What About The Wasp?

Ant-Man is going to be filming soon. The choice of Michael Douglas to play a probably-retired Hank Pym was controversial enough, but what do you do with a problem like Janet Van Dyne?

Marvel has clearly given Edgar Wright a long leash on his adaptation of Ant-Man and his supporting cast. Personally, I think what they've announced has been a fresh take on what could otherwise an underwhelming franchise, and I say this as a big fan of Hank Pym and the “Pym Family” in the comics. Embracing Ant-Man as a legacy character is a great way to capitalize on what makes Pym and Scott Lang interesting and unique with minimal screen time. The casting of Paul Rudd even suggests there may be shades of the Irredeemable Eric O'Grady in his performance. But where does this leave the Wasp? We've already heard rumors of Rashida Jones being considered, but no one knows how she'll fit into the story at all.

Tales to Underwhelm

Janet Van Dyne's Wasp was introduced to Hank Pym's Ant-Man in Tales to Astonish #44 as the daughter of Pym's partner in science. In essence, she's a spoiled heiress who is given superpowers by her boyfriend. Most of her early adventures consist of being Ant-Man's sexy sidekick and “the girl” on the Avengers, primarily concerning herself with the fashion of her costume and the more superficial side of super-adventuring. Over the years, she certainly grew into a more grounded and relatable character, but like so many of the less iconic Silver Agers, she lacked a singular emotionally-resonant moment that defined her as a hero. At least, until she got one...

Let's Just Talk About “It”

Everyone who knows anything about Hank Pym knows about this panel. It is, unfortunately, the defining moment for him as a fictional character, but it has also become the defining moment for Janet, as well. Even decades later, years after the couple had separated, writers of the comics continued to fixate on Janet as a battered wife (sometimes as a helpless victim to be pitied, other times as a sympathetic divorcee trying to move on with her life, and still others as an embittered ex who blew the whole thing out of proportion). Regardless of the writer's approach, Janet's reaction to this moment was her most central defining quality... and that's all a bit heavy for the generally lighthearted tone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Time for a Fresh Start?

It's all a bit hazy right now what, if any, role Janet will play in Edgar Wright's film. She may still be the daughter of Hank's fellow researcher, turned girlfriend and wife, even if she is 30 years younger than him. Or she could skip a generation and be Scott Lang's love interest instead. Or both. She may begin the movie as the Wasp or never put on a costume. But if we're going shake up the canon of Ant-Man for the movies, why does she have to be shoehorned into any of these things at all?

If Hank Pym has been active since the 1970's as Ant-Man, then it wouldn't be at all surprising for S.H.I.E.L.D. to have developed their own applications for Pym Particles in the meantime (just as they have done in various incarnations in the comics). Is it really that much of a stretch to imagine Wasp as Agent Janet Van Dyne, Infiltration Specialist?

It doesn't mean her personality has to be changed, anyway. She can still be the superficial daughter of Pym's lab partner without being wedded (literally or figuratively) to Pym himself. S.H.I.E.L.D. agents can come in all flavors, and it might be nice to see someone a little less stoic on the job. Moreover, by gaining her powers through S.H.I.E.L.D., she would no longer be “just Ant-Man's girlfriend”, but a hero in her own right. Worthy of joining the Avengers on her own terms, like the cinematic versions of Hawkeye or Falcon or Black Widow. Plus, putting narrative distance between her and Hank Pym undermines the audience expectation that at some point she's going to be involved in some form of domestic abuse.

I loved Hank and Janet's characters and relationship in the recent Earth's Mightiest Heroes series, but no matter how good it seemed, they couldn't escape that sense of foreboding. As soon as Hank showed the slightest signs of being unhinged, my thoughts turned to how bad it could get...

...and that's not really a good place to be. Thank you for reading and I want to know what you think about this. Is Wasp being a S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent a bridge too far? How much should comicbook canon affect decisions about the MCU, and should movie-makers go out of their way to avoid this particularly troubling aspects of these characters' history?

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