Feb 12, 2013

The Unbearable Lightness of Pym: In Defense of Janet

Double Helix is a column written by Rachel Helie for The Comics Cube! Click here for the archive.

The Unbearable Lightness of Pym: In Defense of Janet
by Rachel Helie

Janet Van Dyne is not a perfect character. She comes across as a completely self-absorbed dilettante, obsessed with acquiring what she has her sights on at any cost. At least that is who she was in the beginning. Something about the early character development of Janet rings more true to me than the later attempts...I'm not sure if industry pressure and the feminist movement caused her character to become downright unbelievable or if it was just bad writing, but over the years Ant Man and the Wasp altered significantly. In Hank's case, he had new names and costumes for each of those alterations...Janet may have been a fashion designer but c'mon. Five names (or was it six?) is ridiculous.

Hank Pym, the math problem

Though Janet is often portrayed under the banner of mindless materialism and selfishness, Hank's own insecurities and emotional damage make him the far more inconsistent character, at least when called to action. Janet pursues. Janet, single minded of purpose, has the intention to "win"; in her pursuit of Hank, in pursuit of vengeance, and ultimately in her role with the Avengers. She would not be dogged into submission by the boys and her voice was heard and respected. This female character has cajones under that couture.

"Follow Me!"

Hank doubts, waffles, flounders in his sense of inadequacy. I think some of these traits are what would compel a woman of Janet's ilk to consider him endearing at first. Over time, that same quality of self-doubt and vulnerability, the overwhelming self-consciousness that Hank's character suffers from (often with disastrous results) is what destroyed the connection.

Regardless of their relationship discord, Janet seemed to truck firmly along, sometimes overshadowing Hank, who had a terrible sulking habit compounded by mental problems that never quite resolve and that would affect the development of the character forever. That habit would lead him to overextend himself, nearly destroying his teammates and his Wasp . Janet is the consummate enabler. The power that she craved in her role as an Avenger and as Hank's wife would eventually be the force that consumed her.

Janet married Hank as the villain, Yelllowjacket, who had supposedly killed Pym, only to find later that it was none other than Hank himself, suffering a "king-sized bout of schizophrenia). All things being equal, this is a man who had kidnapped her after rendering her comatose.

Sanity restored?

The ceremony itself sounds about as much fun for Janet as was their courtship: all the heavy lifting of the relationship fell on her narrow shoulders. In spite of her fickle behavior, Janet was sturdy and solid for a very long time. She was Hank’s lover, friend, and teammate during the worst of times and even after the very bitter end.

BUT... Janet's capacity for forgiveness and understanding in these instances is also downright masochistic. Hank would try the patience of a saint. The whole "stand by your man" thing was a means to an end in Janet's quest for place, identity, and power. As a woman, I understand some of that. Often, as a gender, we have to eek our spot out at the table. We use the tools that we can find lying around to voraciously earn our bread (even if it is less than what our male counterparts make, some of us will fight twice as hard and twice as long to earn it just to prove that we can). It is amazing to me that male writers during the 1960's captured that quality and conundrum so perfectly in Janet.

Janet and Hank are an extreme construct of what I believe best represents reality of the institution of a marriage. We want to believe that relationships occur in a vacuum of sunshine and rainbows but relationships are tricky things, compounded by the baggage of two lives. They are math problems that don't always equal two, but expand upon themselves exponentially and grow too big to survive sometimes. Though two people can love and care for each other very, very, much (as I believe Hank and Janet were intended to) their problems could not add up to a consistent sum.

The equation

They never could have been a fully functional marriage. Hank was only half a person after the death of his first wife. This is what is so compelling about the problem of Pyms. This is the reason I believe that, though she masked her most valuable qualities under a veil of frivolity, Janet Van Dyne deserves her defense.

For a completely opposite look at the Hank/Janet relationship, read Kimberly's column here!

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