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CAPTAIN COMICS: New Wasp is big on girl smarts and strength

by ANDREW A. SMITH Tribune News Service on January 08, 2017 12:59 AM

She is the daughter of Henry “Ant-Man” Pym. She has taken on the legacy of Pym’s former partner, Janet Van Dyne. She was raised in the Red Room, the Russian espionage school that gave us the Black Widow.

And, according to Jeremy Whitley (“Princeless”), who will be writing the new “Unstoppable Wasp” series for Marvel Comics, she’s a little bit of all of them. Well, with the addition of her actual mother, an obscure character named Maria Trovaya, who was once married to Hank Pym.

“She looks a little like her mother, Maria,” Whitley said in an interview. “Her real resemblance to Hank is in the way she thinks. She’s creative and intelligent. She’s obsessive and can’t let go of things she can’t fix or figure out. Like Hank, her mind doesn’t stop. She’s always thinking, always turning things over in her mind. Unlike Hank, she’s much more optimistic. I think she’s, in a lot of ways, the perfect blend between Hank and her stepmother Janet Van Dyne, the original Wasp. She has Janet’s heart and spirit and Hank’s scientific mind.”

Hank Pym, of course, is the super-genius who discovered how to shrink himself and talk to ants back in 1962. This being comics, he put on a costume and fought crime as Ant-Man instead of just getting rich off the patents. (The next year he learned to grow as well, becoming Giant-Man, and later Goliath.)

Janet Van Dyne was his fiancee, a flighty millionaire heiress with a penchant for fashion design. She became the Wasp in 1963, when Pym gave her the power to shrink, bio-engineered insect wings and a weapon called “the Wasp’s sting.” She was a co-founder of the Avengers along with Ant-Man, and at one point even chaired the team.

Pym and Van Dyne were once married, but that partnership, along with their superhero one, has long since dissolved. Currently Pym is “dead” — nobody believes he really is, even in the comics — and Jan is semi-retired.

Which opens the door for the new Wasp, Nadia Pym. She is both a new character, and a callback to those early days of Ant-Man and the Wasp.

See, waaaaaaay back in 1963 Pym revealed to Van Dyne that he had been married before. His first wife, Maria, was the daughter of a Hungarian scientist who had defected from the Communist Bloc. (In those days, Hungary was behind the Iron Curtain.)

The scientist was killed in a suspicious accident, and then Maria was kidnapped by foreign (read: Commie) agents. Pym, and comics readers, never saw her again.

But, as it turned out, Maria was pregnant when she was kidnapped. And while she is long since dead, her daughter, Nadia, is alive.

Nadia was raised in the Red Room, where the Russians train secret agents like the Black Widow, but she escaped by mastering her father’s discoveries. We learned all this in the “Free Comic Book Day 2016: Avengers” one-shot, written by Mark Waid, and in “All-New, All-Different Avengers” #14, co-written by Waid and Whitley.

And that leads directly to “Unstoppable Wasp” #1, out in January, written by Whitley and drawn by up-and-comer Elsa Charretier. Whitley can’t wait.

“I’ve loved the character of Nadia since I read her first appearance,” Whitley said. “She has a sense of intelligence and optimism that I just love. I had been talking to my editor, Tom Brevoort, about working on more projects with Marvel for a while and he thought Wasp would be up my alley. I talked to Mark Waid a bit about how he saw the character and I dreamed up my idea of what a book about that character should look like. I’ve added a lot to Nadia as I’ve gone.”

Although there’s plenty to work with, given Nadia’s origin. She’s already a tougher opponent than the original Wasp. Nadia’s armored, with stronger wings and weapons. And there’s that whole Red Room thing.

“Nadia was being trained to be an assassin from a very young age, so she’s bound to have a certain amount of toughness built in,” Whitley said. “In that respect, she has something that neither Janet nor Hank ever had, and that is hand-to-hand combat skills. And ... she’s a pretty good blend of their mental and emotional strengths.”

But as Natalya Romanova can tell you, it’s not easy being raised as a spy and assassin. You don’t exactly go to prom, for example. Fortunately, the original Wasp, an accomplished socialite from way back, is on hand to help out.

“The big thing that she’s missing, that Janet has in spades, is social know-how,” Whitley said. “Nadia has never had a social life. She’s never had friends. She doesn’t know how she’s supposed to move about the world.”

Nadia is also technically an illegal immigrant, which Whitley says is “definitely something we’re going to touch on” in the first issue. “Nadia, for what it’s worth, is not particularly concerned about it, but the adults in her life ... are going to make sure it gets straightened out.”

And the sooner the better, because it looks like “Unstoppable Wasp” will be light on the grim-n-gritty.

Nadia’s had a terrible childhood, but now she’s a teen superhero — and that means doing cool things and hanging out with cool super-teens, like Ms. Marvel and Moon Girl.

That attitude is reflected in the art as well. Charretier’s work is detailed but light-hearted, character-oriented but still a little cartoony. It’s work that shouts, “I’m having fun!” Which is probably the case.

When Marvel offered “Unstoppable Wasp” to Charretier, she told Newsarama.com, “they pitched it like a female-driven series (which was really appealing to me), centered on action and science. Real science, engineering, chemistry, physics. Just with these two things, I was sold.”

And it was Charretier’s idea, Whitley told ComicBookResources.com, to use the letters page in each issue to feature real women scientists. Maybe some girl reading that today will become the Nadia Pym of tomorrow.

And what else does Charretier bring to the table?

“Everything!” Whitley said. “Elsa is an amazing artist. She captures facial expressions and body movements like few artists in comics right now. Her characters move and have personality in ways that make this book what it is. It wouldn’t be possible without her. In a lot of ways her art reminds me of the late great Darwyn Cooke (“New Frontier”). She’s literally everything I could have asked for from an artist. And beyond that she’s a true collaborator. She has a lot of ideas on how to make the book better and I can’t recall saying, ‘I think that’s a bad idea’ even once.”

And Nadia’s super friends are only the beginning of the supporting cast.

“We’re building a cast of brand new characters to support Nadia as she’s putting together a lab of girl geniuses to save the world,” Whitley said. “Elsa’s designs on these girls is amazing and I can’t wait for you guys out there to read it.”

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