Unsatisfied with its stable of failed “feminist” comic arcs, Marvel has introduced another ham-fisted, female-focused short-run comic, ostensibly designed to encourage women to enter the Marvel universe and become fans of its heroes.
The book, The Unstoppable Wasp, is the story of Nadia Pym, the Russian-born daughter of the original Ant-Man and co-founder of SHIELD, Hank Pym. She’s just learning English, struggling to understand American culture, and hoping to help fight the Patriarchal evil that permeates society with her top-notch mind.
The idea isn’t without merit. A savagely brilliant scientist, trained in the same Russian super-spy facility that produced the Black Widow, suddenly loose on an Avengers-starved world? But Marvel, more concerned with appealing to female social justice warriors than to female comic book fans, quickly wastes the golden opportunity.
Nadia’s brain may be a steel trap, but her writers are amateurish. Her dialogue is hard to follow, and when it does make sense, it’s bizarrely stereotypical in its portrayal of the immigrant experience. As she’s conversing with Ms. Marvel and Mockingbird about taking down a giant robot, she’s just hilariously confused about the other teenager’s cultural references.
Thankfully, the three women somehow manage to disentangle themselves from a Harry Potter versus “Hairy Potter” debate long enough to fell the mechanical monster.
Worse, though, when Nadia finally decides to use her powers for good, it’s to promote women in the sciences—not to fight any number of baddies swirling around Marvel’s universe. Confronted with a mythical “list” of the “smartest superheroes,” Nadia and Mockingbird notice that the top-ranking female is at #27.
Odd, since “The List” doesn’t seem to exist outside this comic book, and when nerds debate who’s the smartest in the Marvel Universe, the discussion invariably includes Valeria Richards, daughter of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman.
But not to worry! Nadia is going to fix that with her new initiative to encourage women in the sciences and track down all the missing brilliant women who the Avengers, sexist as they are, simply haven’t tapped as resources. They’re groan-inducingly named, “GIRL” (Genius In Action Research Labs).
But what The Unstoppable Wasp seems to miss—as all Marvel “female-focused” efforts seem to miss—is that all female comic book fans aren’t also Gender Studies majors hell-bent on destroying the Patriarchy, nor do they all desire to be radical, Lena Dunham-style feminist activists. Certainly, more female-focused comic books would be great, but they don’t all have to be about saving the world from a misogynistic society.
Even if they did, Unstoppable Wasp still doesn’t deliver. Despite efforts on the part of “woke” comic book journalists to “mansplain” about its ground-breaking feminism, the lackluster writing, the throwback art, and the sagging story line should be insulting to female readers who take comic books seriously.
It’s as if Marvel thought, “we need to make a comic book that appeals to ladybrains,” and decided that all vagina-supporting individuals were so unfamiliar with the entire comic industry that they’d fail to recognize a slap-dash, patronizing effort when they encountered one.
Even social justice-focused comic arcs don’t have to be exercises in appealing to the lowest common denominator. Black Lives Matter activist Ta-Nehisi Coats penned a dramatic, captivating and intelligent arc for Black Panther, that wasn’t just a breakout moment for the character, but a dynamic riff on relevant themes of power and privilege.
It can be done, but Marvel just isn’t doing it for women. And that, at its core, is just insulting.