Monday, February 20, 2006

Profile: The Wasp

Janet Van Dyne, The Wasp
First appearance: Tales to Astonish #44

Current status: last time I checked, on leave from the Avengers

Was subjected to the following acts of discrimination: in 1977, in “Bride of Ultron!” written by Jim Shooter, during the time he’d become EIC at Marvel, she was strapped naked (not in direct view, but you get the idea) on an operating table where Ultron hoped to trick Dr. Henry (Hank) Pym, then her husband for a decade and a half, into draining out her brain for the purpose of giving life to Jocasta, whom he wanted to make his robotic bride (the plot was foiled, Jan was saved, and Jocasta became her own, er...machine). In the Avengers Annual from 1978, she was possessed by a diamond containing the essence of Doctor Spectrum, in another story also written by Shooter, then, in 1981, there came that now notorious storyline in which, struck her down during an argument over his intention of using a robot with a secret weak point to regain his credibility with the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (should I note that she was in her nightgown when they were having a spat, even if it was in the home laboratory?). Hank struck her again a few issues later, and that led to her beating the crap out of him, and their divorce. (Note: this may have been the result of some of Hank’s Frankenstein creation, Ultron’s, mental manipulations of his creator’s brain, but even so, it was still very overwrought.) In 1990, in West Coast Avengers, when John Byrne was the writer, her talents were trivialized as she was made to look like little more than window dressing.

What’s wrong with how this was done? Simply put, the smacking Hank gave to Jan was forced, much more so than the first issue in The Kree-Skrull War storyline in 1971, when Hank was hypnotized into knocking her senseless and sending her back to their research boat, out of range of Ronan’s menace. It’s known that Jim Shooter, at the time he was both writing and editing titles like Avengers in his early days as EIC of Marvel, had apparently manipulated some of the scriptwriting during the time that David Michelinie was working on the title, and it appears that this too was the result of Shooter’s own meddling. Though Shooter made an even better editor than he did a writer years ago, this was incredibly awkward. Things did improve the year after, during which time Michelinie helped set the tongue-in-cheek direction the She-Hulk is usually known for today, but what led to the Wasp’s and Yellowjacket’s breakup has still stuck in some ways, disturbingly enough, mainly because of how bad writing efforts have allowed it to boomerang in reminiscience, if not in brand new depictions.

Did anything good come out of this? Well, It’d probably be more appropriate to say after, but anyway, during the time that Roger Stern took over the writing, that’s when Janet Van Dyne really came into her own as a character, and not only that, Stern as a writer treated her with much more respect than some other writers of yore did. And Kurt Busiek handled a discussion about that past storyline Jan was having with Scarlet Witch with sincerity (in Ultron Unlimited, 1999). But that still doesn’t excuse what was basically an overwrought storyline to begin with, and which, even if Jan and Hank have come back together in past years and reconciled, was still totally uncalled for.

And, most unfortunately, John Byrne made a mess out of what Stern was trying to build so carefully during the time he was writing West Coast Avengers (which, IIRC, was also the time when Jan and Hank began to reconcile), and Chuck Austen and even Brian Bendis were no better when they began insulting the intellect by either undoing or embarrassing what writers of yore were trying so hard to fix in the past two years.

And that’s something that people in the comics medium are going to have cut out.

See also this article by Albe Shiloh.

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