We all know Janet van Dyne, The Wasp, but Nadia, The Unstoppable Wasp, is a whole other experience. She’s smart, she knows it, and she’s here to shake things up, starting with the scientific patriarchy. Oh, and take down the organization that kidnapped and raised her. And make friends, even with villains. And finish her dad’s projects. And maybe take the bomb out of her friend’s head. Who needs sleep?
Every once in a while, there’s a comic that has a very sound concept, but has trouble with follow-through. Unstoppable Wasp is such a case; volume one is interesting enough at first, though a bit unbearably cheerful and manic, before descending into just kind of silly to the point of feeling pandering. Volume two picks up at the end of volume one, ties them together, and adds in another level of depth and interest.
My primary problem with the Unstoppable Wasp comics is the writing; the first volume especially feels like one long advertisement for diversity in science, especially with the significant number of pages at the end dedicated to interviews with real women in science. Of course, they’re not just women in science, but women in science who also have social media handles and/or are involved in TV or YouTube.
That’s great, and sure, we should talk more about it, but within the story it comes across as the White Savior bringing together her plucky team of disadvantaged girls of color. Because, of course, the rest of the team are girls of color, each from a slightly different background. It doesn’t help that after forming the Agents of G.I.R.L. (an unfortunate acronym that matches the phrase Nadia ascribes to it), the plot never comes back to them for the rest of the first volume. Thankfully, the second volume circles back and gives more detail to each girl beyond just say, Black, into pop culture, quirky dresser, and engineer. Overall though, there’s a weirdly strong emphasis on whether they’re interested in fashion or not, adding to a Barbie feel.
The art is also variable; the first volume is very smooth, but the girls all look strangely the same in body shape, facial features, and coloring. The exception is Lashayla, who is actually a darker-skinned Black girl, an unusual sight in comics. The second volume gives much greater visual variety, though Lashayla is strangely much lighter in skin tone, which is disappointing. The one consistent complaint I have with the art is that the girls all have overfull lips in both volumes. It’s a little disconcerting, but also something of a nod to older comics. Otherwise, the art does a good job of conveying the frenetic energy of Nadia and handling this very dialogue-heavy comic.
The most distinguishing feature of Unstoppable Wasp is that it discusses mental illness in teenagers. We’ve seen discussion of mental health in comics before, even in Marvel (consider the Mariko Tamaki run of She-Hulk), but as far as I know, almost never with youth. And the most remarkable part of it is that they don’t do a bad job of it. There’s discussion of likely genetic links, therapy sessions, and medication. There’s supportive family and friends, encouraging her to take care of herself. Mixed in with that is talk of having to separate the public, heroic image of a person and the personal image that can be more troubled. This means a brief discussion of domestic abuse; I wish that had been expanded a little more because it feels like that particular topic is brought up and quickly set aside, though not done poorly.
I can’t strongly recommend this series because the first volume is so rocky, but if you’re looking to add to your collection with more diverse superheroes and something tailored towards teens, Unstoppable Wasp is a solid choice. It would be a great suggestion as further reading for lovers of comics like Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, or Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat.
The Unstoppable Wasp, vols. 1-2
By Jeremy Whitley
Art by Elsa Charretier, Alti Firmansyah & Gurihiru
Publisher Age Rating: T+
Series Reading Order: https://www.goodreads.com/series/208648-the-unstoppable-wasp-2017 (Wikipedia or Goodreads)
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NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13), Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Traits: Characters with Disability East Asian, Black, Latinx Queer,