needham continued to steal to support his habit, culminating in a fateful liquor store robbery. Gunning down a customer who'd lunged for him, Eric realized far too late that he'd just murdered his own father. After being arrested, he kicked the habit out of remorse and began a vigilante war on the drug trade.
Donning a costume, he became a self-styled vigilante and began killing those suspected of dealing drugs. Months later, Gotham's drug dealers found themselves marked for death by Needham. At the site of the second killing, Batman confronted the sniper and was stunned to hear the man in the dark purple body-suit declare that "I've been trying to emulate you, Batman, to do as you do -- bring scum to permanent justice --justice without recourse! .... The drug-dealers -- the superflies -- are the dregs of the Earth -- and what better man to catch and kill a superfly -- than a Black Spider?" This soon brought him into conflict with Batman. Needham believed that the two should be allies, as he saw common purpose in their war against criminals. His murderous methods however continually put him at odds with the Dark Knight.
Batman again failed to stop the rampage at the Gotham International Airport. Here, the Black Spider displayed the latest addition to his arsenal, a gun mounted on the top of his wrist that fired a deadly "sting" at his targets.
The conflict came to a head atop a speeding commuter train, where the Spider, whose background had finally been unearthed by the Dark Knight, was attempting to bomb the car carrying another dealer: "That motorman's gotta die, and if some punk commuters gotta die, too -- that's TOUGH!" A lurch of the train sent the Black Spider and his bomb flying from the car. Needham was presumed dead when the bomb was detonated. (Detective Comics #463-464)
Gravely injured, Needham made his way to a free clinic, where "hate nursed me through the months of operations...and recovery...and therapy...and re-training...". The bomb, it seems, had gone off prematurely. It was revealed that Needham's paraphernalia and missions as the Black Spider had been bankrolled by a supposedly benevolent financier named Hannibal Hardwicke, who was, in fact, a major drug lord himself and wanted to take out the competition. Once the Black Spider removed his rivals, Hardwicke had intended for Needham to die. Instead, Hardwicke found himself at the top of the Black Spider's "Most Wanted" list and only Batman's intervention allowed him to survive to see a prison term. (Batman #306)
Inevitably, Despite his professed desire to fight criminals, Needham's goals became compromised and he occasionally allied himself with costumed villains (most notably in the gathering of super-villains in Detective Comics #526 and Batman #400). Ostensibly, Black Spider's goal in this was to seek revenge against Batman, or at least, this is how he attempted to justify his actions in his own mind. He also did this to participate in grudge matches against Batman, shifting from vigilante to costumed criminal.
Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths
The post-Crisis Black Spider is essentially the same character as the Earth-1 Black Spider. As such, the history outlined above generally still applies post-Crisis.
The Black Spider's first post-Crisis appearance was a flashback, showing that even when Batman was absent from Gotham during the case that led to the formation of the Outsiders, the Black Spider found costumed opposition in the form of the beautiful Nightshade and King Faraday. (Secret Origins #28)
In his first contemporary post-Crisis appearance, we see that the Black Spider was still perusing his anti-drug crusade. With Linda, his wife, still firmly in heroin's grip, the Black Spider's next targets were the men who were supplying her with the drugs. But Needham's wife and son were killed by a drug lord who had discovered the Black Spider's identity. In rage, the Spider prepared for one final assault and went on a suicide run, determined to take down all the drug lords. Black Spider invaded the drug lords' headquarters despite being shot multiple times. Dying from multiple bullet wounds, the Spider was dragged before the gloating drug lords only to have Needham reveal his trump card. He'd attached plastique explosives to himself. "I'm ... wired to blow! ... right about ... now!" Black Spider then detonated the explosives strapped to his back and the drug lords' headquarters was destroyed, killing the cartel of drug lords in the process, and killing himself too. (Batman: Shadow of the Bat #5)
Eric Needham later turned up in Neil Gaiman's comic The Sandman, dating supporting character Lyta Hall. No explanation was given for his reappearance. However, earlier issues of Sandman depicted the souls of sinners escaping Hell when its ruler, Lucifer, abdicated the throne. Possibly Needham was among these. (The Sandman #57, 59)
When next seen, he seemed to have become a successful businessman, though he kept the specifics of the business vague. Whatever the case, Needham's survival has since been confirmed and the character has returned to his costumed identity, making subsequent appearances as the Black Spider, such as in the miniseries Underworld Unleashed. He was also seen in Identity Crisis as an ally of Deadshot, Monocle, and Merlyn. Needham remained an active costumed villain, and was recently glimpsed as a member of The Secret Society of Super Villains.
Needham was recently part of a team of villains sent to retrieve the "Get Out of Hell free" card from the Secret Six. Traveling to Las Vegas, Black Spider had arrived at The Nocturne, a hotel and casino with the dozens of other villains intent on seizing the card from the Secret Six. Bursting into the hotel with the other villains and interrupting the Six in the middle of their dinner, Needham covered them with his rifle. The Six fought as best they could, but the arrival of their former teammate Cheshire turned the tide.
"Life is sacred. They taught me that at Sunday School a long time ago. Of course, I didn't listen. Bet you didn't know I was a church kid, huh, Batman ? But I was. Mom and Dad used to send me every Sunday, until Mom died. Then Dad sort of drifted away. It was like a part of HIM had died. He didn't have much time for me anymore.
"I guess that's when I found the streets. And heroin. Why start ? I've asked myself that a hundred times, and the best I can do is: why not ? I missed my Mom. Dad was drinking. The other guys did it. I wanted to be a rebel, too. And to be honest, I liked it. At first. It helped to fill the black, aching hole inside me."—from the last will and testament of Eric Needham (Shadow of The Bat #5).
Black Spider (Eric Needham) is still a murderous vigilante. However, instead of targeting drug criminals, he is now focused on super-powered criminals. His new origin has not yet been given, so it is not known why he hates super-powered crime so much. It has been revealed, however, that he has received ninja training so he can better face super-powered foes without actually gaining super-powers himself.
Black Spider was at some point incarcerated and forced to serve as a member of the Suicide Squad. He was later revealed to be the team's traitor.
Powers and Abilities
Black Spider seemed to have no outright powers beyond that of a normal human being, but was an excellent fighter and marksman. His weapon of choice was retractable pistol mounted on the wrists of his gloves. He possessed the strength level of a normal man at the height and weight of 5'11" 179 lbs. who engages in moderate regular exercise.
In other media
Black Spider appears in the animated film Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, released September, 2009. A black-costumed Needham is shown as part of a large army of villains attempting to collect a huge bounty on the heads of Batman and Superman. He has no lines and does not speak during the entire film.
Black Spider appears as a member of Black Mask's gang in Batman Adventures #5-8. Black Spider's appearances are mostly background cameos, and he had no particular appearance in DCAU specifically featuring him. His costume is almost completely identical to his comic book version.
Batman: Arkham series
Black Spider was also mentioned in Batman: Arkham Origins in a file folder at Sionis Steel Mill with a red "Rejected" stamp on it, implying that The Joker (while disguised as Black Mask) considered hiring him to assassinate Batman, but was refused. He eventually appears as a member of the Suicide Squad in the Direct-to-Video DC animated film Batman: Assault on Arkham, set in the Arkham series.