The 'Women of Marvel' Guide to Janet Van Dyne, AKA Wasp
Celebrate Janet Van Dyne's 60th anniversary with the Women of Marvel!
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As the Wasp, Janet has saved lives, led the Avengers, and designed a whole lot of clothes. In TALES TO ASTONISH (1959) #44, she launched her super hero career to avenge her father's death, and she has protected the people of the Marvel Universe ever since. Bubbly but scrappy, she balances her heroing with her career as a fashion designer, all while acting as a loyal, dedicated friend and mentor.
In the third episode from the latest season of the Women of Marvel podcast, our hosts Ellie Pyle and Preeti Chhibber celebrated this founding Avenger's 60th anniversary with birthday shout-outs from Spidey and his Amazing Friends star Maya Aoki Tuttle, editor Alanna Smith, SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK writer Rainbow Rowell, Talent Relations Associate Manager Emily Newcomen, and behavioral ecologist Dr. Seirian Sumner.
Listen to Janet's full Women of Marvel spotlight, then catch our episode highlights below!
FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY, STING LIKE A WASP
Speaking to AVENGERS editor Alanna Smith, Ellie and Preeti got a crash course in Janet's lengthy comic book history and discussed what makes her so special after all these years of Avenging.
"Janet is a character who has been around about as long as most other Marvel characters have been around. I think part of the reason for that is she's extremely lovable," Smith explained. "She's just very compassionate, very vivacious and witty and fun. She always feels like—to me—the person who you'd super want to go shopping with, but also who you could call at 3 a.m. and she would listen to you cry about something that she has no investment in. I feel like she just is that person who will be ride or die for you, but in the most non-pressure-y, chill sort of way."
"Aside from that, I think she's a character who also has a mean streak to her, for all that she's one of the sweetest people in the Marvel U, especially as she's been written in more modern comics," she continued. "She will mess you up if you come at any of her people, and she will not have mercy about it. She will not be as generous and sagely as perhaps some of the other Avengers would be. When she needs to, she doesn't pull her punches."
"So in a lot of ways, she's got that kind of traditional femininity to her and all these aspects that we would associate with a character who was created years and years and years ago, but she also was able to keep up with the boys in a team that was only her as the woman in the group. She's just a badass. She hasn't had to give up any of the softer parts of herself to have that toughness and fieriness to her, which I really like," she added.
Plus, Janet is a team player, which was crucial to the Avengers' earliest days. "In those early AVENGERS comics, she really is the glue holding the group together," Smith pointed out. "It's a lot of strong personalities and you need that person who can convince everyone to get along and find the pieces of other people that the others will like and latch on to."
"I think another really great thing about Janet is how versatile she's been able to be as a character. She's a super hero and a fashion designer, which is a really fun combo," she said. "This isn't really like so much about her as it is about her depiction over the years. I question some of her fashion decisions in the olden days, but I admire her boldness, regardless."
JAN & JEN: BFFS FOR LIFE
Writer Rainbow Rowell looked at Janet through a different lens. As the SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK scribe, Rowell sees Janet as Jennifer Walter's friend, the one who steps in when Jen needs it the most. She shared this perspective with Ellie and Preeti, saying, "When I was getting ready to write SHE-HULK, I went back and read all of She-Hulk's appearances and got to know the Wasp through She-Hulk and through her friendship with She-Hulk."
"Janet is kind of a big sister to Jen. I'm sure, in the Wasp's life, she doesn't feel like she has everything together, but usually when she shows up for She-Hulk, She-Hulk is at her wits end and the Wasp is coming in to help her. It will be like, 'Let's go shopping for some clothes that fit you!' or 'Here's a place for you to stay!'" she explained.
"In the original SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK, it's the Wasp who has this fabulous apartment and she lets Jen stay, and then that fabulous apartment becomes one of the characters in SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK. When Jan shows up, she always shows up for Jen in a really tender, supportive way," she shared. "Jan and Jan have a unique relationship because Jan is someone who She-Hulk has asked for help. She's not just the helper, but she's getting some help and she can lean on Jan."
"I also found Jan to be really fun to write. She's a lot girlier than She-Hulk. She's always looking cute. She's designing her own clothes. She's got a great house, a great car. She can have this really lovely, confident, breezy way about her," she added. "So, for me as a writer, she's just very fun to bring on the page as this force. She's small, but she brings so much confidence and swagger."
Special guest Dr. Seirian Sumner, behavioral ecologist at the University College London, also revealed why "the Wasp" makes a fitting super hero name for Janet.
"What was really interesting is that the reason why people don't like wasps is because they don't understand what they do in the environment," Sumner pointed out. "People don't understand that wasps are actually really important as nature's pest controllers, as pollinators, as decomposers. So they have real important roles that they play in the environment. I think that's why people don't like wasps, because bees sting just as wasps sting, and yet people tolerate the fact that bees sting because people understand what they do."
"Every wasp on the nest that we study is an individual who is in her own right fighting for her own way to pass on her genes to the next generation. In these really simple societies, like these hover wasps in Malaysia, all the individuals in the nest are capable of being the queen, but there is only one queen at any one time," she explained. "So it's really interesting in addressing questions about why some wasps will stay at home and help raise the brood of the queen rather than go off and start their own colony. That's why they're really useful for addressing those questions about how group-living organisms evolved in the first place."
Sumner also shared a few fun facts, which are particularly pertinent to the men in Janet's life (and her ex-husband Hank Pym, in particular): "Ants evolved for wasps as well. They are simply wasps that have forgotten how to fly—largely. It's only the sections that fly… The species of wasps that gives wasps a bad reputation are, of course, the yellowjacket wasps, the Vespula, and those wasps are just like honeybees in that they live in these huge super organismal societies with a single queen and tens of thousands of workers."
"In my book [Endless Forms: The Secret World of Wasps], I talk a lot about how wasps are depicted in popular culture and how they've influenced films, for example, or literature. They're normally depicted as the gangster of the insect world. They'll be the aggressive, evil one. And yet, your Marvel characters of the Wasp, I think it's lovely. The storyline there is really, really positive messaging about wasps, so thank you! It's great!" she added.
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