Understanding That ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ Surprise

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There may be a special Marvel Easter Egg hidden in plain sight.

Ant-Man and the Wasp was double the fun for fans of the Wasp, with two versions of the character getting time to shine.

Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) helps her father, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), on the mission to rescue Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Realm, where she’s been stuck for 30 years. When Janet returns, she’s got untold powers that she uses to partially heal Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen). The full breadth of her powers are unknown, for now, but begs the question: Just how did 30 years in the Quantum Realm change or evolve her?

For some, the fact that Janet returns from the Quantum Realm with new powers and abilities in Ant-Man and the Wasp may seem inconsistent with comic book canon — after all, the comic book Janet van Dyne came back from an extended stay in the Microverse (the comic book version of the Quantum Realm) without any similar power-up. And yet, long-term Marvel comic book fans might recognize a … universal explanation for what’s happening with Janet — one that could connect the Ant-Man movies to Marvel Studios’ more cosmic output.

A 2012 storyline in the Avengers comic book series featured the return of Janet van Dyne after an extended stay in the subatomic Microverse — during which time she was believed dead by Hank Pym and others, a la the Ant-Man movies — but, once back in the regular Marvel Universe, she didn’t display the kind of increased power-set her cinematic counterpart does. That wasn’t a surprise; in Marvel’s comic book mythology, characters venture back and forth between the Micro- and Macroverses without it impacting their abilities in any way. (Admittedly, characters from the Microverse tend to stay small, but they are called “Micronauts.”)

That said, the 1979 Micronauts comic book series did introduce a concept that could explain away what happened to the onscreen Janet, as unlikely as it seems. Debuting in the eighth issue of the series, Captain Universe is a superhero with a particularly unusual gimmick: As the tagline of the character’s (rare) solo appearances put it, Captain Universe is “the hero that could be you!”

According to Marvel mythology, the Enigma Force — a sentient cosmic energy that is, in some way, connected to the very life force of Microverse — is responsible for the creation of something called the Uni-Power. Again, what the Uni-Power exactly is has always been left suitably unclear, but the short version is, it’s a force that is transferred to individuals in times of need, transforming them into Captain Universe, a costumed superhero with a variable power set that traditionally includes flight, super-strength and enhanced versions of the user’s traditional abilities. The Uni-Power doesn’t stick around, however; once the immediate danger has passed, it tends to move on to an unknown future host.

Captain Universe is far from the most high-profile character in the Marvel Universe, but the concept has shown up in series including The Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers and The Incredible Hulk, as well as a brief Captain Universe strip that ran in anthology title Marvel Spotlight for three issues starting in 1980. Unlike many of the characters and concepts introduced in the Micronauts comic, the intellectual property to Captain Universe didn’t originate as part of the original Mego toyline, and is therefore available for Marvel to use in whatever medium it chooses — including movies.

It’s a stretch, admittedly, that the cinematic Janet van Dyne’s power boost comes from a quasi-obscure comic book concept from an entirely different comic book series in the 1970s … but if the Marvel Cinematic Universe has proven anything across the past decade, it’s that quasi-obscure comic book concepts are one of the things that it does very, very well indeed. Maybe the third movie in the Ant-Man series could be called Ant-Man, The Wasp and Captain Universe after all …?

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