Today, Drew and Taylor are discussing The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 6, originally released June 3rd, 2015.
Drew: Hero punches bad guy. Bad guy goes to jail. Hero winks at the camera. It’s an ending we’ve seen a million times, but after 6 issues, its clear that Unbeatable Squirrel Girl will never be quite so rote. That’s not to say that Doreen isn’t perfectly capable of punching bad guys (or winking at the camera), just that she may be more open to alternative solutions to her problems. It’s an approach that is surprisingly rare in the world of superhero comics, but makes perfect sense when you look at her character sheet: talking is one of her superpowers. Sure, the remarkable part of that power may be that she can talk to squirrels, but honestly, conversation powers are rare enough when it comes to superheroes to forgive the generalization. This issue reminds us of why that power is so key to who Doreen is, then pushes beyond it to show us what else makes her so special.
That reminder comes in the form of talking down Hippo the Hippo, one of the High Evolutionary’s New Men, who was intent on robbing a bank to finance his absurd cost of living. Hippo is obviously on the opposite end of the Heavy Hitting Villains spectrum from Galactus, but it’s hard not to be reminded of the personal connection Doreen made with the Devourer of Worlds back in issue 4. It doesn’t matter if she’s dealing with a planet-eating alien or a sentient hippo, Doreen can cut to the basic humanity of villains and resolve things without violence.
That attitude comes in handy, as Hippo’s attack on the bank also draws out Chipmunk Hunk and Coi Boi, two other unlikely-animal-themed crimefighters. Where other heroes might feel compelled to fight upon a first encounter with a new vigilante, Doreen takes them back to her dorm to get a little tipsy.
Actually, she already kind of knows these two — they’re also students and Empire State University, including Doreen’s crush: Tomas Lara-Perez and his quiet buddy, Ken Shiga. Between all of the action, writer Ryan North reminds us that these are all college freshman, who are maybe looking to meet people and find some common ground. Also: that they’re kind of lightweights. Their long night of getting to know one another barely stretches past an hour and a half.
The point is: friendship is also a big part of who Doreen is, at least at this point in her life. That means she’s willing to devote her day to helping Nancy figure out if she has the ability to speak to any species of animal, the way everyone else they know seems to. That adventure leads to my favorite single panel of any comic, ever:
I’m amused anytime anyone ever points at a sign, but basically everything else about this image is also perfect: the security guard’s casual posture, the sarcastic sign, that there’s inexplicably an esperanto translation, the “speak no evil, hear no evil” monkeys depicted on the sign. Point is: North and artist Erica Henderson know their way around a good sight gag, even a total throwaway like this one.
Anyway, the zoo trip introduces Doreen (and us) to Girl Squirrel, the instantly more popular Squirrel Girl knockoff who might be working to bring about the end of civilization as we know it. We’re not entirely privy to what she’s up to because North’s otherwise omnipotent Narrator stages a coup of sorts in protest of Girl Squirrel’s attempts to subliminally alter people’s behavior by whispering into their ears while they’re asleep. It’s a clever, albeit decidedly postmodern, way to keep the narrator from spilling the beans about exactly what’s going on, which carries over to the running commentary at the bottom of each page. After the narrator quits, that commentary drops out, leaving us with no context — and perhaps more importantly, no quips — about what’s going on. It’s a surprisingly effective way to unsettle the audience. Honestly, I so look forward to reading those little gags at the bottom of the page, I actively missed them when they weren’t there.
Narratively, Girl Squirrel also presents Doreen with a problem outside of her wheelhouse. While Doreen was able to talk down Galactus and Hippo by trusting in their humanity, she can’t get through to Girl Squirrel. Moreover, the Squirrel Girl has quickly created a problem much bigger than herself — you can’t talk down an entire city gone mad. It seems Doreen is well equipped to deal with villains whose motives she can understand, but Girl Squirrel, well, just wants to watch the world burn. Will Doreen need to change who she is to defeat this new threat? I’m normally immune to those kind of cliffhangers, but I’ll be damned if North doesn’t have me fully invested in not wanting Doreen to change, ever.
Taylor, I continue to be charmed by this series, even as it takes a turn for the darker. I mean, Coi Boi? It’s hard to argue with anything that can bring us such an absurd concept.
Taylor: Oh I most certainly am invested in this series! With a titular character so charming and friendly as Doreen how could I not? She’s one of the most upbeat superheroes out there and that itself has me interested in her adventures. So strong is her personality that it actually makes the entire comic itself buoyant and uplifting. However, as you say Drew, the arrival of Girl Squirrel promises to take this series to a darker place.
What I find particularly interesting about the introduction of Girl Squirrel is that she essentially has the same power set as Squirrel Girl, only she uses it for nefarious purposes.
Unlike Doreen who uses her words to build people up and bring out their best, Girl Squirrel uses her words (or squeaks) to tear people down and bring out their worst. Basically , Girl Squirrel has the reverse effect on people that Doreen has. Whereas Doreen can turn a villain into a good guy, Girl Squirrel turns a normally good and decent person into a bad one. And you’re right, Drew, how does Squirrel Girl fight that? She’s used to talking down big bruiser types, but how does she cope with an enemy who’s power is psychological in nature? Essentially, Doreen will have to fight the inverse version of herself one who squeaks ill, wants chaos, and is a squirrel dressed as a human instead of the other way around.
All of that is great and intriguing, but there are other reasons to enjoy this issue as well. When SG is fighting Hippo the Hippo, she is aided by some superhero friends. Hilariously, it turns out she knows who they are, even if she didn’t recognize them through their flimsy disguises.
Even in the most stoic and serious minded comic, superhero costumes run the fine line between cool and completely ludicrous. Here, North and Henderson highlight how so-called disguises do little to mask the identity of the wearer both with words and design. While poking fun at superhero costumes isn’t new (see: underwear on the outside), I simply love how Nancy cuts through the bullshit of it all with a bluntness that would impress even Hippo the Hippo. Making the scene more funny is how Doreen tries to play off being called by her real name even though she doesn’t even bother to cover her face with so little as a domino mask. I love this self-effacing humor as it reminds me how when I read comics, there are some things I have to accept. Sure, superpowers are part of that, but goofy costumes are also part of the deal as well.
Last but not least, I would be remiss not to mention how Hippo the Hippo’s explanation for his criminal activity is just the best. One day he’s a normal hippo, the next he’s a mutant hippo who is expected to act like a human. Long story short, he’s not getting fed anymore. We rarely get to see such a pragmatic “bad guy” and I love how this issue shows how he’s actually not bad at all. He just lacked the proper tools to lead a decent life. I think there’s a surprisingly deep message to be had there and if anything, it shows us a true hero isn’t the kind that sends villains to jail , but someone who makes them better people after all is said and done. That’s more of super power than punching any day.
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?