I’m an Unstoppable Wasp fangirl. My Twitter handle changed to Kay, Agent of G.I.R.L., the day the new series was announced, and I haven’t changed it back. I have loved this book since the first issue of the first run, and the new run has just made my love stronger.
Writer: Jeremy Whitley
Today, Issue #4 comes out, and this is a heavy one. Like, this makes the conversation about Hank’s abuse of Janet in the last issue of the first run seem mild and lighthearted in comparison. Issue #3 ended with the G.I.R.L. lab being attacked by A.I.M.; all the girls are injured. Issue #4 deals with the aftermath of that. It dives headfirst into mental health issues, and it doesn’t pull a single punch.
An even mildly accurate portrayal of a mental health crisis in mainstream comics is rare enough. In a mainstream comic, where heroes are often lauded for having symptoms of poor mental health and taking lousy care of themselves? In a year when Heroes In Crisis is perpetuating some of the worst stereotypes and stigmas and flat out inaccuracies about mental health that I’ve ever seen? Issue #4 of Unstoppable Wasp is completely unique.
Here there be spoilers. Proceed with caution. Also, trigger warnings for physical abuse and mental health disorders.
Hank Pym, Nadia’s father, is bipolar. Bipolar disorder appears to have a genetic component, and runs in families. In this issue, we see what that looks like for Nadia.
In the aftermath of the attack, Janet notices that something’s off with Nadia, but she’s got so much else to handle – her shoulder is dislocated, Bobbi has broken a leg, all of the girls have been hurt, Priya is unconscious due to a mysterious gas – that she thinks Nadia will be alright. We see her going through everything at the hospital, taking care of everyone else before she finally takes care of herself.
Nadia, meanwhile, begins to assess the damage and what led to it. What starts as a (semi) reasonable list to figure out what happened with A.I.M. and find the next step turns into a quest to fix a thousand problems – including all of her friends, who she notes as “broken” in some way – and moves from project to project without finishing anything. In the art, it’s clear that she’s falling farther and farther apart – and without question, Gurihiru did an incredible job showing this gradual transition.
Nadia is in the midst of a full-blown manic episode. By the time Janet realizes that Nadia isn’t at the hospital, Nadia has disappeared into her mobile lab, a tiny crystal lab she made where hours outside pass as days inside, and she can work “without interruption.” When she comes out of the lab, and all her friends are there, she tries to retreat again. When Shay tries to stop her, Nadia repeats one of her father’s greatest mistakes. She grabs Shay and throws her into the chalkboard, then says a classic abuser line: she didn’t want to do any of that. The issue ends with Ying challenging Nadia to fight, saying “Why don’t you fight someone at your own level?”
I was crying at the end of this issue, and not just because the story was sad and scary. As I said above, this is the first time I’ve seen mental health issues handle in a way that felt respectful, thorough, and accurate. Nadia’s not demonized at any point for the way she’s falling apart. The way she behaves is unacceptable, but she is not inherently broken because of what she’s experiencing.
I also like the way this comic fits into the overall pacing of the arc. It’s not often that you get to see a team injured, worn out, and needing to regroup. Having that happen here was refreshing, even without the mental health content. Seeing Janet struggling to balance her own needs with the needs of the girls she is trying to protect really hit me as a mom. (Shout out to Whitley for Bobbi’s comment that she’s “99% of the way to being a super soldier” so that we’re not questioning why she’s walking by the end of the issue.)
Mental health is rarely given the space or time it needs to be handled properly in fiction, much less in comics. This issue is utterly unique. I can think of a handful of books that have handled depression properly, and nothing that’s touched on the swings of bipolar, especially in a manic episode.
I was scared as I read this issue, terrified that one of my favorite writers wasn’t going to be able to pull off a seriously ambitious goal. By the end of the issue, I was crying. I’d hoped for a competent portrayal of what struggling with mental health can be like. What I got was a compassionate, accurate, and extremely well written portrayal. This was more than I ever thought it could be.
Even with my qualms eased, I am nervous about the payoff in the next issue. The depression that generally follows a manic episode is severe, and Janet has her own traumas from dealing with Hank’s undiagnosed mental illness for years. But after reading this, I trust Whitley and Gurihiru to keep the promises of this issue.
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