by Taylor Anderson
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Any time I get the chance to compare Squirrel Girl to Star Trek, I’m going to take it. That’s because Squirrel Girl writer Ryan North is almost certainly is a fan of the series, at least in the nostalgic sort of way that recognizes the original series and TNG equally for their goofiness and genius. This being the case, I remember watching old episodes of TNG that focused on the ancillary characters aboard the Enterprise rather than the main cast. These episodes, in a lot of ways, turned out to be some of the best the shows the writers ever wrote. Perhaps there’s something about being unburdened from the role of an overarching narrative that engages writers creativity. This certainly seems the case in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 21, an issue that shifts its focus onto Koi Boy, Chipmunk Hunk, and Brain Drain.
The main conceit of this issue is that Koi Boy and Chipmunk Hunk don’t want to hang out with Brain Drain because he’s awkward and not very good at catching villains. From this premise the issue takes a predictable trajectory wherein the two human heroes recognize the value in teaming up with Brain Drain. However, what the issue may lack in surprising plotting, it more than makes up for in charming character interactions. It’s clear that North loves writing Brain Drain, as can be seen in the climactic moment when he is reunited with his friends.
The humor in Brain Drain’s dialogue in this instance (as elsewhere) isn’t that he doesn’t understand human behavior. In fact, it’s the exact opposite — Brain Drain understands human behavior all too well, and when he verbalizes this understanding it highlights the inherent absurdity of much of what mankind does. This is clever writing made all the more so by North’s ability to basically carry it on throughout the entire issue without it getting old and still managing to be consistently funny.
Brain Drain’s inability to understand how to interact with humans on their level could easily become shtick. In the wrong hands, his recurring observations about human behavior could begin to sound like TNG‘s Data, which at their best fell flat. But North is too smart for that, and actually works Brain Drain’s observations into his narrative in a way that enhances the plot. Part of the reason Koi Boy and Chipmunk Hunk abandon Brain Drain initially is because his observations were just so annoying to them. Comedy should contribute to the plot, rather than detract from it, and North shows us through Brain Drain’s character exactly how that is done.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?