Thursday, January 19, 2017

Character Interlude - The Wasp

Those of you who have read my first couple of episodes may remember that one of my biggest thrills as a very young child "collecting" comic books was discovering characters who existed outside of the few superhero television shows of the time. Keep in mind this was the very late 70's and very early 80's. In a time when there weren't cable networks dedicated to around the clock attention-span-deficient children's programming and a store that specifically sold comics in every town, these options were few, especially when it came to Marvel characters.

When I got my first opportunity to pick up an issue of Avengers, then, I jumped on it. The issue in question was Avengers #222, picked up from the newsstand in 1982. The story within was a fill-in one-and-done by guest writer Steven Grant and guest penciler Greg Larocque. It revolves around a short handed team of Avengers fighting a conveniently small and short lived Masters of Evil team. From the Masters I knew the Scorpion from the 60's Spider-Man cartoon, and I at least knew of Moonstone from the metal Marvel lunchbox that every kid but me had (Karla was my first villain girl crush, by the way). In this issue I was introduced to Whirlwind, Tiger Shark (one of my favorite villains to this day, due to my open and unabashed terror of sharks), and the "mastermind" of the group, Egghead.

As far as the Avengers themselves active in this issue I knew Thor from one of the few Mego dolls I owned as a kid, Hawkeye from that same metal lunch box, and She-Hulk from ads in other comics. The fourth member getting into the action in this issue was one I'd never seen before. She was a young woman in a striking, asymmetrical blue and white costume who could shrink, grow insect wings, and shoot little energy blasts from her hands. What's more, she was the leader of the team (being naturally rebellious and growing up in a VERY conservative Midwestern family this was a huge deal for me and a big plus). She was, of course, Janet Van Dyne, the original Wasp.

As much as I enjoyed my first encounter with the character (my seven year old self didn't know why I liked that costume that hung off one shoulder and showed a whole lot of one leg, but like it I did), it would be a few years before I'd grow a significant appreciation for her. That happened in 1985 when Roger Stern and John Buscema began their epic run on Avengers together. Though Janet had been the Avengers leader for a few years but this time, Stern really emphasized her capabilities during this phase of his tenure, both in term of her powers and physical skill, but also, and especially, as the Avengers chairperson and tactical leader. Buscema also drew her as being as serious fitness enthusiast, rather than just being trim and pretty.

(I have a theory that this enhanced characterization of the Wasp, which started very shortly after the original Secret Wars, may have come as a response to Jim Shooter's portrayal of the character during that mini-series, where she was drawn in a frumpy green and purple jumpsuit with a bad perm, acquiesced leadership to Captain America almost submissively, and was dead for a while. Again, just a theory).

During this amazing era of the Avengers, Janet led the team against Terminus, Kang, the Beyonder, and the Masters of Evil in the classic "Seige on Avengers Mansion" story arc. As impressive as this is, however, it's nothing in comparison to her leadership of an ad hoc team of Avengers during the Destiny War. Brought together by a cosmically empowered Rick Jones in the pages of Avengers Forever (I really cannot praise Kurt Busiek's work on the Avengers enough), this team formed an uneasy alliance with Kang the Conqueror to protect their entire temporal reality. The Wasp's role in leading this group was so crucial, in fact, that the Captain America that was subconsciously chosen by Jones to be a part of it was pulled from a time when his confidence was at his lowest to ensure that he would follow her lead.

In more recent times, Janet was a vital member of the first Avengers Unity Squad (Uncanny Avengers volume 1), gave the eulogy at Hank Pym's memorial following his supposed death (Rage of Ultron graphic novel), and dealt with his return as part of a being merged with Ultron (Uncanny Avengers volume 3). Sadly, throughout her history, Janet has never been like family to the Vision, mostly like due to the fact that her connection to him was via marriage to Pym, a relationship that has always been shaky even at its best. One can hardly hold this against her. Janet Van Dyne remains one of a handful of my favorite Avengers, and favorite Avengers chairperson to date (easy Cap fan, easy).

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