Favorite Female Characters in Literature # 19: Janet van Dyne / Wasp

Favorite Female Characters from Literature # 19: Janet van Dyne. The Wasp. The Unfortunate One.

Janet ranks high on my list for two main reasons. First of all, I find her a very engaging character. A woman who's full of life and laughter and... maybe it's because of her size-changing abilities... but I think she has a unique perspective in life. She sees the whole picture, rather than just her immediate world. And... the second reason Janet ranks so high... I pity her. I really do. And I pity the readers who (like me) love her, and who have to sit by while bucket after bucket of shit is poured on her head. The above image is how I like it... with Janet and Hank Pym together, and none of that bullshit wife-beaiting crap going on. That wasn't in Hank's character to have happen. And it wasn't in Janet's character to let happen. It was just loose and sloppy writing... with a toss-in "adult" theme taking the place of any actual characterization. Sad, lowbrow, shock value writing.

Oh Janet, if only you'd known how "uneven" the writers would be on your characters over the years, you might just have stayed there in that hole.Â

I enjoy the early days of their relationship, when Hank was madly in love with Janet, but just couldn't bring himself to admit it. And Janet was madly in love with Hank, and was ALWAYS admitting it, and often doing her best to make Hank jealous in the hopes that HE would finally admit. They were like Nick and Nora Charles, except with more super-powers, less booze, and no dog.

And right from the beginning, the Wasp was a force to be reckoned with. She was flightly, sure, but she had a purpose and she WENT for it. She was a front-lines type of gal, and she's always been that way.

Hell, we're talking about a founding member of the Avengers. Can't get much more front line than that. Here, of course, we see her in one of her ten thousand "flying towards the viewer in the immediate foreground" group shots.

Here's her very 1st appearance, and on the cover it's Janet saving Hank. That's her character. And, apparently, it was Hank's character to appear like a fainting Shakespearian.

Another thing I like about the Wasp is her love of clothes… the “fashion designer” aspect of her personality… even though it often does have a tendency to show off that her artists actually aren’t very good fashion designers. The important thing, though, is that she has a life OUTSIDE her superhero job AND outside the man she loves, which is where so many female characters fail. There are two aspects to most female characters… the main plot and the love interest. Janet has the third. In honor of that, let’s take a look at some of her many many costumes over the years.

Yeah. Here we go. As you can see, Janet has been all over the map, fashion-wise. From pantsuits to short shorts, from bellbottoms and bare midriffs and "spy" looks and "cheerleader" or "sexy stewardess" themes and... oh. Wait a second. Do I see a hand up? Does somebody have a question? Why did I put so many tombstones in this image? Well, that's simple. BECAUSE IDIOTIC WRITERS KEEP KILLING THE WASP. She's freakin' ALWAYS dying. Seriously, Janet has the problem of being "easy" to kill off. She doesn't have enough name value to protect herself, but she has enough name value that her death has shock value. So... this poor woman can't put on her shoes without finding out they contain thermonuclear scorpions, and she can't wave hello to Hank without him putting her in a fridge, and she can't take a step outside without fear of being EATEN, and she can't take a breath without fearing she'll attract the notice of some writer / editor team, who will immediately feed her to bloodthirsty Aryan dolphins.

Ehh? Yeah. I die a lot. Whaddya gonna do about it?

CHEESECAKE BREAK. Thought I might be getting a little preachy and rant-y, so here's Janet in a swimsuit.Â

In the early days of Marvel Comics Janet, like most other female characters, had eerie "woman" powers. I like to think of all the Marvel writers of the time (Stan?) completely confused over this whole "female" thing. I mean... women's intuition? What's up with that? Can they levitate, too? I'm coming to grips with the whole "no penis" thing, but... do girls really bleed once a month when Satan rides by in his magic wheelbarrow? Is that true?Â

A classic view of the Wasp, by Dick Ayers, one of her first artists.

Truer words were never spoken.

And now, in closing… let’s bring in the lady herself, with a personal message from the Wasp!

Hi! It's me! Janet van Dyne. I just wanted to say that I hope you enjoyed this blog post, because Paul says that if this blog doesn't get 10,000 hits, I'll probably bite a bullet in the next one.

W... what? She's kidding, folks! I'd never do that! (whew! I hope they bought it. Hmmm. Only 4,000 hits so far. Doesn't look good for the Wasp. Maybe I'll have Hawkeye go on a binge and shoot her in the back with.... AWW CRAP! Is this microphone still on?!!! Damn! Damn! Damn!)


#25: Scarlet Witch

#24: Chance Falconer

#23: Vampirella

#22: Tigra

#21: Jean Grey

#20: Kitty Pryde

#19: Janet van Dyne


I’ve been thinking about women, lately. Women characters in comics. Women creators in comics. Female characters in literature. And pretty girls riding around on bicycles or walking along the sidewalk, etc, etc. Because of this, I’ve decided to make An Entirely Useless List. Why is it entirely useless? Because it’s my top 25 female characters from comics and literature, and such lists change at whim and at a breakneck pace. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to quantify favorites… the term favorite is far too malleable. A list of my best friends from high school, for instance, would not include anyone with whom I’m currently in contact. Times change. Still… I’m making the list. Why? I suppose I just like thinking about women.


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3 Responses to Favorite Female Characters in Literature # 19: Janet van Dyne / Wasp

  1. She’s also a great character with unambiguous powers that don’t eclipse her personality. She shrinks to the size of an insect, she maintains her human strength even when tiny, and she can zap things with a bioelectric sting. Everything else she brings to a story (or a fight) comes from her personality and her resolve. She doesn’t “need” to be able to disarm all of the heavies by turning their weapons into rose petals, or “summoning the powers of any terrestrial insect”; she’ll fight, and contribute, and work as part of the team.

    Compare to Emma Frost or the Invisible Woman or Wolverine or Magneto or (take your pick). They started off simple but now it’s hard to define what they _can’t_ do.

    It feels like the result when a writer doesn’t have a handle on the character and out of desperation is mistaking “more powerful” for “more interesting.”

    “Captain Silica has the power to make damp things slightly drier. Hmm. So that means that maybe he’s turning the water into vapor, which means…HE CAN CONTROL ALL WEATHER!!! No, I’m thinking too small: instead, he’s breaking the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen atoms…OMG, HE CAN CONTROL ALL MATTER ON AN ATOMIC LEVEL!!! HE’S LIKE ***GALACTUS!!!***”

    Even Reed Richards! Did a writer _really_ once have him “stretch his brain” so he could solve an otherwise impossible problem? Oy.

  2. Paul Tobin

    Oh wow. I did not know about that story of Reed stretching his brain. That’s almost so corny that it’s genius. Almost.

    And… on the topic of Wolverine, the “upping” of his powers has really bugged me. I’m speaking primarily of his healing ability. It was nice when it was, “you can beat this guy up, but he’ll be ready for the next fight” but I’m not sure where the story tension comes from when his healing ability means you can reduce him to nothing but a shred of flesh, and he’ll just reform. Where’s the drama / danger, then? Crap writing.

  3. Darn right. A character is defined by the answer to the question “What’s he willing to risk to get what he wants?” Wolverine risks…nothing. He walks into every situation knowing that the only attack that can even so much as inconvenience him is…disintegration? Disintegration in front of an enormous high-speed fan, to make sure that no more than 31% of his molecules wind up still in contact with each other.

    As I recall, Writers went through a couple of stages with that. Wolverine stabbing himself through the chest with a katana to kill the man behind him was (yes, I’ll use this word) badass. Because at the time, his healing factor was so understated that he knew that he only might survive it, and even if he did, he’d be incapacitated for weeks. He’s still putting something on the line.

    I liked Dan Slott’s take on “She-Hulk” overall, but he, too wound up giving her Crazy Stupid Healing. Instantly made her wayyy less interesting. She’s already nigh-invulnerable…now, if she confronts a threat that can actually damage her, it doesn’t matter? Oh, dear.

    In comics, movies, novels, whatever — the weakest sauce is the result of a writer who keeps looking for ways to avoid making a character deal with stuff. Right now I’m thinking of that great scene from “The Abyss” where Bud and Linsey have to solve the problem of a crippled minisub that’s slowly flooding, a place of safety that’s too way far away to swim to without a source of air, and a diving suit that can only supply air to one person. Why would a writer want to avoid an answer that requires risk and sacrifice to the characters?

    The writer who actually likes Wolverine’s healing factor is the one who would have ended that scene by having Bud hotwire the sub’s power system to overload, explode, and send the sub rocketing towards safety on the shockwave. Weak sauce!

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