Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Will O’ the Wasp

Posted by Don MacPherson on January 7th, 2017

The Unstoppable Wasp #1
Writer: Jeremy Whitley
Artist: Elsa Charretier
Colors: Megan Wilson
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Joe Caramagna
Cover artists: Elsa Charretier (regular)/Elizabeth Torque, Nelson Blake II, Skottie Young, John Tyler Christopher & Andy Park (variants)
Editors: Alanna Smith & Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

I was surprised at how quickly the Wasp, only recently introduced into the Marvel Universe, was spun off into her own series, and while I liked the character concept and design, I wasn’t sure I’d bother to check this new book out. Ultimately, I decided to give it a whirl, and I’m thrilled that I did. While some dour drama can dominate more prominent titles in the Marvel title, there’s a small corner of the line that focuses on fun and a broader appeal. The Unstoppable Wasp falls into that latter category, and I hope it develops a following like other recent female-led books from the House of Ideas.

Nadia may have been denied a traditional upbringing, separated from a father she never knew and forced into servitude by a corrupt administration, but you’d never know it if you met her. She loves her life, and every discovery in her new home is an adventure. And that’s saying something, since she embarks on real adventures as the new Wasp. Take, for example, her team-up with Ms. Marvel and Mockingbird to take on Monica Rappaccini, a former A.I.M. scientist supreme who’s running amok in New York at the helm of a giant robot.

I wasn’t at all familiar with Elsa Charretier’s artwork until I saw it recently gracing the cover of the wonderful Love Is Love anthology benefit book spearheaded by Marc Andreyko. On that project, her style struck me as a lovely cross between the styles of Cliff Chiang and Kyle Baker. But on this new Wasp comic, her work doesn’t seem so soft. Fortunately, it still boasts the same exuberant look that caught my eye. She brings an appropriate youthfulness to the titular character. Charretier also conveys her femininity without resorting to sexualization. The cartoony look of the characters’ faces make them thoroughly expressive, and I love the campy design for the giant robot that serves as the physical threat in this story. The only aspects of the art here that didn’t quite work for me was the occasionally lacking backgrounds and muted color palette that didn’t suit the tone of the story and characters.

When this character was introduced in the pages of All-New, All-Different Avengers, I had assumed writer Mark Waid was trying to lull his audience to a false sense of security about her. I figured she’d turn out to be a fraud and a traitor. However, given the fun and hopeful tone of this new series, I can’t imagine that would be the case, as it would prove to be soul-crushing. Jeremy Whitley has crafted such a warm, loveable and optimistic vision of the character here, it would be a shame to taint that with some kind of betrayal; it also doesn’t seem like something that would allow this new book to be sustainable. I certainly hope Nadia is everything she seems to be here. Something Whitley plays up more than Waid did in the new Wasp’s various Avengers comics appearances is the fact she’s a stranger in a strange land. While she’s brilliant, she’s more than a little out of the loop when it comes to Western culture, and it’s a delight to see her discovering everything from pop references to exotic foods.

Whitley’s also to be commended for offering an accessible plot that nevertheless celebrates the storied history of the Marvel Universe. Nadia’s hero worship of Mockingbird reminds us of her origins as a scientist before she was a secret agent. Mockingbird’s reaction was sweet and touching while remaining entertaining. Other references were delightful, such as the Dazzler music and the inclusion of a villain who’s in keeping with the female scientist riff at the heart of the book.

I wrote earlier today about my decision to cut almost a dozen Marvel titles priced at $3.99 US from my comic-shop pull list due to the publisher’s decision to alter its digital-code redemption program. At the same time, I added this new comic to my pull list. The Unstoppable Wasp is not only a fun, all-ages title, but its ultimate message is to encourage girls to pursue studies and careers in STEM fields (namely, science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Whitley’s script takes a strong stance on the issue, pointing out that in the past, the big brains of the Marvel Universe have been limited to Tony Stark, Reed Richards, Hank Pym and other male characters. It’s a message I support, and I’m choosing to support it with my money. Honestly, it’s a message I want my nieces to see, and I also plan to put collections of this series in their hands. The team behind this comic further reinforces that positive message with some less wondrous but equally encouraging examples in the back of the book. In the place of the letters page of this issue is an interview with a couple of women in science – real women, not denizens of the Marvel Universe.

With this book and others before it – Ms. Marvel, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur – Marvel has wisely endeavoured to expand its appeal to younger and female readers, but it’s done so in a way that also offers an entertaining experience for its readership as a whole. 8/10

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