After only briefly appearing in the two previous Ant-Man films, the original Wasp, Janet Van Dyne, will have a prominent role in the third film, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Once again, Michelle Pfeiffer will play the role of Janet. And by the looks of things, this third installment will finally give one of Marvel’s most important heroines a sizable role (pun fully intended). But what exactly made Janet one of the pillars of the Marvel Universe? It’s because her comic book counterpart was one of the most important Avengers of all time.
The Origins of “The Winsome Wasp”
Janet Van Dyne first appeared in 1963’s Tales to Astonish #44, less than a year after Ant-Man’s first appearance. The Ant-Man feature in Tales to Astonish never clicked with readers the way that Fantastic Four or Spider-Man did. Because of this, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby probably felt the need to inject a new element into the book. And it came in the form of a female partner for Ant-Man called the Wasp. A few months after her introduction, she and Ant-Man became founding members of the Avengers. In fact, Janet even gave the Avengers their name.
In her first appearance, Janet Van Dyne was a flighty, spoiled heiress. Her father was a well-respected researcher, who introduced her to Hank Pym, the moody scientist who was secretly the Ant-Man. When her father’s research led him to discover an alternate dimension, a creature from that world murdered him. Seeking revenge, she went to Dr. Pym for help. He gave her a version of his Pym Particles, as well as small antennae that would grow from her head when she shrunk, and wings. She also had hand pulses that functioned as “wasp stings.” Thus began Janet’s career as “the Winsome Wasp.”
Becoming a Key Member of the Avengers
From the get-go, the Wasp was the buoyant and fun partner to the always-serious Ant-Man. The Robin to his Batman, if you will. [Editor’s Note: We will.] Although she was a very fun character, she was stuck with many sexist tropes of early ‘60s comics. All, of course, were written entirely by men. Her only interests were convincing Hank to romance her, and designing new costumes. (Something Marvel creators would have fun with, with Wasp designing over 100 new costumes for herself.) Not that there’s anything wrong with fashion of course. But one can’t help but feel that Stan Lee couldn’t think of another interest for her that wasn’t stereotypically female-oriented.
Avengers membership gave Janet a whole new life. She wasn’t just good at being a superhero, she was great at it. Often better than her partner, Hank Pym. Unfortunately, her 1960s Avengers stories often came riddled with demeaning tropes. Almost every villain that Jan faced was a man obsessed with her beauty and who wished to kidnap her. In fact, she only finally married Hank when he took on the new, aggressive persona of Yellowjacket, and effectively kidnapped her too. But as the ‘60s turned into the ‘70s, Janet began to assert herself more.
The End of “Mr. and Mrs. Pym”
When Hank Pym first left the Avengers in the early ’70s, Jan dutifully followed him. But she didn’t want to just be an appendage while he did research in a remote installation. She wanted to have adventures with the Avengers. It wasn’t long before she came back to the team, and Hank followed suit. But Hank’s personal problems had taken a toll on his mental health, and in early 1981, an event happened that forever changed their dynamic.
In Avengers #213, writer Jim Shooter (also Marvel Comics EIC at the time) culminated a storyline where Hank Pym was at his most belligerent. Now a broken man after his own creation Ultron had possessed him, he lashed out at Janet, and was verbally abusive. A miscommunication between Shooter and artist Bob Hall led to more controversy. In a scene where Jan confronted a distraught Hank in his lab, he was supposed to throw his arm up in the air and accidentally hit her. But Hall drew it as if Hank intentionally struck his wife, knocking her to the ground. It was the moment that changed their dynamic forever.
Janet Van Dyne’s Character Renaissance
Because of this incident, the Avengers court-martialed Hank, and he left the team. But this time, the Wasp stayed on board. In the ‘80s, she went through a personal renaissance. She nominated herself as the leader of the Avengers, and after Captain America, she led the team more than any other member. Her coolness under fire and savvy strategic skills proved invaluable, much more so than Hank ever was. Instead of just designing new costumes for herself all the time, she became a professional fashion designer, going into business for herself on top of her Avengers duties.
Eventually, Jan and Hank reconciled. Marvel editorial retconned much of his abusive behavior, saying outside external influences caused it. However, the two never remarried. After what happened, Jan just flat-out refused. In fact, she dated other Avengers, like Iron Man and Hawkeye, although neither seriously. In the 2000s, she made a concerted effort to induct more women into the team, and served as co-leader with Captain America for a long time. Steve Rogers officially recognized Jan as someone just as capable as himself at leading the team.
The Lingering Mysteries Surrounding the MCU’s Janet Van Dyne
The MCU Jan’s superheroic past remains something of a mystery. We know she was the Wasp, but that her adventures with Hank were largely kept secret from the public. It seems her relationship with Hank was far more healthy than her comic book counterpart. Did she and Hank save the world together many times? Was Jan a fashion designer? Was Hank’s company funded by her family fortune? We really don’t know.
Another big difference was that Jan and Hank never had a daughter in the comics. Hope Van Dyne was a combination of their alternate future daughter Hope Pym, and Hank’s daughter from a previous marriage, Nadia. Eventually, Nadia changed her surname to Van Dyne, as Jan became a mother figure to her. But as Jan didn’t meet her until adulthood, the relationship was just very different from the one she had with Hope in the MCU.
How MCU Janet Can Emulate Marvel Comics Janet
However, the MCU may be taking a page from Janet’s more recent comics adventures. In the 2009 series Secret Invasion, Jan was presumed dead by her Avengers teammates. But instead, she shrunk down so small during a battle, she went into the Microverse. There, she led a rebellion against the Microverse’s despotic tyrant, Lord Gouzar. Eventually, she found a way to send a signal outside the Microverse, and her Avengers friends rescued her.
We may see a version of this play out in Quantumania. In an issue of Empire Magazine, writer Jeff Loveness said Janet was “a very, very well-known, very powerful freedom fighter in the Quantum Realm.” Sounds a lot like her more recent comics history, post-Secret Invasion. Hopefully, this third Ant-Man is not the end of the line for Jan as a character. The new Avengers, whoever they might be, need a leader. Why not Janet as the Wasp, who we now know had years of experience as a fighter?
Michelle Pfeiffer may be in her 60s, but we know she can pull it off. Pfeiffer is one of the greatest actresses of her generation, and it’s time to let her Jan be the superhero she was in the comics. When the Avengers go up against Kang in The Kang Dynasty, we can’t imagine anyone with as much stake in the game, or better suited to lead, than Janet Van Dyne.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania hits theaters on February 17.