(or "Five Authors in Search of a Character")
The general trend when discussing these storytelling engines assumes, on the whole, that the writer is starting with a concept or character that they think can sustain multiple stories, and works from there to add a status quo around them that helps to generate more. Today, though, we'll be looking at an exception to that rule in 'Spider-Woman', a title that started with the concept, "We need a comic called 'Spider-Woman', and we need it now!"
Essentially, 'Spider-Woman' started as an effort to establish a trademark and copyright for the name (supposedly in response to a Filmation cartoon called "Web Woman"), and it shows. The character starts out in 'Marvel Spotlight' as a super-evolved spider fighting the forces of HYDRA (after being brainwashed by them to kill Nick Fury), but by the time she gets her own book, her origin has changed (she's now Jessica Drew, a woman with spider-powers that HYDRA brainwashed into thinking she was a super-evolved spider), HYDRA has dropped out of the picture and her main nemesis is the ancient sorceress Morgan le Fay, she's changed locales from London to Los Angeles, and she's picked up a mentor (Magnus, a student of le Fay's) and a love interest (Jerry Hunt, agent of SHIELD.) It might not surprise you to know that there's also a different writer involved.
The title changes writers again around issue #7, and suddenly Morgan le Fay is defeated, Magnus returns to London, Jerry and Jessica break up, and now she's got a secret identity as a receptionist at the Hatros Institute, where she meets new "friend" Lindsay McCabe and her boss turns out to be new nemesis Nekra. (I put "friend" in quotes because the lesbian subtext is so obvious that it has to be intentional--men are attracted to Jessica, we're told, and women repelled by her, due to arachnid pheremones she's been unintentionally releasing. But Lindsay seems to have the reverse reaction to the pheremones, invites Jessica back to her apartment, and Jessica winds up spending the night there. Again, the subtext doesn't seem accidental.)
A new creative team comes on board with issue #21, and Jessica, who's been fired from her receptionist job (not surprising, given that she beat her boss into a coma) suddenly becomes a bounty hunter, complete with a warehouse full of disguises and a wheelchair-bound sidekick who acts as her criminologist. So abrupt is the change that we're told we'll learn how she found the disguises and sidekick in a later issue (unfortunately, said issue is outside the confines of the collection, if it exists.) Still later, and unfortunately after the collection ends, a new writer comes on board and Jessica ditches the sidekick and bounty hunter gig to become a private eye in San Francisco with Lindsay McCabe as her "room-mate". (Again, I have to put this in quotes. San Francisco, people. It's staring you right in the face.)
So, what can we take away from this dizzying blur of backgrounds, supporting casts, origins, and modus operandi? Only that every writer working on the title knew how important a status quo was to the character. Every one of them tried to establish more to the adventures of Jessica Drew, Spider-Woman, than "bad guy shows up, Spider-Woman hits it", giving her other elements of her life that could help to generate stories. But just as importantly, because there was so little to the fundamental concept of Spider-Woman, each writer felt free to try to establish their own status quo, and so many changes in so short a time definitely hurt the character's popularity. Indeed, Jessica Drew was basically a footnote to Marvel continuity for two decades, outside of a few appearances in Chris Claremont's mutant titles--he was the last writer to work on the series, and remained fond of her--and it's only within the last few years that she's been visible as Spider-Woman again.
Oh, and it shouldn't surprise anyone that the first thing new writer Brian Michael Bendis did was revise her origin.