Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Flighty Super Heroine Takes Flight

One of the founding members of the Avengers was a woman, even though she was too small to see.
That was an inadvertent ironic comment on the status of women in the early 1960s (note that over in Marvel’s original team superhero title, The Fantastic Four, the founding female member was invisible).
But women were gaining ground, little by little, even in comic books aimed primarily at boys. In the 1940s, Superman had been followed by Wonder Woman and Batman by Black Cat. Captain Marvel and Hawkman gained distaff heroic companions in Mary Marvel and Hawkgirl. The trend continued into the 1950s and 1960s with Batwoman, Supergirl, a new Hawkgirl, Fly Girl and the Wasp.
She was Janet van Dyne, a seemingly flighty, flirtatious heiress who became the crime-fighting partner and romantic companion of Henry Pym, Ant-Man, beginning in Tales to Astonish 44 (1963). The feature was then only a half-dozen issues old, and the story gave us our first real background on Pym as well. It turned out he’d been married to a woman who’d murdered by communist agents, and was nursing a lonely, broken heart. Not a story Janet van Dyne could resist, as it turned out.
Permitting Pym to alter her genetic structure so she could grow wings when she shrank, the Wasp joined Ant-Man’s fight to destroy an extraterrestrial giant gas monster that had been unleashed on New York City after killing her scientist father.
Although the Wasp’s ongoing portrayal as slightly ditsy and man-hungry might be seen as sexist, it actually made the character more vivid than other rather bland females in comics at the time. In any case, it was all later revealed as a pose when she became an effective leader of the Avengers.
Janet had an appealing and distinctive joie de vivre, and was almost impossible to dislike. There was at least one male with whom she wasn’t about to flirt, however — Spider-Man. Their instantaneous mutual antipathy was attributed to the natural enmity between spiders and wasps.

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