Whither the Wasp?: Thoughts on Janet Van Dyne and Women in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Fans of female superheroes on film had high expectations for this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. Warner Bros. had widely been expected to announce a rumored, incredibly aggressive film slate through 2018, including a Wonder Woman film for 2017. Marvel Studios, meanwhile, staked out six release dates through 2019 in the week before the convention - this on top of two previously dated but unrevealed films for July 2016 and May 2017. Speculation was rampant that one of these dates would be for a film starring Carol Danvers, the superheroine Captain Marvel (previously known as Ms. Marvel).

But while Marvel wowed the crowd with an exclusive preview of next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, and WB showed off an early look at Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (including the first shot of Gal Gadot in costume as Wonder Woman), both studios chose to keep most of their upcoming superhero films under wraps for the time being. Even with its slew of upcoming release dates, Marvel elected only to announce a Guardians of the Galaxy sequel for July 2017.

And buried in the news about Ant-Man, Marvel’s other 2015 release, came what seems to be a very unpleasant confirmation for fans of Marvel’s superheroines. Star Michael Douglas had this to say about his character’s backstory:

My name is Dr. Henry Pym. I’m an entomologist. I’m also a physicist and I discovered in 1963, a way, a serum to reduce a human being to the size of ant maintaining the strength. Not only that, but I was able to find a way to communicate with the ants. But unfortunately during this process, a tragic personal accident happened with my wife, my daughter, [costar] Evangeline [Lilly], Hope. So I’ve had to pass my powers and strengths onto a mentor. [sic]

As any fan of Marvel history knows, Hank Pym, in the comics, was married to Janet Van Dyne, alias the Wasp, seen below in the most recent of her many, many costumes:

Both were founding members of the Avengers; in fact, as shown in the panel below, it was Janet who first suggested the name.

The implication in the backstory Douglas outlines: Janet Van Dyne, one of the earliest and most prominent female Marvel superheroes in the comics - and unlike Sue Storm or Jean Grey, a character whose film rights are owned by Marvel - has been dead for over fifty years in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Even assuming she somehow survived the accident, she’d be an old woman, thus removing the possibility of an Avengers 3 appearance.

In fairness, the film is also taking significant liberties with Hank Pym, known variously as Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath, and Yellowjacket. Since he’s played by the 69-year-old Michael Douglas, it’s safe to say that he won’t be doing much in the way of present-day superheroics, instead serving as a mentor to Paul Rudd’s character Scott Lang as the latter adopts the Ant-Man costume and identity. And Pym’s Yellowjacket identity is here taken by Corey Stoll’s villain Darren Cross, an unrelated character in the comics.

But let’s face it: there are already plenty of straight white male superheroes out there. Removing Hank Pym from the Avengers just doesn’t have the same unpleasant symbolism as excising, and very likely fridging, one of the female icons of the Marvel Universe - a character with over fifty years’ worth of published history. In response, many fans have expressed their discontent on Twitter, using the dubious hashtag #JanetVanCrime.

It’s a pretty safe bet that there will still be a Wasp in the MCU; Evangeline Lilly’s character, Hope van Dyne, is the obvious love interest for Rudd. And as the daughter of Dr. Pym, it’s hard to imagine that she won’t be putting her father’s miniaturization technology to use, whether in Ant-Man, Ant-Man 2, or Avengers 3.

Well, Hope Van Dyne is the real name of the villain Red Queen in the obscure MC2 universe, but I somehow think the MCU will take her in a different direction.

But nonetheless, Hope might as well be an original character. And again, she’d effectively be replacing a character with fifty years’ worth of history in comics, toys, and animation.

To their credit, Marvel Studios’ films have already offered us a number of strong female characters who are more than just love interests damsels in distress, from Pepper Potts to Sif to Black Widow to Guardians of the Galaxy’s Gamora. But for now, it’s clear that fans will be left waiting for a female-led superhero film - and they’ll just have to hope (no pun intended) that Janet Van Dyne’s daughter can live up to her mother’s comic-book legacy.