Welcome back! While the first installment opens our series with a pair of instant Avenger icons, this next couple is certainly a little more… involved. With their roles largely farmed out to legacy players in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (thus far), they are indeed the least visible *ahem* of the original comic book crew. However, that hasn’t stopped either from being extremely integral to the source material. Let’s take a look!
ANT-MAN/ GIANT-MAN/ GOLIATH/ YELLOWJACKET/ WASP (Dr. Henry Pym)
Joined: Avengers #1 (Sept, 1963); Founder
Current Affiliation: Former Member
History: Size-changing biochemistry and cybernetics genius. Just going off the number of slashes above, it’s probably a sure bet that no one in the history of Avengering has more code-names than ol’ Hank! As it is, a combination of power and mental instabilities causes him to switch up the first four before the title’s even made it outta the ’60s.
During the 1970s, he pairs it down to ping-ponging between only two and falls into his comfort zone of just being a part-time super-hero. He also joins the “hey no worries, we’re sorta like a book club” Defenders.
Feeling like he’s gotta measure up to his wife and the old gang (size joke, again…), Hank re-joins the Avengers in an early ’80s open membership drive. Saying it doesn’t take puts it mildly…
In the new roster’s first field mission, Pym overzealously shoots their surrendering adversary in the back. This results in an official court martial but just hours before the hearing, Hank really loses it and physically strikes his teammate wife! He also builds (another) crazy killer robot to “conveniently” interrupt the proceedings, so that he alone may defeat it and demonstrate his heroic worth. Things don’t exactly go to plan and ultimately cost Pym his membership and marriage. He also shortly thereafter spends a little time in jail.
Retiring completely, Hank resurfaces sometime later as some kinda “Higgins” figure to the Avengers’ collective “Magnum, P.I.” when they open a west coast franchise branch. Eventually he works his way back onto the active list as the Venture Bros.-style speedsuit-wearing “Doctor Pym, Scientific Adventurer”.
Hank stays with the West Coast Avengers until they fold in the mid-90s, even serving turns as a respectable default leader. Returning to the main New York-based team, he makes a breakthrough in his Pym Particle formula and resumes his Giant-Man identity.
The Doc remains firmly in the mix for the next few years of stories, rotating through his costumed “greatest hits” parade until the “classic” Avengers disband amidst turmoil and tragedy.
While back in academia, Pym is kidnapped by alien shape-shifting Skrulls as part of their massive “Secret Invasion” plot. The joke’s somewhat on the invaders as Hank’s history of mental problems prove difficult for their agents to pattern, sending at least one completely off the rails.
Sadly, the climax of this event appears to claim the life of Pym’s ex. Once the abductees return, Hank sets out to pay tribute in what’s clearly the best way fit: by further altering his powerset, growing wings and adopting his dead ex-wife’s moniker as the new Wasp. (Yeah, no looking too closely at any issues here…)
When the Avengers open a school similar to the X-Men’s schtick of “gifted youngster learnifying”, Hank is selected headmaster. Soon after, he resumes his more-identifiable Giant-Man role and proves in short order that he’s just as, um… let’s just say “capable” as Professor X, Magneto or Emma Frost (seriously not a compliment) with many of his young charges abducted for a “Hunger Games”-style teenage death match and a faction of survivors consequently breaking bad. (The exact scenario they built the school to avoid. Irony…)
Compounding this, when multiversal-level time travel shenanigans involving Pym, Wolverine and Pym’s first and historically most recognized deadly killer robot result in a subtle re-ordering of reality (2013’s Age of Ultron event series), Hank is overwhelmed by personal repercussions. Elevated to some sorta elder statesman of all things “The Cyber”, Pym heads a joint Avengers/ S.H.I.E.L.D. task-force to take down a new time-travelling evil artificial intelligence. (Anything to take his mind off those kids misplaced like a set of frikkin’ car keys, I guess…)
Just prior to the total multiversal collapse predicating 2015’s Secret Wars enormo-tacular, the secretive think tank consisting of Tony Stark, the Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards, the Black Panther and others (colloquially “The Illuminati”) reach out. Given that Pym’s known for years that his size-changing powers derive from drawing or shunting mass from another dimension, he is a well-regarded expert on the extraplanar. That said, the group conscripts Hank as some kind of human long-range reconnaissance probe into the abstract to explore the very forces behind the assailing utter oblivion. For this mission, he curiously chooses “Yellowjacket”- the most controversial of personas…
After seeing some things and stuff, man, Hank makes it back just days before the final world collision. Unhinged even further from his journey, Pym doesn’t even bother trying to get into a support group with Astronaut Dave from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey much less contend for a spot on Reed Richards’ “Scientists and My Family First” interdimensional life-raft.
Not long after reality resets into the post-Secret Wars “All-New, All-Different” status quo, Pym (back in Giant-Man mode) and other Avengers take on some long-standing hostile A.I.’s. However, there’s a marked difference in Hank’s approach as he coldly eradicates the antagonists- seemingly backpedaling on his artificial intelligence rights stance. Things really escalate when everyone’s favorite creepy robot uncle/ metaphoric prodigal son makes a timely return (2015’s Rage of Ultron Original Graphic Novel)…
A mishap during the usual “machine vs. creator” showdown causes Ultron to amalgamate Pym into itself, reintegrating the two as a new shared techno-organic form. Put it this way: remember the end of the circa 1980 Disney B-sci fi The Black Hole when the evil scientist merges with his psycho automaton? (No? Just me, then?) Well, think of it more like that than say, the song “Sy-Borg” from Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage. (Still, just a little bit of “ewww” and “yikes!”…)
Horrified, the Avengers battle Ult-Pym all the same until newfound self-awareness catches the cyborg off-guard and it launches back out into the deep space from whence it just came. Indeed, a hollow, fleeting victory…
For all intents and purposes, the Avengers declare Hank dead at this point- creating monuments in his honor and such. Of course, this doesn’t stop Ultron from returning once more. Claiming Pym has civilized the “kill all humans” outta their new collective OS, the cyborg comes back to the heroes as a proverbial wolf in android sheep’s clothing. Needless to say, they don’t bite and fighting ensues (again) until resulting in Ultron being transported to the heart of the Sun.
And there- finally– you’d think that’d be that, huh? Well, not quite. Upcoming solicits for the Summer 2017 Secret Empire event depict that Hanktron is already set to make the rounds again!
However, expect this next go-around to have an additional personal component as it’s only been recently revealed that Hank has (wait for it)… a hitherto unknown teenage daughter from his first marriage: Nadia aka burgeoning size-changing genius, The Unstoppable Wasp! (Comics, people, comics…)
WASP/ GIANT-WOMAN (Janet van Dyne)
Joined: Avengers #1 (Sept, 1963); Founder
Current Affiliation: Active
History: Wealthy insect-themed, size-changing fashion designer and strategist. If Tony’s the traditional backer and Cap the starting QB, then Jan is easily the team’s biggest cheerleader as well as their ace in the hole.
Despite being the one to actually name the group, Jan spends a great deal of her early history as the team’s original second-class citizen. However, by the early 1980s, she weaponizes that constant sense of being under-estimated and arguably becomes the Avengers’ second-most effectively capable field leader (sorry, Hawkeye).
Indeed, until that point, Janet is used more as a plot device to keep Hank Pym agonizing over his revolving door-like membership in and out of the group. It’s not until divorcing him that Jan comes to personify the very ’80s zeitgeist of the quasi-corporate “power leader”.
By that decade’s end, she earns some well-deserved vacation time and fades into the background. Next, Jan resurfaces with the West Coasters- first as “big sis just checkin’ in” but recurring appearances see her surprisingly falling back into romantic patterns with Pym.
By the mid-’90s, Marvel really gets into re-inventing a “totally extreme” wheel with all the classic 1960s Silver Age properties (to speak in the parlance of the time). In this, perhaps nobody receives a more radical makeover than Janet! When fatally wounded, Jan winds up back on Hank’s operating table. Desperate to save her life, he opts to double-down on Jan’s original power formula. Pym instead turns his ex-wife into an actual human-sized, literal mutated wasp-lady! (Also, serious missed opportunity for a new Hank Pym identity: “Doctor Ooops!”…)
For some reason, this doesn’t really last all that long (can’t imagine why…). Thankfully, after a couple of near back-to-back reality resets, Jan returns to her “classic” look. By the early 2000s, she’s steadily co-leading the Avengers again.
By the end of this era, she begins diversifying more into Pym’s territory: operating under interchangeable code-names and becoming the self-evident “Giant-Woman” as needed.
After one of the alien Skrulls impersonating Pym ends any chance of the exes permanently rekindling their relationship, Jan stays away from supering for a while. Eventually, she aligns with Stark’s pro-registration forces in the first superhero civil war and rejoins the “Mighty” Avengers as they rebrand under the umbrella of the government-sponsored Fifty-State Initiative.
During this time, Jan takes things a little more passive. In boasting a starting seven-person line-up featuring four current and former field leaders, maybe it’s not wanting to add to a “too many chiefs” scenario but regardless, the most Jan contributes is staging a fashion intervention and delivering kinda ditzy one-liners.
When the shape-shifting Skrulls finally make their invasion plans not such a secret and (surprise!) meet a great deal of resistance from Earth’s superhuman population, the final Yellowjacket impersonator kicks in a failsafe just as the aliens lose their cause. Months before, still utilizing the guise of Hank Pym, the Skrulls offer Jan a seemingly harmless power “upgrade”. In reality, she’s become some sorta literal living weapon-of-last-resort…
Fearing the worst as waves of unknown energy pore out of her, Janet acquiesces that her own sacrifice may be needed. Creating an interdimensional vortex with his magic hammer, Thor heavy-heartedly responds- saving the day while seemingly dissipating Jan into the nether.
So, for a while everyone think Jan’s dead and she doesn’t appear in any new comics for like four years. But is it ever that simple? Nope. Turns out what really happened is that she got theoretical-particle-microscopically small, visiting a dimension called “The Microverse”. Eventually, she gets word to the Avengers and a rescue is staged.
When Captain America establishes the Avengers Unity Squad as the premiere symbol of human-mutant relations (the ongoing Uncanny Avengers), Jan soon joins the organization. Originally intending to work with the group in a support capacity as public relations and branding “mutant chic” as commercial fashion, it’s not long before Jan becomes romantically interested in the field leader, Havok- best known for being X-Man Cyclops’ little brother.
As expected, the Jan-Alex courtship isn’t your typical “whirlwind, storybook romance”. All the same, their relationship covers a near-literal lifetime of shared experience in a very rapid and compressed manner.
Trailing the Apocalypse Twins to their space ark (yeah, ‘cuz that’s how you sentence…), the mutant portion of the Unity Squad (along with a stowaway Wasp) are transported away from Earth before the giant Kirby space robot gods, The Celestials, show up to trash it. Apparently spending five years on a dystopic mutants-only “Planet X”, Jan and Alex have a daughter, Katherine (“Katie”), who is named after Alex’s mother. Along with resistance sympathizers such as Hank “The Beast” McCoy, the family manages to elude the Apocalypse Twins’ totalitarian regime.
In the course of hitting the “undo button” on this reality, the Avengers don’t do the standard time-travel thing. Instead, the survivors have their consciousnesses sent back to their old bodies- five years of life experiences intact– to inform the others to make different choices. Unlikely ally, the usually untrustworthy and self-serving Time Master Immortus, swears he can make it so Jan and Alex can still be a family with Katie- but first the Avengers need to take down the real architect behind the Apocalypse Twins: their old time-travelling arch-nemesis, Kang The Conqueror…
During this skirmish, Alex is severely wounded- with the left side of his body critically burned and disfigured, forcing him into a protracted medically-regenerative stasis as Jan also takes some understandable down-time.
Already having a hard time adjusting, it doesn’t take much to send Alex over the edge. Shortly thereafter, the Scarlet Witch and Dr. Doom unite forces, casting an “inversion spell” in an attempt to liberate the mind of Professor X from the body of the Red Skull (2014’s Avengers and X-Men: Axis event). A great deal of heroes and villains are also caught in the “down is the new up” wake and consequently Havok officially secedes the mutant faction of the Avengers as the X-Men take on a more villainous air.
By the end of the event, most everyone goes back to their old ways. However, Alex is one exception- apparently kidnapping Janet in a misguided attempt to bring their family back together or something. It’s never really followed up on and before long, the whole Marvel multiverse ends with 2015’s Secret Wars…
After reality resets in its current incarnation as the “All-New, All-Different”, Jan is among the Avengers when Hank Pym effectively ceases to exist. To no one’s surprise, she is left in charge of all of his patents and holdings and begins transitioning into being more of a “behind the scenes” businesswoman.
When “Hanktron” briefly returns to Earth, she effectively rejoins the Unity Squad. However, Pym’s “whack-a-mole” pop-up legacy just doesn’t stop there- shortly thereafter, Jan gets a very unexpected front door visitor: a mysteriously-never-mentioned teenage step-daughter?!?
Turns out young Nadia has Dad’s proclivity for super-science and is already trading on the name the Unstoppable Wasp when the Avengers’ butler introduces them. Like most things, Jan takes all this in stride and simply folds her costumed namesake into her adventuring.
During the second superhero civil war, the X-faction of the Unity Squad run some pro-mutant “extracurricular activities”, making temporary alliances with unsavory bedfellows. Secretly-a-HYDRA-agent Captain America catches wind of the unsanctioned ops and officially disavows the entire Unity Squad.
However, the team stays together- placed in a position of clearing their names while continuing to fight the good fight. Although the most seasoned active Avenger, Jan remains content to let others lead. Evidently, this doesn’t stop Steve Rogers from recognizing, as upcoming solicits note Jan as one of his specific Secret Empire targets…
(What’s that axiom about power and responsibility again??)