Today, Drew and Taylor are discussing The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 20, originally released May 17th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.
Drew: We like to think that the truth in an unstoppable force, that its discovery is inevitable. It’s a comforting thought, and may very well be true over the long-run, but heaven knows it can be effectively obfuscated in the short term. This is exactly what Doreen finds herself up against in the depressingly timely Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 20, as Melissa Morbeck attempts to frame her for her own crimes. Ryan North and Erica Henderson pack the issue with enough parallels to the 2016 election to make the familiarity sting, but manage to keep it just as packed with jokes, maintaining their distinctive levity, even as things look their bleakest.
Melissa’s plan boils down to blaming Doreen for the animal attacks and stepping in to claim that only she can stop her. But, of course, the fun (and the bitter recognition) is in the details. Melissa’s plan is actually much more convoluted, attempting to make it look like Doreen was trying to make herself the hero, and had staged the attack to look like Doctor Doom was the culprit. Of course, Doreen doesn’t know this, so her first effort is to make it clear that this isn’t Doctor Doom.
It’s a great character moment (and I sure wish I could have high-fived Doreen there, too), but it turns out this isn’t the win it appears to be. That it’s patently obvious this isn’t Doom is essential to Melissa’s plan, so Doreen is really doing the leg work for her, eventually revealing, hilariously, that this Doom is actually a bear in a mask.
And that’s when Melissa’s plan really kicks into gear. She arrives with J. Jonah Jameson in tow, pushing the narrative that Doreen is both a threat and a menace, and that Melissa is going to stop her. That Doreen is being accused of doing exactly what Melissa is actually doing is incredibly frustrating (“You’re the puppet!”), but to Doreen’s credit, she never loses her cool. She gets annoyed, sure, but she never loses her values. Indeed, it’s teamwork that saves the day (along with cleverness, selflessness, and homebrew computer engineering), as Mary and Nancy split off to hatch a plan that involves a mini-EMP device and a hairless Tippy-Toe.
Of course this series would feature a plan that hinges on both an EMP and a naked squirrel. It’s the perfect mix of sci-fi nonsense, street-level earnestness, and straight-up weirdness. The absurdity of the plan is enough, but you throw in the pitiful, unsettling image of Tippy-Toe without any hair.
And Henderson really seems to relish drawing all of these awkward animals. Tippy-Toe is an obvious standout, but I’m also a fan of the Doom Bear just kind of wandering off once it’s clear he isn’t Doom. My favorite image, though, has to be the confused Lion, regaining control of its consciousness as it’s fighting Doreen.
That’s hilarious. I have to give North some credit here, too — it’s not exactly a line, but there’s nothing funnier to me than an animal noise followed by a question mark. It’s just a roar with a rising inflection!
Once Melissa is stopped, the value of her lying campaign steps to the fore, as the police admit they don’t know who to believe. They’re the everyman here — the only ones (besides JJJ, I guess) who don’t already know the truth about Melissa’s plan — but they’re opinion is immediately swayed when Doreen’s superfriends write in to vouch for her character. If I have a complaint about this issue, it’s that the tidiness of that resolution doesn’t quite do justice to the insidiousness of lies, but then again, this series getting into broody pessimism wouldn’t really be a good fit.
Which maybe means using that theme at all wasn’t totally appropriate? I don’t love the idea that themes should be off-limits to this series, but I’m also not sure there’s a responsible way to bring up such heavy, depressing themes in a series that aims to maintain this kind of levity. I don’t know, Taylor, am I projecting too much of our current events onto what could be a simple comic where a villain attempts to blame their misdeeds on the hero? I think this thing becomes a lot more palatable without the political parallels, but it’s hard for me not to see them. Is that just a problem with me?
Taylor: I don’t think so, Drew. Given the chaos in Washington these days, it’s hard to live on this continent and not be inundated with the current goings on of the new administration. There’s that which makes the allusion to current events particularly strong, but then there’s also the presence of J. Jonah Jameson in the issue as well. JJJ has always represented the media’s bias and ability to create narratives, so it should come as no surprise he makes an appearance in an issue so tethered to the news.
What makes the allegory here so depressingly familiar is that Doreen tries to control the narrative of the events happening in the issue but the media literally can’t hear her. Even though she is on the side of truth, JJJ has his earned turned only towards Morbeck. To read this issue and not see it’s parallels to the election last year is nearly impossible.
There are points in this issue that almost read like an alternative, or desired, narrative of our own universe. When Doreen learns of Morbeck’s plot to smear her name she is furious and clearly lays out why this lie is false.
During the election, Clinton never truly laid into her opponent in a debate or through the media. Many of her supporters waited for this to happen but it simply never happened. Here, Doreen does what Clinton didn’t. She drops all pretense and clearly states what she is about. This is a nice moment and those who are unhappy with the current state of affairs can only wish Clinton had showed as much bravado occasionally during her campaign. Of course, the final panel undermines all of what Doreen has just stated, so perhaps its less the triumphant moment one would hope for and more cynicism on North’s part.
So yeah Drew, this is a pretty depressing issue and perhaps it represents America’s collective inability to ever stop discussing the current administration. Luckily, comics also have pictures to look at which can, at least momentarily, distract us from all this nonsense. In this issue I was surprised to see Henderson flex her muscles in ways I had never seen before.
Even though I should know better, I am surprised to see Henderson’s extremely realistic rendering of a helicopter. Perhaps being lulled into a more cartoony trance by previous issues, I just didn’t think this was in her wheelhouse. After all, I’m more used to seeing the likes of that groggy bear up there than hardcore military hardware. Still, Henderson’s a pro and frankly I shouldn’t be surprised by her ability as an artist to change styles. This is another example of a professional doing things at a high level and making it look easy. So even if the narrative of this story is a bit sour, at least the art, as always, is sweet.
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?