Today, Spencer and Taylor are discussing The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 1, originally released January 7th, 2015.
Spencer: Before reading Ryan North and Erica Henderson’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 1, I always thought of Squirrel Girl as more of a meme than a character: she was the girl with silly powers who routinely (and often inexplicably) defeated the most powerful players in the Marvel Universe without breaking a sweat, and while that’s awfully funny the first few times, it never seemed like a concept that could support a character in the long-term. Fortunately, North and Henderson’s take on Doreen Green eases any worries I may have had in this regard, giving us an instantly likable character who is far more than just an easy joke, and ultimately declaring that it doesn’t matter if Doreen always wins — what’s interesting is seeing how.
It’s Squirrel Girl’s first day of college, which, for Doreen, is mostly spent trying to get the hang of her new secret identity (she’s not great at it, though her classmates don’t seem to notice or care). The arrival of Kraven the Hunter — attacking Doreen’s friend, Tippy-Toe the Squirrel — puts a major snag in her plans; the fight is surprisingly even, leading to Squirrel Girl switching tactics and essentially talking Kraven down, ultimately helping him find a new, safer outlet for his aggression than going around kicking random squirrels all day. It’s a decisive victory, but it’s only a prelude to the true threat heading towards earth: Galactus the world-eater himself!
With a pedigree like Doreen’s and a title like Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, it’s obvious that Galactus is going down, but that doesn’t sap any of my enthusiasm for their upcoming tussle. Despite all the fuss about Squirrel Girl being unable to lose, the same is ultimately true for just about any character in superhero comics. Do any of us ever pick up an issue of Batman or Superman and legitimately expect the Joker or Brainiac to win? Of course not! The tension comes from seeing how the heroes win, and the “how” is even more interesting when dealing with Squirrel Girl’s offbeat power-set.
That said, the “how” is also just as vital in exploring Doreen as a character. She may leap into this battle with her buck-teeth bared, but she doesn’t just rely on her fists; in fact, her victory comes solely from her ability to analyze Kraven’s motives and, ultimately, to empathize with him. Empathy and kindness are sometimes portrayed as weaknesses in these kind of stories, so it’s refreshing to see them be the tools of Doreen’s victory; that said, it’s just as refreshing to see Squirrel Girl chuck muggers around with her bare hands and casually take down robbers with the same kind of hyper-competent nonchalance usually reserved for the likes of Batman.
Actually, the fact that I can compare Squirrel Girl to Batman in any fashion is pretty transgressive, as female characters are rarely allowed to be that competent and together. Doreen is a breath of fresh air in a lot of respects: for example, how great is it when she refers to her “conspicuously awesome butt,” fully embracing her figure without an ounce of embarrassment or shame? How awesome is it that Doreen is concerned with being the best person she can be, whether it means going to college to learn how to better help people or just owning up to her own (admittedly minor) flaws and mistakes?
Squirrel Girl isn’t some sort of perfect pod-person — in fact, she can be quite an airhead sometimes — but she’s never punished for being silly or flighty. I started this article out by proclaiming that what makes The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl interesting isn’t the fact that Doreen never loses, but how she wins, but I think the most important aspect of her victories is that they all stem from Squirrel Girl just being herself and embracing all her best qualities. That’s what makes her unbeatable.
Yeah, Squirrel Girl is absolutely charming, but for all the personality and irreverent humor North pumps into this book, much of that charm is due to the artwork of Erica Henderson and the colors of Rico Renzi. Henderson’s figures are as elastic as cartoon characters, allowing for astoundingly expressive faces and equally smooth action sequences. Renzi’s bombastic colors further support the book’s lighter tone; Renzi has a vivid, bright color for every situation, but especially shines during fights and flashbacks when he peppers the pages in eye-catching splashes of neon greens and reds.
I mentioned earlier that I appreciated how Doreen loves her fuller figure, and I’m equally grateful for how North, Henderson, and Renzi embrace diversity when bringing the rest of their world to life. Doreen’s roommate Nancy is far from traditional, and while she seems a bit defensive when she first meets Doreen, Doreen quickly embraces Nancy, appreciating her as a person and for what she can learn from her. The rest of the supporting cast and background characters all come in a variety of genders, shapes, and skin-colors, creating a book where no two characters look the same — just like real life, only with a lot more rodent-themed vigilantes.
Ultimately, I think what makes this book such a success for me is that North, Henderson and Renzi get the joke behind Squirrel Girl, but they also never allow Doreen to become a joke. I’m thoroughly won over by this witty, gorgeous, fun title and its irresistible title character; how about you, Taylor? Before you answer, though, just remember what it means if you don’t like Squirrel Girl:
Taylor: Oh man, with a warning like that I guess I better rethink what I was going write…
Sorry, a poor attempt at pedestrian humor in response to a wonderful setup. In all honesty, though, I can’t help but enjoy Squirrel Girl, both in name and in title. Spencer, I totally agree with you when you say that what makes Squirrel Girl powerful is that she’s always totally true to herself. However, the power I’m talking about is the power of her personality, which practically radiates off of the page. North has done a great job of creating a a hero who dominates the action of this issue not because of her page count, but because of what she does on those pages.
Sure, one of the things that makes her wonderful is that she’s true to herself, but a character can be true to themselves and still be dislikable. Just look at Kraven, he certainly is a character who is true to himself but we wouldn’t want to spend an entire book with him. Ultimately, it’s the little quirks in Doreen’s character that make her endearing. Of these, perhaps my favorite is her forgetting that she has “the proportional strength of a squirrel” which allows her to carry a lot more than your average college freshman.
The fact that she would forget something so startlingly obvious to everyone else is charming in and of itself, but her reaction is even more priceless. The incredibly un-smooth move of dropping the boxes and introducing herself as a totally normal person totally belies the very fact she is trying to hide. Of course, the cleverness of this scene stems from the fact that despite what she is, Doreen really is a lot like your average college freshman. Hopeful, joyful, naive, and a more than a little awkward. So while she may possess the powers of a squirrel, she is more like her readers than probably any number of other superheroes.
Part of what adds to the charm of this character is the running commentary that she keeps at the bottom of the page.
It’s a truly subtle, literal subtext there, so small that it may even be hard to see unless you zoom in on your browser. Anyone who has read North’s popular Dinosaur Comics will recognize this technique. In his daily comic, North is always sure to include some sort of witty alt-text to accompany the comic proper. It’s a fun little easter egg for those who enjoy the comic and while the subtext here isn’t secret by any means, it’s a still enjoyable. Not only is it fun to see North’s calling card in print, but it adds more fun and personality to the title. There are bound to be those who are put off by this, seeing it as more gimmick than anything else, but if you enjoy the character of character of Squirrel Girl, you’re going to enjoy these little asides.
Let’s just consider it another way that shows us how much we enjoy this character.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?