Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Good Thing In A Small Package

The "luck of the draw" arguably applied to Janet Van Dyne, the Wasp, when she became a charter member of the Avengers. In a way, you might even say the same for Ant Man. At the time, I would have been hard pressed to identify any abilities or character traits that would have qualified them for Avengers membership. Ant Man, at least, brought scientific resources and a sense of teamwork to the table--though it bears noting that his identity of Ant Man was short-lived, almost immediately dropped in favor of a more imposing presence as Giant-Man and, later, Goliath. At any rate, there were no existing requirements or procedures for membership when Henry Pym proposed they start a team, so anyone in that first grouping was automatically in.

Giant-Man proved to be redundant in terms of strength, with both Thor and Iron Man on the team. And the Wasp? It was generally felt that the Wasp came along for the ride, as far as being an Avenger was concerned. She had no great pride in being a member; in fact, when the original members disbanded, she was all too happy to jump ship. And aside from being a buzzing distraction, she had no real value as an Avenger aside from her "wasp's sting"--a mechanical device strapped to her wrist that fired compressed air. Yes, you read that correctly--compressed air. Better watch out for the Wasp, you villains. Much later, in an issue of Marvel Team-Up, Pym gave her the ability to harness her "bio-electric energy" to fire actual bolts as stings--giving himself the same ability as Yellowjacket, by vibrating the "wings" on his costume. But for sheer power, the Wasp still wasn't up there as Avengers material. Bolts of bio-energy or not, if you see what amounts to a speck firing them, you're still not going to be very impressed with the character.

To me, the Wasp has always been far more interesting as Janet Van Dyne, for any number of reasons. Maybe because her presence went hand-in-hand with Pym's, making the two of them more interesting together than they would have been separately. Neither of them really perked up in my eyes until Pym's identity crisis manifested in his first appearance as Yellowjacket--"accident-induced," as the Wasp was quick to point out. And later, when they separated after Pym's abuse of her, both of them became much more interesting--but the Wasp in particular, having to stand out on her own in the group for the first time without Pym taking the lead. Her confidence and assertiveness began to increase, and struck a delightful balance with her "flightiness" that had always been a part of her. She became a more valuable team member, a more engaged one--she grew into her Avengers membership.

Yet various writers still tried to give her more abilities. Other than turning her into a human/wasp hybrid during the abysmal "Crossing" story, I can think of no more pointless alteration than this one:

This "upgrade" by writer Roger Stern lasted a little longer than the Scarlet Witch's power of flight, but it didn't take long to prove to be a near-worthless ability. For one thing, the only thing really impressive about it was the science of it. And the worst thing about it? She became less powerful. When the Wasp grew to this size, she couldn't fly as fast; and when she shrunk to her normal Wasp size, she found that she was not only faster but stronger. And did it ever occur to Jan that when she went into battle at this larger size, she would be a bigger target?

After the Wasp was eventually phased out of the Avengers during Captain Marvel's leadership period, this new ability was mercifully forgotten about by future writers. Perhaps Stern's thinking was that it would enhance her leadership role if she looked the part, particularly when going into battle. I suppose the Avengers charging forward and shouting "Avengers Assemble!" while its leader can barely be seen in the panel with them seemed a little off. But maybe this was one time when the Wasp didn't need lab assistance to be a more valuable character--she got there all by herself.


Doug said...

Thanks -- just what we needed today! I appreciate the link!


dbutler16 said...

Sure Janet had a qualifying characteristic to join the Avengers - token female.

Nice write-up on one of my favorite Avengers, and her more than humble beginnings. I doubt too many superheroes have evolved as much as she has - from flighty and disinterested into a very capable leader of Earth's Mightiest Heroes! Interesting how early on, she was all too glad to leave the Avengers, but later, it was she who wanted to re-join the Avengers and Hank who was reluctant.

Comicsfan said...

That's a good observation about her turnabout regarding her Avengers membership. Jan reminds me a lot of Sue Storm--neither had being a heroine in mind, and both really stuck it out in order to stay close to the men they were interested in. Eventually, the role became a comfortable (and workable) one for each of them.