Friday, September 5, 2014

Geek Controversy! #JanetVanCrime

The summer of 2014 has had zero shortage of good, old-fashioned geek controversies. For a minute there it seemed like a new one was popping up every single day, whipping our little slice of the Internet into a frothing frenzy.

Sadly, I missed out on commenting on these controversies at the time (i.e.- ranting like a crazy person). When you're doing your best to tackle things like where rent will come from next month, where your next freelance job is coming from or how you're actually going to afford the impending arrival of a baby, things like upset gamers or riled up comic readers have a way of falling by the wayside.

Or, to put it another way: Real life has a way of making shit like a risqué super hero pose seem quaint.

But worry not! Now that things have calmed down over here at Nerduary central (but only a little), it's high time I jump into the fray not unlike Dalton in a roadhouse bar fight.

Something, something, something my way or the highway.

Controversy 1: #JanetVanCrime

Hash tag campaigns are always tricky. They're completely amorphous, changing at the whim of the masses and we all know how good unorganized masses are at staying on message. So it goes with #JanetVanCrime. The hash tag campaign means something totally different to almost every person you talk to.

For some people, the point of #JanetVanCrime is as simple as responding to a beloved character being disrespected by means of being excised from cinematic existence. After all, longtime comic readers know that Janet Van Dyne (aka The Wasp) was not only Ant-Man's companion. She's a pretty amazing super hero in her own right. In fact, she's a founding member of The Avengers. She's even the character who named the group “The Avengers” after their inaugural adventure. In Avengers history, Janet Van Dyne is as important as they come. So, as a fan, it sucks that audiences miss out on seeing in live-action the awesomeness that is Janet Van Dyne.

However, to others, #JanetVanCrime is about more than a fictional character being done wrong. To many it's about diversity, or in this case, a lack thereof. It's long been a complaint by fans that as great as the Marvel movies are, aside from Black Widow, there's not much in the way of female super heroics. Compound that with there being no plans even for a Black Widow movie on the horizon, a lot of people take the exclusion of Janet Van Dyne as another example of a studio posting a "No Girls Allowed" sign on a pretty popular movie franchise.

Still others take #JanetVanCrime a step further and say that her removal from movie canon sweeps the issue of domestic violence under the rug. As famous as Janet Van Dyne is as a founding Avengers, she's perhaps more famous for one of comicdom's most controversial moments. Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man (in the movie Paul Rudd will be playing Ant-Man number 2, Scott Lang), having suffered a number of nervous breakdowns, actually slaps Janet, his then wife. 

Sorry, Hank, but fans will never actually let you redeem yourself for this. 

It's a dark moment, and one that, since it's 1981 publication, has all but defined both characters for fans. It also didn’t help that writer Mark Millar all but doubled down on the domestic violence in his 2002 run on The Ultimates, a book set outside of main Marvel continuity but still the blueprint for much of Marvel’s movie universe. The Ultimates not only saw Hank Pym once again hit his partner Janet Van Dyne, but Millar and artist Bryan Hitch portraying the abuse much more savagely. There's an overt implication that this is the norm in their relationship; that Pym consistently beats her. At one point Pym is even shown going after Van Dyne with a can of bug spray as she shrinks to escape him. 

Believe it or not, this is the tamest part of the sequence.

So where does Chris stand on all of this?

Janet Van Dyne has always been one of my favorite Avengers. She's always seemed to have a much more fleshed out personality compared to a few of her teammates. Sometimes she's all business, sometimes she's flighty, and sometimes she'd rather hang out with her friends than do the whole super hero thing. Most importantly, Janet Van Dyne has consistently proven to be one of the team's go-to leaders, with even Captain America himself voting for her on multiple occasions to ride shotgun in the Quinjet. She's not just a strong female character, she's a strong character period and I think Marvel is missing out big time by not including her. More often than not, her's is the voice of reason, the voice of levity and the voice the others follow into battle.

Thor doesn't swear by Odin's blood to follow just anyone, ya know...

But remember how I said before it's rare that you can have a conversation about Janet Van Dyne without having one about Hank Pym hitting her? That moment happened over 30 years ago, in one panel of one issue of one comic. 30 plus years have passed since then and the character has gone on to do so much, and yet any conversation seems to inevitably turn to domestic violence (interesting aside, there is debate as to if Pym was even intended to have hit her or if the artist just misinterpreted the writer's instructions.)

As important an issue as domestic abuse is (and to be sure, it is very important) I don't know that I can fault Marvel for not wanting that to be the focus of two of their characters. And to be sure, that would be the focus. Entertainment Weekly or TMZ or Buzzfeed or any number of other sources looking to get clicks would eventually write that article tying the latest potential Marvel blockbuster to domestic violence. It sucks though that to get around this the only option the studio seems to have come up with is the removal of one of the most celebrated and distinguished characters, male or female, to have ever answered the call of "AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!"

To be fair, we could all be over thinking this and the studio could have just opted to go with a story that, for whatever reason, has no place for Janet Van Dyne (although I can't imagine that being a scenario when it comes to an Ant-Man movie). Or, more likely, Evangaline Lily's character, Hope Van Dyne, is just a Janet Van Dyne by another name.

I hope the latter is the case, as there's no denying the fact that The Avengers is pretty much a big sausage party at this point and that needs to change. Black Widow isn't the only female super hero in Marvel's "library of 5,000 characters" and Marvel is certainly aware of that. But with the ditching of Janet Van Dyne and much of that decision's reaction, I think now is the time for the studio to come to terms with what fans of both comics and film already know: female super heroes kick ass and we want more of them in our movies.

Next up: Milo Manara’s Spider-Woman…

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