Who Is The Wasp?
2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp marks the first time a female superhero has headlined a Marvel Cinematic Universe film - even if she has to share the title with a male counterpart. Even those who watched the first Ant-Man, but aren’t familiar with the comics, might have walked away from the film wondering, “Who is the Wasp?”
Of course, the Wasp with whom Marvel fans are most familiar, Janet van Dyne, only appears in that film via flashbacks, whereas the Wasp referenced in the title of the 2018 film is Hope van Dyne, her daughter. The Wasp comics differ a bit from the MCU, and even if you did manage to catch all the Ant-Man easter eggs, there are still some key differences to go over before seeing the July 2018 MCU installment.
The Wasp history goes back to June 1963, when the character Janet van Dyne first appeared in Tales to Astonish #44. She was created by the legendary duo of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and she was chosen to be a founding member of their premier superhero team: the Avengers. Janet has remained closely tied to the Avengers ever since, and it looks like her out-of-comic-continuity daughter may be keeping that tradition alive on the big screen.
The Wasp’s Comic Book History Is Tied To Dr. Henry Pym
The original Marvel comics Wasp will always be Janet van Dyne, and her character backstory is tied intrinsically to Dr. Henry Pym, her on-again, off-again paramour and the source of her powers.
Van Dyne first appears in Tales to Astonish #44 in June 1963, and here Pym shares his size-changing abilities with his future wife. Not only does Pym provide van Dyne with access to his famous Pym Particles, but he also eventually gives her an upgraded version of his Ant-Man suit, complete with energy blasting gauntlets and wings that appear whenever she miniaturizes. Van Dyne becomes the Wasp, and long-term exposure to the Particles eventually gives her control over her abilities without the use of technology.
She's The Co-Founder And Namer Of The Avengers
Janet van Dyne is most famous for her association with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and that relationship goes back to the very beginning; the Wasp is a founding member of the Avengers. She and Ant-Man team up with Iron Man, Thor, and the Hulk in their first adventure against Loki, which makes the Wasp the one and only female member of the team.
Despite her diminutive size, van Dyne proves herself incredibly valuable to the squad, and is even responsible for giving the team its name. She suggests a “colorful and dramatic” name, “like... the Avengers!” The rest is history.
Her Relationship With Hank Pym Is Deeply Troubled
Janet van Dyne and Dr. Hank Pym continue their tumultuous relationship into their tenure with the Avengers. Unlike his famous Pym Particles, the doctor's mental health is highly unstable, which keeps the couple on the rocks for decades of publishing history.
The two eventually marry, but only after Pym suffers a mental breakdown and emerges with a new, reckless, and uncontrollable persona: Yellowjacket. While going by Yellowjacket, Pym marries van Dyne, but soon turns physically and emotionally abusive, which results in their divorce and his dismissal from the team.
The pair rekindles their romance on a number of occasions and generally remain friends, but van Dyne swears to never marry him again.
The Wasp Eventually Becomes The Chairperson Of The Avengers
Although the Wasp is the only female Avenger, she refuses to bow down to her more powerful and intimidating male teammates. Despite the addition of Captain America to the Avengers’ lineup, it is Janet van Dyne’s leadership skills that shine the most, leading to her election as official team chairperson.
The Wasp ends up rankling some later teammates, like the Olympian god Hercules, in this role. Still, she proves herself a capable and determined leader on more than one occasion, earning the respect of all her teammates.
She Spends Some Time As A Mutated Wasp-Creature
One of the least memorable time periods in the Wasp’s lengthy publishing history is the time she mutated into a human/wasp-hybrid. The transformation comes during the much-maligned The Crossing storyline, in which Tony Stark is revealed as evil and replaced with a teenaged version of himself.
The events of the arc leave Janet van Dyne terribly wounded, which leads her ex-husband, Hank Pym, experimenting on her in order to save her life. Van Dyne emerges with the same personality but a very different, waspy body structure, and this status quo remained for about a year until a continuity retool allowed Marvel to quietly return her to normal.
She’s The Mother Of Ultron
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Tony Stark creates Ultron (with an assist from Bruce Banner), but in comic book continuity, Ultron is purely the invention of Hank Pym. The murderous android definitely has some deep-seated daddy issues when it comes to Pym, and that means he also sees Janet van Dyne as his “mother.”
This leads to Ultron kidnapping - but rarely harming - the Wasp on a number of occasions. His obsession takes a turn for the creepy when he creates Jocasta, a robot bride for himself modeled on van Dyne’s body and brain patterns.