Andrew A. Smith
Tribune Content Agency
Ant-Man and The Wasp, premiering July 6, brings four important new characters to the franchise. They’re all based on various Marvel Comics characters, of course, but vary in particulars – sometimes pretty important particulars. Here they are:
THE WASP (JANET VAN DYNE)
The Wasp/Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly, left) joins Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) in Ant-Man and The Wasp.
In the movie Ant-Man, we learned that Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) was the original Wasp, wife and partner to Henry “Ant-Man” Pym (Michael Douglas). She was lost to the “Quantum Realm” in 1987 and presumed dead – until Scott Lang, the current Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), traveled to the Quantum Realm and returned.
“Your mother convinced me to let her join me on my missions,” Pym told his daughter, Hope Van Dyne, in Ant-Man. “They called her The Wasp. She was born to it. And there's not a day that goes by that I don’t regret having said ‘yes’.”
In the comics, it was the other way around. In 1963, Henry “Ant-Man” Pym had only 10 solo appearances under his tiny belt before he asked Janet Van Dyne to be his crimefighting partner, because her father had been killed and she had vowed vengeance. Impressed with her resolve, Pym implanted specialized cells in Van Dyne that would become wings and antennae when she shrank. (This was recently retconned to be Janet’s idea, which takes some of the sting out of Pym operating on his soon-to-be girlfriend without a license.)
The two became partners in every sense, fighting the good fight in the pages of Tales to Astonish and Avengers amid romantic banter. They got married in 1969, but as you’d expect, the ceremony was far from normal. For one thing, the wedding was crashed by the Ringmaster’s Circus of Crime, because what reception is complete without someone punching a clown? For another, Hank had developed a second, more aggressive personality named “Yellowjacket,” who actually did the proposing. That’s certifiable by any definition – but Jan married him anyway.
Hank recovered, but remained Yellowjacket. That was Hank’s fourth superhero persona (after Ant-Man, Giant-Man and Goliath), which should have been a clue that he wasn’t exactly Mr. Stability. Pym eventually had another mental breakdown, defrauded the Avengers and punched Jan in the eye. One divorce and an Avengers expulsion later, and Hank’s career took quite a nosedive. He recovered somewhat – comic books love a redemption story – but currently he’s considered sort-of dead. (Long story, but it involves being absorbed by Ultron and thrown into space. Nobody seems to really understand it, even the writers.)
Meanwhile, The Wasp succeeded in her superheroic role, outshining her partner and even chairing the Avengers for a lengthy term. These days she doesn’t do much Avenging, but is CEO of Pym Laboratories and a successful clothes designer with her own label (“Van Dyne’s”). “My secret power,” she thinks in a recent issue of Unstoppable Wasp, “is I get things done.”
Her most important role, though, might be as mentor to the current Wasp, her step-daughter Nadia. And who is Nadia? Stay tuned …
THE WASP II (HOPE VAN DYNE)
Nadia Van Dyne, the step-daughter of the original Wasp and the daughter Ant-Man, is now the second Wasp in Marvel Comics.
In Ant-Man, we met Hope (Evangeline Lilly), the daughter of Hank and Jan Pym. She wanted desperately to take on the mantle of The Wasp, and had trained herself for the role. Her father, having lost his wife to adventure, has steadfastly refused to allow her into the field. But things changed at the end of the movie, and now a new Wasp has been born.
In the comics, Hank and Jan never had any children. But Hank did have a daughter with his first wife, Maria Trovaya – unknowingly. She was kidnapped by foreign agents in Eastern Europe before she could tell Hank she was pregnant. And after bearing a daughter somewhere behind the Iron Curtain, Maria was killed.
That daughter, Nadia, was raised in the Russian “Red Room” that trains Black Widows (See: Romanoff, Natasha). But having inherited her father’s smarts and her mother’s backbone, Nadia escaped to the USA, where she re-invented herself as the new Wasp. Now she is being mentored by the original Wasp, Janet Van Dyne, and has become a scientist and superhero in her own right.
What’s that got to do with the movie’s Hope Van Dyne? Well, Nadia is short for Nadyezhda. That’s Russian for “hope.”
In the comics, biochemist Bill Foster (played by Laurence Fishburne in Ant-Man and The Wasp) became the superhero Black Goliath.
In 1966, the same year Marvel Comics introduced Black Panther, they broke ground with another black character. At the time, Hank Pym was stuck at 10 feet. Tony Stark sent an expert biochemist from Stark’s Baltimore research lab to fix the problem, in the form of Bill Foster, DSc, PhD. Foster, we learned, was born in Watts, but lifted himself out of the ghetto by smarts and hard work. This was at a time when black characters usually wore butler uniforms, not lab coats.
And lo, Pym was cured, so Foster faded into supporting-character limbo. But he came roaring back in 1975, using Pym’s technology to become the 15-foot superhero Black Goliath, and helping Luke Cage battle the Circus of Crime. (At this point, clown-punching is something of a tradition among Marvel superheroes.)
It should be noted that Foster is currently dead in the comics, killed in the superhero “Civil War.” His nephew, MIT grad Tom Foster, is carrying on the tradition as the superhero Goliath.
Let’s hope that doesn’t happen to the Bill Foster in Ant-Man and The Wasp, played by Laurence Fishburne. A biochemist who formerly worked with Pym on “Project GOLIATH,” Foster tells Scott Lang that he has personally reached the height of 21 feet.
Jimmy Woo, played by Randall Park in Ant-Man and The Wasp, first appeared in Yellow Claw #1 in 1956.
Advance information on Ant-Man and The Wasp indicate that Scott Lang’s house arrest is being monitored by government agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park). “Jimmy Woo” isn’t exactly a household name, but for comics fans, it’s catnip.
Woo first appeared in Yellow Claw comics in 1956, before Marvel Comics was Marvel Comics (it was called Atlas at the time). He was a Chinese-American FBI agent in pursuit of the Chinese villain of the title, a Communist mandarin operating as a fifth columnist in McCarthy-era America. Claw was a biochemist and engineer who built monsters and robots to battle the Yankees, with a niece named Suwan who was in love with Woo.
Yes, this was a thinly disguised swipe of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu, and included just about every “yellow peril” stereotype in existence. Maybe that’s why “Yellow Claw” only lasted four issues, despite art by comics titans Jack Kirby, Joe Maneely and John Severin.
But Woo, one of the earliest Asian-American heroes in comics, returned as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. in 1967, still battling the Yellow Claw, but now alongside Nick Fury. The Claw was defeated, and Woo became a supporting character in various S.H.I.E.L.D.-related stories.
But then came a non-canon story in 1978 titled “What If the Avengers Had Been Formed in the 1950s?” Writer Don Glut lifted various characters from Atlas Comics and threw them together in a 1950s adventure that didn’t “count” in mainstream Marvel continuity. After that, the idea was in the creative atmosphere, and after various hits and portents, an honest-to-gosh team of 1950s characters joined as the Agents of Atlas in 2006.
The team consisted of Namora, Sub-Mariner’s cousin (first appearance Marvel Mystery Comics #82, 1947); Venus, the Greco-Roman goddess of love (Venus #1, 1948); Marvel Boy, a human boy raised on Uranus (Marvel Boy #1, 1950); Gorilla-Man, an ape with a human brain (Men’s Adventures #26, 1954); M-11, the Human Robot (Menace #11, 1954); and Jimmy Woo (Yellow Claw #1, 1956).
And that’s why fans are excited to see Jimmy Woo. His mere presence opens the door to the Agents of Atlas, which would make an awesome movie. Seriously, don’t you want to see a retro, 1950s-style science fiction film starring a mermaid, a goddess, an alien with a flying saucer, a talking gorilla, a killer robot and a secret agent? Especially if it was in black and white, and had an “Outer Limits” soundtrack.
They could battle giant insects. Now that’s a ‘50s movie!
Find Captain Comics by email (email@example.com), on his website (captaincomics.ning.com), on Facebook (Captain Comics Round Table) or on Twitter (@CaptainComics).