The world came crashing down on happy-go-lucky socialite Janet van Dyne when her scientist father was killed. Vowing revenge, she talked his genius colleague, Hank Pym, into sharing his ‘Pym particles,’ which give people the ability to grow or shrink. For good measure, he also added wings and fire blasts to her power roster, and together they started teaming up as Ant-Man and Wasp. It wasn’t long before their relationship grew romantic, even if they had a tendency to bicker.
Jan and Hank remained a couple for several years, during which they also became founding members of the Avengers. (In fact, Jan named the team.) But it wasn’t until after Hank had an accident with some chemicals, causing him to start developing different personalities, that they headed down the alter. This ended up not working out so great for her as his mental state grew more erratic. During the course of her breakdown, he was verbally and, on one occasion, physically abusive. Understandably, Jan divorced him, though they continued being a couple off an on after Hank stabilized. She also dated some of her hot teammates, like Tony Stark and Hawkeye. (Him again!)
During the recent Secret Invasion storyline, a Skrull posing as Hank injected her with some super-cool-fun growth hormones. Turns out this really turned her into a bomb of sorts, and she was on the verge of exploding and taking out civilians when Thor was forced to kill her. Everyone was sad.
In her honor, Hank took up the mantle of Wasp, except now he’s Giant-Man again. I guess he’s over her.
So What’s So Great About Her?
I’m hard pressed to think of a superhero, male or female, who’s more fun than Jan. From her powers to her friendly, flirtatious personality to her endless stream of costume changes (for an amazingly exhaustive list of her eight billion costumes, check out this site), Jan is just an exuberant force of nature. With every scan I looked at for this post, I found myself wondering whether I’d rather have a BFF just like her or be more like her myself. She’s magnetic.
What’s even more interesting is that she’s always been this way. In the 1960s, particularly under the legendary Lee-Kirby helm, women were mostly present to serve as both a domestic mother figure and a place to stick a thought bubble filled with tearful, secret pining for some dude. When they were actually heroes, they often joined the good fight through relatively passive means (i.e., Sue accidentally getting hit with cosmic rays, Jean just being born a mutant, etc.).
Not so with Jan! She actively wanted to be a hero…or, she wanted to avenge her father with superpowers, and heroics came as a side dish. Either way, it was something she knowingly courted. And while her early comics with Hank are filled with typical romantic hemming and hawing, Jan often muses about her feelings for him right in front of him. Screw you, thought bubbles! And when he ignores her, Jan has zero problems flirting with any warm man-body to make him jealous—and to have a little fun.
Speaking of Hank, for someone with the reputation for having one of the worst relationships in comics, Jan is actually a rare woman in comics who doesn’t have terrible taste in men. While he might have been a squoosh old for her and maybe a little staid at times, Hank was actually a pretty good guy at first. It just so happened that he lost his mind. None of the abuse happened before his accident, and the one time he hit her, he was particularly lacking in lucidity. Which is not me trying to say that this makes it totally okay that he abused her—not at all. But if it’s not clear that there were mitigating circumstances to the abuse, it makes the fact that she got back together with him down the road sort of horrible.
In any case, Jan is beautiful, vibrant, and strong, and provides an enduring legacy to the Marvel Universe. So, naturally, she was killed off, and despite a recent tease at a resurrection, she remains dead. Shortly after her death in the main Marvel U, her Ultimate version was also murdered. When you do a Google Image search for ‘Janet van Dyne,’ the first result that pops up is a full-page illustration from Ultimatum graphically depicting her corpse being eaten by the Blob.
That pretty much sums up almost everything I hate about comics these days.
Tales to Astonish #44-69
The Avengers #1-75
Marvel Feature #6-10
The Avengers #137-278
Marvel Team-Up #59-60
West Coast Avengers #32-69
Solo Avengers #15
The Avengers (vol. 3) #1-84
The Avengers #500-503
Mighty Avengers #1-20
Secret Invasion #1-8
Incredible Hercules #129