A founding member of the Avengers, the Wasp has often been discounted on account of her rather silly and unimpressive power to shrink to a barely dangerous insect. However, looked at under a new light, she is one of the more memorable and unhailed great characters of Marvel Comics. She is also one of the only casualties of the Secret Skrull Invasion this past year and her absence will create ripples for years to come in the ranks of the Avengers. While many readers predicted that this past year’s crossover would result in a uniform Avengers team rather than two opposing forces and that has still not occurred, it is certain that whenever the Avengers do manage to get back together, the lack of her presence will be felt.
Introduced in the pages of Ant Man’s Tales to Astonish series, she was experimented on by Hank Pym who implanted adaptive cells in her body. These cells altered when she shrank, developing into small wings and antennae, making her a man-made mutant! Hank clearly had issues even then. The Wasp often played the air-headed ‘I want to go shopping’ role, but it was clear even back in the early days of the Avengers that it was all an act to get Hank’s attention. As the Avengers grew in numbers, so did her role in the team. She returned from time to time and stood by Hank Pym as he changed to Giant Man, Goliath and eventually the unstable Yellow Jacket. It was during this latter persona’s control over Pym’s psyche that the scientist finally broke down and attacked his teammates and even Janet herself, creating a break that never quite healed.
In the late 1980′s it was a surprise to many to see the Wasp acting as chairperson to the Avengers. Presiding over one of the rockier moments in the team’s long history, she even went toe-to-toe with Hercules who had no difficulty in showing his chauvinistic tendencies. A tough yet intelligent and compassionate character, Janet Van Dyne was also drawn as hands down one of the sexiest super heroines in comics. The artistic stylings of veteran Marvel Bullpenners John Buscema and Tom Palmer left an impressive mark upon the Wasp’s identity and I still look upon their version as definitive.
Janet Van Dyne’s death as part of the Secret Skrull Invasion was no doubt a ploy to unhinge the Earth’s heroes and strike at their heart. It has already had a large impact on the Marvel Universe as Hank Pym, still struggling with his identity, has implanted the same cells that he placed in Janet’s body many years back into himself and now calls himself the Wasp in her honor.
Like I said, the man has issues.
At a time where many characters are being killed off and forgotten, it’s important to remember the role that these creations served. As a character that lasted from the mid-1960′s to today, she is also a touchstone of the comic book and its relationship to female characters. It’s no secret that Stan Lee wrote most females the same, but he took the time to state that the Wasp was putting on an act to get a rise out of the man she loved. That has to account for something. Sure, her powers were silly, but she was a vital part of the Avengers team dynamic and at times the glue that held it together.