Your Feminist Avengers Post 2: The Wasp

You gotta give Stan Lee credit for his progressive feminist writing. /sarcasm

Okay, so the Wasp did not have the most auspicious of beginnings. She was the socialite girlfriend of scientist Hank Pym, and the two of them were imported into the Avengers as a unit. Without Hank, you don’t really have an entry point for Jan.

However, like any good scientist boyfriend, Hank decided that what every rich girl wants is her own flying suit, shrinking ability, and wasp stingers. A lot of guys would just buy jewelry, but Jan became the Wasp. Let’s take a look at that early incarnation, shall we?

I don’t care what you might think. Antennae are cool.

Two things to know about Janet Van Dyne: she’s loaded with money, and she loves Hank Pym. Like many of the early Marvel women, she emerges from a comic book stereotype and token to a rounded character. I always thought that early versions of her seem like a team mascot, her focus being to have fun and hang out with Hank. Regrettably, Avengers Assemble seems to turn the clock back to this portrayal, albeit she stays on the team while Hank grapples with his issues regarding super hero violence. Here she is, looking perky in that cartoon.

Jan’s money allowed her to constantly change her costume, which I really appreciate as an ex-costumer, and someone who is into fashion. Sometimes her choices have not been the best, but her choices have always been dynamic.

Some of these choices are obviously better than others.

Then Hank hit Jan.

Janet Van Dyne became the first battered wife in comics in a major role. Hank’s Yellow Jacket persona drove him mad, but there was no coming back from this. Jan and Hank divorced. Jan subsequently became a more sober version of herself than her previous incarnation, even serving for some time as the Avenger’s leader.

Since the time I read comics, Jan has been killed in an epic Skrull space story. She has shown up as a ghost, and she now firmly a piece of the Avenger’s past. Her story arc has been constant development toward a psychologically stable woman capable of leadership.

Our next subject, the Scarlet Witch, has been portrayed all over the place.

Until next time,

Excelsior!

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

4 thoughts on “Your Feminist Avengers Post 2: The Wasp”

  1. Yes, the Wasp was one of the comparatively few characters who did indeed have a steady development from her embarassingly cliched beginnings into a mature, sensible and dedicated superheroine (though one who still had a sense of the sheer fun that comes with having superpowers).

    I do wonder if that’s why she was killed off. I stopped reading comics in the mid-90s when continuity was largely tossed aside in favour of constant reimaginings (and the concomitant chance to produce as many issue 1s of everything as possible); since then I’ve only been a mildly interested observer of Marvel and DC, but nothing I’ve seen them do has wooed me back in any way. Reboot after reboot, yet at the same time trying to retain the sense of history of thee characters, shows a disturbing lack of understanding of what much of their audience actually want. It makes more sense in films (though it can still be annoying) because they are so much more integral unto themselves, but in comics it never worked for me. Let’s face it, I can remember when it was the Korean War where Tony Stark was injured. Then it changed to Vietnam, now it’s Afghanistan. Sure, there are good reasons for making those changes (otherwise Tony Stark is an old, old man), it’s just the way they try and make those changes that annoys me.

    But I’m getting off topic. Yes, Janet van Dyne. A long-time stalwart of the Avengers – she was right there in issue 1. She was still there in issue 200. Yes, like all members, she’d been in and out of the team but she always came back – and usually did so voluntarily (indeed, more than once it was shown that she was secretly keener than Hank was to get back to being involved). She changed costume more than any other character at Marvel – some costumes lasted no mroe than one or two issues – which always struck me as thoroughly believable. Since her primary power was shrinking to the size of an insect, her costume didn’t really matter in terms of, say, field identification (sometimes retconned as the reason for garish costumes among team members), so why not wear, y’know, MORE THAN ONE OUTFIT? Perfectly reasonable behaviour.

    But now she’s dead. Sure, for many characters in comics, death is a temprary state, but for some reason there seems to be a real reluctance at Marvel to countenance the return of the Wasp. I’d like to know why that is. Is there really a feeling that, as a mature, intelligent woman, she is somehow just no longer interesting? Cos, y’know, the reverse should be the case.

  2. I don’t much mind Wasp’s portrayal in the cartoon because she fills the quippy Spider-Man type role that every team seems to need. Of course, Spider-Main gets to be a quippy scientist, while Wasp is a quippy… what? We don’t really know much about her in the cartoon :-/

  3. Do you remember when Nick Fury was a Howlin’ Commando in WW2? I’m with you on the time dialation.

    I think that you might be onto something regarding the Wasp being out of style. She is not an anti-hero. She enjoyed her job. She was “heroic.” Perhaps the success of The Avengers’ film may herald in a new “heroic is cool” error in comics, and a character like the Wasp could return.

  4. Stan may have intended her as an airheaded debutante, but I did like that at least one member of the team was not either a genius-level scientist or a brooding martyr (or both!). She ultimately presided over what I believe is the only era featuring a majority of female Avengers, so she did have the last laugh. I agree that Marvel has become a lot less interesting since throwing continuity out the window, which was around the time she “died.” Maybe she was spared a worse fate.

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