Today, Drew and Taylor are discussing The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 16, originally released January 11th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Drew: Part of Marvel’s brand is using vague, subjectively defined adjectives in the titles of their comics. Words like “Amazing,” “Astonishing,” or “Totally Awesome” don’t hold any absolute value, so ultimately don’t really mean anything. “Unbeatable” is different. “Unbeatable” is absolute. What’s “Totally Awesome” today may not be tomorrow (and vice versa), but whether a thing can or cannot be beaten is timeless in its objectivity. In this way, Squirrel Girl’s defining quality stretches across time, meaning we’ll always be able to recognize her, whether we’re looking into the past or the future. That idea is at the heart of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 16, an anniversary issue that reminds us that, whatever life throws at Doreen Green, she can always beat it.
This issue introduces us to Doreen at five birthdays, each five years apart. Er, the first actually starts before Doreen even existed, chronicling her parents’ relationship from “meet cute” to Doreen’s birth, a sequence that artist Erica Henderson paces perfectly.
That pacing gives us a sense of this series’ priorities: half of the page is devoted to a “meet cute” joke, then quickly accelerates from dating to baby showers, before finally slowing down for the big introduction of Doreen on the next page. We get a sense of who her parents are, but only enough here to assure us that Doreen was entering a loving family.
It’s in the next vignette that we get the best sense of who her parents are, doing the best they can to keep Doreen’s powers under wraps at her fifth birthday party. Unfortunately, Doreen isn’t the best at keeping her powers in check, which we learn in the next vignette eventually led to the decision to move away from these friends. It’s a low moment for Doreen in the issue, but it also presents an opportunity, when an unwitting squirrel helps her discover her ability to speak “Squirrelese.” Moreover, when she saves that squirrel from a dog, he suggests that she has a talent for heroism. Doreen balks at the idea, but he hits her with one hell of a question:
Doreen’s modesty is entirely understandable — the proportional strength and speed of a squirrel doesn’t sound like the most helpful power-set, and moreover, she’s only ten years old — but this question cuts through those arguments like squirrel teeth through peanut butter. This tilts at what’s so inspiring about Squirrel Girl being unbeatable: it feels like she shouldn’t be. While other superheroes have power-sets that make them seem unbeatable, Doreen’s indelibility comes from somewhere else. It’s self-confidence, it’s optimism, it’s enthusiasm; and it might all be inspired by this very conversation.
By the time we meet Doreen at 15 — ostensibly shortly after her first appearance in Marvel Super-Heroes Winter Special 8 — she’s already kicking butt and eating nuts, helping a temporarily blinded Hulk defeat The Abomination. It’s a great consequent to the antecedent of that pep-talk, drawing a clear line between her initial musings about becoming the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl to making that dream a reality. Plus, it adds another supervillain heavyweight notch to her belt. That sequence was written by Squirrel Girl’s co-creator, Will Murray, but it fits perfectly in the context Ryan Q. North lays out in the rest of the issue. Indeed, when we pick up with Doreen in the present day, she’s knocking out yet another Marvel big bad.
For me though, the truly thrilling moment of the issue — the one that drives home Doreen’s unbeatableness harder than any other — is the vignette set five years in the future, where Doreen is now head of the Avengers. I mean, of course she is. She’s unbeatable, it’s right there in the title.
Taylor, I had a lot of fun with this issue. It seems like a character who can’t lose would get boring after a while, but this series is never dull. Do you have any thoughts on how North and Henderson achieve that? Also, did you check out the fan-made stop-motion video mentioned in the letters section? How cute is that?
Taylor: It’s pretty damn cute and it stands as a testament to the devotion this comic engenders in its fans. I mean, do you know how long it takes to make a stop motion video, even if it’s just a minute and half long? That people love this series so much that they are willing to sink large amounts of time into tributes to the series proves that Squirrel Girl is something special.
This issue is no exception, and once again, North and Henderson do a great job of telling a story that has both humor and heart. The source of both of these is Doreen who, as always, shines. Doreen is at her brightest, however, when she’s interacting with other people (or squirrels). My favorite interaction in this issue comes during her birthday party set in the present day. When Red Skull tries to crash her birthday party she quickly puts him in his place.
Doreen is uppercuts Red Skull into the ceiling and then slams him with her tail as he falls back down. It’s a a unique enough play but what really sells this scene is how much fun Doreen is having with her friends. Not only does she dust up Red Skull, but she gets her friends involved in the action and shows them a new trick. Iron Man especially is impressed with the move of uppercutting someone through the roof.
When the comic is this consistently funny and when it warms my heart seeing Doreen with her friends, it’s clear why we never get tired of seeing her win. But that’s not the only reason it’s a joy to read Squirrel Girl every month. Erica Henderson’s artwork always compliments North’s writing. Like you said Drew, Henderson is able to pace a sequence of events really well. While you noticed her ability to pace a dramatic montage well, I noticed how she’s able to pace an action scene with great skill. There are a couple instances of this happening in this issue, like the following sequence where Doreen helps the Hulk defeat the Abomination.
The first three horizontal panels draw the eye from left to right with enough space and time to you the sense that the Hulk is really winding up as he prepares to tackle the abomination. After that, Henderson uses seven small panels to show the various punches the Hulk gets in on his enemy. The relatively small size of these panels speeds up the pace of the page and gets the point across that these blows re happening in fast succession. The final two panels are larger and hammer home the point that this is the knockout blow by once again slowing up the action to give the Hulk’s “ka-smak” to the Abomination’s skull the weight and heft it deserves.
The skill that Henderson shows in pacing her artwork is another reason why I never get tired of seeing Squirrel Girl win. It’s tempting to think that when someone is unbeatable things are going to get boring because there’s no real threat to them. But as the ubeatable duo of North and Henderson show, that’s not always the case. With enough talent, humor, and heart, you can go on winning forever.
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