Natasha Romanoff grew up in the Red Room. Doing so made her tough, relentless, and strong and for that, for her survivorship, we love her. She is our badass, one of the ultimate VILLAIN MAKES GOOD, KICKS EVIL’S BUTT headliners of comics and movie history. Her time in the Red Room has compromised something vital in her, however, something she struggles to recover, and achieves to an extent, but which she views as a weakness: joy. She is happy sometimes, deliciously snarky, kind, and even optimistic but rarely do we see her experience unfettered, unrestrained joy. Black Widow is always a little bit wistful, a little bit sad, and while, in many ways, she’s all the stronger for fighting through it, she also seems to feel she’s missing something in its absence.
Nadia Pym also grew up in the Red Room. She was, it’s true, a denizen of the science department rather than the, well, assassin department, but she was still a prisoner forcefully separated from her family, still utilized against her will for the designs of others, still denied a childhood. Recently escaped, she comes to the States only to discover the father she has worshipped from afar for so long is dead. She has every right and reason to be wistful, to be sad. To spend her time grieving.
And while she does grieve her father, she doesn’t let his loss taint her freedom.
The Nadia Pym we see in Unstoppable Wasp #1 (Jeremy Whitley/Elsa Charretier) decides to experience her new life to the fullest, despite setbacks and grief. “… I am determined,” she tells Kamala Khan, “to make up that time. To make friends, eat their delicious food, and change the world.”
Nadia has parlayed her freedom into something often lacking from this world of ours, something even more difficult to sustain than rage or dissent or weariness.
She has parlayed it into relentless optimism and relentless joy.
Comic-land is a jaded place and rightfully so. People die tragically all the time. They lose friends, children, parents, spouses. Their DNA is altered by gamma radiation, insect bites, Terrigen Mist, and a whole host of unpredictable, vicious things. They are orphaned, imprisoned, experimented upon. Aliens intent on dominating and/or destroying humanity invade once a week.
The real world is also a jaded place and it always seems as though, when things are finally getting better, suddenly, they’re worse again. A war, a mass casulaty, a new virus or bacteria. Cruelty on a grand scale and on a tiny, scalpel-edged, every-day one. Children die for want of vaccines which have been around for half a century or more, clean water, food and adults slaughter one another over abstract ideologies. Rights are taken away, humans are bought and sold, fiction substituted for facts at the cost of liberty and lives.
There will always be adversity. There will always be something to fear. Even if we, humanity, could find it within us to cooperate, to come together, to accept one another, there would be reasons for pessimism, for a dour outlook.
Reasons to give up.
How then, do we persist? How do we craft lives which feel worthy of the effort we put in when we have so little control over that which enters them?
How to we become as unstoppable as Nadia Pym?
Find something to love.
Find something to love as relentlessly as Nadia loves science and Pakastani pastries.
With that love will come relentless joy.
It doesn’t have to be anything in particular. It can be as small as baking cookies or as huge as standing up for a stranger being harassed on a bus because she’s hijabi. It can be a book you read a thousand times or a book you write for the world to see. A Star Wars RPG you play with a few friends or volunteering for the Red Cross. It can be for you or for someone else, or for all of the above. Dancing or singing or protesting or writing columns you hope convince people comics are much more than capes and tights (though capes and tights are great too).
Not all of us are temperamentally suited for relentless optimism. I know I’m not. I enjoy a good sulk here and there and it seems to be good for my fiction writing; I also find a certain degree of anger a useful tool for kicking my rear end out of a rut or a bad situation. Sometimes (though not in the case of the Unstoppable Wasp), relentless optimism, especially when it’s forced or seen as some sort of social duty, is relentlessly irritating. And that’s fine. I’m sure Nadia will have her down times, those moments when she feels defeated and angry or sad or furious. We’re humans. It’s what we do. But she’ll come out of it because the more important part, the relentless joy is part of who she is. Because she loves relentlessly and those things she loves, large or small, friends or ballushai or saving the world or Science Lady Adventures with Bobbi Morse will sustain her.
There will always be adversity. Some of the things we love may be things we also fear. And if they are, remember the Carrie Fisher’s advice:
““Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”
Help your children find something they love relentlessly. It can be something for which you share an affinity but it will probably be something different. Support them in that. Encourage them to delve in, to geek out, to immerse. When their hard times come, and as much as we wish it was otherwise, they will, that thing will be their lifeline.
It will save them.
Teach them to love what they love no matter what anyone else says about it. Insist on it. Love art, love science, love something, love anything. Protect it fiercely, let it be your haven and theirs.
Eat all the ballushai and your life will always be yours.
Unrelated sidenote: If you think Science Bros are cool, you should see Bobbi Morse and Nadia Pym as “Science Ladies having Science Adventures.” It is everything.
Unstoppable Wasp #1 by Jeremy Whitley and Elsa Carretier is available now. Or, at least, it was. It sold out really fast so if you don’t have it, ask your comic shop about a second printing. And make sure you add it to your pull list for next month so you don’t ever have to wait again.