Asian-American mutant Janet Van Dyne grew up on a military base near Dusseldorf, Germany, but later went to college in America. Studying science at NYU, she roomed with fellow "army brat" Betty Ross and dated Hank Pym, an unstable scientific genius who sometimes physically abused her. Claiming the good times made the bad times worth it, Jan stuck by Hank despite his abuse, and eventually married him. Her low self-esteem may have stemmed in part from her secret mutant traits (insect-like properties and the power to reduce her own physical size), which she concealed from everyone but Pym. When she and Hank worked at S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Super-Soldier Research Facility under Bruce Banner (later the monstrous Hulk), Jan allowed Hank to take credit for supposedly creating her powers by scientific means, and Pym made various scientific breakthroughs based on his genetic studies of Jan. The Pyms were later promoted to head the research and development wing of the government's new superhuman strike force, the Ultimates, with Banner as their deputy and Betty Ross as the program's Director of Communications. The Pyms also became two of the program's founding super-operatives as the Wasp and Giant-Man (Hank using a new growth formula), and Jan embraced her new status as a celebrity. Humiliated and injured in battle by a rampaging Hulk and jealous of teammate Captain America, Hank nearly killed Jan during a subsequent domestic fight, engulfing the shrunken Wasp in an army of hostile ants.
While Hank fled and Jan recovered, Hank's former assistant Eamonn Brankin took over the Ultimates' R&D operations. Captain America apprehended Hank, beating Pym into traction, but an embarrassed and confused Jan denounced the Captain's meddling and considered quitting the team. After helping the Ultimates save Earth from the extraterrestrial Chitauri, Jan decided to stay on, cutting ties with Hank and dating Captain America. This new relationship was controversial since the Pyms were not yet formally divorced, and Jan gradually wearied of the generation gap between herself and the 1940s-born Captain America. She also began to feel increasingly marginalized and excluded as the Ultimates expanded. Feeling alienated from her team and her lover, Jan began secretly seeing Hank (long since fired from the Ultimates), albeit platonically, and left Captain America after he discovered and denounced this "affair".