Alumna puts sting back in classic Marvel character

Scott Woods // Western News

Sam Maggs, BA’10, is a bestselling author. Spoiler alert: The following statement blows the Western alumna’s mind.

Since graduating from Western a decade ago with a BA in English Language & Literature and Film Studies, Maggs has written an ever-growing number of books, comics, and video games featuring some of the biggest names in pop culture including Captain Marvel, Spider-Man and Captain Kirk.

For her latest adventure, Maggs is writing a young adult (YA) novel featuring Wasp, one of Marvel’s smallest superheroes in terms of size but certainly not in stature.

The original Wasp, Janet van Dyne, was a founding member of the Avengers and actually christened Earth’s mightiest superheroes with the mantle that has become a global household name – and phenomenon – since the theatrical release of Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jr., in 2008.

Maggs is a long-time fan of Wasp, a Marvel legacy character that debuted in Tales to Astonish #44 (June 1963) and was co-created by industry icons Stan Lee and Jack Kirby with Ernie Hart.

“Janet is a founding member of the Avengers, the person who named the Avengers, and the only person to have led the Avengers longer than Janet is Captain America himself. She doesn’t bother with a secret identity; she owns her power and her powers with pride,” said Maggs with an equal amount of pride.

“She’s a scientist and a fashion designer and a business owner and a super hero; Janet really can do anything she puts her mind to. Janet’s a really inspirational character and there’s a lot we can learn from her 50 years in comics.”

Janet van Dyne is also an inspiration to Nadia van Dyne, who is the character featured in Maggs’ upcoming novel, The Unstoppable Wasp.

Nadia is Janet’s stepdaughter and the biological daughter of Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, and his first wife, Maria Troyava. And while the new normal for nuclear families remains in constant flux, Nadia’s path to becoming Janet’s kin is something completely different.

Maggs explained:

“Nadia was kidnapped as a child and raised in the Red Room, the infamous Soviet spy training facility. Excelling in their science division, Nadia eventually procured Pym Particles on the black market, crafted her own Wasp suit, and escaped. Nadia arrived at the late Hank Pym’s house in Cresskill, N.J., where she was adopted by her step-mother, Janet Van Dyne. After discovering that the first woman on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s list of most intelligent humans list came in at #27, which is nonsense, Nadia founded G.I.R.L. (Genius In Action Research Labs) to find and nurture the best and brightest teen girl scientists who might otherwise be overlooked.”

If that’s too much of a deep dive, fear not, Maggs says readers don’t need to have a working knowledge of the Marvel Universe – or have read the recently completed comic book series featuring Nadia – to enjoy The Unstoppable Wasp. It’s all there in the pages of book, which is scheduled for release on May 26, 2020.

“This novel takes place after the comic series, and readers don’t need to be familiar with the comics in order to pick up the novel. But the comics are wonderful and I highly recommend everyone give them a read. Jeremy Whitley and Elsa Charretier are a genius creative team. The first volume is called Unstoppable,” Maggs said.

Why is Nadia so unstoppable? A quick look at her superpowers answers the question.

“She’s the Unstoppable Wasp, so she uses Pym Particles to shrink in size at will. Also much like Ant-Man, in her diminutive state, Nadia’s martial arts skills are extremely powerful. She can also fly, and shoots a bio-electric energy blast from her hands called Wasp’s Stings,” Maggs offered. “Also, she is extremely personable and loves making new friends.”

Sound familiar? Maggs could be writing this book about herself. But she’s not. It’s about Nadia. And while she didn’t want to give too much away, Maggs did share that Nadia is balancing a lot of new things in her life when The Unstoppable Wasp begins.

“Being a superhero, being a real friend, being a stepdaughter, being free of the Red Room, running her own lab. She’s adjusting well, but it’s taking a toll – there are never quite enough hours in a day,” Maggs said.

“So when she’s gifted a virtual assistant powered by the most cutting-edge AI technology that the world has to offer, Nadia jumps at the opportunity. The device works – really works. But it’s never quite that simple, and not everything is as it seems. Nadia must confront her past as she tries to shape her future, and learn that sometimes the best way to effect big change is to think small – maybe even super small, Unstoppable Wasp-style.”

Special to Western NewsThe Wasp is a Marvel legacy character that debuted in Tales to Astonish #44 (June 1963) and was co-created by industry icons Stan Lee and Jack Kirby with Ernie Hart.

The Unstoppable Wasp is categorized as a YA novel, which are normally targeted for 12-18-year-olds, but Maggs believes readers young, old and every age in between will find inspiration in Nadia.

“This book is for everyone who’s ever struggled to find balance in their lives; for anyone who loves science or wants to learn more about science; for anyone whose life has been touched by mental illness; for anyone who wants to read about a team of awesome, creative girls solving problems and saving the world; for anyone who loves Marvel and super heroes,” Maggs said.

“Really, the book is for anyone, and I hope people like it.”

Maggs has written comics, video games and non-fiction books throughout her professional career but admits she never thought she would actually write a novel.

“I’ve always known I wanted to write, but I never thought I would actually write a novel. Part of that came from the way we talk about writing and the way we position writers in the public consciousness. I never felt like a ‘real’ writer because people always talk about having a ‘muse’ or ‘having to write every single day’ or things that basically make writing a novel sound like a supernatural gift bestowed upon them by a mystical figure to whom I’ve never been able to gain access.

“But the truth of the matter is that there’s no mystical muse. There’s no special magic that makes a novel happen. It’s sitting down and putting words on the page.”

And that level of dedication and commitment is something Maggs learned, in part, at Western.

“I was lucky enough to have a wonderful mentor in English professor Christopher Keep, and he guided me through my undergraduate thesis on Victorian literature. It was the longest and most challenging thing I’d written to date, and I’m still pretty impressed that I managed to complete it.”

That’s saying a lot when the Western alumna is now recognized as “bestselling author Sam Maggs.

“(Being a bestselling author) absolutely blows my mind!,” Maggs laughed. “I feel lucky to get to do something that I really love for a living every single day. I don’t take it for granted.”

Now who’s unstoppable?