Jan Van Dyne was a socialite at the dawn of the Silver Age. She made her debut soliciting the aid of boyfriend Hank Pym to avenge her scientist father’s death. Vernon Van Dyne had been killed by aliens for some reason and that was all Jan needed to agree to body modification. The duo goes on-and-off for awhile, as Hank gets close to Jan due to her resemblance to his dead first wife. This issue comes up much later in 1980s, as we find out what happened to Hank’s first wife and the duo makes peace with it. During those early days, Jan tried to find ways to make her wasp powers far more offensive. She would shrink down pins and an air gun with her to fight enemies alongside Hank. These tactics would take her all the way to being a charter member of The Avengers and naming the team.
The early days of the Avengers were spent with Jan serving as a flying decoy, while the men fought. Her anger of Hank’s inability to commit to their relationship would lead Jan to flirt with Thor and Captain America often. This would only push the mentally slipping Hank further down the nervous breakdown slope, but Jan didn’t have time to care. While fighting Count Nefaria, the Wasp was shot in the chest and suffered a collapsed lung. Using the injuries as time to step away, the Wasp took several issues to learn new things about her powers and what exactly Hank’s experiments did to her. Jan would later rejoin the Avengers after learning that her body augmentations don’t need Pym Particles to change size anymore. Her powers would continue to develop, as she eventually marries Hank and becomes an integral part of the team.
In the early 70s, Jan becomes stuck in her insect size and begins to develop her Wasp sting. It’s a bio-electrical impulse that shoots out of her wrists and gives her some ability to fight directly. After regaining her proper size, the Wasp enters into the period that defines her all to the way to the present. The Wasp is kidnapped by Ultron and a brainwashed Hank Pym to create a bride for the Artificial Intelligence. Things happen and we get Jocasta, but this female Ultron unit turns out to be a good guy. From there, the Wasp takes on more of a leadership role on the team and begins to realize that Hank isn’t mentally stable. Things happen and we get the slap that writers still can’t drop three decades later.
The Wasp bounces back from this by divorcing Hank, taking most of his money and then becoming the leader of The Avengers. She spends the early 80s romancing Tony Stark and then working on a way to bring more women into the Avengers. This was also the start of the Roger Stern run which remains my favorite Avengers creative stretch in history. At the same time, The Wasp starts to become a famous fashion designer. The vocation being a play at the decades’ worth of artists trying to find new ways to redesign her costume. The aesthetic quirk became part of the character’s personality and helped to define Van Dyne outside of her superheroine role. The Wasp would spend most of the decade as team leader, eventually stepping aside shortly before the Inferno event.
Jan Van Dyne would spend most of the 90s as a reserve member, while defining her fashion designer life outside of The Avengers. Duty would call her back during The Destiny War and Jan would eventually take over as leader again. Shortly after this even, The Wasp would push the team into a roster with more females than male. For the traditional Marvel teams, this was a first in any of the books. During this period, Jan display the ability to grow to giant size for the first time. What made this different was that her strength amplified far greater than Hank’s Giant Man persona. Unfortunately, the events of “Secret Invasion” dampened this new discovery as The Wasp would seemingly die at the end of the event.
Months would pass and the Avengers would find out that the Skrull attack caused her powers to shrink her down to a microscopic level. Existing inside of the Microverse, the Wasp kept the peace while working on a way to get back to her world. The Wasp comes back to join the Avengers Unity Squad and funds the team to keep out government interference. While working with the newly added mutant members, Wasp begins a love affair with Havok after the world seemingly ends. When the timeline gets restored, Havok and the Wasp are both left with memories of their life together and their newly non-existent daughter Katie. Back in our reality, the Wasp and Havok hit it off as Immortus strikes a plan to help them conceive Katie in our reality. All of it is devised as a plan to upset Kang, but that’s how these things go.
While The Wasp is part of my definitive Avengers roster, the lady doesn’t get the respect she deserves in modern media representations. More often than not, her role is given over to Maria Hill or Black Widow due to their S.H.I.E.L.D. alliances. I find that there’s something lost when you defer power from a pioneering hero and try to force in espionage characters that exist by function alone. That’s not to say that Maria Hill and Black Widow aren’t great characters, it’s just that there is a ceiling on where they can go. The Wasp works outside of the relationship drama and her stilted origins because she has a life. Jan is a fashion designer, a leader and a powerful voice that exists inside of the Avengers to help define its role. As her wealth and status increases, she becomes the female equivalent to Tony Stark. A needed counterbalance that allows the team to function outside of the Government and remains true to the shared spirit of all heroes and citizens of the world. I hope they find a way to include her in the “Ant-Man” movie.