Retcons, Reboots And Resurrections #22: The Birth Of The Unstoppable Wasp!
by Scott Redmond
They say the only three certain things in life are birth, death, and change. When it comes to comic books those things are also certain as they come in the form of retcons, reboots, and resurrections.
For our purposes retcons are elements that are retroactively added into a character’s history after the fact, reboots are either big full change revivals of a character/title or are extensive changes to their canon, and resurrections are characters making the return from death or character limbo.
Each week we’ll explore the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Retcons, Reboots, and Resurrections.
Generally when one thinks about retcons, especially in the world of comic books, the stories and changes that come to mind are ones that were attached to massive stories. Where something about a story or moment that is well known is either changed or put into a whole new light. Sometimes though the retcons that have the longest of lives and make the biggest waves come from story elements that were practically forgotten.
At this point both comic book fans and folks who have just watched the movies based upon them know about Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, the duo that was romantic and superhero partners. Most can be very forgiven for not knowing that Janet was not Hank’s first wife, or that he had an unknown daughter from that first marriage.
Thus was born Nadia Pym/Van Dyne, the new high-flying Wasp!
What Was It?
In September of 1961, the world was introduced to one Henry “Hank” Pym who had created a serum that allowed him to shrink and one to return him to normal size in the pages of Tales To Astonish #27. In that same story, he had a harrowing adventure that pitted him against ants, except for one “friendly” ant that helped save him, which led him to destroy the serums and never use them again. Eight issues later, in September 1962’s Tales To Astonish #35, he changed his mind and recreated them as well as created a helmet to communicate with ants. Through these means, he would become the heroic Ant-Man once he had to fight off some Communist agents.
Jumping forward to June 1963’s Tales To Astonish #44 brought the first mentions of Hank’s late wife Maria as well as the first appearance of Janet. Through a flashback, it is revealed that Maria Trovaya/Pym was the daughter of Doctor Janus Trovaya who was a geneticist and partner to Hank. The father and daughter were political prisoners in their native Hungary but managed to escape to the United States.
Once married to Hank, feeling homesick, she convinced him to travel to Hungary for their honeymoon. While Hank worried about her past there and who might be coming for her, Maria felt that she would not be recognized, especially as she was now Maria Pym. Unfortunately, Hank’s fears proved to be accurate and the trip would become a tragic one. A car with agents arrived and took Maria away, threatening to shoot Hank if she didn’t come, as they knocked Hank out and left him behind.
After fleeing to the American Embassy to alert them, Hank’s world was shattered as an hour after her kidnapping her body was found with a note attached that stated “this is what happens to people who attempt to escape from behind the Iron Curtain.” Following this flashback, the issue showcased Hank’s feeling he needed a new partner, and thus entered Janet and her father Professor Vernon van Dyne.
Hank finds himself attracted to Janet as she reminds him of Maria but dismisses this feeling because of her age and her personality, while Janet is attracted to him and dismisses it because she believes scientists are generally “boring.” Long story short, when Professor van Dyne is killed by an escaped criminal from the planet Kosmos, Hank reveals his Ant-Man identity to Janet and asks her to be his sidekick and she becomes the Wasp. They of course eventually are married, and become divorced after his mental breakdown and abusive moment, but are on and off romantically over the years till his “death” in 2015’s Avengers: The Rage of Ultron.
Maria was mostly forgotten over the years until West Coast Avengers #36 in September 1988, where Hank discovered what appeared to be a still alive Maria. Except she had been heavily altered with technology similar to that which created M.O.D.O.K., expanding her head and brain abilities greatly. At the end of the issue, Hank decided to stay behind to work to fix Maria and thus was written out of the second Avengers book.
Except, that wasn’t what Marvel seemingly wanted for him as just six months later in Solo Avengers #16 it was revealed that this Maria was seemingly actually all just a trap by AIM and was going by the name S.O.D.A.M. (Specialized Organism Designed for Aggressive Manoeuvres) now. They needed a way to fix some of the problems with her ‘birth’ and thus decided to trick Hank into doing it by having her pretend to be Maria.
She would appear in April 1990’s Quasar #9 now going by the name M.O.D.A.M. (Mental Organism Designed for Aggressive Manoeuvres) before being forgotten.
Enter Mark Waid, Alan Davis, and Mahmud Asrar who introduced Nadia as the new wasp and daughter of Hank and Maria within the pages of both Free Comic Book Day 2016: Civil War II and All-New All-Different Avengers #9 in May 2016. Here Nadia reveals that she grew up within the Red Room, the same place that created the Black Widow and Winter Soldier before she managed to recreate her father’s work through black market Pym Particles to escape.
After finding out her father had passed away, she picked up his work again and the Wasp mantle and went to introduce herself to the Avengers (and helped free Vision from Kang’s control in the process).
Over the subsequent issues, Nadia went on a road trip with the Avengers long-time butler and ally, Edwin Jarvis, who introduced her to her stepmother Janet. Together they dealt with a Microverse bomb that threatened the President, discussed their shared use of the Wasp name, and bonded quite a bit as Janet looked to help Nadia become more in touch with the world around her.
While she was a member of the Avengers here and got some good development (through the rest of All-New All-Different Avengers and the Avengers book that followed) it would be through her own solo series The Unstoppable Wasp where Nadia really blossomed as a character that has quickly become a fan-favorite. It was here that Jeremey Whitley and Elsa Charretier really helped expand the character and her supporting cast and place within the Marvel Universe.
This series led to the creation of the G.I.R.L. (Genius In action Research Labs) Initiative which is dedicated to finding all the brilliant girls and women in the Marvel Universe and giving them the space to put their brilliance to work changing the world. Nadia was convinced to start this initiative after meeting Barbara “Bobbi” Morse/Mockingbird and learning about S.H.I.E.L.D.’s outdated list of most intelligent humans that listed no women higher than 27th. While this series lasted just eight issues, it was so popular that it got a second eight-issue series in 2018 by Whitley and Gurihiru.
In this second series, G.I.R.L was expanded as was the work done with Nadia, including in a well-received issue that dealt with her bipolar disorder. The same thing that her father dealt with in the past.
Was It Good?
Taking a basically forgotten bit of information from the origin years of the Marvel Universe about one of the original heroes and spinning it into a very liked modern hero, is the recipe for a very good retcon. So yes, this was one of the good ones.
At this point, Nadia is a character that has been an Avenger, a Champion, shown up in major events, and had two solo series. There are characters that have been around far longer that haven’t even achieved some of those milestones (which is a sad statement about the status quo and comics’ over-reliance on a handful of characters). Things have cooled down a bit for the character but it’s only a matter of time before she finds her way into something big or regular once more.
There is far too much potential left in regard to her and G.I.R.L. and the legacy of the Pyms/van Dyne’s left to be mined. It’s only a matter of time before Hank Pym (who was merged with Ultron in the aforementioned Rage Of Ultron story and has been a villain) is returned to full life and will meet up with his daughter.
Next Week: With a powerful Boom, a long-running 90s born institution finds new comic book life