Wednesday, November 23, 2011

She's the Boss: The Wasp, from Marvel Comics' Avengers, by Roger Stern pt. 1

Spotlight on : The Wasp, most distinguished of Roger Stern’s characters, in his classic run, 1983-1988

The Wasp just might be the best character in the run. It’s an era when a hero might make a mistake, but they’re not sinister, twisted people…unless they’re pushed over the edge by some inner weakness, and even there, while mistakes can’t be taken back, redemption as a person is still possible.

Then there’s a different matter: when a character needs strong stories…when they can grow personally. The Wasp, as a character, often showed courage in the face of danger. Once she comes out of the shadow of her troubled husband, she no longer has people talking down to her, as though females in general were too emotional to be taken seriously. They didn’t come more feminine than socialite Janet Van Dyne; not just a young woman, but one who loved clothes and dreamed daily for some handsome man or another---sometimes flirting with the decidedly unavailable Norse Storm God Hunk, Thor. just to tease her then-boyfriend Hank Pym. Hank, meanwhile, never could close the deal after the death of his ex-wife, and had to manufacture a crack-up just to put a ring on her finger, as though he were another guy! That’s another story.

Before his slide into alcoholism, Tony Stark suddenly notices Janet’s single again, and takes her on a whirl wind romance around classic playboy haunts and stealing the cover of PEOPLE---revealing, too late, his alter identity as her Avengers co-founder AND long-time Hank friend, Iron Man. Cap couldn’t stomach Iron Man not telling her the truth; maybe Thor, who masqueraded as Dr. Don Blake while in love with nurse Jane Foster, feels more empathy towards his position, thinking only: “so what if two friends may give each other some happiness?” As Murl Kane points out: “you can believe in a secret identity…but, a demi-god, at least? Who’s going to believe that? Have you taken your medicine?”

Still, can you imagine the story you have, putting two people together like that, with one of them living a lie of omission? When it comes out---and especially if they get really serious, it will---how will she be able to trust him?

Meanwhile, her now-ex-husband sits in prison---what will the ubiquitous news of Tony and Janet’s romance do to him? She should know the entire picture. Tony makes a mistake because he feels love…and he respects her, too, not only as an Avenger, but as a woman who’s bounced back from devotion to a man with as many nervous breakdowns as he had costumed identities---Ant Man, Giant Man, Goliath, Yellow Jacket---always trying to find a way to fit in. But because he respects her, he has to tell her as soon as things start going too far…knowing full well, it’s probably going to end, for a lot of reasons he understands…and knows she should have the choice of understanding, too.

So, it’s not that there were no good Wasp stories before that, but that’s maybe my favorite one, in AVENGERS #224, written by Jim Shooter, given to me by my friend Mark Chubb along with a few of these great 1982 Avengers comics, New Order, New Edition---just some things he wanted to give away, to someone who might appreciate them, for whatever reasons.

After that story, the Wasp was written still as a rich lady with a fashion line and a passion for justice, but she brings a business-like cool while observing situations, considering her team mates in snap decisions of life and death, and keeping a sense of humor---you could call it “panache.” Then you give her one somewhat intrigued alien admirer, replaced almost on cue by another of those handsome scientist types, the Black Knight, but neither of them have her number quite like the mercenary man of mystery, Paladin, her vacation pal. I think one thing she likes about him, in addition to his devil-may-care manner as well as derring-do, is the fact that they know each other so little, see each other so rarely. She never ends up in his shadow, though he’d be the first to admit, for a lady who specializes in getting tiny, she’s probably the one most likely to shine. It’s good to keep it light!

That’s why Starfox almost has a shot, but when you regard that previous little adventure with Tony and his secret, it’s not hard to see how off-putting it is to find out a guy you might like a little has a persuasive pleasure power. She’s already trusted one guy completely; it’s time for her to trust in herself, and accept the trust of other people---hell, the blamed world, if not some other galaxy, at least!---in herself, which involves a lot of frustrations that frankly have nothing to do with sex---though that may well be a terrific stress remedy, but some days, there’s no time! Or no one.

And Dane Whitman, the Black Knight? By nature of his lengthy indecision to tell his leader how he feels about her, he disqualifies himself without firing a shot, so to speak. He never gets his Ebony Blade out. Any way you slice it, he’s too damn much like Hank, really. He kicks butt as an Avenger, though, as they face lots of things you can cut with an indestructible sword, and when he realizes it can absorb and channel energy? Look out.

I've mercifully split these 2097 words in two; pick up Friday for our discussion of the Wasp and comic's first great Afro-American heroine, Captain Marvel, okay? Tomorrow, we follow Captain Marvel on her wild intergalactic journey with space pirates and divided empire of shape-shifters, and so much more.

C Lue

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D'n'A t-shirt #1


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