clock menu more-arrow no yes
Michelle Pfeiffer as Janet van Dyne in Ant-Man and The Wasp
Michelle Pfeiffer as Janet van Dyne in Ant-Man and The Wasp.
Marvel Studios/Disney

Filed under:

The legacy of Janet van Dyne aka The Wasp, explained

Michelle Pfeiffer’s Ant-Man and The Wasp character is long overdue for an appearance

Michelle Pfeiffer’s Janet van Dyne is making her first full appearance in Ant-Man and The Wasp, the 20th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a late showing — but it seems even later when you know more about Janet van Dyne herself.

Created in 1963, she’s the second female superhero of Marvel’s 1960s-era wave of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby collaborations, and since then, she has spent more time as the leader of the Avengers than any other Marvel hero save Captain America himself. Here’s the vital comics history that Peyton Reed and crew are working with in Ant-Man and The Wasp.

The first Avenger

From Avengers #1, Marvel Comics (1963).
The Hulk, Ant-Man, the Wasp, Iron Man and Thor in the final panels of Avengers #1.
Stan Lee, Jack Kirby/Marvel Comics

Janet first appeared in Tales to Astonish, an anthology science fiction comic series that had started featuring a new kind of character in 1962. The lead in “The Man in the Ant Hill” was repurposed as a science-fueled superhero called Ant-Man, and in issue #44, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby finally gave Hank Pym an origin story — and a partner, the Wasp.

Janet’s superheroic motivation is a tale as old as time: Her scientist father was experimenting with gamma rays and accidentally unleashed a monstrous alien criminal who killed him.

... OK, so maybe it’s just the parental death thing that’s so familiar, but in any case: Just a few pages after her father’s death, Janet confesses to Hank Pym that she plans to spend the rest of her life waging war on all criminals, the “human wolves who prey on honest people.” And he’s ready for it.

Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne in Tales to Astonish #44, Marvel Comics (1963).
“I suppose you think I’m just a foolish female, but...”
Stan Lee, Jack Kirby/Marvel Comics

Hank uses his infamous Pym Particles to give Janet a number of abilities. Like him, she can shrink and grow in size, and communicate with insect life. But Janet gets a few bonuses on top of that. When in her diminutive size, she grows antennae and wasp wings that allow her to fly, and she can discharge electric bursts from her hands, her Wasp’s Sting. At first, all of these powers depended on a supply of Pym Particles, but over time, exposure to Pym Particles altered Janet’s biology until she could use her powers unaided.

Or at least, that’s the in-universe explanation for the logistical streamlining.

Together, Ant-Man and the Wasp were among the five founding members of the Avengers (yes, Captain America wasn’t introduced until Avengers #4). Janet even gave the group its name, as you can read above.

What is she known for?

Michelle Pfeiffer as Janet van Dyne in Ant-Man and The Wasp
Michelle Pfeiffer’s Janet van Dyne in Ant-Man and The Wasp.
Marvel Studios/Disney

Hank may be the scientist of the two, but Janet is every bit his equal. She’s a successful businesswoman and fashion designer, with a special interest in designing fashion-forward superhero wear — the Edna Mode of the Marvel Universe. Which explains why Michelle Pfeiffer is still rocking a solid look even after getting stuck in the quantum realm.

Van Dyne is also an accomplished leader of superheroes. Except for Captain America, she’s the person who has headed up the Avengers team for the longest period of time.

And naturally, she’s forever associated with Hank Pym, but their relationship is considerably more complicated in the comics. Mostly this is because Hank Pym is very different in the comics, as the Marvel Universe’s most famously unstable genius. Hank and Janet had a tumultuous courtship, during which Hank’s plot lines had him accidentally inventing the genocidal machine intelligence Ultron (yes, that Ultron) and developing chemical-induced “schizophrenia” that made him temporarily believe he was a supervillain who had killed Hank Pym.

The two married in 1969’s Avengers #60, and divorced in 1981’s Avengers #214, after Hank, while in the throes of another mental breakdown from his feelings of superheroic inadequacy, struck Janet across the face. But, this is comics, so it’s not as if they didn’t reconcile somewhat after Hank got his act back together — they’ve been romantically linked and/or “just friends” since then, but they’ve never remarried.

Textless variant cover of The Unstoppable Wasp #1, Marvel Comics (2017).
Nadia Pym, as the Wasp.
Elizabeth Torque/Marvel Comics

So wait, who is Hope van Dyne, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Wasp??

Hope van Dyne is a completely original creation for the MCU.

The MCU recasts Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne as belonging to an older generation of heroes than the Avengers — they were Cold War-era operatives who worked occasionally with SHIELD, until Janet sacrificed her life to save millions of people from nuclear catastrophe, and was thought lost in the quantum realm forever.

In the MCU, Hope is Hank and Janet’s daughter, following in her mother’s heroic footsteps. Her closest analogue in the main Marvel Comics universe is Nadia Pym, the secret daughter of Hank Pym and his first wife, Maria Trovaya, who he thought was dead. Nadia was introduced to comics about a year after 2015’s Ant-Man movie brought Hope to screens, and, with Janet’s agreement, shares the superheroic identity of the Wasp with her.