Marvel Comics has made a concerted effort to highlight both young heroes and the STEM fields in their series of late, with books like The Invincible Iron Man, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Spider-Man, and Ms. Marvel starring teenagers employing science in their superheroics.
Writer Jeremy Whitley is exploring that intersection of superheroes and science in his new Marvel series Unstoppable Wasp, debuting today. Starring Nadia Pym, the stepdaughter of original Wasp and Avengers founding member Janet Van Dyne, Unstoppable Wasp is a perfect recipe of ebullient fun, science-centric storytelling, and character-driven narrative. Mr. Whitely spoke with me recently about the evolution of the series, what Nadia Pym is all about, and his hopes for the series.
FreakSugar: For folks who might be considering picking up the book, how would you describe Unstoppable Wasp?
Jeremy Whitley: Unstoppable Wasp is equal parts superhero comic and science adventure. We wanted to make something fun and exciting that everyone could enjoy. I think it hails back to books like the original Fantastic Four and Doc Savage, but with a 16-year-old girl as the super genius instead of a pipe smoking man’s man. It’s fun and optimistic.
FS: What can you tell us about Nadia Pym, the new Wasp starring in the series? What attracted you to writing the character?
JW: Nadia is the daughter of Hank Pym (the original Ant-Man) and his first wife, Maria Travoya, who was kidnapped and later revealed to be dead. What we didn’t know at the time was that Maria was pregnant and gave birth to Naida while locked up. Nadia has been raised inside The Red Room, the same group that trains girls to become assassins and is responsible for making the Black Widow the woman she is.
But what attracted me to Nadia was not that, but the fact that despite everything that’s happened to her, she is an optimist with an unbreakable spirit. Nadia spent 16 years in a bunker which she escaped to meet her father, only to discover that he was dead. She has every right to be angry and even depressed, but she chooses instead to be a hero.
FS: How did you become involved with the series to ultimately becoming its writer?
JW: Persistence. I had wanted to do work for Marvel for a long time and I got a chance to do a short story in Secret Wars: Secret Love back in 2015. I wanted to do more, so I continued to ask editors if they were looking for anyone and share the work I was doing both on my creator owned books and at other companies. Eventually Tom Brevoort mentioned that he thought I’d be a good fit for this book and asked me to pitch my idea for the series. I had loved the character, so I put together a pitch for the kind of series I’d like to see her in and Marvel loved it. I haven’t stopped wanting to write Nadia since.
FS: What are some of the themes you want to explore in Unstoppable Wasp? In your mind, what is the series about?
JW: The series is about building the world you want to see. We talk quite a bit about science and inherent bias in the first issue. For good or for ill, Nadia’s solution is to create her own lab and go out and find the girl geniuses of the world herself. We’re gonna talk about science, we’re gonna talk about girls in STEM fields. We’re gonna talk about being a hero and determining your own destiny. We’re gonna explore everything the Marvel Universe will let us get our hands on!
FS: What is the collaboration process like with Elsa Charretier, the book’s artist? What makes her style a great fit for the series? (I threw in that “great” qualifier because all of the art I’ve seen so far for the book is fantastic.)
JW: Elsa is amazing to work with. A lot of the best ideas you’ll see in the book sprang either directly out of her brain or out of conversations she and I had as we were putting it together. The sense of style that all the girls have, the idea of breaking down some of the science in the book, and what we’re doing with our letters pages all came at least partly from her.
And that’s not even talking about the sheer quality of her work. Elsa’s work reminds me of a lot of my favorites like Darwyn Cooke and Paul Dini. Her designs are so classic as to seem simple or obvious, but only she could do them. I know readers are going to love it. I’m lucky to be working with her.
FS: Nadia has been shown to have a connection to the wider Marvel Universe already, not just to Hank Pym, but to characters like Jarvis and Janet Van Dyne as well. Will we see any established characters pop up in the early issues or are you more concerned with world-building before you venture outward into the greater Marvel Universe?
JW: Oh, we’ll be doing both. That’s actually one of the pretty distinct things about Nadia that I really like. Yes, she’s a breath of fresh air, but by virtue of who her father is she’s also intrinsically connected to the Avengers and to the lore of the greater Marvel Universe. So while we’re building something new ourselves, we are most certainly going to see some established characters. Jarvis and Janet will be major parts of Nadia’s life, but beyond that in the very first issue we have an appearance by Mockingbird, one of Marvel’s first lady scientists. I honestly think that in the next few issues, we’ll meet somebody new and somebody that’s a classic part of the Marvel Universe every issue.
FS: Following up on that, the fact that Nadia is something of a legacy character and her connection to Hank Pym—who is looked at as something as mixed bag in the hero community—how will her older peers view her and treat her in the series? Will that affect how she approaches superheroics?
JW: Well, we dealt with this a little bit in the Nadia focused issue of All-New All-Different Avengers that I co-wrote with Mark Waid. Nadia idolizes her father, really only knowing him from his work in science and his superheroics. Janet had to decide how much she wanted to tell Nadia about Hank and some of his less charming qualities. For the time being, she and Jarvis have opted to let Nadia believe the best of her father, considering he’s dead and unlikely to disappoint her.
FS: Marvel has made a concerted push to highlight female characters involved in STEM fields, from RiRi Williams in The Invincible Iron Man to Ms. Marvel to Moon Girl. It’s heartening to see another character follow suit. Have you had to do much background prep in order to incorporate science into your stories?
JW: I have had to read up both on real science (for things like robotics) and on comic book “science” (for things like how Pym Particles work). I think one of the most challenging things in writing is to write a character who is significantly smarter than you. And while I got good grades in school, I’m no whiz when it comes to theoretical physics. The more ambitious I make Nadia and friends, the more ambitious I have to be as a writer. It’s challenging, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
As for supporting women in STEM fields, your readers should really check out our letters pages. We’re profiling real women working in science in the back of each issue! They’re pretty amazing.
FS: Speaking of those characters, does Unstoppable Wasp share any tonal DNA with books like Ms. Marvel or Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur?
JW: I certainly think so. Those are both books that are near and dear to my heart and on my nightstand right now. My daughter is a big fan of both Moon Girl and Ms. Marvel and will hopefully end up being a fan of The Wasp as well. I think especially Ms. Marvel which has a light tone but also deals with serious subject matter is a book I aspire to. So much so that Kamala makes an appearance in our first issue.
FS: Ultimately, are there any takeaways you want readers to have after reading Unstoppable Wasp?
JW: I hope that young girls reading the book know that they can do everything that the characters are doing in the book. Maybe not as fast or while the size of a speck of dust, but there are amazing women working in all the fields of science we talk about in the book.
For the average comic book reader though, I hope they come away with a smile on their face and a love for comics. Also, maybe they’ll look at things a little bit differently than they did coming in.
FS: Is there anything you can tease about what we might see going forward in the series?
JW: Well, we will get to see a few more cameos from the greater Marvel U. A certain red dinosaur is making an appearance in the next few months along with a young friend of his. We’ll be bringing in a classic villain from the Marvel Universe. And probably most exciting for us, is we’ll be putting together a lab of girl geniuses, most of whom will be brand new characters!
Unstoppable Wasp #1, written by Jeremy Whitley with Elsa Charretier on art, is on sale now from Marvel Comics.
From the official issue description:
Girl. Genius. Hero. Unstoppable. Nadia spent the entire first half of her life a captive of The Red Room, but now this teenage super-scientist is on her own for the first time, and she’s ready to spread her wings! Hank Pym’s daughter has a lot of time to make up for and she’s determined to change the world. You know, if she can get her U.S. citizenship first. Guest-starring Ms. Marvel and Mockingbird!