An Examination of the Relationship Between the Marvel Comics Characters Hank Pym (Ant-Man/Giant-Man/Goliath/Yellowjacket/Dr. Pym) and Janet Van Dyne (the Wasp)

The recent thread that got into a lengthy discussion of the Hank/Jan relationship in this newsgroup has got me thinking, so I thought I'd post my thoughts on the subject.

The breakup of this marriage, while awful in the short term for her, was probably the best thing that ever happened to Janet Van Dyne.

Prior to Avengers #213 [and subsequent issues where Hank had a nervous breakdown, hit Jan, and created a robot intended to destroy the Avengers that he would save them from, except he screwed that up and Jan wound up saving everyone instead; they divorced shortly thereafter], Jan's sole function in life was to be Hank's accessory. She joined the Avengers and left the Avengers when he did. He gave her her powers, he improved them over time. But she rarely had any kind of assertiveness, except when it came to shopping.

Oddly, though, despite the appearance of her as the flighty one and him as the traditional strong male super hero, it was actually the other way 'round. She never had any kind of feelings of inadequacy, and she was pretty even-tempered and comported herself quite well as an Avenger (she was less likely to play "girl hostage" than, say, Susan Storm was in the old days). Her husband, on the other hand, went through costumed identities the way some go through underwear. His greatest scientific creation became the Avengers' greatest, and most implacable foe: Ultron. And he was always second-rate. As a strongman, he was always one step below Thor and Iron Man and Hercules; as a scientist he was never quite at the Reed Richards/Tony Stark/Bruce Banner level. Even he admitted that Scott Lang was a better Ant-Man than he.

Despite this, the two were joined at the hip right up until he had a nervous breakdown and hit her for absolutely no reason.

They broke up. She became chair of the Avengers. And y'know, I would argue loudly and at great length that the only other Avengers chair in the team's history who even held a candle to her was Captain America. She led the team through some major crises, handled herself magnificently, and forged her own identity completely separate from that of her husband. She even, with the help of Dane Whitman [aka the Black Knight], radically increased the scope of her flying abilities.

Honestly, it was the best thing to happen to Henry Pym, too. In the short term, it was not good for him, either, what with being framed by Egghead and all, but he came out of it aware of his problems, and he overcame them, forging his own identity in "Dr. Pym."

Sadly, that has been partly, if not completely, undone. The Wasp who appeared in the abysmal John Byrne run of Avengers West Coast bore no resemblance to the woman who led the Avengers on missions to Skrull space and against the Masters of Evil. [Byrne didn't do well by any of the characters, in fact. His Hawkeye was an obnoxious jerk, ignoring the previous six years of character development; his Tigra and Scarlet Witch were unrecognizable; and he destroyed the Vision/Scarlet Witch marriage -- one of the best in comics -- for no compellingly good reason.] The Hank Pym -- who miraculously could use his growing formula again -- who appeared as Giant-Man in the Bob Harras run of Avengers certainly didn't act like a Henry Pym who'd changed over the years. Both characters have regressed back to where they were fifteen, twenty, thirty years ago.

Henry Pym's breakdown came when Jim Shooter took a look at the character's history and saw a pattern. He then used that pattern to move the character forward, and also to give his wife a chance to change and grow (Shooter's fondness for the new, improved Wasp took on ridiculous proportions in the Secret Wars miniseries, when she improbably took on the entire X-Men team and won). It's the same thing Peter David did when he looked at the Hulk's history and saw an MPD, allowing him to move the character of the Hulk forward. Roger Stern and Steve Englehart picked up the ball with Janet and Hank, respectively.

I sincerely hope that [new Avengers writer] Kurt Busiek will follow the examples of Shooter, Stern, and Englehart, and ignore the ridiculous, unconvincing, and offensive backpedaling of Byrne and Harras. To have them go back to being the big strong hero and the flighty socialite would be a travesty, as grave an insult to some really good stories as the "resurrection" of Jean Grey was to Uncanny X-Men #137 [where Jean Grey was killed in one of the best-chronicled deaths of a character in comics history, undone by a later travesty]. Marvel Comics have endured for thirty-five years because the characters are ones we care about -- and that's because they change and grow and learn.

Anyhow, those are my thoughts. Thanks to Jeanne Burch and Sean McQuaid for their valuable input.

[First posted on rec.arts.comics.marvel.universe on 8 December 1997.]

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