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Why Janet Van Dyne and Hank Pym deserve a prequel

Contributed by
Jul 26, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp was great for many reasons. It introduced Ghost and Bill Foster, gave Hope van Dyne the chance to really shine, and flawlessly balanced comedy, action, and feelings throughout its two hours of screen time. It also managed to completely nail the character of Janet van Dyne, the original Wasp and longtime star of the Avengers comics, despite appearing onscreen less than almost any other character in the film, villains included. Bringing Janet in and focusing on her buoyant optimism and her no-hesitation love of being a superhero, even after she spent three decades in the Quantum Zone, was a great creative choice and helped bring our beloved hero into the MCU with aplomb.

Alternately, the most frustrating part of the movie for Janet stans was that she wasn't, you know, the whole movie. Not trying to spoil anything for anyone, but there's a pretty strong implication toward the end of the film that it might take a while before we see Janet again. We obviously haven't had nearly enough Janet in our lives, so I have a counterproposal: An Ant-Man and the Wasp prequel, starring Hank and Janet.

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One thing Ant-Man and the Wasp also succeeded in was making the story of Janet van Dyne and Hank Pym into a beautiful love story. This is an incredible feat because they were absolutely never even cute before this film. There has been much written about their abusive relationship in the comics. Not to be blamed on Hank alone, it has involved abuse on both sides, including Janet cajoling a mentally unstable Hank into marriage and Hank physically hurting Janet to varying degrees of complicity (initially, he does so under the control of a supervillain, but in the Ultimates universe there are graphic, extended scenes of his voluntary abuse of Janet). In current continuity, they are no longer together, but Avengers fans have been seeing them break up and then make up via editorial mandates and inconsistent characterization for decades.

In the movie, however, we are introduced to two people who seem genuinely meant to be together. Their rapport, although brief, is immediately captivating. Most importantly, and better than anything we ever really got to witness in the comics, they have a true and equal partnership. Immediately, we see Janet taking risks that Hank can't and spouting off quantum physics at her bewildered spouse, giving him step-by-step directions on how and where to find her. In the early days of their comics appearances together, the unhealthy power play between them throughout their marriage was one of the reasons most people look back at their relationship as being often quite upsetting to read, but in the film they were really a power couple. Hank, if anything, is in awe of her, which is an emotion we never see him display for any other character. Even Bill Foster, who hates Hank, seems to acknowledge that they were good for each other.

In the comics, Janet and Hank are contemporaries of the rest of the Avengers. In the film, that was changed to fit the intended plot structure; thus Hank and Janet appear as being years older than anyone currently on that team (with the exception of Captain America, who doesn't really age). It's a bit confusing for longtime comics readers, who grew up with the backstory that Janet actually named the Avengers and both she and Hank were founding members, but, as we know, comics and movies are two very different worlds, so you'll have to let some stuff slide if you want to get into both.

In comics continuity, Hank has unfortunately had more downs than ups. After Janet divorced him, he really struggled, unable to find footing in either science or superheroics with such a long and dubious history of, for instance, creating murder robots like Ultron. On a relationship front, he was likewise lost, and unfortunately had some pretty uncomfortable dalliances, including having a dramatic, enraged outburst when he felt “friend-zoned” by Tigra in the West Coast Avengers. Hank never seemed to really get over losing Janet and his credibility as a scientist, and even to this day he isn't often very well characterized. Most people who write him just view him as an abuser, which is unfortunate, because there's more to him and his story than that. By failing to address his dark side except in times when it becomes a plot device, writers have failed to properly define him.

In MCU continuity, Hank is an old curmudgeon and has a serious superiority complex, but he doesn't suffer from the same ill-defined mental illness that has often controlled him in the comics. While there is certainly something to be said for a lack of positive portrayal of mental illness in any media, the comics misdiagnosed and mischaracterized his illness to the point of it becoming blatantly offensive on several occasions. Although the film completely ignored the issue, it is obvious we are dealing with a man who is, at the very least, haunted by the loss of his wife. In the comic, the often poor and inconsistent characterization of Hank is chalked up to mental illness, which is anything but a positive or sympathetic portrayal.

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Meanwhile, the comics version of Janet appears initially as very likable, but also with an edge that makes her come off as childish and petulant. Her tempermental nature is often dismissed or played for laughs, but this is a character who genuinely has anger issues. After her divorce from Hank, she matures considerably and grows into one of the greatest Avengers of all time, even leading the team for longer than anyone else besides Captain America. She's a feminist and a fighter, and she runs her own company while serving as an active Avenger. When life gets her down, for instance, by turning her into a Deathlok murder cyborg, Janet always seems to bounce back with a stunning lack of ennui. Besides that, she's one of the only heroes who truly just loves being a superhero, which the nerdy, introverted Hank always had a difficult time relating to.

In film, Janet was trapped in the Quantum Zone for 30 years, and we see very little of her as the characters race to save her, but what we see is a Janet far evolved past her questionable beginnings and perhaps even beyond what we've had the chance to see in the comics as of yet. We see a Janet who went through what very few people, Avengers included, would be able to bear. While Scott Lang warns Hope that the Quantum Realm will rip her mind apart, Janet has been experiencing it for years, and still speaks and acts completely lucid. While Hank and Hope are both worriers, Janet is a hopeless optimist, and is in complete control at all times. Besides that, she's also a scientist and holds her own alongside the famous Hank Pym. When she meets Ghost, a woman who has planned and attempted to murder her several times by that point, all she sees in her is a troubled soul, and she helps her rather than fight her, acting without a second thought. Movie Janet is all the best things to love about comics Janet, condensed.

In a prequel, we could delve into Hank's depression and his less-defined illnesses in a much more positive way than the comics have. Not only that, we could witness a healthy if sometimes playfully combative relationship build between him and Janet, which I, as a longtime comics reader, would heartily accept as an improvement. Rather than watch their similarities and character flaws tear their relationship apart again and again, we could witness how the two of them, with their bad tempers and superiority complexes, could really learn a lesson in humility and tenderness from each other. Often, the movies are just adaptations of already existing comic book stories. With a prequel of Ant-Man and the Wasp featuring Hank and Janet, the MCU has the rare chance to take a bad story and make it much better for audiences of comics and films alike.

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