Today, Spencer and Taylor are discussing The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 4, originally released January 27th, 2016.
Spencer: What does it mean to be “unbeatable?” When Squirrel Girl was mainly a joke character, it meant that she could take down any opponent in combat, albeit always off-panel. While Ryan North and Erica Henderson’s take on Doreen still has extraordinary physical prowess, her victories under their pens have instead come from a place of compassion, understanding, and compromise; Squirrel Girl’s “unbeatable” because she always finds a way to appeal to and appease the humanity of any opponent she faces. It makes sense, then, that Doctor Doom is the first enemy to truly flummox Doreen. How is she supposed to defeat someone with no humanity to appeal to?
Before we start our discussion in earnest, I will mention that the use of Doom throughout this storyline perplexes me just ever so slightly. Doom is one of those opponents whom Squirrel Girl once handily beat up off-panel in her younger days, so it’s strange to see her so effortlessly outmatched by him this time around. I know, I know, those older appearances operate under a completely different set of rules than The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and I should probably just ignore them, but that’s hard to do when North called attention to those stories earlier in this arc. A major part of Doom’s whole time travel scheme has been taking the Squirrel Girl who once so effortlessly defeated him out of the picture once and for all, and it’s hard to reconcile Doom’s fear of her earlier in this story with his supreme confidence now. Has his supposedly set-in-stone victory in the future simply boosted his confidence and sapped Doreen’s? Perhaps. Either way, it’s an inconstancy that kept popping back into my head throughout my reading of this issue.
Still, that’s only a small quibble with an issue that’s otherwise charming, funny, and thematically consistent. Thanks to North’s killer sense of humor and Henderson’s peerless facial expressions, even the opening debate between Doreen and her friends over how to take down Doom is a blast to read. Eventually Nancy and the rest of the time-stranded computer science students decide to build makeshift EMP devices to fry Doom’s armor, while Doreen and Tippy-Toe attempt to steal his time machine so he can’t just mess with the timestream and undo all their hard work. North deconstructs typical time-travel tropes here to great effect, especially with Nancy and the “baby Hitler” scenario.
What’s great about this gag is that it also ties into Doreen’s worldview, which is so essential to this issue. Of course neither Doreen nor her best buddy Nancy would kill a baby, even an evil one, but they also don’t try to brainwash it into being a typical “hero” type. The book they imagine leaving is about listening and compromising, qualities Doom desperately needs to learn, and which act as some of the most potent tools in Doreen’s arsenal. This does a lot to show what Doreen and Nancy value most.
The stranded CS students are also a joy throughout this first half of the issue, especially spotlight-stealer Mary. I love the dynamic she brings to the cast.
There’s some friction between Mary and Doreen because of Mary’s dangerous hobbies, yet Mary in many ways is also just the kind of person Doreen admires: smart, curious, and driven. Throughout Doreen, Mary, and Nancy’s discussion Doreen very much practices what she preaches, finding the good qualities in Nancy and Mary’s plans and compromising to incorporate them even though they’re not what she originally had in mind. It makes for a stronger team, a better plan, and keeps Mary an ally rather than an enemy.
(I also really love how North again subverts typical conventions here by having Mary and her friends’ EMP devises fail. They may be smart and plucky, but they’re still just average college students — there’s only so much they can do. It’s funny and makes a point, which perfectly describes The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl at its best.)
Witnessing the effectiveness of Squirrel Girl’s methods, not just throughout this issue, but throughout this entire series, makes her failure to appeal to Doom all the more heartbreaking.
What we have here is the sum total of Doreen’s worldview, the compassion and empathy within her that allows her to compromise and put others before herself. Doom views compromise as weak because you’re not getting exactly what you want, but for someone like Doreen, who just wants everyone to get along, compromise is the best way to get what she wants. In short, Doom’s selfish while Doreen’s selfless; it’s a classic hero/villain dynamic, but these two characters inhabit those personas down to their very cores, making this old dynamic crackle with new energy.
In a book with “Unbeatable” in the title you know the hero’s always gonna win; what’s interesting is discovering how, and that goes double for this arc. Will Doom be the one enemy even Doreen can’t reach? Maybe her victory will be a physical one, but not a moral one? What does Doreen’s gruff, DKR-inspired future-self represent? Will future-Squirrel Girl have maintained her optimistic perspective despite having grown up under Doom’s regime, or will her attitude show the true toll Doom’s selfish worldview takes on even someone as sunny as Doreen? Obviously it’s too soon to tell, but North and Henderson have raised some truly compelling questions, and I can’t wait to see them answered.
Taylor, it’s always a pleasure to talk about and read about The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. What are your thoughts on this issue? And hey, were you able to find any of the hidden Doombots in that opening spread? I’m beginning to think North and Henderson are trolling us with that one.
Taylor: I was able to find one! Of the “grinding” Doombot we see only his skateboard and arm. It’s easily missed and one could easily be miffed that one arm constitutes a whole bot but in this case, it’s pretty funny. That alone has me guessing North and Henderson aren’t pulling one over on us here. More likely I think all of the bots are probably hiding in plane sight. Maybe we haven’t found them all yet because we haven’t solved a Northian riddle or pun.
Spencer, I was glad to hear that you like this issue because I simply love it. I think issue 4 has everything I’ve come to appreciate about The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and much more. That “much more” I enjoy in this issue comes from our good ol’ chum Doctor Doom. Spencer is definitely right when he points out that Doom is the ideological antithesis of Doreen. His commitment to himself basically excludes any thought of compromise. While this is certainly a hard position to take, these is one thing that Doom said that made me think.
Doom says that “a brilliant mind builds [ideas] himself, forcing the world to catch up to him.” Coming from a man like Doom this certainly sounds like the ravings of a mad man. But what if someone else said it? Think about those great minds who changed the world for the better who also subscribed to this way of thinking. Galileo, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr, Susan B. Anthony. All of these people refused to accept that their ideas were wrong and our world is a better place for it. We’ve always talked about how Doreen’s real superpower is the ability to compromise. Doom’s speech here has me wondering if Doreen will compromise her beliefs to meet her ends or if she’ll stick to her guns until the end. But what would that even look like — Doreen not willing to compromise on her ability to make a compromise with others? That’s a heck of a head-spinner and I credit North with taking this series to a thought provoking place I generally don’t associate with this title.
On to the usual things I like about this series, the humor is just spot on in this issue, both visually and verbally. At one point Doreen sends Tippy-Toe into Doom’s castle to spy on him and see what he’s up. Doreen later bursts into Doom’s shop after realizing he’s building Doombots and this happens:
I love this sequence. First and most notably, Doom talking to himself in third person is wonderful. We know that the man is prone to high-flown speech but at some point we expect that act to turn off. Not for Doom, however. This guy is always on, always egotistical. His rant about making Doom head screws is also pure gold. We have all bemoaned a stripped screw head but few of us gave actually dreamed of creating a new type of screw altogether. We know that to do that would be near impossible. Philips-head screws are so universal that trying to replace them is next to impossible. Not so for Doom. Lastly, I love the last panel where Henderson draws Doom flipping up his welding mask to reveal his already masked face. The absurdity of wearing not one, but two heavy metal masks is hilarious and the redundancy of Doom’s is just great humor. It’s like the old gag of removing a mask only to find another, only here, the recognizable Doom mask makes for an amplified laugh.
The growth I see in this issue by North and the same old humor I see in Henderson’s pencils promises that Squirrel Girl will continue to be unbeatable for issues to come.
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