By Taylor Anderson and Spencer Irwin
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Taylor: Nadia Pym isn’t the first person to don the Wasp moniker. Long before she became the Unstoppable Wasp, Janet Van Dyne was rocking a set of insectoid wings and shrinking down to microscopic sizes. The accolades Janet earned as Wasp are long, but suffice it to say that, as a founding member of the Avengers, her superhero resume is pretty well stacked. With such an impressive background, it’s interesting to consider what Janet thinks about Nadia, the love child of her husband with another woman and in many ways the younger version of herself. In bold fashion, Unstoppable Wasp 7 answers this question by shifting its narrative perspective and centering the action on the Wasp that started it all.
Issue 7 stands out immediately because of this shift. The previous six issues of Unstoppable Wasp followed Nadia’s adventures with her chiming in with the occasional narration. That all changes in this issue from the very start. The main character of this issue is Janet, and Nadia is simply a character, albeit a major one, in Janet’s life. As such, Janet gets a fair amount of narration in this issue and we learn what she thinks of Nadia and how she views herself as a hero now that she is no longer the only Wasp in town.
This latter subject is the one I find the most interesting about this issue. Janet is essentially what amounts to an elder statesmen in the the superheroing world. That much is especially true now that Nadia is in town and running the Wasp game. Janet seems okay with this for the most part — she recognizes that she’s not a young gun anymore and seems happy to let Nadia do the superheroing so maybe she can get more time to relax. However, when the time comes, Janet is ready to act, and while she may still be able to punch the daylights out of villains, her true super power lies elsewhere these days.
As Janet herself says, her real power now is the ability to simply get shit done. This should come as no surprise to those who remember that Janet was once the leader of the Avengers, but her ability to act is second to none. In this case, her actions are all about networking and advocating for Nadia and basically doing things that a teenager can’t do. This makes sense for where Janet is in her life right now. She’s a powerful businesswoman and has been around the superheroing block a few times. She’s now the executive expert willing to do the administration work few superheroes want to think about doing.
That Janet does this for Nadia is of special importance. Throughout the first six issues of this series it has been easy to forget that Nadia is still a teenager. Sure, she has that trademark enthusiasm for science and righteousness, but in a lot of ways she acts like an adult. This issue reminds us that Nadia is still a kid, though. When Ying goes to the hospital after having a bomb removed from her spine, G.I.R.L. is in jeopardy of disbandment. Needless to say, this has Nadia freaking out.
All along the way Janet recognizes that Nadia needs her support and can’t handle all of this by herself. First, she makes sure to calm Nadia down and then she tends to her emotionally. After that, she takes care of all the problems Nadia was worried about above. Basically Janet is acting as Nadia’s parent here, and it’s never been more clear that Nadia needs Janet to be just that. Nadia is dealing with a lot: she’s worried about her friend dying, she’s paranoid about assassins, and she’s trying to keep her super team together. Few, if any, teenagers could deal with all of this, and Nadia is lucky she has Janet here to help her out when she most needs it.
The shift in focus from Nadia to Janet is impressive and writer Jeremy Whitley deserves credit for pulling it off so well. However, artist Veronica Fish deserves some praise for her fine artwork in this issue, as well. There’s a lot to like here, but there is one panel in particular that I find stunning. When Janet is attacked by Whirlwind and Beetle late in the issue, she tumbles down a stairwell in the midst of battle. Fish’s depiction of this is spectacular.
In an Escher-esk panel, Fish depicts Janet and Beetle as they battle and tumble down a long stairwell. I always love it when artists use several figures to show how characters move through a space, but that’s not the real prize here. What’s a marvel is how Fish leads our eye in a whirlpool motion around the stairs as the action goes along. What’s unique about this, is the way it leads our eye. Traditionally we read comics right to left, but here we first read right, then down, then left, the up, and so on. This goes against basic comic reading instinct and this shift in perspective (just like the narrative!) is a fresh take on things.
Spencer, I really liked this issue. It feels very settled and confidant in itself and overall is just a nice read. Do you agree? What do you make of Janet’s somewhat jaded thoughts on the heroing business? And were you ever actually afraid that Whirlwind and Beetle posed any real risk to our heroes?
Spencer: Nah, although it is nice to see Beetle being used outside of a Nick Spencer book (the Superior Foes gang are characters I’m always excited to see pop up anywhere). Whitley mainly seems to be using these two villains to show how well Janet and Nadia work together, and they make an interesting foil in that regard. Both pairs consist of a veteran (Whirlwind, Janet) and a next-gen (Beetle, Nadia), but while Nadia and Janet respect each other and have already built a great rapport, Whirlwind and Beetle can’t get out of each others’ way.
And the fact that Janet is portrayed as the confident veteran superhero that she is is this issue’s greatest strength. Janet Van Dyne’s Wasp is a character that’s gotten a bad rap throughout the years, much of it stemming from her early treatment as the original Avengers’ token female character. Despite the sporadic brilliance of Marvel’s Silver Age stories, their treatment of women was abysmal (even for the era), and she’s often been labeled as shallow, redundant, or stereotypical ever since. Whitley tackles those accusations head on.
I’ll admit, I’m not often a fan of stories so bluntly addressing this kind of thing (remember how awkward those scenes of Johns’ Aquaman trying to claim he doesn’t “talk” to fish in the New 52 came across?), but Whitley and Fish do a lot right in this instance. For starters, Jan is rather nonplussed about the whole thing. She’s not desperate to prove herself (she’s already more than done that), so the creative team thus doesn’t feel desperate either. Secondly, Janet doesn’t just tell us that her power is “getting thing done,” but she shows us how she gets things done, and it’s by embracing qualities that many of her detractors view as faults.
Janet’s been criticized in the past for her bubbly and outgoing personality, but it’s allowed her to make friends throughout the superhero community who will always help her out when it matters the most. She’s been criticized for her “stereotypical” interest in fashion, but she’s turned it into a career which, again, has opened doors for her among NYC’s most influential. She’s a woman of privilege, but she uses the social skills she’s gained from it for good — the charm and persuasion she shows when talking to, say, the warden, is as useful a skill as any of Jan’s superpowers.
Yet, Janet’s interests shouldn’t need to be justified by their usefulness, and thankfully, Whitley doesn’t fall into that trap.
Her concern about paparazzi is a bit minor compared to what Nadia’s going through, but Janet is never demonized for the thought or for her celebrity lifestyle. Janet’s interest in fashion and fame are just a part of her the same way Nadia’s interest in science is for her, and while Janet is no scientist, she supports Nadia’s interests nonetheless because that’s what a polite, well-adjusted person does.
(More importantly, it’s what you do when you love someone. I love seeing Janet’s parental feelings bloom — and it’s to her testament that, if she’s thrown by Hank having a family before they even met, she doesn’t let it affect how she treats Nadia — but if I have one criticism of this issue, it’s how often Whitley mentions that Janet never wanted to be a mother before having her be motherly to Nadia. He doth protest too much — it’s like he’s scared that he’s betraying Janet’s character, or that fans will be upset if she shows affection in a way she hasn’t in the past or something. I don’t think that’s the case, and there’s some uncertainty here that doesn’t otherwise come across in Whitley’s handling of Janet).
So yeah Taylor, I really enjoyed this issue too, and am more than ready for a Janet Van Dyne ongoing. That said, this is still Nadia’s book, and I think it works to Nadia’s benefit to get an outside perspective on her character and her life for an issue. Nadia’s so agitated right now that I don’t think her internal monologue would reveal anything she isn’t already saying out loud anyway, after all. More importantly, Janet is just privy to aspects of Nadia’s life and past that Nadia simply isn’t.
Given everything that Hank Pym has been through (and/or put Janet through), this is a chilling moment, and a nice way to give some flaws and potential roadblocks to a character that, as much as I like, can sometimes come across as a little aggressively perfect. Moreover, it’s an emotion that really only Janet could have identified, making the qualities she brings to Nadia’s life more than just some contacts and money.
Like Taylor, I want to take some time to praise Veronica Fish as well. I’ve really come to like Fish’s work over the past few years, and with Spider-Woman finished and Slam on some sort of extended hiatus, it’s great to see her art grace the pages of a comic again. While Fish’s storytelling skills are tremendously solid, what I enjoyed most this month is the sheer humanity she imbues her characters with. Under Fish’s pen the cast is beyond expressive, and she isn’t afraid to get cartoony even in serious moments.
Take this shot. Nadia is beyond serious, and her hit hurts — you can tell from how stiff her body is, as well as that harsh red colorist Megan Wilson throws into the background. Janet is clearly hurt, yet you still get her cheek scrunching humorously beneath Nadia’s fist. As funny as it looks, it’s also a very real, visceral kind of reaction, yet one many artists might skip in hopes of a more “dynamic” shot. Fish’s art is always dynamic, but she’s most concerned with making her characters as human and relatable as possible. Between Fish and Whitley’s efforts, I’d say The Unstoppable Wasp 7 is a smashing success in that regard. I’d love to hang out with Janet and Nadia, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s a high compliment indeed.
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